Rock Climbing in Salt Lake City Utah

Turns out Salt Lake City has a lot more to offer than Mormons, powdery slopes, and low-alcohol beer. The quality rock easily outnumber the religious zealots.  I was amazed, and more than a bit overwhelmed, at just how many places there were to climb.  I’m used to driving 7 hours to the Red or 4 hours to the New  when I want to go for a “quick” weekend trip.  SLC has canyons full of lines, as well as crazy potential for more development. I’m so jealous of the locals, definitely worth a trip in my opinion.

When to go: June to September there shouldn’t be any snow closing down the canyons.

Where to stay:  My college roommate, Mormon Steve, is from SLC and was nice enough to let me crash at his place.  I don’t have any direct experience with the camping situation, but I did see plenty of camp sites in the various canyons.  Staying down town also offers plenty of options.

Mormon Steve cruising his SLC neighborhood below Mt. Olympus

Guides: I downloaded the MountainProject app which worked exceptionally well for a free guide.  Just make sure to double check things so you don’t end up like me: realizing half-way up a “sport” climb that maybe the bolts aren’t well camouflaged and the route is more of a mixed nature.  If you don’t have a smartphone the MountainProject website has the same information but will require printing before you head out.

I didn’t buy any physical guide books because I was there for such a short time, but if you’re into killing trees there is a book for American Fork Canyon and then a broad guide about the entire Wasatch Range.

Where to climb: I sampled three of the canyons on my brief visit: Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood, and American Fork.  These three Canyons each offer something different, from bouldering to plugging gear, and each has its own taste of great scenery.  By no means are these the only three areas; there is so much more I need to go back and try.

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Big Cottonwood Canyon (BCC)- Sport/Trad: BCC is our first stop moving from North to South. There is a nice collection of lines in the sport and trad department on the BCC’s quarzite rock.  Quartzite takes some acclimatization in my opinion; there are good edges and features, but the rock face is glassy smooth.  Like most climbing in the SLC, the climbing areas are well dispersed and you won’t find a single sector with thirty routes alla RRG or NRG, but tons of little sectors scattered about. MountainProject website has the list of routes.

Mormon Steve isn’t a climber, so I went for a sector with highly rated moderates, the Challenge Buttress.  We started off with Sweet and Low, a nice 5.5 for getting acquainted with the intricacies of quartzite rock.

Sweet and Low

Then we moved over to the Coral Bells Arete, an airy 5.8 that can be an X/R sport route or an easy mixed route.  There are three bolts the first half, and then a run-out of about the same distance until you get to the first set of anchors.  That being said, I highly recommend getting on it.  It starts off with a stiff boulder problem for 5.8, but don’t let that discourage you as the climbing above is much easier and smoother.  Just go for the stick clip if you are unsure.

Mormon Steve on Coral Bells Arete

Chambered Nautilus 5.10a is the route on the perpendicular overhanging face between Sweet and Low and Coral Bells Arete (seen in the picture above).  A surprisingly fun route, Chambered Nautilus has a series of little roofs that call for some seriously cool moves.

Little Cottonwood Canyon – Bouldering/Trad: Mormon Steve’s neighbor just happened to be an ex-V9 boulderer and gave me all the Beta, including driving me out to the road side boulders.  The rock is all granite and the approach times are non-existent. The bouldering areas I went to could all be seen from the road.  I took gps coordinates of two parking areas just to spoil you, but it is a safe bet to drive along the canyon and stop at the obvious pull-offs on the side of the road and you should be able to see a boulder or two.  Two of his personal favorite problems were:  Double Dyno V2: 40.572093,-111.768508  and Twisted V4+: 40.571849,-111.772370

There is also a solid amount of trad in the canyon but I didn’t have any gear so I’ll leave it to MountainProject to help you out.

Driving into American Fork Canyon at Sunrise

American Fork Canyon (AF)- Sport: This is the place to be for clipping bolts.  Tons of routes running the full range of grades on nicely featured limestone.  Out of all the sectors in AF we picked the Membrane for its short approach and highly rated climbs.  As it turns out we had quite the adventurous approach.  The directions simply say, “Park at the pull-out 1.0 miles from TCNM. The Membrane is immediately across the stream, behind the trees.”

We parked at a pull-out a mile from TCNM (there is a big sign) and found a stream with an old rope railing leading across.  We did the logical thing, took our pants off and forded the ice-cold river.

Crossing the River

As our legs thawed we checked out the cliff and found a nice loose scramble up a hill that had routes, but nothing that matched the Membrane description.

Mormon Steve sliding down the slope

We recrossed the river and tried the other side of the canyon, stumbling upon another climbing area, but not the Membrane. Some friendly climbers told us that we needed to go down further.  We drove to the next pull off and ran into more climbers.  Apparently this was yet another climbing area, but not yet the Membrane.  They told us to drive to the turnoff with the large park sign a bit down the road.  We finally  found the parking area, crossed a thick log over the river, and low and behold, the one minute approach had brought us to the cliff.

Crossing the River to the Membrane

We warmed up on Bad Faith 5.9, however, I’d say skip Bad Faith as it was awkward with some of the worst bolt placement I’ve run into.  My advice is to move over to Caress of Steel10a.  This was a super cool over hang that had an amazing jug in all the right places. (just a heads up, this route spreads the bolts a bit thin)

Membrane Cave area.  Caress of Steel is the first one on the left.

We found a cool short route to the left of Bad Faith that wasn’t on MountainProject.  It had a 12a chalked on the bottom and is identifiable by distinctive features.  It has an overhanging bouldery start that leads to a bulgey roof  that you have to pull on small crimps and no good feet.  Then it’s a short choss walk to the anchors.

Unknown 12a at the Membrane

The rest of the routes to the right of Caress of Steel looked too cool, and it was painful to leave without giving them a burn.  Bomber rock, great scenery, and a stones-throw approach make this one of the nicest climbing areas I’ve been to.

I apologize for being less in depth on the beta for the Salt Lake City area, it is just tough to get a lot of climbing in when you don’t have an experienced climbing partner.  As always I’ll try my best to answer any questions.  One thing I would recommend is to hike Mt. Olympus on your off day.  It is fairly strenuous, but the view from the top is well worth it (the panorama at the very top is from Mt. Olympus.)

View from Mt. Olympus

Rock on!



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