Winter Rock Climbing in North America

Right now, most crags in North America are wet with rain and snow, and your hands might fall off if you tried climbing, it’s so cold. This does a funny thing to some rock climbers: they’ll resign themselves to this purgatory of a season and spend their time inside gyms, where they’ll caress plastic holds. But like instant coffee, rock climbing in a gym is never as good as the real thing.

Rock climbing outside doesn’t have to be a three season sport. There are plenty of places in the North America to get your climbing fix, even when half the continent is covered with snow. Follow the birds, climbing bums, and head south for the winter!

El Potrero Chico, Mexico
Winter Weather: 45-60° F

Potrero Chico, a canyon outside of Hidalgo in northern Mexico, is renowned for its long sport climbs. Most climbers who climb sport (i.e. routes with metal bolts to protect you from falling) don’t get a chance to climb longer routes. But in Potrero Chico (meaning “little corral”) there are tons, the longest of which is the longest sport climb in North American, Timewave Zero, clocking in at 23 pitches of awesome limestone climbing.

There’s the whole safety issue, of course. The past couple of years, the Mexican government has tried to put out an inferno of gang and drug violence. Some parts of the country are de facto ruled by drug cartels. Is it safe to climb in Mexico at this time? Experts say yes. There’s no way of knowing if you’ll be 100 percent safe (just like anything in life), but Potrero Chico isn’t near the border, nor is it near a big city, both of which are wear the majority of the gang violence takes place. Check out these tips to stay safe while you’re south of the border.

Hueco Tanks, Texas
Winter weather: 50-60° F, with occasional rain and stretches of colder weather

Located in western Texas, Hueco Tanks has climbing of all climbs, although bouldering is where it achieves apotheosis. The bouldering problems in Hueco Tanks are considered among the best in the world.

Joshua Tree, California
Winter weather: 60° F during the day

Joshua Tree National Park is the traditional winter destination for climbing bums. When it gets too cold in Yosemite, there’s a mass exodus to the southeastern California, where you’ll find classic granite climbs that often rival Yosemite’s in quality.

Smith Rock, Oregon
Winter weather: 30-40° F. Usually dry.

If you don’t mind colder temps, then head to the desert near Bend, Oregon. Smith Rock is where modern sport climbing was basically invented. It’s mostly climbed during the fall and spring (summer’s usually too hot), but if you go during the winter, you just might get lucky with temperatures above freezing.

Indian Creek, Utah
Winter Weather: Around 50°F

Every trad climber should take his or her Haj to this mecca of crack climbing. The splitter cracks have no comparison anywhere else in the world. Most rock climbing cracks in this world resemble the gnarled lines of a broken windshield, which drift and squiggle around. But the cracks in Indian Creek are preternaturally straight, as if God used a laser to cut a perfect line up the sandstone.

Many people stay away from Indian Creek in the winter, but you can find moderate weather if you climb at the walls that are exposed to the sun – you just might have the world’s best splitter cracks entirely to yourself.

By Sean Sullivan