Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Tweakend for the Weekend

Mega lock-off mid-crux.

“Mommy, what’s ‘bolt to bolting’ mean?” my 9 year old son asked me.  I hadn’t realized he had been listening to my conversation.  I was lounging at the base of the cliff, trying to summon the energy to give my project one last go before hiking out.  I was exhausted.  It had been a roller coaster of a day, hiking in to find ourselves in the midst of a foggy, misty drizzle that had made our slab warm-up a lot more exciting than we’d wanted.  Surprisingly enough, however, conditions on the 12 wall were primo.  The routes were steep enough to be out of the drizzle, and the warm rock kept the condensation at bay, leaving crisp, dry rock.  At this particular moment, I’d just finished falling off the very last hard move for the 2nd time that day.  A few weeks ago, I’d fallen off that same spot 3 times in one day, and I was pretty certain the final battle of the day would end the same way.  So certain, in fact, that while CragDaddy was cleaning the route next door, I seriously considered asking him to take down my draws as well on his way down.

That’s where the “bolt to bolt” conversation started.  See, I’d figured out some different beta at the end of my last go.  The difference was subtle, involving angling my lower body into somewhat of a drop-knee position rather than turned out and toe’d in.  I’d tried similar beta my very first day on the route, back in June, but it hadn’t worked.  But on this day, conditions were a lot better, and I was able to get much more locked in on the left hand crimper I was using to make the toss to the hold I kept coming up short on.  So on a whim, I’d tried it again at the end of this previous attempt, desperately grasping to find something, ANYTHING, that would make this stopper move higher percentage for me.  It made the move feel maybe 10% easier.  Not only did it extend my reach, but CragDaddy and I hypothesized that it kept me tighter to the wall without having to rely solely on my core to keep me in.

I had lowered with intent to try it one more time, but as I said now that I was down, lounging on the rock, with CragDaddy within easy reach of my anchors, I was having second thoughts.  I felt good about the new beta, but also felt like it was probably too little too late.  Despite the fact that I had the rest of the route totally dialed, the moves were still super hard both on the body as well as the skin, and just the thought of doing it all again was exhausted, even after laying around at the base of the cliff for the past hour.  Temps were dropping, and that cloud forest vibe was starting to get old (and cold!)

Opening moves…your skin will thank you for moving quickly here.

CragDaddy reasoned that we were all the way down there (it’s a brutal hike, especially with the kids), the draws were in, and we had plenty of time.  He was right; I owed it to myself to try it one more time.  Even knowing it most likely would NOT end with a send, practicing the new beta would be extremely helpful to have in my muscle memory bank for our next trip out.   My mind knew this, but my body was rebelling.  I compromised by suggesting that I just go bolt to bolt – no need to get mentally and physically “up” again, but my body would get the aforementioned training benefits.

When I explained this in response to my son’s question, he just nodded and went back to reading his book.  But my answer must have been weighing on him, b/c several minutes later he spoke up again.  “Mommy, I don’t want you to bolt to bolt.  I want you to try and send it.”  Thinking this could be a good parenting opportunity to reinforce the “progress, not perfection” mantra to my highly perfectionistic son, I reiterated how satisfied I was with the baby steps I’d made towards my goal by finding the new beta, and working out some better rest stances earlier that same day.  I told him that despite the lack of a send, I could still call the day a success.

He wasn’t buying it.  “But you have new beta.  If you try really hard with the new beta you can send it.  I know you can.”   He looked so sincere.  And he made a good point – all those nuggets of wisdom I’d just told him would still be absolutely true if I tried again and failed.  I had nothing to lose, right?

