Archive for May 2007

Climbing at Carderock


Carderock, a small crag of choice for climbing crowds from Washington, DC, has been sitting on my and Alex‘s trips-to-do list for a few months. Not anymore. Here are my few tips and impressions about the place.
Carderock quartz schists were a welcome change after all that jug-hauling in the Gunks and my local climbing gym. The rock friction is nothing to sing about, especially not on a few popular easy climbs on the Hades Heights and Jungle cliffs. Still, interesting thoughtful moves on polished slabs, committing laybacks on cracks, delicate stemming in corners, and a fair number of various chimneys adds to the great variety of climbing there.
Quality of the climbs varies, not everything is solid and I came upon a couple of suspicious flakes with hollow sound, even on the apparently well-traveled lines. Many routes feature large white crystals of quartz sticking out of the rock. Generally, there is a slippery feeling to them, but they are decent, solid holds. Chimneys are sometimes slightly dusty and a home to spider webs, but nothing awful.
Fixed protection is non-existent. People are expected to set their toprope anchors off the trees on the cliff. Fortunately, they are plentiful, I never had a problem to find a tree thick enough for making a bomber anchor. Occasionally they are as far as 25 feet away, so a second rope, static line or a really loooong webbing is recommended. We did not bring any of those, but managed to use one end of our single climbing rope for tying to trees. Because the majority of routes are short (up to 50-60 feet), usually there was enough of the same rope left for toproping and belaying from the ground.
Trad leading is definitely possible on cracks (Spider Walk, Beginner’s Crack, Trudie’s Horror, Easy Layback), and a risky business on slabs, unless you are a very brave solo climber. Be careful with your placements, schists are inherently weak rocks and flakes can break off nicely (prefer placing nuts to cams).
Online information about climbing at Carderock is scarce and incomplete21. We were using a hard-copy climbing guide “Carderock, Past & Present” by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (1990). The book is occasionally confusing and erroneous, and it annoyingly focuses a great deal on climbing history in the area instead of proper route descriptions. After seeing the high standard set by Dick Williams’ Gunks climbing guide for Trapps, this is a not-so-helpful book with much room left for improvements. Well, better than nothing I guess.

Getting there: From I-495, take exit #13 to the Clara Barton Parkway, on the Maryland side of the Potomac near Cabin John. Follow the Parkway North to the first exit, Carderock Recreation Area. At the top of the ramp turn left across the Parkway, right to go under the canal, stay right to the last parking lot.
It’s reasonably easy to get to Carderock by bus #32 from the Bethesda bus station in Washington, DC (about a 30 min ride). Standard fare: $1.25. Tell the driver to drop you off at the gates of the naval base. From there, walk across the bridge over the Parkway, go straight under the Canal road to the park.
Overall, Carderock is a nice little climbing area and I will like getting back there at the next occasion.
My pictures from Carderock.