I've been mulling over how to approach this post since I returned, with this question at the center of my musings: How does one write a post about a climbing trip, with no pictures of the actual climbing?
I still haven't come up with a good answer, so rather than procrastinating for perpetuity I guess I'm just going to ramble on about how awesome it was and hope you believe me.
First, the climbing in Spearfish Canyon is absolutely stellar. That being said, if you want to know what climb you're throwing yourself at, or even find some of the climbs to begin with, I highly recommend buying the guidebook, in addition to downloading mountainproject on your phone.
Guidebook = better approach directions, color pictures so you know what wall you're at, warm fuzzies for supporting a local climber who's put a lot of work into developing the area
Mountainproject = lists routes that aren't in the book 19, has some of the best 20 route descriptions I have ever read. Seriously, if you're having a bad day go read route descriptions like this and laugh until whatever you're drinking squirts out your nose.
Now that you know how to find the climbs, I hope you have a brass pair of cojones to help put them up. Or a stick clip. There are lots of places I haven't climbed 21, so maybe these observations are only relevant to my own, limited, experiences, but this is the first climbing excursion I've been on where I was really grateful to have a stick clip around. For many climbs, if you come off the wall before you clip the first bolt 22 you risk not just falling to the ground, but potentially falling off the steep sides of the trails. Not a pleasant prospect.
I also found the climbing at Spearfish to be rather challenging for the grade. When the rating says 5.10d, it doesn't mean there's one crux move that feels 5.10d surrounded by mostly <5.10 moves. If it says 5.10d, be prepared for every single move to feel at least 5.10d, possibly including the ones to get off the ground. I can't imagine how strong the local climbing crew must be if they're putting up climbs like that all the time. I usually felt like I had limp dicks for arms by the end of every climb.
A note on the approaches: some are short, some are long, all are steep. If you're the kind of person who thinks all sport climbing approaches can be done in flip flops 23 I highly recommend you dig out some real shoes with laces for this trip. Forget switchbacks, it looks like whoever put in these trails were so excited to climb that they just wanted to get to the crag as fast as possible, which means going in a straight, steep line. 24
All said and done, I want to reiterate that the climbing at Spearfish was awesome, and I wish the canyon was just a wee bit closer to home so I could visit more often. Technical pocket sequences, pumpy jugs, and itty bitty crimps, Spearfish has it all and I can't wait to go back.
A Boy and His Shoes
Evan, packing up after the last climb at the Bradyism Wall. Right after I took this picture, I told him I was going to call it "A Boy and His Shoes." I did just that.
When it comes to climbing, Evan does not discriminate. Here he is onsighting a tree near Spearfish Falls, probably 5.easy.
Earlier in the day, while hammocking, Evan accidentally threw his shoes (pictured here) and nalgene off the steep side of the trail... I offered to retrieve them so he wouldn't have to do it barefoot.
If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't.
Throwing shoes down the cliff: 0 out of 5 stars, do not recommend.
This is the second time I've found myself in South Dakota, 25 and I have to say that the state has some of the nicest locals I've ever encountered. The family camping in the site nearest ours were regulars at the campground and definitely came prepared. While getting our things set up to make dinner one night, the grandmother and granddaughter of the group came over hauling a bucket of firewood they wanted us to have. Their reason? "We have a chainsaw." At some point during the weekend, I saw them offer free firewood to everyone who showed up in the campground, simply because they had the means to do so. It was a generous gesture that exceeded even my southern hospitality expectations.
In addition to the locals, we also found the canyon inundated with an unexpected crowd: bikers. They were pretty much everywhere EXCEPT for at the campgrounds 26 and the actual crags. We didn't realize when we planned our trip that Sturgis, one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the world, would be happening at the same time just a few miles away and that Spearfish Canyon was a popular day destination for its attendees. It definitely made for some good people watching after the climbing was done; Sturgis draws quite the diverse crowd.
It worked out quite well. We suspect that the timing with Sturgis is probably the reason we only saw one other pair of the climbers during the 4 days that we were at Spearfish. Which, I have to be honest, really contributed to how much I enjoyed the trip overall. Not that I dislike all other climbers, but I've found I have a really hard time focusing when other people are around. With nobody else standing nearby I could really challenge myself to work through moves I would normally back away from and take falls where I would normally just...take.
It was so nice, in fact, that we've already talked about maybe going back during Sturgis next year. Hopefully with scooters and full leather regalia. We figure it will be a good way to make a bunch of new friends.
It's worth saying that Spearfish Canyon is a great destination, even if you don't consider yourself a climber. The whole area is incredibly scenic, with streams, creeks, and waterfalls around every bend in the road. It's awesome having somewhere to relax and cool off the midday sun, whether you just finished climbing or simply want to stretch your legs after a long drive.
And if you're planning to camp, I have to say the campground we stayed at 27 was one of the cleanest I've ever stayed in. The outhouse even had air freshener and at no point did I feel like I needed to hold my breath while I was in there.
This beautiful pond and cascade is right next to the road, and happens to be accessed by the same parking area as two of the more popular crags in the canyon. It made for a great place to relax before and after climbing in the area.
Even though Spearfish Falls is directly under the road that cuts through the entire canyon, it's a short meandering walk to actually get below the falls and have a good look. Here, Evan is standing on the 'new' bridge, with old bridge in front of him.
We didn't realize it until our last night, but we had been driving right over the top of Spearfish Falls every day.
Roughlock Falls was just off the gravel road between our campground and the canyon. It stayed packed with visitors most of the day, so we stopped for a minute on our way back to camp our last evening after almost everyone else had left. It looked like you could hike to the base and take a better picture, but the path wandered and we were ready for bed, so we didn't hang out long.
While cooking breakfast one morning, Evan dropped a piece of bacon on the ground. It was covered in dirt and uneatable.
Literally everything else.