So, inspired by my son’s faith in me, I tied in again and tried to ignore my tired shoulders and nearly shredded fingertips.  The opening sequence went fast, I’ve done it so many times I could probably do it blindfolded at this point.  I settled myself at the rest, then launched into the first crux, aka the Tall Person Crux.  This sequence I also had dialed, and had executed it perfectly all day…but this time I rushed a hand placement and wound up out of sequence so I quickly downclimbed back to the rest.  Resettle.  Go again, this time according to plan.  I clipped the next bolt, took a couple of precarious shakes and launched into the Short Person Crux.  My nemesis move was at the end of this sequence, a non-move for literally every one else I’d ever seen on the route.  The static reach off jug feet to a great edge for them is a precarious, off-balance deadpoint off bad feet for me.  But I couldn’t focus on that.  Getting to that massive edge was the only thing keeping me from the victory run to the chains.

First (unsuccessful) send attempt of the day this past weekend. Alex Blum making the cameo appearance in the mist. 😉

I executed the same crux beta I’d done so many times before.  Got my left foot up, and kicked my right foot out to the tiny divot I’d been edging on before, but this time, turned my hips and dropped the knee, trying to keep as much body tension as I could.  I threw the hail mary, and latched the hold!  I couldn’t believe I was still on the wall!  After a rather ungraceful match of my hands, I took off to the top, hollering down for CragDaddy to stay with me because that 4th burn exhaustion was keeping the moderate finish from feeling as easy as it usually did.  The finish hold had gotten progressively wetter throughout the day, but thankfully it was so big it didn’t matter.  Chains were clipped, and I let out a whoop that probably could have been heard on the other side of the Linville Gorge!

It was a happy, albeit treacherously wet, hike out.  By the time we reached the car, the misty drizzle had turned into a legit rain.  To be honest, I’m still amazed the route had remained even climbable all day, let alone climbable in the best conditions I’d seen on the route thus far!  But good climbing conditions don’t always make for good photo conditions, as all of the best places for photos were pretty wet, not to mention the terrible visibility.  That said, we did manage to get some pretty good footage back in July, and CragDaddy was nice enough to compile a little video for me as a souvenir.  I hesitated to share it, as the perfectionist in me sees how sloppy my earlier attempts were. (my son gets it honest…)  I also wish I’d had the successful crux beta recorded.  But it does capture the essence of this route, which in my opinion, could possibly be the best one on the wall.  Here’s the link to the You Tube video if you’re interested!

If you are from the Southeast and you dig slightly overhanging crimps with some old school NC bolting, you should make a date with Middle Hawksbill this Saturday.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Tweakend as well as any of the routes on the 12 wall would make a worthy opponent.  As for me, I’ll be back there at some point to finish out the wall….but right now I’ve only got eyes for the New!!!!


Best Hidden Valley Sport Climbs 5.11 and Up

Time for the final round of Hidden Valley recommendations – this time for 5.11 and up.  And guess what – fall sending is almost here!  So if you are in the market for some good projects, this list might be a good place to start.  While the moderate routes can get quite crowded on good weather weekends, you’ll find that the queues drastically decrease as the grades increase.

In the steeps of Blues Brothers 12a (Photo Bryan Miller)

Roadkill 11a


ROADKILL 11a – A little pumpy, but straightforward, and you get a good rest once you pull the roof.
GRISTLE 12a – I know lots of folks who claim Gristle as a first 5.12….but I also know someone very near and dear to my heart that has dozens of 12’s under his belt that hasn’t been able to do it yet (not to call you out CragDaddy, just making a PSA.)  If you know how to heel/toe cam and have decent lock off strength, this one might be a good candidate for your first 12.  But if you are super tall and that heel/toe cam just doesn’t quite lock in, know that you’re in good company!
USDA 12a – If Gristle isn’t working for you, try out it’s neighbor to the right.  No moves as hard as the crux on Gristle, but the climbing as a whole is a little more sustained.  Multiple roofs, but multiple rests, especially if you aren’t super tall and can get “squatty.”
RAINY SATURDAY 12a – This one is going to be low-hanging fruit for the boulderers.  A powerful sequence right off the ground leads to 60+ feet of climbing that is no harder than 10a.  Two things worth noting –  the boulder problem will definitely feel harder if you are short, and there are a couple of chossy sections up high, so tread lightly.
FLEDGLING 12b – I know the guidebook gives it 12b, but if you know how to use your feet it’s a lot easier than some of the other 12a’s, certainly less powerful.  Plus it was a first ever 12 for a friend of mine.  And it’s an awesome route!
NEVER SEEN A MAN BEAT THE SNAKE BEFORE 12b – This climb is more weird than it is hard.  Once you figure out the beta it’s not that hard to put together.

