Here are ten reasons we should all be planning a climbing trip to the boulderfields of Southwest Virginia’s Grayson Highlands State Park this upcoming season:
1: It’s Beautiful: In case you have never heard of GHSP -maybe you stumbled upon this page searching for Southeastern bouldering and skipped over the photos- GHSP is simply breathtaking. Commonly called the “crown jewel of VA State Parks” and lovingly reminisced by Appalachian Trail hikers, the sweeping views and mountain scenery at Grayson are hard to beat. You can find a bounty of meandering trails winding through craggy boulderfields, open highland balds, along cascading waterfalls and shaded rhododendron and blueberry tunnels. Visitors can soak in the Appalachian vastness with three visible states, countless peaks, ridges and valleys. Sounds nice right? Come check it out!
Its hard to beat the scenery (Jeff Greenough photo)
2: The best warm-weather bouldering in the Southeast: A lot of the park itself meets or exceeds 5,000ft in elevation. Grayson is connected to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (MRNRA), Wilson Creek Wilderness, Lewis Fork Wilderness, and several other high elevation recreation and wilderness designation areas. This lofty environment allows for much cooler temperatures than what Southeastern climbers are typically used to in the summer. When lower elevation climbing areas become manky, sweaty, buggy and overgrown with poison ivy, GHSP is prime for climbing. Even in June and early September you would be wise to bring a jacket for evening sessions in the Highlands and for hanging out later at camp.
Summer sessions at their best (Dan Brayack)
3: Great climber access: The majority of the bouldering at the Picnic Area, Contact Station Area, and Listening Rock Trail are right beside the parking lot or within a lazy one minute stroll. There are boulders actually IN the park’s campground. Most of the boulders in the Boneyard and AVP Areas likewise have a one or two minute approach. Be careful not to get spoiled by the lack of hiking you need to do in order to reach many of GHSP’s classic boulders!
This boulder (and 50+ Picnic Area Boulder problems) is a 30 second walk from the parking lot (Dan Brayack Photo)
4: Park staff: The Grayson Highlands park staff are simply amazing. Without these fantastic folks and all their hard work and dedication Grayson Highlands wouldn’t be the magical place it is today, and bouldering here wouldn’t be an option. Having trouble finding boulders? Ask a Ranger or staff member and they can steer you toward the closest one. Need chalk, a chalk bag, brush, crashpad, or guidebook? Stop by the park office. Questions about the park in general? These folks are experts. The park staff loves climbers so don’t hesitate to stop by and ask questions about anything park or bouldering related! With that being said, don’t try to camp anywhere that is not designated or have open alcohol containers. Tickets and fines aren’t cheap.
Harvey Thompson, the legendary Park Manager at GHSP, dancing like no one is watching at one of the many park festivals
5: Camping & amenities: The GHSP campground is phenomenal. Warm showers, cozy tent camping spots, and the nearby camp store is chocked full of essential camp goodies and firewood. Likewise, the bouldering within the campground isn’t shabby either, some being directly beside campsites, and the awesome Wilson Creek Boulder is within easy walking distance from your tent. Trees galore are perfect for after session slacklining and if you plan it right there are fun park programs and bluegrass shows in the campground amphitheater. Budget camping or looking for more adventure and solitude during your stay? If you plan ahead for backcountry camping in the Mount Rogers National Rec Area (MRNRA), its free! The hike takes at least 30min and you are rewarded with a serene camp setting and view that is out of this world (oh yeah, and you might wake up with a majestic herd of wild miniature ponies around you tent). Not to mention that sets you up for easy access to the lesser traveled and adventurous MRNRA back country boulder fields.
Back country camping in the MRNRA
6: Plentiful Problems: Grayson Highlands State Park has the greatest quantity of boulder problems in Virginia. All you have to do is visit Mountain Project to see just how many climbs that have been documented in GHSP over the past decade. With Grayson topping 1,000 listed boulder problems its easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of climbing the park offers. To ease the task of finding the best of the best, volume 1 of the Grayson Highlands Bouldering Guidebook covers the 350 of the most classic lines and the upcoming 2nd volume will showcase new areas, boulders, and all of their best problems as well. There is something for every climber from comfortable and fun V0s to the hardest boulder problem in VA. No matter who you are you have plenty to keep you occupied for many visits and years to come.
