Mountain Project Map - Harpers Ferry

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Routes - Maryland Heights Cliffs

While most visiting roped rock climbers seem to stick to the popular, well traveled, main stay routes, Harpers Ferry is seeing talented roped rock climbers get creative, venture out into new vertical terrain, and then share their exploits with the rest of us so we can sample these new lines. If you've been following along then you know that we have also been seeing talented bouldering climbers visit Harpers Ferry.

Just yesterday I placed a call to Maryland climber Dan Montague and we spoke for over an hour on his and Martin Leskas new exploits. It seems that they and others are bringing a combination of strength, trad skill, and head game to climb previously unreported "new" lines, repeat existing climbs, and to attempt to free climb old aid lines... with spicy results at times.

Also in the mix are John Kelbel, Carl Orr, Daniel Langdon and their willing partners. These guys have been teaming up to create some spectacular spectacles on the history immersed cliffs of Maryland Heights. Most of what follows below comes from the ascentionists themselves, so thank these guys for caring and sharing.  Martin Leska, Dan Montague, John Kelbel, Carl Orr, and Daniel Langdon. Read on for the full story.

First, please note, it is necessary to sign in with the park service before climbing routes on the main cliffs of Maryland Heights.

The first route I'll mention, "Daniels Variation", is a variation to the classic Sign Route on the main face of Maryland Heights. The first reported ascent was from Daniel Langdon and his partner Eric Boesch back in 2009. Daniel has described this route to me as one of his finest climbing accomplishments and a thrilling route. Please see the photo topo for this line.  Link to Daniels Variation of the Sign Route info
"Daniels Variation" Route Beta from Daniel Langdon (taken from

Climb the first part of "Hard-up" until you reach the high left anchor with webbing hanging on it. From there, follow a pair of diagonal cracks up the face know as the "Sign Route". In the middle of the face, there is a large chunk gone visible from the ground. Here, place a few pieces and run it out straight up the face over a bulge. You'll make several tough moves and then move up 5.6 to 5.7ish terrain passing a horizontal crack that takes gear and ending up on a ledge with a small tree with a crack behind it. From here, the climbing isn't so great, but not difficult to finish if you can find a line with decent pro.
First reported ascent by Daniel Langdon and Eric Boesch
Daniels Variation on the Sign Route
I mentioned "Daniels Variation" first as it ties into the adventures of Dan and Martin.  Dan M. recently focussed on this route and made a successful ascent. He confirmed that it's a fun, runout, enjoyable route and commented that he felt comfortable with a 5.10 R rating.  Dan explained that he had recently visited Seneca Rocks and climbed a 5.10 R/X route and said this "Daniels Variation" to the Sign Route was comparable in difficulty. While on the subject of repeating previously published lines, these guys made a free attempt at "Center Stage and All Alone", an old aid (A3) route.  Dan said they made most of the moves until an undercling broke pushing the grade into the mid to upper 5.13's at their estimate and out of reach for the time being.  While attempting to free the line Dan said he took a whipper and fell on an old copperhead.  The piece blew and his fall grew bigger than he anticipated but all was fine when he came to a stop. The authors of these upcoming routes also want folks to know that all fixed gear was placed on lead.

The next couple lines are on the Train Tunnel wall. PLEASE review the beta for this wall on the guide page. 

The first new line to mention from Dan and Martin is "Outrage" 5.12, mixed protection, with fixed top anchors.  This route is to the right of "Center Stage and All Alone" and it starts where the word "outrage" is spray painted on the wall.  Dan described it as crimpy to three big moves followed by some long reaches.  It is a left facing corner at the start and tops out around 50 ft.
Who likes Harpers Ferry rock climbing and has big thumbs...
Martin Leska on "Outrage"
A sunny, overhanging, Train Tunnel wall.
Next, is "Whirlpool", 5.7/8.  This route is in between "Long & Hard" and "Center Stage...".  Dan describes it as a slabby, stemming type climb with a little funkiness.  This route has fixed top anchors, is a mixed route, and tops out around 65 ft.
Dan on "Whirlpool"
Last is "Dodge or Burn", 5.9, trad with fixed top anchors.  Dan described the route as windy (winding).  It starts the same as Whirlpool and tops out at about 95 ft. He mentioned that from their experience a #0 Metolius cam (purple) is an essential piece of gear to lead the route.

Climber on "Dodge or Burn"
Next, direct from John Kelbel, are some trad routes on the main face of Maryland Heights and also some top rope lines to have fun on that don't appear to have been described previously in written form.
Space Walk 5.9+ John Kelbel and Evan Moseman 5/28/11
**Warning** large overhanging block at the top of the crux corner on pitch 1 which your forced to climb on, it appears to be detached, also it has a very sharp edge which is a serious issue with the rope running over it.
 Approach as you would for D route and Dee’s rival, walk to the right end of the ledge and into the large left facing corner.
 1. Climb the short flake in the corner, move over a small overhang onto a thin ledge standing only on the thicker areas, move up to a good ledge, continue up the overhanging corner (crux) and pass two more ledges and belay on a big ledge, large camming units like #3’s and #4 Camalots are helpful at the belay.
2. Step up and left onto a ledge on d ramp move back right up a grove onto the main face and big ledge that joins with “Hard Up”.  Finish out the pitch on “Hard Up”
Note: if the second falls off on the crux corner of pitch 1 they will be taking a space walk, with little chance of getting back on.