Steve crimping through Meatballs 5.12a/b (Photo Bryan Miller)

CragDaddy cuttin’ loose on Mating Season 11d


POCKET FULL OF RATTLEBUGS 11a Definitely the best of it’s grade, this route is in the runnings for best route at Hidden Valley.  Lots of variety – pockets, finger locks, power, commitment – if you climb 5.11 do NOT skip this route!
PRIME TIME PLAYERS 11b – This one never sees any action, but it should!  Mostly easier climbing, with a little power move in the middle and some thin moves at the finish.
GODZILLA 11b – This is listed in the guidebook as a route that “stays dry,” if you end at the first set of anchors, which keeps the route 11b (13a if you go out the roof.)  We went down to do it over a Memorial Day weekend after a week filled flooding rains and it was soaking wet.  Go figure.  To be fair however, routes we had never seen wet before were waterfalls that weekend, so my guess is that under normal rain circumstances, it would probably be fine.  That said, I’ve never done it, but I know plenty who have and say it’s as good as it looks!
GREAT WHITE 11b/c – This is Oregon Trail 10c’s older brother.  Pumpy goodness, with a crux that is not-so-obvious from the ground, but you’ll know it when you’re in it.
CHERRY CORDULES 11c – We discovered this hidden gem while working Death by Chocolate 12d.  It’s a great warm-up for harder climbs, and a super fun route in its own right.  Fair warning the opening moves are a little weird, and while it’s not required, a little gear to supplement to the ledge might not be a bad idea.
KESTREL 11c – This route features super fun technical face climbing.  If you are looking to do some of the harder routes on the wall, this one is a better warm-up than THIN SHELLS 10d, despite the grade difference.  While the moves are harder, the holds are a little less tweaky.
MATING SEASON 11b OR 11d – Looking for a short, techy 11b with most of the business at the bottom?  Stop at the rainy day anchors.  Want to add a side of pump to your 5.11?  Keep going out the roof to the top of the cliff.  Note: be careful in the roof as there is some friable rock.  My first send attempt was foiled by a broken hold.

Gristle 12a

CragDaddy on USDA 12a

FLAVORED WITH MEAT 12a – If you like thin face climbing, this one was made for you!  Plus, it’s always fun to do the “cover route” on a guidebook.
BLUES BROTHERS 12a – The best 12a at Hidden Valley?  Just may be!  Definitely the most varied – little bit of crack climbing, little bit of steep jug hauling, little bit of crimpy face climbing culminating with a committing mantel.  It all adds up to a lot of fun!
YABUISHA 12a – This one is pretty hard for the grade – rumor has it a jug undercling broke at the finish.  In my opinion that heartbreak finish bumps this one up a letter.  But regardless of grade, it’s technical face climbing at it’s absolute finest!  Do it!!!
MEATBALLS 5.12a/b – Short but sweet little face climb.  Note: If climbing with small kids, this route starts up on a ledge that you probably wouldn’t want the whole family to join you on, so not a great choice if you don’t have extra adults for kid-watching back-up on the ground.
CAPTAIN FUK 12a – One of two awesome 12’s on the Right Side’s Ship Rock area.  If you are into burly gym routes, this is the one you should choose, though there will still be enough thin (and sharp!) face climbing to make you earn it!
BLACK BEARD 12b – The other of Ship Rock’s treasures.  This one is all about technique and endurance.  No hard moves for the grade….but can you hang on til the finish?
DDT 12b – Another technical testpiece on the Falcon Wall, this one will require a little bit of power with your technique.  Highly recommended!