Over one thousand documented problems and counting… (Kai Bottcher photo)
7: Family friendly: Ever find yourself in the situation where you love to climb but its tough to get the whole family or your significant other on board with a climbing trip? It can be tough! Many climbing areas are only fun for climbers, leaving everyone else involved only slightly entertained. Grayson Highlands is a great place for the whole family. There are amazing hikes with beautiful views, berry bushes ripe for the picking, waterfalls and park programs. There are playgrounds too! Spend half a day climbing and half of the day visiting all the other fun adventures and opportunities throughout the highlands. A day trip hike to VA’s tallest mountain, Mount Rogers, is one you all wont soon forget. Oh yeah, and don’t miss out on the ponies!
Erica Lineberry and little Canaan exploring both big and small boulders in GHSP (Erica Lineberry photo)
8: PONIES!: Yep, there is a free-range miniature pony herd roaming the Highlands. These little ones are a star attraction at GHSP. With a usual number of 20-30 adorable little ponies prancing around the gorgeous Appalachian High Country, you can bet that even the most hardened individual will be pausing, smiling and taking photos. Keep a look out for “Fabio” the long haired rock star pony of the park who occasionally appears from the Mountain Laurel thickets to steal the show. For even more pony action, hike into the MRNRA where twice the number of free-range ponies call home.
Rock star pony. Such mane.
9: Park events: GHSP has a number of awesome park events which are great reasons to plan a climbing trip to coincide with. First and foremost would have to the the Wayne C Henderson Music Festival & Guitar Competition. This event is awesome, with top notch live music and tons of vendors and delicious food right there in the Picnic Area. You can expect quite the crowd, with guitar and old time music lovers from around the world attending. Another old-time and bluegrass event is the Albert Hash Memorial Festival. The Albert Hash Memorial Festival is a bit more low key than the Wayne C Henderson event, but no less awesome and full of talented musicians. Another event is the Grayson Highlands Fall Festival, and it is always a good time! Food vendors, and of course music! Lastly I have to mention the Grayson Highlands Bouldering & Stewardship Weekend which is always on Memorial Weekend. This event is informal, fun and fulfilling. We work half of the day improving trails, landings, picking up trash, erasing tick marks, and cleaning chalky holds. The last half is for climbing! Also, it is a two day event and typically that night there is a memorial weekend bluegrass or mountain music show. Don’t miss it! More info on the 2016 GHSP Bouldering & Stewardship weekend will be posted soon.
Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival & Guitar Competition in GHSP’s Picnic Area
10: Adventure and variety: Although GHSP has tons super easy approaches and wonderful amenities, those looking for a bit more adventure in their outing need not look far. The park has many secluded but classic climbs that are rarely traveled. There is also back country camping and climbing opportunities strewn throughout the MRNRA and surrounding wilderness where you undoubtedly will not see another climber or find a trace of chalk. As for variety, GHSP has several different styles of climbing with varying geology within the park itself. High in the Highlands the rock is a fine grained rhyolite. It is also considerably more rounded and smooth from weathering than the park’s boulderfields slightly lower in elevation. Lower down the rock changes to a distinct metamorphic sandstone. These boulders have interesting rounded river rocks embedded in them from an ancient stream bed while others have striking quartzite veins (some boulders like the Tiger Side Boulder have both). These embedded, smooth pebbles and rocks are can vary from pink to white in color and are often part of the climbs themselves. These metamorphic boulders are very steep; leading to crimpy, powerful climbing. Even lower in the park in areas such as the Contact Station and Boneyard the rounded river rock deposits disappear and the boulders become uniformly dark grey in color and loaded with crimpy, steep problems with the occasional slopey top out. As climbers, one of the best things we can do to better our craft is to experience and practice varying climbing styles and and climb in different and contrasting locations. GHSP is definitely unique, with a it’s own feel, style and geology standing out from many boulderfields throughout the Southeast. If you haven’t visited GHSP yet, or are planning a trip to the Southeast, be sure to plan for a session in GHSP this upcoming season!
“Indian Outlaw”(V3) on the Rock House Boulder (Dan Brayack photo)