Kelly Sheridan and Miles Berkey watch as Bela Stoll saws a tree off a boulder while working to clear trails April 16 near Gold Bar.

Bouldering buffs spruce up coveted Gold Bar climbing terrain

Just outside Gold Bar, a climbers’ playground is nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Range. It’s a special playground, one made of massive chunks of some of the best granite in the country.

Recently, more than 75 volunteers came together to help spruce up the area off Reiter Road in Gold Bar.

The area offers excellent bouldering — an intense style of climbing with short, challenging “problems,” which is what climbers call a particular route on a boulder. When bouldering, climbers use thick crash pads, rather than ropes, for protection in the event of a fall.

The area near Gold Bar used to be extremely popular, said Pablo Zuleta, author of “Western Washington Bouldering: Skykomish Valley,” which will be published this summer.

Crowds tapered off after a road to the area was closed, necessitating a 1.75-mile walk on a logging road to access the site.

Even with the long walk, though, it’s some of the best bouldering in the country. There are more than 300 problems in the area.

In the late 1990s, people began developing problems in the area, according to Zuleta’s book. In 2000, Manke Lumber Co. logged the area near the boulders, making them visible from U.S. 2. At the time, it was possible to drive to the area and its popularity grew. Later, the gate to the road was closed, Zuleta wrote. For a time, climbers were allowed vehicle access through the gate, but eventually the area was closed to all motorized vehicles for good.

The site still offers first-rate bouldering. Members of the climbing community wanted to see the area improved and maintained so it can be enjoyed into the future.

Joe Sambataro, with Access Fund and Washington Climbers Coalition, approached the DNR, who now manages the land after purchasing it from Manke, and asked to arrange a stewardship day at the site. The Access Fund, a national organization that works to protect access to climbing areas, teamed up with WCC and helped provide support for the work party.

“It’s been an area that is a high priority for the local climbing community,” said Sambataro. “Gold Bar Boulders, over the last decade, has seen climbers from all across country come out to climb because of the high-quality granite. … It was important for the climbing community, Access Fund and the Washington Climbers Coalition to work with DNR, to establish a working relationship and show DNR that we’re not just recreational users of the land. We can be stewards of the land as well.”

Amanda Peterson and Mike Morin travel the country most of the year as the Access Fund’s conservation team, working with local climbing groups. They led the work parties at the Gold Bar site and they got a chance to do some bouldering after the work party.

“I was just blown away by the quality of the rock and the beauty of the location., Peterson said. “When the skies are clear, Mount Index is just across the valley. It’s one of the most spectacular places I’ve bouldered.”

“It really is some of the nicest granite bouldering that I’ve climbed on, probably some of the nicest in the country,” Mike Morin said.

Over two days, first with a small group on April 15 and then with more than 75 people on April 16, volunteers worked to define the trail system around the boulders. Over the years, a tangle of social trails have developed. Morin and Peterson scouted the site with representatives from DNR and WCC and helped map out a plan for a set of paths that would access all the boulders without being redundant.

Volunteers cleared out some trails and used debris to block off others, to discourage their use and allow the area to recover and revegetate.

“I thought it was a wonderful day,” said Benjamin Hale, Cascade District Recreation Manager for DNR. “It was an incredible work party, a veritable army.”

Hale had helped map out the potential project a few days before the work parties.

“With the amount of people and the energy that came, we finished all of those projects with time to spare,” he said.

From the DNR’s perspective, Hale said, the stewardship day had a number of benefits. The social trails were closed off and pathways between the boulders were improved. Those improvements help reduce erosion and soil compaction, which protect the resources that are there, including the trees that DNR sells for timber harvest.

“And it’s not just the actual benefits on the ground,” Hale said. “I’m just really happy that so many people are engaged in recreating.”

Work is not finished at the site. More work parties will be planned at some point. Sambataro is seeking an REI grant to fund a professional trail crew to do more technical trail work around the boulders.

Hale said DNR is also considering adding a new trailhead, with lots of parking, father down Reiter Road than the current access. The trailhead would be shared with the Reiter Foothills off-road-vehicle area. From that trailhead, the bouldering area would be easily accessed via an old logging road. The trail would be relatively easy to build, Hale said. It would also be a shorter approach, with less elevation gain. That’s great for climbers who have to carry bulky crash pads to the site.

Crash pads weren’t a problem after the work party. DNR had allowed crews to drive up, so there were plenty of crash pads to go around. Zuleta was psyched to see so many people climbing. And because of the excess of crash pads, “beginners could just throw themselves at the problems,” Zuleta said.

That’s one more thing that makes the area such a strong climbing resource, Zuleta said. The granite is high quality, with a good texture for climbing. It also fractures in a variety of ways. Sometimes it leaves tiny holds no bigger than a finger tip, and sometimes it leaves wide, sturdy holds. That variety makes it a great resource for any boulderer, from beginner to expert.

“It’s really great granite,” Zuleta said. “The rock up there is amazing.”

Bouldering

Access to the boulders is from Reiter Road, 2 miles from U.S. 2. There’s a small parking area on the north side of the road. You’ll need a Discover Pass to park. Don’t block the gate. Pedestrian access only is allowed beyond the gate. Stay on established trails and be sure to pack out everything you bring in. Get more info on the area at www.mountainproject.com/v/gold-bar-boulders/105805788. Pablo Zuleta’s book, out in the summer, will have detailed information on the area.

Resources

Go to Western Washington Bouldering on Facebook.

Washington Climbers Coalition: www.washingtonclimbers.org

Access Fund: www.accessfund.org

Spencer Cuskey of Philadelphia waits for another volunteer to help him clear a stump in the middle of the trail at a bouldering area near Gold Bar.

Richard Ellison of Seattle rests on his bouldering pads after working to clear trails April 16 near Gold Bar.

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