Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, located on the border of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, is important to providing access to the outdoors for the DC metro region. Since 2017, Mid Atlantic Climbers (MAC) and the Access Fund (AF) have been working to restore climbing opportunities for Maryland Heights and in the Virginia and West Virginia sections of the Park.
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MAC has worked in partnership with Harpers Ferry since 2014, including planning 3 volunteer events, educating the climbing community about seasonal closures for raptor nesting, and acting as a resource for the park in regard to climbing practices and management. The climbing community has an excellent history of compliance with park regulations and MAC has effectively helped the park with several climbing-related issues.
In the fall of 2017, MAC and AF were disheartened to learn of climbing management changes in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park’s Superintendent’s Compendium, Section 13, which included the closure of all rock climbing and bouldering activities in the Virginia and West Virginia sections of the park. In 2018 the Park also issued a temporary closure to climbing on Maryland Heights due to a landslide and construction vehicle traffic on Sandy Hook Road. However, the landslide was not located near the climbing areas identified in the temporary closure, and the park never closed the Maryland Heights hiking trail to the public. This temporary closure was lifted after more than a year of advocacy in August 2019.
These restrictions were issued without consideration of stakeholder input and without consultation with local and national climbing organizations, and in breach of ongoing discussions between MAC, AF, and NPS staff about a future climbing management plan for the park. Thus far, the Park has largely ignored our requests to lift the VA and WV climbing closures and to develop a collaborative climbing management plan based on public input and best practices.
What do the Harpers Ferry closures mean for the climbing community?
Harpers Ferry is a significant climbing resource in the mid-Atlantic region, providing opportunities for traditional climbing, top roping, and bouldering. The temporary closure of Maryland Heights previously closed the most popular walls in the Park (The Sign Wall and The ABC Ramps). For new and experienced climbers alike, these walls provide the opportunity for multi-pitch climbing that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Maryland.
The current Harpers Ferry closures include:
The cliffs of Loudon Heights, Virginia and West Virginia are up to 100ft tall and provide a wonderful escape from the crowds of hikers atop Maryland Heights. While there are few established routes on this formation, Loudon Heights provides climbers with a bit of adventure and solitude.
The bouldering in Harpers Ferry includes a large quantity of beginner to intermediate boulders in a variety of styles. While most of the bouldering in Maryland is on the Elk Ridge behind Maryland Heights and remains open, all of the bouldering in the Virginia and West Virginia parts of the park is now permanently closed.
The recently lifted Maryland closures included:
Train Tunnel Wall:
The train tunnel wall holds some of the hardest routes in the park including Black Tie Affair (5.12A), and Outrage (5.12B). This wall also has several aid climbs including Center Stage and All Along (A2) and the epic Spectacular Spectacle (A3, 5.8 IV), easily the longest and most demanding aid routes in the region.
The ABC Ramps:
The ramps provide many MD, VA, and WV climbers with their first multi-pitch experience. The low angle of these three slabs allows climbers to focus on learning and improving their technical skills without pushing their physical limits. A-Climb (5.1) is easy slab that can be done as two pitches or one long pitch, enjoying the big holds at the top.
The Sign Wall:
Hard-Up (5.8) is a classic 3 pitch trad route, and one of the most popular routes in Maryland.
The Sign Route (5.10B/C R) is a challenging variation of the Hard-Up that traverses the iconic sign from the bottom left corner to the top right corner. These two routes are among the best in Maryland!
Just upriver and uphill from the Sign Wall is an aptly named, but unique feature: The Pillar. This is a 75ft free-standing pillar with several climbs that reach its tiny summit, providing climbers with a truly unique perspective on the park.
Skink Rock and the Stone Fort:
These two cliffs are accessed by hiking up the Maryland Heights overlook trail. These two cliffs range in height from 20-35ft and host routes from 5.5-5.11. They are popular with groups of climbers with varying abilities as most routes can be both led and top roped.
The temporary closure affected every boulder accessed via the Maryland Heights Overlook trail, including the newly developing Bug Valley area.
What can you do to help?
We are continuing to reach out to the Park with our concerns about these climbing closures, but we need more climbers to weigh in. Please join our campaign by:
- Sending a message to Park Superintendent Brandyburg using our online action tool today – click here!
- Posting your photos and stories of climbing in Harpers Ferry on social media using the hashtags #ClimbHarpersFerry and #MidAtlanticClimbers.
- Following MAC on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for campaign updates.
We urge the climbing community to respect the current closures as we continue our attempts to work with the Park to lift these restrictions and to develop a collaborative Climbing Management Plan based on public input and best practices.