Climbing’s Past and Future in Patapsco State Park part 1

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Mid Atlantic Climbers is excited to feature this guest blog post by local climber John Kelbel. This post is the first in a series focusing on some of the great climbing in and around the Mid Atlantic region.

Climbing in Patapsco State Park Part 1

Patapsco State Park encompasses 16,043 acres of woodlands along 32 miles of the Patapsco River just south and west of Baltimore, Maryland. The steep, rocky hillsides have attracted hikers, mountain bikers and climbers for decades. Much of the climbing has been documented and collected on my Patapsco Blog. This post focuses on three climbing areas nearest to Ellicott City, MD: Ilchester, Friction Wall, and Bloede Dam area; part 2 will discuss Alberton and Woodstock Rock.


Climbing history in Patapsco dates back to the late 1960’s. Ed Bollack shared stories with me of climbing as a kid at Buzzard Rock, a half mile East of Ilchester, with his scout troop in 1976 and he later grew into the climbing community. Ed recalls Howard Cornblum who started climbing in the late 1960’s. Howard also spoke of being mentored into climbing by a small group of climbers that came before him. So it’s anybody’s guess how early that group was climbing.

Another fixture of Patapsco, Mike Carroll, transitioned from caving to rock climbing between 1970 and 1972. He started teaching Mountaineering 101and 102 at Catonsville Community College; with 32 years of climbing classes at CCC, Mike Carroll has trained more local outdoor climbers in our area than anyone else. This may well be the longest standing recreational class ever offered. I am proud to say that I first learned to rock climb through Mike Carroll’s class of 1988 held at Ilchester rock and continued learning and refining my techniques through the mentoring of other local climbers.

The next few years will bring big changes to Patapsco State Park the park service is planning a new bridges, a new parking lot for Alberton and the removal of an historic dam. These projects will temporarily impact climbing access to a few sites.


Ilchester is the most well-known crag in Patapsco to climbers and is one of the most visited overlooks in the park by non-climbers. Ilchester stands 38 feet tall and features a nubby face with a nearly endless variations of routes. The majority of climbs are in the 5.9 and 5.10 range, however, there are a handful of easier and harder routes including a 5.13 called “Captain Crunch.” I have been fortunate to witness its ascent twice by the route’s originator Patrick Egan. Of course the classic line is “Blue Rose” at 5.8 and is one of our few hand cracks in Patapsco. “Ninja” is a superb test piece at 5.12 and quite a puzzle to figure out. Feel free to ask me for beta if you need it. Note that ratings of the climbs are “old” outdoor ratings and in line with Seneca ratings.


MAC has planned and provided volunteers for several Adopt a Crag events at Ilchester over the past 5 years and has made a tremendous effort to mitigate severe erosion issues and remove graffiti. I can’t thank all of you enough who participated in the work. There is a new trail proposal in the works for Ilchester, initiated by the Park and being supported by MAC and myself, which will reduce erosion above the cliff and eliminate the wooden steps which require constant upkeep. This plan will be submitted to the State this spring and is likely to be approved by spring 2017. Yes, new trails can take one to two years to get approved…it’s just how our state works. Once the proposal is approved, MAC will rally the troops to build the new trail.

Friction Wall

Initially, Friction Wall was the primary quarry for Ellicott City and Baltimore. The quarry was first opened in the late 1700’s and operated for 100 years.

Friction Wall Old
Friction Wall Quarry

Standing at 68 feet tall, it is the highest rock we have in Patapsco and the only rock with bolted sport climbs, several above the 5.10 range that will test your finger strength and footwork. The classic bolted line and local favorite is “The Truth” aka “40 Weight” 5.10 which follows the bolts on the center of the slab. The bolted route called “Unknown-FW-2” in the Climb Maryland! guide is actually “Interzone” 5.12d/13a, a worthy route developed by Pat Egan. Like Ilchester, all these ratings are based on Seneca ratings which are quite hard compared to gym ratings. The right side of the quarry is a bit of a swamp and, although its moss covered wall has been free climbed, it’s been left mainly for aid climbers to practice hard core aid climbing on, usually in the colder months.

Mike Carroll climbing “40 Weight/The Truth”
Historically, climbers have accessed Friction Wall by walking down the railroad tracks from Ellicott City which is, in fact, trespassing on CSX property. Since the train derailment in 2011 that killed two people, CSX has stepped up enforcement and MAC has urged climbers to stay off the tracks. Some climbers have been parking across from Sheppard Pratt on the shoulder of College Ave. In Google Maps you can see the green property of the park make note of the narrow strip of park land that touches College Ave.

Another possibility is at a new development that just went in off College Ave, at Old Leaf Ct and taking the first right on Red Stag Ct brings you to a dead end about 50 feet from the park boundary. At this time it is unclear if parking on the shoulder of the road and entering the park will be permitted however it may become an ideal access point. It may be more appropriate not to park at the very end of the street blocking the turnaround. Maintaining access is all about considering how your presence and actions affects others, and this also includes your safety on any property including the State park. Pleases let MAC know if you encounter any issues with these approaches.Friction Wall Parking

Bloede Dam – Temporary Area Closure to come

We have a few crags around Bloede Dam with established routes dating back to the early 70’s. Mark “Indy” Kotche has some route information on his website. Of the 3 main rock outcrops, Bloede Dam Crag stands at 34 foot tall and offers a steep overhanging wall with the classic route “Blood Sacrifice” 5.10 going up up the center and some good bouldering across its base. An adjacent low angle wall provides beginner climbs from 5.5 to 5.9.

Bloede_DamBloede Dam, built in 1907, is historically significant as the first hydroelectric dam where the power plant was housed inside the dam itself. Bloede Dam is scheduled for removal in 2017 to improve public safety and the health of the river. This year construction will begin on relocating the sewer line out of the river prior to removing the dam, temporarily closing the Grist Mill trail from Ilchester Rd to Bloede Dam. Access to climbing at the Bloede Dam area will likely be limited during the dam removal project. MAC will try to keep you informed of this issue as the project begins in earnest.

About the Author

John Kelbel grew up climbing at Ilchester and Seneca in the late 80’s and has a passion for preserving our local climbing resources. John is mainly a trad climber; however he enjoys supporting the local boulderers. He loves to explore off trail and find new rocks and boulders and shares it with all of you through his web page: Outside of climbing he enjoys photography, woodworking and foraging for wild plants.