Death by Chocolate 12d

CONEHEADS #2 12c – Awesome, full-value line.  Requires some power and finesse, as well as a cool head at the finish.  FYI the fall at the anchors is big but totally clean – ask me how I know 😉  More on that one here.  Worth noting is that there is a just as good, but slightly easier link-up by climbing the initial crack of Coneheads #2, then heading right to the upper face of Coneheads #1, finishing on the right side of the conehead feature.  More on that one here.
DEATH BY CHOCOLATE 12d – Though not my hardest send on paper, this one might be my proudest.  It’s a gorgeous line that stays dry in a downpour and never has any traffic.  Short, technical and powerful, I won’t recount the entire saga here (but it’s here if you want it.)  But I will say this – you might wanna save it for good conditions!

Looking for 5.13’s and harder?  There’s plenty to do there, but neither CragDaddy nor myself have a ton of experience at that level.  I will say though, that both of our first 13’s were sent at Hidden Valley – RODENT’S LAMENT 13b for me, and SPURS SLAB 13a for CragDaddy.  The former is a one move wonder (for a more detailed look at that climb, check out this post), and the latter involves a slab dyno, then a ledge and a finish up the ever popular Spurs 10c.  My guess is that both of them would be considered good first of the grade candidates for others as well.

There are a few notable routes that get a lot of stars but we haven’t tried yet.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to get on them soon, and when we do, I’ll be sure to update this post.  (If you’ve tried ’em, please let me know how they are!)


But until then, you should have plenty to keep you busy from this list!  Also, don’t miss this other posts in this series.

Best Sport Climbs at Hidden Valley – 5.10 and Under


Labor Day at Hidden Valley

Crux beta on Captain Fuk 12a

I’m not sure what the climbing conditions are like where you are, but around here it is still pretty hot and sweaty.  That was probably the biggest factor influencing our decision to head to Hidden Valley this past weekend.  Other factors included avoiding the throngs of people flocking to the Red and the New for the holiday weekend, as well as wanting to do some recon for the Hidden Valley Travel Beta series posts I’ve been doing.

The good news is that we had success on all fronts – decent temps, crowd avoidance, and recon.  (Oh, and speaking of that, I’ve got some updates – the Right Side has now been added to this post, and 2 new climbs from the Ginseng Wall have been added to the 5.10 and under post.)  The bad news is….you know, I actually don’t think there was any bad news.  It was probably one of the most successful early season climbing trips we’ve ever had!

Our first day was spent on the road less traveled by, aka The Right Side.  A friend of ours had recommended the Ship Rock area to us, specifically Captain Fuk 12a, a super funky looking arete.  But what initially caught our eyes’ was the clean, crimpy face of Black Beard 12b.  Despite the difference in grade, it looked more our style and seemed like a better choice for a first-time-back-outside-after-6-weeks-of-plastic-training.

BLACK BEARD 12b – Since it always takes me a minute to remember how to rock climb again after longer stints of not getting outside much, I opted for the TR.  It was easy to set up by traversing the top of our warm-up, STEDE BONNET FLAG 10b.  My first go I hung at a few spots to keep the flash pump at bay, before stalling out on a big move at the start of the crux on the upper headwall.  It took a lot of finagling to find some beta that felt like it would be doable on point, but finally I was able to piece it together and link the crux several times in a row.  Next go went smoothly and I sent!  Thrilled with how quickly that one went down, I spent the rest of the afternoon belaying my beloved, taking a no-pressure TR lap on Captain Fuk, and putting up ARRRRETE 5.8 for Big C.  He was over the moon to TR flash it after a 30 minute battle, most of which was spent at one committing move out onto the arete.

Big C cracking up Big Mast 10b

Our 2nd day was spent back over in the familiar territory of the Left Side, and while it was pretty crowded, there was plenty of rock to go around.  Since it had been exactly 10 weeks since we’d climbed both days on a weekend, and we still had a third day coming up, we made it a casual mileage day at areas we’d not done much at prior – Ginseng Wall and Indian Shelter.  Every route we touched was great!

