Beat the Heat: Bouldering in Smuggler’s Notch

Andrew Messick giving a shout while going for it on Dojo V6 bouldering in Smuggler's Notch, VermontThe heat can be hard to beat during the summer. As any climber in the Northeast can tell you, its not just the heat, but the humidity that’s a challenge. So Time to Climb packed our pads, set our GPS northbound and drove to Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont for some elevated bouldering!

The Northeastern United States is home to some of the best climbing in America. From the Gunks, to Rumney, Cathedral or Pawtuckaway, there are a ton of amazing spots to climb. If you’ve ever visited  these spots during the dog days of summer, you know what to expect. The heat, humidity and sun, can & will take a physical and mental toll in your ability to send.

Melvin Rivera on the start of Workout Weenie V1 on the Workout boulder in Smuggler's Notch VTAlthough I love all those spots (just like everyone else), climbing in the heat and with crowds can be a challenge. Time to Climb decided to take a look at other options in the Northeast. After numerous summers of bouldering at Nine Corners Lake in the Adirondacks, we based our search on similar traits: north, in the mountains, and with some development (but not a ton).

Welcome to Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont!

 Known for the ski resort its named after and the popular town of Stowe on the other side, this mountain pass  separates Mount Mansfield (highest peak in VT) and Spruce Peak. Smuggler’s Notch gets its name from the remote mountainous pass near the Canadian border, an ideal route for the smuggling of goods & livestock during the Napoleonic Wars, runaway slaves in the Underground Railroad, and liquor during prohibition. The many large boulders and caves throughout the mountain pass allowed smugglers to hide and store what they were transporting. More than two hundred years later, these very rocks and caves are being rediscovered as incredible bouldering problems to send!

Chalky hand at the top of Workout Weenie V1 n Smuggler's Notch VT

We went bouldering in Smuggler’s Notch at the end of June and were prepared to experience some heat. Mornings in the Notch were between 65 – 68 degrees and rose to 75 – 78 degrees during the day. When entering the town of Stowe, the temperature ranged from 90 – 95 degrees! The elevation of Smuggler’s Notch (2,165 ft) and the prominence of the mountain range greatly influences the change in temperature (as the notch stands nearly 1200 feet higher then the town right below it). In addition, the trade winds of Mt. Mansfield and the Sterling Range (which come down from Canada and the Adirondacks) further cools the area.

Time to Climb started off our day at the Workout Boulder (found at the top of the Notch section). A nice feature about bouldering in Smuggler’s Notch is that a large majority of the boulders can be found either right along the road or less than a 5 minute walk in. In summer, this is a huge advantage! Your car is always less than 100 feet away – no long hikes in and you’re not required to lug 3 – 4 liters of water to the bouldering site.

To reach the Workout Boulder, park directly after the road becomes a single lane. You’ll see a shark tooth looking boulder. The Workout Boulder is directly behind the shark tooth.

The Workout Boulder is  home to 8-10 problems with mostly flat landings. Climbs at this boulder range from V0-V3, making it an ideal spot for a warmup where you can get a good amount of burns in!

Andrew Messick projecting Filet of Finger V8 in Smuggler's Notch Vermont

Climbers should definitely hit The Bone Doctor & Pac-Man boulders found at the parking lot of the visitor center. The Bone Doctor is characterized as a looming cave-like overhung boulder. To the left you’ll find a 12 foot boulder with a mouth like Pac-Man. The Pac Man boulder has 2 problems on it “Pac-Man” V3 (area classic) and “Porn Star” V4.

“Pac-Man” is a problem that everyone should try, even if you’re only  bouldering V0-V1. It’s a fun problem to work and is more of a commitment head game than anything.

Note: There are a lot of spectators and families at the visitor center. Little kids willingly cheer you on, especially when your friends spotting you egg them on. As good edict, make it a point to watch your language and your step when bouldering at this spot.

Melvin Rivera on the start going for the first hold on Filet of Finger V8 in Smuggler's Notch Vermont

The Bone Doctor boulder has harder climbs that range from V5-V10. Two specific problems worth mentioning are “Filet of Finger” V8 (as soon as you grab the start hold, you’ll understand the name!) and “Nemesis Traverse” V5.

