Dave Fasulo's Book, Rock Climbing Connecticut, offers the most comprehensive information about crags throughout the state. This is the "must have" book for the Connecticut climber. Stewart Green’s Rock Climbing New England also has a chapter on Connecticut crags.
There are a few older out-of-print guides to Connecticut traprock as well.Regardless of which guidebook you use, you should always consult www.raggedmtn.org about access issues.
Brief Climbing History
Connecticut has a rich climbing history. Sleeping Giant was the original epicenter of the climbing community due to its proximity to Yale and its multi-pitch routes on the Chin. Yale students became familiar with climbing from their visits to Europe and enthusiastically practiced the sport at the Giant. The Appalachian Mountain Club was a major influence on the climbing scene since the 1930s, and its well-traveled members honed their craft on traprock, principally in central Connecticut. Fritz Wiessner was a frequent visitor and established many fine lines throughout the state. Several of these were among the hardest in the country, were unrepeated for twenty years and are seldom led today. In 1934, Yale’s William House and Wilson Ware led the first girdle traverse established in the country on the chin of the Giant. In 1953 Sleeping Giant was closed to climbing following an unfortunate fatality at a northeastern climbing conference. All climbers were forced northward, and the gentle Giant never regained its popularity even after it reopened decades later.
Ragged Mountain and the Hanging Hills of Meriden gained prominence. Sam Streibert and John Reppy established many of the classic routes in the 1960s. Reppy is credited with opening the climbing experience to others with his trail construction, collaboration on an area guide with Streibert, and pioneering the use of clean protection. Many talented northeastern climbers traveled to Connecticut during a drought which forced the temporary closure of their home turf. Henry Barber and Layton Kor added beautiful first ascents in the area. Local has come to include climbers from New York and Southern New England. Many such locals developed new routes, and the state boasts several thousand routes, a tremendous number given the size of the cliffs. Routes are densely packed side by side and are often denoted by what features are considered on or off route, a bizarre game of hold elimination played outdoors.
Mountain climbing dates back to at least 1895. Connecticut is known for its beautiful traprock ridges, which provide exceptional rock climbing. Ancient lava flows created the basalt cliffs. The rock has a fine texture which provides just enough friction to climb while being gentle on the skin during jamming sessions. Some of the formations also have long, thin veins which offer just enough to pinch and edge. Oftentimes, the true crux is solving the sequence and the best combination of small edges to gain inches. Most cliffs range in height from 20 to 100 feet. This is an established area, and ratings reflect the stiffer grades typical of earlier times.
John Reppy brought clean climbing techniques to Connecticut from England. Long before clean climbing became accepted throughout the United States, Connecticut climbers traded their pitons for nuts. Climbing ethics is a volcanic topic, and Connecticut has been the center of various bolt wars.
Fixed pro is routinely vandalized, so do not count on any and be skeptical about the condition of any you may find. There are no fixed anchors at the top of the cliffs, and the more popular sites have few suitable trees for anchoring near the lip. Consequently, many locals use long (50-100ft) static lines for anchors. It is also useful to have leading gear to establish anchors as well.
A standard and varied rack should include stoppers and camming units. Tri-cams are also popular in the pockets and irregular cracks. There is no sport climbing here.
Comfort and Climate
Climbing can be comfortable all year if you use the various sites wisely. Winds are typically out of the west and offer relief from summer heat and humidity. Seek the shady, west faces on those hot summer days. The state also has several sites which face south and east. The cinnamon colored rock warms quickly in the sun. These spots offer comfortable climbing all winter, provided you stay out of the wind and in the sun.
Temperatures typically reach into the 80’s in the summer and the 30’s in the winter. Of course, the most comfortable and spectacular climbing is typically in the fall when the foliage is at its peak. Be prepared to battle the crowds during October as both climbers and hikers swarm the trails. Oftentimes, the cliffs are quiet during the summer months as many local climbers travel outside the state for their climbing adventures.
The visitor should be aware of several natural hazards to climbing on traprock in addition to the obvious objective dangers inherent in the sport. The moist climate ensures a steady supply of black flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and other biting insects. Bring insect repellent. You will encounter nature. The cracks also provide nesting sites for wasps, squirrels, and birds. Copperhead snakes enjoy basking in traprock scree fields and their coloration provides good camouflage. Their bite is unpleasant. Black snakes are quite common, harmless, and often seen hanging in the trees. The pests you should watch out for most are ticks. Tiny deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, a very serious condition. Carefully check yourself and your pets for ticks after frolicking in Connecticut’s woods. Finally, poison ivy is probably the most prevalent natural hazard. Watch out for those leaves of three as you hike around the cliffs and climb.
Many cliffs are close to residential areas and are popular party sites. In particular, Castle Craig and Pinnacle can be littered with glass. Helmets, always a good idea, are essential at Castle Craig since many visitors to the Tower are unaware of the climbing activity just below. Be careful of glass shards when reaching for a hold or laying out your rope at these popular party spots. Generally, the longer the walk, the cleaner the cliff.
If you encounter any access problems, it is best to comply with the landowners wishes. Please notify the Ragged Mountain Foundation. We will research and hopefully remedy the issue. We will also post the problem on this website to help others avoid problems. Of course, we would like to get you involved in preserving the environment and recreational opportunities on Connecticut’s traprock.