I’ve been climbing for almost two decades now and somewhere along the line I figured out that you don’t have to go to Bishop, Hueco, or any other recognized destination to boulder world-class lines. Some of my favorite climbs have been off the beaten path on some unknown or forgotten rock in the middle of Podunk. And as much as I’ve traveled, I am still drawn to Rimrock in the Allegheny National Forest. There’s nothing like grappling gritstone high on the hillsides above the river valley, with the wind in the trees and the ethereal sound of wood thrushes trilling in the air.
Of all the developed climbing areas in Northwest Pennsylvania, Rimrock is perhaps the most accessible and hosts some truly great bouldering. The stone at Rimrock is sedimentary. It can range from conglomerate to sandstone – most of it high quality gritstone. Some of the features that are characteristic of this type of rock are sloping seams and pockets, small crystal footholds, and iron intrusions. The gritstone has great texture and the rock magically grabs you back creating perfect friction. Some of the rock can be a bit aggressive. If you have the baby soft skin of a climbing neophyte, or the average once-a-week plastic-pushing-plebe, then choose your climbs carefully or you will find yourself pink and weepy in short order. In the words of Daryl and John, “She’s a Man-eater.”
During the 60s, 70s and 80s roped climbing was the popular form and at the time the boulders were largely neglected. Unfortunately, the cliffs at the overlook do not have the volume of high quality climbs necessary to draw the climbing masses to this corner of the Allegheny National Forest.
The first significant push for modern bouldering began at the end of the 90’s with a small group of crashpad-toting pebble-wrestlers whose chalk and grit parties resulted in the pioneering of a couple hundred problems. These bouldering hermits had uncovered the true potential of Rimrock climbing. It was not the cliffs, but the boulders surrounding the overlook. Still, these early pioneers were not focused on getting the word out. Rimrock was an inadvertent secret and there was nothing to compel the larger climbing world to turn their gaze to Northwest Pennsylvania.
Rimrock is located a mere twenty minutes from the small town of Warren. In recent years, Warren has struggled through hard economic times and a steady decline in population. However, the city is attempting to bounce back and outdoor recreation is playing a strong role. The Allegheny National Forest near Warren is truly an outdoor haven, and word about the bouldering at Rimrock has begun to spread. Climbers from Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and other nearby areas have begun to show interest. In addition, a new band of young local climbers is eager to continue developing the area. Currently, there is little to aid them, as information about climbing at Rimrock is tribal knowledge. Without a guide, or guidebook, the experience can be quite frustrating, and all but the truly adventuresome have been kept at bay.
Happily, there is a guidebook in the works and it is nearing completion. It’s time to get the word out – to graduate from a small, hidden playground for local troglodytes and open our doors to a larger community. This guidebook is going to be an important resource for the community and will help numerous climbers find and enjoy this amazing natural resource.