Highlights from Ginseng Wall –
G-SPOT 5.9+ – This route was super fun to climb, but my favorite part was watching Big C put on his try hard pants and fight for the TR send of this one.  His first try he made it all the way to the last hard sequence before eventually pumping out after numerous back and forths to the ledge rest.  He was initially frustrated, but quickly got over it and announced he wanted to try it again…right after we pulled the rope. CragDaddy went up and ticked a couple more holds for him, then belayed him from above as Big C climbed again, claiming his hardest TR send to date!

LOVE JUICE 10c – Fabulous warm-up.  Super fun movement up some flakes on the face, then an easier than it looks roof pull (see if you can go hands-free in the middle of it!)

Highlights from Indian Shelter –
PALE FACE 11b – Ladies! (And shorter dudes…)  Don’t let the book’s warning about height keep you off of this route.  If you know how to work your feet up, the one-move-wonder crux is probably only slightly harder than it is for the giants among us.  Plus the upper face/arete is loads of fun.

NATIVE 11c – This line is full value!  The entry fee is a powerful boulder problem right off the ground to a ledge, followed by an easy runout to the base of the headwall.  From there to the top is pretty sustained movement, with the potential for a heartbreak finish if you don’t find the right holds fast enough!

Steve mid-crux on Blackbeard 12b

After an evening of paddleboarding and campfiring, our last day was spent back on the Right Side, as CragDaddy was seeking revenge on Black Beard.  I warmed up on GUNNELS 10c this time – great movement on almost tufa-like features on the back side of Ship Rock.  These bolts need replacing, and some of the rock was a little suspect, but I think this one has potential to be a pumpy classic once it gets cleaned up a little.

Next up, CAPTAIN FUK 12a.  It was definitely the coolest and most unique looking route on the entire Right Side, and I was glad to get another crack at it.  The first half of the route seemed to feature all that I am bad at – thuggy tossing up an overhanging arete.  The upper half of the route was fun techy face climbing, but the transition from arete to face was pretty darn hard, and involved a pretty painful (but effective) leg scum that left its mark on my lower leg.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much better I did on this one second time around, linking everything except the crux, and decided it was worth sticking with for the day.  Next go was a valiant effort, but I came up short making the long toss at the end of the crux.  Meanwhile, CragDaddy got sendy on Black Beard, and also put up another route for Big C – BIG MAST 10b.

After a nice long rest I still felt very third-day-on-ish, but I figured I would give it hell one more time and see what would happen.  At first it seemed like everything went wrong – I botched my beta multiple times thuggin’ up the arete, and had trouble setting the heel just how I wanted it to move over on the face.  When I finally got settled on the crux crimps, my core was so shot that I couldn’t lean out enough to see the high foot I needed for the last toss.  I was starting to redline, so the minute my skating feet touched something that felt solid I launched…and made the move, much to everyone’s surprise!    The rest of the route was not a sure thing by any means, but I was able to manage my rests well, and finished up without any more complications.

Overall, we really couldn’t have asked for a better start to our fall climbing season!  One of the most exciting parts for CragDaddy and I was seeing how psyched Big C was!  He’s been climbing hard in the gym all summer, but that usually doesn’t translate very well for him outside.  (His m.o has always been to climb once, maybe twice over the course of a weekend, then spend the rest of the time just being a kid in the woods.)  This weekend he strung together more pitches than he ever has before, and was literally begging to climb more!  If this new try hard mantra keeps up, it looks like we’ll be alternating some kid climbing days with some grown-up project days this fall – or at the very least, hiking in another rope so we can leave him a TR up all day.  No complaints here!

How bout you all – tell me about your Labor Day adventures!!!







