Bouldering on a Budget


(Photo by Derek Edwards)

(Photo by Derek Edwards)
(Photo by Derek Edwards)

A bouldering mecca sits just three hours south of Salt Lake City.
Joe’s Valley is nestled in the hills immediately west of the sleepy town of Orangeville and contains a high concentration of some of the finest sandstone in the western United States. Situated on the Wasatch Plateau at an elevation of around 6,500 feet above sea level, the valley floor features numerous large sandstone boulders that have broken off from overlooking cliff bands, providing climbers with seemingly endless choices.
Since the early 2000s, bouldering has increasingly gained momentum within the climbing community as its own sport, pushing development of areas like Hueco Tanks in Texas. Joe’s Valley is in the process of being developed as a similar climbing area, with plenty of named and graded routes.
The views and relative solitude of the location are additional draws. With a plethora of fantastic climbs rated V0 through V14, Joe’s has gained notoriety over the last few years in popular climbing publications Rock and Ice and Deadpoint Magazine.
Having last visited the area in the fall of 2011, I mentioned Joe’s as a place I’d like to revisit to my current climbing partner while discussing various Fall Break options. We blasted down on a Thursday and spent the early part of the weekend exploring the area. We returned on a Saturday after being chased out of the canyons by quick-developing thunderstorms. We chose to drive back to the Wasatch Front via a detour on a 4 x 4 road through part of the San Rafael Swell, cutting just south of Huntington and the Cedar Mountain Recreation Area.
The total expense of our several-night trip ran around $200, with $60 spent on fuel and $27 spent on appropriate guidebooks. While there is paid camping area with basic amenities at the nearby Joe’s Valley Reservoir, the bouldering area itself stretches across a border of the Manti-La Sal National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land, the latter of which has few regulations for free “dispersed camping.”
Most visitors interested in bouldering eschew the trailer plug-in sites for the free road-side camping areas, which are adjacent to popular boulder areas. Recently the Salt Lake City Climber’s Alliance has spearheaded volunteer efforts to maintain these highly-trafficked free-to-camp areas; visitors are advised to take care in adopting “leave no trace” camping policies.
Any money saved by the free camping options should be put toward a good guidebook. While my partner and I would have loved to acquire a copy of either the elusive and expensive A Bouldering Guide to Utah (also known as the “Black Bible” of Utah bouldering) or Utah Bouldering, input from climbing friends led us to nab a copy of An Insightful Guide to Joe’s Valley Bouldering by Issac Caldiero.
Currently available at Mountainworks, a climbing shop in Provo, Caldiero’s up-to-date guidebook provides excellent directions, area photos, and beta for developed bouldering in the right and left forks of Joe’s Valley and the developing nearby area known as “New Joe’s.” Sites like do have some information on the area, but a physical resource is a must-have for locating good sites, as Joe’s has limited cell coverage.
The bouldering throughout the area is phenomenal, with optimal humidity and temperature conditions in the early fall. Crash pads and good climbing shoes are a must. U students can affordably rent these through Campus Recreation Services. The sandstone boulders are hard and sticky to the point of being a bit abrasive; tape and hand salve are also recommended.
Orangeville has one full-service grocery, Food Ranch, which also carries basic sporting goods, has free wifi, and occasionally has bouldering guidebooks in stock. Local industry is comprised entirely of cattle ranches and mostly vacant Pacificorp mining properties. To be frank, there’s not too much going on in town. We had to drive a town over to Castle Dale just to get a sit-down meal at the highly recommended Big Mama’s Pizza and Deli.
But the beautifully grippy riverside boulders and dramatic cliff scenery are enough of a draw to get those in the know down to Joe’s to test their skills. If solitude, camel spiders, and backcountry are your jam, consider Joe’s Valley for your next low-budget climbing trip.
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