“Filet of Finger” has you start low inside the base of the boulder (see two photos above) and requires that you reach to an above crimp.

“Nemesis Traverse” V5  starts in the far right hand corner of the The Bone Doctor. The start of the problem is the hardest part. Once you dial in your beta and move off the start, keep moving along the traverse on solid holds – all the way to an awkward leaning top-out.

Setting up at hte Cave Boulders while boulering in Smuggler's Notch Vermont

Once you’re finished bouldering in the Smuggler’s Notch Visitor Center parking lot, grab the pads and walk towards the center itself. You will find two tall 20+ foot boulders. One is slab and the other is covered with moss. Walk around the backside of these 2 boulders and discover an awesome secluded “cave like hole” area.

Melvin Rivera reaching up for the crimp hold on Triscuit V7 bouldering in Smuggler's Notch Vermont

Pictured above is  the problem “Dojo,” which is listed as a  V4. This problem has had a few holds break off since first being rated several years ago, and now considered more in the realm of V6/7. This problem starts from the obvious rail at about stomach-level. Hop up to a right-handed mid crimp and bump high to the sideways crimp directly two foot above it.

Andrew Messick realizing that part of his hold just chipped off in the middle of bouldering in Smuggler's Notch Vermont

Like any developed area that sees changing weather conditions, rock quality can be variable. Make sure to map out the holds you are shooting for and brush them before going for a burn. Our friend Andrew (pictured above) decided to grab what he presumed was a viable spot. He stuck the move and won some choss as his prize.

Andrew Messick tarting his way up the Fin V2 bouldering in Smuggler's Notch Vermont

A noted area classic when bouldering in Smuggler’s Notch is the V2 problem, “The Fin”. If you like a good head game climb then this 20 ft high ball is for you!

**Although a straight forward climb up the arete, this is a High Ball! Make sure you have enough crash pads and trust your spotters!**

You will need 3 pads minimum and two good spotters as the landing is rather precarious. Have one crash pad  folded or closed (Example) and tucked into the hole at the foot of the problem. The other two pads should cover the area above the tucked & closed pad to offer a wider landing base.

Andrew Messick hal way up the Fin V2 bouldering in Smuggler's Notch Vermont

With the road to your left, have your hands work their way along the razor fin arete while applying pressure with your feet against the face of the climb. This will allow the hand holds along the arete to act as jugs as you make your way up the problem. Keep your cool, breathe and trust your feet as you send .

Andrew Messick Project the giant horn arete in Smuggler's Notch Vermont

About 10 feet to the right of “The Fin” on the BFB boulder is the Backyard Boulder. Backyard Boulder has 12 problems with a healthy range of V2 to V12. This spot, located at the top of the Notch, is a fantastic place to warm up and work on grade-pushing projects, no matter your climbing level!

Andrew Messick working the arete while bouldering in Smuggler's Notch VermontOne of the coolest looking lines when bouldering in Smuggler’s Notch is “The Improbable Problem” V7. This overhung arete is a beautiful test-piece consisting of slopers, heel hooks and crimps. The problem requires the climber to move statically while keeping focused on proper hand & heel placement through the entirety of the climb. Upon reaching the horn of the boulder, the climber has 2 choices: make a blind reach to a slopey crimp or a dynamic throw to a gaston on the redirected arete.

The Cliffs inside of Smuggler's Notch in VTThe cliffs on each side of the notch will inspire any alpine climber looking for something off the beaten path. They are a beautiful backdrop and reward to bouldering in Smuggler’s Notch. Each time you make a send and top out, take time to enjoy this view from the top of the rock.

If you are looking for a cool spot, beautiful views, and hundreds of problems that require little effort to get to, then bouldering in Smuggler’s Notch is a great weekend getaway.

Smuggler’s Notch State Park

Smuggler’s Notch on Mountain Project

Want to read more about bouldering in the Northeast?

Check this Article: Nine Corners Lake: Bouldering in the Adirondacks

Ann Marie nine corners lake bouldering Adirondacks


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