Best Sport Climbs Hidden Valley – 5.10 and Under

Now that you’ve got the basic crag beta down for Hidden Valley, it’s time to decide what routes you want to try.  The best part about Hidden Valley (aside from that 4000′ elevation!) is the wide variety of grades spread all around the cliff.  This post will zero in on the lower grades – those of you looking for 5.11 and up recommendations will have to wait!  But for now, here’s plenty to get started on.


STALLION 5.5 –  Both of my children like this one!
 – Easy slabbin’ with plenty of bolts.
LEISURE SUIT 5.8 – Don’t let the guidebook’s comment about short folks deter you.  My son did all the moves when he was 8ish, and while he’s strong boy, he’s not a climbing prodigy 😉
CHICKEN SOUP 5.8+ – A little technical, but short, and you’re on your feet the whole time, so pump isn’t a factor.

Big C rockin’ a Gatorade Mustache on Pony 5.8

Little Z working her way up Stallion 5.5


TIDY BOWL 10a – Once you pull the initial roof (don’t forget to stem!) it’s all about footwork.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Stick clip recommended.
– If you want to avoid the roof pull, you can always end early and clip the anchors for VIPER LOGIC 10d


Butt Crack 5.7+ – This is my son’s favorite route…although I think the name might have just as much to do with his enjoyment as the actual climbing.  That said, the climbing is stellar also!  Perfect for beginners to practice some layback technique and trusting their feet!  Go right at the last bolt for a slightly harder finish.
PONY 5.8 – Tall line with lots of variety and the views at the top are some of the best in the Valley!
G-SPOT 5.9+ – Great movement up a blunt arete.
NO COKE, PEPSI 5.9+  – This one, along with it’s next door neighbor FARLEY 5.9 get constant traffic on good weather weekends, so get there early if you don’t want to have to wait.  Personally, I think the former is better than the latter, but they are both good.  If your crack technique is not super solid, definitely stick clip Farley’s first bolt.
TAINT MEAT 5.9+ – This one will be super fun if you climb harder than 5.9.  If 5.9 is your limit, it’s gonna feel hard and scary.
OREGON TRAIL 10c – Don’t pass this one by, even if the opening dihedral is a little damp.  You’ll have plenty of time to chalk up before the steep, pumpy goodness begins.
SPURS 10c – Bring a long stick clip or some gear for the opening 20 feet of crack climbing.  Get it all back on the bushy ledge, then tackle the monstrously steep for the grade jug haul.  Note: Back cleaning the first draw after the ledge will decrease drag tremendously.
LOVE JUICE 10c – Fun flake climbing with a “trad” sorta feel at the beginning, with a short-lived roof move at the finish…keep slapping around, the holds are there!!!
THIN SHELLS 10d – Technical face climbing at it’s finest, though some of the holds are a little tweaky if you are looking to warm-up on it.
POWDER 10d – Pony’s harder next door neighbor.  Cryptic crux up high that will feel easier in crisp conditions!

Big C tackling the Butt Crack 5.7+ (cue Beavis and Butthead laugh)


You might notice that all of the routes I’ve recommended are found on the Left Side of the cliff.  Our family has only recently ventured over to the Right Side.  While the Right Side definitely has some gems, as well as more shade and less crowds, the Left Side has a lot more to offer as a whole, especially for moderate routes.  (But there WILL be some included in the upper grade recommendations…)

All that said, what’s YOUR FAVORITE moderate line at Hidden Valley?

Did you miss the other posts in this series?
Hidden Valley Crag Profile


CRAG PROFILES: Hidden Valley

We’ve got the campground to ourselves down by the lake!

Well, if you follow me on Instagram (@cragmama), you may have noticed the poll that went up last week about which crag to feature on the blog next – Hidden Valley or the Red?  It was a tight race, with the winner going back and forth numerous times before finally settling on Hidden Valley.  If you were hoping for the Red, have no fear, that Travel Beta guide will hopefully be up before your fall projects start calling.  But for now, read on for the travel beta for family climbing at Hidden Valley.

