|The south face of West Rock is one place people can rock climb.|
The most important thing to keep in mind is that West Rock is mostly basalt. While extremely hard, basalt is a rock that fractures easily. I have broken basalt rocks simply by stepping on them in such a way that they split under the weight of my boot. Helmets are certainly essential when climbing at West Rock.
The most popular climbing face at West Rock is the south face by Amrhyn Field in Westville.
|On the ascent of the Red Trail up to the South Overlook, there is a sharp turn on the trail. This is the view off the cliff in an area where rock climbing is feasible, but hazardous. Note the large numbers of loose rocks of assorted sizes.|
Another option that is definitely not recommended is the old quarry on the Woodbridge side near Konolds Pond. The rocks here are unstable, as witnessed by the large piles of boulders at the bottom of the cliff.
|The piles of large rocks at the bottom of West Rock near Konolds Pond in Woodbridge shows the instability of the basalt rockface. This area was once quarried, which likely makes the rocks even less stable that cliff areas that have not been quarried.|
One straightforward and relatively safe option is to climb Judges Cave, an activity known as bouldering. Be aware that the cave has gotten so much use over the years that people have worn its surfaces smooth and extremely slippery. Be respectful of the cave's historic importance and use only your chalk-free hands to climb.
This website writer is not a rock climber, so I cannot speak from any direct experience. I relate the following information from climbers and I appreciate their input. If you are not a climber and have difficulty understanding the following information, you are not alone! Climbers truly have their own lingo and language.
West Rock is briefly mentioned in a couple of climbing books about Connecticut, including Rock Climbing Connecticut by David Fasulo.
The most comprehensive online resource for West Rock climbing information I found is Mountain Project, a website with user-created content. This is the West Rock page overview page: http://www.mountainproject.com/v/west-rock-state-park/108368529 and this lists specific climbing locations: http://www.mountainproject.com/scripts/Classics.php?id=108368529.
Climbing Rating Systems
Free Climbing: Yosemite Decimal System (YDS)
The rating system for climbs has been taken from the website of Mountain Madness, a mountain climbing, skiing, and trekking guide service, with a mountaineering school for all levels in Seattle, Washington.
Class 1: Hiking
Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possible occasional use of the hands
Class 3: Scrambling; a rope might be carried
Class 4: Simple climbing, often with exposure. A rope is often used. A fall on Class 4 rock could be fatal. Typically, natural protection can be easily found.
Class 5: Where rock climbing begins in earnest. Climbing involves the use of a rope, belaying, and protection (natural or artificial) to protect the leader from a long fall. Fifth class is further defined by a decimal and letter system in increasing and difficulty. The ratings from 5.10-5.15 are subdivided in a, b, c and d levels to more precisely define the difficulty (for example: 5.10a or 5.11d)
5.0-5.7: Easy for experienced climbers; where most novices begin.
5.8-5.9: Where most weekend climbers become comfortable; employs the specific skills of rock climbing, such as jamming, liebacks, and mantels.
5.10: A dedicated weekend climber might attain this level.
5.11-5.15: The realm of true experts; demands much training and natural ability and, often, repeated working of a route.
West Rock Climbing Information From a Local Climber
The following general information about climbing West Rock was provided by Martin Torresquintero, Outdoor Adventure Coordinator, for the city of New Haven, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Trees. Martin operates out of the West Rock Nature Center. His contact number at the parks department is 203-949-6768. Martin also provided information for the book Rock Climbing Connecticut by David Fasulo. These pictures have been provided by Martin.
Martin provides this information about West Rock Crack, one of the climbing routes at the park. It is rated as 5.11 and one of the finest routes at West Rock. “Pretty much everyone that I know that climbed agreed that there was no need to place bolts for either route, as it is possible to protect on the side, or it can simply be top-roped,” writes Martin.
He said in the late 1980s, it was used by climbers for series of ascends. When Trailblazer opened its New Haven store in 1999, a group of climbers ascended many routes in the area, as well as covered some graffiti with textured paint donated by the state.
“Along the process we found also some old hardware that has been placed there previous to our efforts: it was a wired stopper that has been jammed pretty high and into one of few good placements. Evidently someone else has been there before, so we never took credit for doing the first ascends,” said Martin. “We know these cracks were once popular with the Yale Mountaineering Club.”
According to Martin, Mike Barker, who opened the Barker-Daniels wall at West rock, also did a lot of climbing in there. This is the place where Mike took Tyler Stableford to teach him how to climb. Tyler later on become a key writer and photographer for Climbing Magazine, and it is now a Canon photographer. I vaguely remember Tyler writing something for Climbing about this crack, said Martin. They also used the Barker-Daniels wall to train the high angle rescue team.
These are pictures of the first ascent of Passage to India, spring 1988, which has also been named Brown Streak. According to Martin, he dislodged a large block during the first ascent that his climbing partner Christopher said missed him and the climbing rope by mere inches. Martin said the block did actually hit the half rope that he was also trailing.
“I still remember the loud clang when the rock hit the remnants of a washer machine (see in the picture) which marked the beginning of the climb,” said Martin. “He know it was going to be a dangerous route, so he wore his bike helmet. Chris was going to India soon after this climb, so we called Passage to India.”
The good news is that after the first ascent Martin and his friends pulled a lot of blocks, so the route became easier and safer. Two pitches and at that time they rated at a good 5.9 with “mediocre marginal protection.” Martin’s rack was the standard stopped and hexes. The first part of the climb they shared the belay stance at the first pitch with White Streak. The line continues to the right of the picture, passing the tree (where Martin placed some permanent protection) and continue using a crack to the right. The large block still there, and still moves, said Martin. It can be avoided to either side but it is best to go to left as to avoid crossing the rope under the rock.
In the following picture of a training exercise, the corner crag of the Barker-Daniels wall is where Mike and Martin used to take rock climbing the more advanced groups of kids from our summer camps. Martin describes the difficulty as “a very nice 5.6-5.7.”
To the right of the picture is what Martin calls, “a very nice friction slab,” which they graded no harder than 5.8. He said they also cut a trail to the bottom of the crack where he has top rope clinics. Martin cautioned that climbers must be careful not to continue too far down past the trees on the picture. He did say these climbs “have been cleaned pretty good.” The best way to get to it is by walking on Baldwin Drive, and then rappel down, since access from the bottom is difficult, said Martin.
Commenting on the Mountain Project website, Martin writes, “I also found out that a lot of the information on Mountain Project it is not accurate.”
These pictures show the climbing wall, which is accessed off the Teal Trail from Amrhyn Field in Westville. From the ballfield, take the Teal-White Trail behind the backstop and continue straight onto the Teal Trail. Where the Teal Trail levels off, you can see two informal paths heading over an embankment, and the wall is just beyond that. Martin said the anchors in the rock had been installed at some time in the past by climbers without state permission.