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.

Explore posts in the same categories: trips

6 Comments on “Climbing at Carderock”

  1. Our club, the Mountaineer Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club produces and publishes the Carderock Climbers Guide. It is now in its Second Edition and corrects some of the errors you may have encountered in the first edition. We have retained the historical information that you elude to. The Carderock climbing area is of historical significance in the climbing history of the east coast and indeed the country. The guide we hope preserves some of that rich history for future generations to enjoy.

    Kind Regards,
    PATC-MS Treasurer 2008-2009

  2. Mike M. Says:

    I climbed at Carderock in the mid 60’s with my dad and it was a wonderful experience. Dad and I were both beginners and the PATC Mountaineering Section folks who gathered there once a month were warm, friendly and eager to teach newcomers.

    To put the era in perspective, every other gathering or so the experts would set up a line with a huge rock, a hoisting line with a release mechanism, and train any interested climbers in the art of the dynamic belay. Static ropes were the norm (Goldline 7/16th) at the time. Every lead climber at that time risked injury in an arrested fall.

    Hats off to the PATC people and other climbers who made my father and I feel like a part of the climbing community from the first day we showed up with new rope, Vibrams etc.

    I hear that Carderock has resisted the chalk crowd and I salute that. I still don’t understand how climbers can paint up a beautiful cliff with chalk and then have the nerve to complain about tourist trash left on the ground. Leaving cigarette butts or a soda can are minor offenses compared to chalking up the rock face.

  3. Jeff Horowitz Says:

    Please contact me ASAP regarding use of one of your climbing photos in a sports magazine. Thanks.

    • whitney staver Says:

      hey,first of all i would like to complement you on an excellent drawling of the area at carderock.great job on that it looks great.
      carderock is my favorite place to go climbing. it has a great atmosphere and great people are always there. although i do not agree with what mike said about the chalk on the rock! the chalk washes away every time it rains so I’m not sure what the big deal is with that. trash being left behind is an understandable offense.the main thing being the dirt erosion.year after year more and more dirt washes away wit the river. Ive spoken to guys that have been climbing there since the 70s and they say some areas could be a 10 foot difference.

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