First off, let it be known that climbing at Hidden Valley (just like any climbing area), is a privilege, not a right.  We as a community lost access to this amazing resource for about 10 years due to climbers squandering that privilege.  Thankfully, the cliff was reopened in 2014, thanks to the Carolina Climbers Coalition purchasing the land.  That said, some of the climbing areas are still on private property, so please let’s learn from our past mistakes.  Don’t bring your dogs, try to keep the noise to a respectable volume, and pack out your trash.  Don’t be the one idiot that jeopardizes access for the masses.  And if you’re not a CCC member – you should be!  And you can do that HERE.


But enough ranting, here’s the deets you need.  There are two main options for camping.  Your preferred level of rustic-ness will likely determine where you end up.  Our family loves camping by the lake.  It is gorgeous, about as convenient as it gets, and is generally pretty quiet.  More than once we’ve been the only tent there.  Usually there’s a couple of climbers and maybe some local fishermen.  The camping is primitive – so don’t forget to bring water!  There is a porta-potty, and while we’ve seen it pretty dirty a time or two, generally it’s fairly clean and not too stinky!  You do need a permit to camp there (it’s actually the same one you are supposed to have to climb there) -get that here.  The park ranger regularly patrols through checking permits, so please take the extra few minutes to get one before you come.  If you have a kayak/canoe/paddleboard, be sure to bring it as well, as the lake is only a couple hundred feet from the camping.  (There’s also a well-marked boat launch in between the camping area and the climber’s parking lot if you’d prefer.)  To reach the campsites, just keep driving past the parking lot and take the second right.  You can’t miss it!

Riverside camping at the (apltly named) Riverside Campground

If a bathhouse and running water are more your jam, check out the Riverside Campground, just a few miles south on Hwy 19.  We only stayed there once, when the road to the above mentioned sites was closed for re-paving, and it was just okay for us.  The site we stayed at along the river was very nice, but the campground as a whole was super crowded, and felt very commercial with a ton of giant RV’s.  It was also more expensive than we are used to paying for camping, probably due to all the extra amenities you wouldn’t normally find at a tent campground – game room, pool, etc.  But the bathhouse was clean, and they did have potable water!

Keep in mind that the temperature will likely be 5-10 degrees cooler than whatever the forecast is in Abingdon on a given day, due to elevation.  That said, camping can get cold earlier in the season than you might expect.  If it’s warm enough to climb but too cold to camp, there are options for varying budgets in Abingdon.  We have often stayed at America’s Best Value Inn…it’s just okay, but it’s $60 per night, which includes a barebones breakfast.  Once we came for our anniversary sans kids and stayed at the White Birches Inn.  It was great for a getaway, but was definitely a little “formal” for bringing the kids.

Hidden Valley Lake


If you are willing to drive the 20 minutes back down to Abingdon, you’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to food!  Our family likes Los Arcos, pretty good Mexican food at a decent price.  We’ve also had good experiences at JJ’s Sports Bar.  It’s typical bar food fare with some healthier options mixed in, located just before you reach the main downtown area in Abingdon.

More often than not, however, we bring our own food and just do dinner at camp.  The lake and surrounding woods offer plenty for the kiddos to do while we cook, and it’s just so darn relaxing down there, it’s hard to make that drive back down to town again!

Kiddos hanging out in “Salamander Town.”

Finding snakes in the (apparently also aptly named) Snake Garden


LEFT SIDE:  There’s really just one trail, so it’s pretty hard to get lost!  The hiking is pretty easy – not a lot of scrambling, and mostly flat or slightly rolling up and down.  The following areas are all on the left side, listed as you reach them from the parking lot.

BUTT CITY and SNAKE GARDEN – My kids refer to this area as Salamander Town, due to all the salamanders we always find in the damp corner separating these two areas from each other.  First areas you reach walking from the parking lot – 5 minutes approach time.  Be mindful of spreading out too much below the base of the Butt City climbs, as the approach trail goes right up to the cliff.  Snake Garden is much wider, and is a great base camp for babies and blankets.