The Hard Way Up 5.10 C/D – top rope John Kelbel 9/20/2010
Just left of hard-up (yellow line in the picture below) There are 2 cruxes one near the beginning and one at the very top to reach the rappel anchor.
Climb the face near the right end of the graffiti “Debbie” and about 6’ left of the start of Hard Up.  Pull over the overhang and move left and up the face.  Continue up pass the ledge and work the 2nd crux on a slightly overhanging blank face directly under the rap anchor.
John mentioned that the next line is just for interest sake and he didn't think it was significant but I'd like to have it documented and shared for historical purposes if nothing else.

Blue line 5.9 - Top Rope – around the corner to the right form Hard Up and just left of the left-facing corner of C ramp.  This is may be “Hard-up Direct Start in Rob’s old guide.”  But not everything adds up in Rob’s Description nor is it in the old picture topo.
Note there is an extremely sharp slanting edge at the top and is not safe to top-rope!  There is no gear off the ground so leading it is out of the question unless your nuts.  All said it was a good climb, however not worth all the fancy rigging to protect the rope from getting cut by the sharp edge at the top.

The Hard Way Up, and another top rope line.
The next line John wanted to share is Black Powder.

Black Powder 5.8+ John Kelbel and Dominic Albanese 9/11/10
Climb the first pitch of “C Ramp” (yellow line in the picture below) halfway up you may notice an old ¼ rusty bolt place straight down in a waist high bolder with a place to stand.  Also this bolt is about 5’ out from the wall on the ramp.  About 10’ above this bolt on the ramp was a crack to set an anchor in and using the rope I came back down to the bolt and belayed not using it.  Pitch 2 follows a right leaning crack line with good gear.  At the overhang step right being careful of loose rock and move around the overhang.  Head up to the orange rock with a white streak, placing gear high traverse out left to more gear placements.  Head up and slightly right aiming for the right side of the alcove.  Be very careful about rope drag at the orange wall with the white streak. Named for the history of Harpers Ferry as it was a Federal Arsenal.

Black Powder
John also provided information on 2 aid routes on the Train Tunnel wall. He mentioned he has played on other aid lines on that wall but didn't have information assembled.
Johns partner Dominic posted a report on
Spectacular Spectacle IV 5.8 A3+ 9/16/2005
Maryland’s first Grade 4 climb! FA: John Kelbel and Dominic Albanese

This 4 pitch aid rout ascends the cliff at Maryland Heights in the center of the 200ft overhanging wall hovering over the train tunnel.  To access this climbing area climb the 30 ft. rebar ladder imbedded in the right side of the train tunnel and then climb down into the pit.  Please keep a low profile, as this is CSX property.  Do not hang out on top the concrete tunnel or you could be charged with trespassing.

Pitch 1: “Center Stage and All Alone” A3+ 55ft established in 1998 by John on rope solo
Start in the pit, at the obvious flaring crack in the center of the overhanging wall, 12’ left of a 2’ left facing corner.  Carefully climb the crack for 40ft.  At the overhang move right about 3’ into the left facing corner and climb over the overhang. At the first horizontal line move left 3 feet and then free climbing straight up to a good ledge.
Pitch 1 Note:
First ascent took 3.5 hrs to lead and 1.5 hrs to clean.  Now it takes around 2 to 2.5 hrs due leaving some fix gear in the wall to help preserve the rout. 
Pitch 2: A2+ 35ft
To start pitch 2 step down to the lower ledge and walk to its left end about 12ft.  Ascends a small 18” left facing corner until it runs into an overhang in about 8ft up.  Climb over the overhang and continue following the obvious right leaning line ending below a prominent 2’ roof at a two-bolt anchor. 
Pitch 2 Notes:
Note the bolts are hard to see as they are painted the color of the rock. The 2-bolt anchor is a pure hanging belay! Also note the beginning of this pitch can be free climb. The free climbing starts at about 5.8 and gets progressively harder after climbing over the small roof and ends near the middle of the pitch.  One fish head or hook may be needed.

Pitch 3: A3+ 60ft
Tension traverses way out right, plug some gear into a slot and lower out on it.  Climb up and pull over the 2-foot over hang at the 3 to 4 inch crack in the bottom of the overhang.  A number 4 Cam-a-lot is needed here.  Delicate nailing will take you up the severely overhanging face for about 8’ to another overhang with a shallow 3” crack in the bottom of it.  Move left around the overhang and up 4 bolts and dowels.  Nail up the narrow overhanging face heading slightly right for the small left facing corner and roof.  Climb the left facing corner to its end and pull around a small overhang to the right making a long move up to a horizontal seam.  Over a shelf to the right is 2 fixed pitons. Reach up to the bottom of the most prominent overhang on the wall and plug a number 3 cam-a-lot in then climb the small right facing corner and crack 6’ to a grand ledge.
Pitch 3 Notes:
            At the first overhang a #3 and #4 cam-a-lot is needed
At the last overhang a #3 cam-a-lot is needed
            Note the bolts are hard to see as they are painted the color of the rock.

Pitch 4: 5.8 50ft
Free climb the 25’ crack and face directly in line with the top of the 3rd pitch.  You will reach another grand ledge.  Continue free climbing another excellent 25’ crack just left of a massive 6’square detached block.
Spectacular Spectacle

Also on the train tunnel wall is “Air Show A4” which is in “Climb Maryland” guide and to the right of “Center Stage”
Not certain if this is an image of Air Show or Center Stage...

The last set of routes are described on by Carl Orr and another unidentified climber, and are slightly downstream of the Train Tunnel wall. Link to Carl and others description This area has some good potential and more new routes will likely emerge in the future.

Thanks to all who shared information and collaborated on assembling this news, including Robin Close of Robins Bouldering Page.

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