Ohio meets the vertical challenge for rock climbing enthusiasts
Indoor rock-wall climbing has become something of national craze, and plenty of Ohioans have caught the fever. But as singer Marvin Gaye proclaimed, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.” Fortunately for those who find indoor climbing a bit too artificial, Ohio is home to some genuine rocky cliffs that offer enthusiasts an opportunity to experience “the real thing.”
I discovered that for myself on a recent trip to Hocking State Forest, where I understood at a glance why rock-climbing has grown so quickly in popularity. Climbing is a great sport for people of all ages and all skill levels, and Ohio offers some thrilling locations to put those skills to work.
Interesting geological formations are hallmarks of the entire Hocking Hills region Old Man’s Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Conkle’s Hollow, for example and I found that Hocking State Forest is no exception. For climbers here, the geological point of interest is nearly a mile of awesome sandstone cliff designated for public use.
|Approaching Big Spring at Hocking State Forest.
|Along the sandstone cliff at Hocking State Forest.
Anchoring the west end of the climbing area, Big Spring was the first stop on my visit. As the name suggests, a steady stream of water cascades from the deeply concaved face of Big Spring. The cliff rises a spectacular 120 feet above a floor of jumbled boulders. Some of these large hunks of fallen stone known as slump blocks are at least 20 feet tall, allowing many beginners to get a taste for climbing without donning a harness, ropes and other tools of the trade. The Big Spring cliff is another matter, however. With its impressive height and level of difficulty, it is definitely meant for more experienced climbers. Seeing that, I was happy to learn there are also plenty of opportunities for beginners or less advanced climbers along the forest’s meandering rock face.
Just east from Big Spring, for example, I found sections of flat wall that range from 15 to 30 feet tall notably in the area known as “In Between Hollow.” Access to the climbing area is from Big Pine Road, off Spring Hollow near S.R. 374. Registration cards (climbers must register beforehand) and maps of the climbing/rappelling area are available at the parking lot kiosk.
For anyone who prefers to stay grounded, it can be just as much fun watching the climbers as it is to take part in this challenging sport. And even the most faint-hearted can enjoy more than 50-miles of hiking trails that wind through Hocking State Forest. Stands of towering eastern hemlocks thrive here because of the cool, moist climate found within the forest gorge. Some of the hemlocks are believed to be 400-500 years old.
Rock-climbing watchers will want to understand some of the finer points of the sport they’re observing. For example, on my Hocking trip I learned that the most common technique used by Ohio climbers is “top-roping.” This involves a climber being tied to a rope, which passes through an anchor at the top and back down to a person on the ground known as belayer. The belayer is responsible for controlling the rope as the climber moves up the wall.
Rappelling is a different activity altogether. Instead of starting at the bottom, those who rappel begin at the top of the cliff. From there, the rope is fixed to a tree or other immovable object, and worked into a friction or mechanical braking device. As the person rappels down the cliff, they control their rate of descent by applying friction. The more friction created, the slower you go while less friction increases the rate of descent.
Rock climbers can also indulge their pastime at John Bryan State Park in Greene County, which maintains six designated climbing sites and one rappelling site. The area is situated within an outstanding limestone gorge cut by the Little Miami Scenic River. Climbers here will find a color-coding system, which defines the level of difficulty they will encounter. Each site is limited to a maximum of 10 climbers at a time, and you must register before going back to the cliffs.
Indoor climbing facilities are great environments for becoming comfortable with the concepts of climbing and building strength. However, if you are interested in climbing actual rocks, be sure to learn from an expert. It is important to have a good understanding of the sport, including how to correctly wear a harness, ascend and descend the rock face, and tie a secure knot. To remain safe and have fun, one of the best rules of thumb is to stay within your limit of expertise.
You can find more information about climbing, and where to go in Ohio, by visiting the Ohio Climbers Association web site at ohioclimbers.org. To learn about the Hocking Hills region, contact the Hocking Hills Tourism Association at 1-800-HOCKING or 1800hocking.com
Remember, wherever you choose to “go vertical,” climb with care.