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Friday, June 20, 2008

Spearfish = Excellent

Took a few days off this week to visit Spearfish Canyon on the north side of South Dakota's Black Hills. What a place! This beautiful canyon has around 500 sport climbs on finger-friendly limestone, yet even though we climbed on a weekend in perfect temps we never saw more than two other parties at a crag. The cliffs form in long bands with intermittent sections of good rock, so you have to keep packing up and moving, but this was one of the few negatives at an otherwise superb destination, especially for the mid-grade (5.10 to 5.12) sport climber. (The other negatives were a smattering of poison ivy and some drilled pockets on the hardest route we did, making me suspect that other, harder routes might also be manufactured. Oh, and the grades are stiff, so this is no place to boost your ego.) The camping in Spearfish Canyon is pleasant and close by the crags, there were cold creeks for Enzo the wasserhund, and there's a small store and cafe in the center of the climbing.

The Spearfish guidebook is five years old and has only about 60 percent of the routes in the canyon. On our final day, we followed a rumor to a shady cliff called Shadowlands that was not in the guide, and we found the best climbing we'd seen—a band of truly superb limestone with vertical to very overhanging routes and a mix of excellent pockets and Rifle-esque edge and sidepull climbing. If this cliff were a little taller (it averages about 50 feet), it would be famous. As it is, it was empty.

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