Sun’s out, gun’s out for these kiddos at the ledge atop Meat Wall


MEAT WALL – Approach time 10-ish minutes.  Many routes start on a wide ledge with enough room to play safely, but definitely keep your eyes on toddlers!  The area around Gristle 12a has a large, flat, open area that makes a great base camp for families.

CRAZY HORSE – 15 minutes.  Great place for families to hang.

SNL WALL – 20 minutes.  Another great hangout for kids farther back from the cliff.  It’s worth mentioning that if your parties are interested in Farley or Coke, Not Pepsi (both wildly popular 5.9’s), the belay areas are in a small corner behind some boulders.  Families with young ones might want to make sure to have an extra grown-up handy, as it will be hard for a belayer to keep eyes on both climber and kiddos.

CHOCOLATE WALL, PLANETARIUM, GINSENG – 25-ish minute hike, plenty of good spots for families to spread out in relative solitude.  Seems like most of the crowds tend to stop at SNL Wall or sooner.

FALCON WALL – 30 minute hike, but definitely the best place to avoid a crowd, especially if you get out there in the morning.  There are some good spots to spread out a blanket, but the base is a little more rocky than in other areas.  However, this makes for some great spots for the kids to explore.  Word of caution, however; In the fall a sea of leaves builds up underneath some of the boulders.  This is great fun for the kids to play in, but make sure their shoes are tied tight!!!  Somehow one of our friend’s kids ended up losing a shoe in the leaves…and we NEVER found it!  Every time we’ve come back to that area my kids look for it, but to no avail. 😉  May Remy’s shoe rest in peace!

RIGHT SIDE:  Our family has only recently ventured over to the Right Side (the trail behind the kiosk.)  Quality is a little hit or miss over there – routes, rock, and hardware!  But if you are looking for a change of pace, it’s worth checking out, especially in the summer.  The sun doesn’t even start to hit most of the walls until around 2, and even then it was very filtered because of all the tree cover.  It’s also WAY less crowded – we’ve had the entire cliff to ourselves all day, only to hike out to a full capacity parking lot!  Some of the bolts and anchors are shiny and new, but a lot are pretty sketchy looking, so use good judgment and be over-redundant when you can.  While the CCC is working overtime trying to replace old hardware everywhere at Hidden Valley, it takes lots of time and effort from volunteers that have families, jobs, and climbing projects of their own.  (Wanna help?  Join the CCC!)

Impromptu rope swing set up at the SNL Wall


One of the best parts about Hidden Valley is the concentration of harder climbs and easier climbs all mixed together.  Mom and Dad can take turns on their projects, while kiddos can run laps on the warm-ups – or vice versa, depending on how strong your kids are!!!  The only area that doesn’t offer much for the 5.9 and under crowd is the Falcon Wall.  Outside of that, it’s a safe bet that any area you pick will make everyone in your crew happy, regardless of their climbing level. And if not, just pack up and migrate farther down the cliff til you find what you want!

Overall, Hidden Valley is a wonderful resource, and I’m very thankful for all the work put in by the CCC to secure access for us!  Is the rock as good as the New?  Heck no!  But truly, not many areas are!!!  That said, there is one thing that Hidden Valley boasts that the New River Gorge cannot – high elevation.  (“High” being relative to the Southeast, that is.)  The crag sits close to 4000′, and as mentioned in the camping section, is significantly cooler than surrounding areas.  We have had very pleasant weekends there in August, while the rest of the Southeast is still sweating their you-know-whats off at the New and the Red!  Another plus for that higher altitude for families – no poison ivy!!!  Your kids can explore without constant parental reminders of “leaves of three, let them be.”

Boulder couches amongst the leaves at Falcon Wall

Psyched and ready to plan your next family climbing trip for Hidden Valley?  Stay tuned for specific route recommendations, starting with 5.10 and Unders happening next week!