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If you want to get into sport climbing, Utah County is the place. Between American Fork Canyon and Rock Canyon you have two world-class climbing areas that have a large range of climbs, from beginner to some of the hardest in the world. Rock Canyon alone has over 400 climbs. If you include American Fork Canyon and other climbing areas in Utah County, you have over 1000 climbs to choose from. You could spend a lifetime just trying to climb everything in Utah County!
Let me answer that by explaining there are two major types of rock climbing: sport climbing and trad climbing (traditional climbing). Sport climbing is a style of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock for protection, usually drilled and glued bolts and anchors. Trad climbing is a style of rock climbing in which a climber (or group of climbers) will place all gear required to protect against falls, and then remove it when a passage is complete. Sport climbing has a cheaper cost of entry and takes less time to get out and climb. It’s a great alternative to hitting the gym, if you do it 2 to 3 times a week. Can you say full body workout?!
The rating (degree of difficulty) or grade of climb is designated by a class number. A class five climb would require the use of rope, belaying, and gear to protect the climber from a fall. Fifth class is further classified by a decimal and letter system, increasing in difficulty as the number gets larger. The degree of difficulty can be broken up from 5.0 – 5.7 for beginners. Most anyone can start at these ratings and have a good time. 5.8 – 5.9 is where most weekend climbers become comfortable; they employ the specific skills of climbing, such as jamming, liebacks, and mantels. (If you get into the sport you’ll learn these terms pretty quickly.) At 5.10 you have to be a pretty dedicated weekend climber. 5.11-5.15 is in the realm of experts/pros; it demands dedicated training and natural ability, not to mention a crazy obsession for the sport.
At a minimum, you’ll need climbing shoes, chalk bag, harness, belay device, a rope and 8-10 quickdraw. You will also want the app MtnProject. It’s a great way to find the climbs and get beta (information) about the climb. Two local shops where you can obtain gear, beta, and lessons are Mountain Works in Provo and Out N Back in Orem.
Both American Fork Canyon and Rock Canyon have beginner climbs, but the bulk of the beginners start in Rock Canyon. The climbs are shorter and you can top rope them to test your chops for the sport. Some great beginner areas lower down in Rock Canyon are Tinker Toys and The Appendage. Further up the canyon is The Wild—hands down the best crag for beginners. For intermediate and advanced climbers there are climbs ranging from 5.10 to 5.13 all along the canyon. Some of my favorites are Black Rose, Bug Barn Dance Wall, and The Zoo.
American Fork Canyon is known for lots of overhanging “juggy” (pockets) and harder climbs that get you pumped super fast. Some standout areas are The Membrane, Division Wall and Escape Buttress. For some of the hardest climbs, checkout Hell Cave, with a mind blowing 5.14. People come from all over the world to climb this canyon. It’s hard to go wrong with either canyon. Get out there and give it a go!
Jon is a graphic designer/brand guy by day. He is an avid outdoorsman/weekend warrior. He has been climbing in Utah County for 20+ years. He owns a local Utah company called Ravean that makes battery powered heated apparel for urban and the great outdoors. He loves Utah County and all the outdoor sports it offers all year long.