Utah: the best bouldering in the US?

© Dave Pegg

Dave Pegg used to be a British climber but moved to the US after putting up various grit E7s. Here he describes the great bouldering found in Utah and highlights a few of the top spots.

There are lots of reasons to make a climbing vacation to the state of Utah:

  • Utah has heaps of rock - sandstone, limestone, granite, conglomerate, quartzite - and a huge variety of climbing -- 1500 big walls and aids climbs in Zion, incredible "splitter" cracks at Indian Creek, adventurous traditional routes on freestanding sandstone towers, and some of America's hardest limestone sport routes: Necessary Evil (F8c+), I Scream (F8c+), and Super Tweak (F8c).
  • World-class mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding.
  • You'll be rich because the dollar is so weak!
  • Look at that sky! The state gets 300 days of sunshine a year.

    If you visit Utah, bring a crash pad. The state has some of the best bouldering in the America. Here's a visual tour of the best areas - Joe's Valley, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Big Bend, and Ibex. All photos are from the new guidebook Utah Bouldering, available from Rock and Run.

    Jerry Moffatt on holiday enjoying(?) the fingery All Thumbs (V10), Secret Garden area, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
    © Ray Wood

    Little Cottonwood Canyon

    • 500 problems
    • Season: spring, summer, autumn
    • Rock: granite

    Salt Lake City (SLC) is a sort of American Sheffield. That's why Jerry Moffatt goes there on his holidays. Lots of climbers live in SLC because there's so much good climbing nearby.

    Little Cottonwood Canyon is just 15 minutes from downtown SLC. Despite its proximity to the city, Little Cottonwood is a beautiful place to boulder. It lies in a narrow valley, slicing into the 12,000-foot peaks of the Wasatch mountains, halfway up the road to the famous ski resorts of Snowbird and Alta.

    Purists praise Little Cottonwood's smooth granite for its solidity, technical nature, and purity of line. My only gripe is the lack of good footholds. Why is it so hard to leave the ground?

    Ever get the feeling someone is watching you? Monkey man attempts No Additives V11 at Joe's Valley, Utah
    © Dave Pegg

    Joe's Valley

    • 500 problems
    • Season: spring, autumn
    • Sandstone

    Chris is my buddy (and the guidebook author) so I had to include a couple of shots of him. Here he is on They Call Him Jordan V7, a explosive little number that Chris calls "the best boulder problem at Joe's Valley." Praise indeed -- many people consider Joe's to be the best bouldering area in the state.

    Joe's is about two and half hours southeast of SLC, near the town of Price. The rock is sandstone of variable quality. The good stuff has black, blue, and gold streaks and is covered with a solid patina. It looks and climbs like European limestone (I'm thinking Ceuse and Siurana not Water Cum Jolly here!). There's a huge variety of holds - pockets and edges, slopers and pinches, gargoyles and toilet boils, frags and sprags - and they're often so good that you can monkey up steep stuff without using your feet.

    Fiona Lloyd on Leftover Lover (V0), Big Bend, Utah
    © Dave Pegg

    Big Bend

    • 100 problems
    • Season: autumn, winter, spring
    • Sandstone

    Big Bend is a historic area (God probably bouldered here back in the day). Consequently it has some of the hardest problems - and stiffest grades in the state. The locals just love to sandbag and have the place wired. Last time I visited Noah Bigwood, (chief local and author of the Big Bend section of the guidebook - beware his grades!) was downing cans of beer in between running laps on Hellbelly, a brilliant- "V11" -- that both Klem Loskott and Fred Nicole failed to repeat.

    Big Bend is near the town of Moab in the east of the state. If you visit, you should bring a rope and a rack and climb a desert tower like Castleton or those in Canyonlands National Park. (If not, bring a written excuse.) Indian Creek is nearby too - bring tape for your hands! Moab itself is famous for ice-cream eating tourists, mountain biking (Slickrock Trail), as well as Jeep and whitewater rafting tours. Support the local economy by buying a Cocopelli vase for your mantelpiece.


    • 250 problems
    • Season: spring, autumn
    • Quartzite

    Last year I spent a week camping alone at Ibex while working on the book and got very gripped. Ibex has lots of highballs and is in the middle of nowhere (ie. the vast western Utah desert). This part of the state should be called the "big empty" since there are no people, no houses, no water, no trees. Delta, the nearest town, is 50 miles away.

    Fortunately, halfway through my stay, two random dudes (and I do mean random) showed up in a truck. It was a relief to meet Shane and Jerry. Finally I could get a spot on the Red Monster, an amazing boulder with a 100-foot long, 25-degree overhanging wall stacked with testy highballs: Ju (V7), Blue Flowers (V7), Bruce Lee (V10), Big Gulp (V8) etc, etc. Some people consider it the best bouldering face in the USA.

    It also allowed me to take these photos. Shane and Jerry had just started climbing and were totally maxed out - pulling some great facial expressions - on everything they tried.

More information Wolverine Publishing

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