What’s the best 5.11 sport climb in the Mid-Atlantic, or DC, area?

It may still be February, but it’s DC and the climbing season is officially upon us.  The weather report for this weekend at Old Rag Mountain is 48 and sunny.   That’s good enough to get outside and pull down on some rock.

Seneca Rocks Summit

I’ve been itching to get outside ever since our last climb of the season:  Antonie and I did the Seneca Rocks classic 3-pitch Ecstasy on a beautiful fall day.   Over the winter break, we’ve been climbing hard at Sportrock, the local climbing gym we finally joined last July.

My main goal for this season is to climb 100 pitches outside with Antonie.  Logging mileage together, so to speak.   I also want to send several 5.11s outside, and perhaps even redpoint a 5.12.   Antonie and our climbing buddy Isaac want to do the same.   (And, of course, we have our annual destination climbing trip with several buddies, including JJ, Price, and my brother Scott.   For me, the big trip is always the highlight of the season.   This year, we’re eyeing Zion National Park in Utah.)

Naturally, I’ve been wondering, which routes should we target?  What are the best 5.11s to climb around here?   What crags should we focus on?   I decided to ask the local climbing legend:  Eric Horst.

Eric started climbing in Pennsylvania back in the 70s when he was 13 years old.  Like many of us, he got addicted.   But he pretty much stands alone in his accomplishments:  he’s consistently climbed — and all over the planet — for the last 34 years; he’s the author of a half-dozen excellent climbing books that have sold over 200,000 copies — including the fantastic Training for Climbing and the invaluable guidebook for the Mid-Atlantic region; he’s established over 400 first ascents; he’s personally trained hundreds of climbers; and he’s written for and appeared in countless media outlets.

The other day I shot him an email:

Hey Eric!

My name is Bob Ewing, and I’ve been learning climbing skills from you since 2005.  Big fan of your books, philosophy and podcast.   Quick question:  In your opinion, what’s the best 5.11 sport climb in the Mid-Atlantic region?

My girlfriend, buddies and I are pumped for this climbing season.  We’re pretty familiar with the trad routes at Seneca, and have at least visited most of places in your guidebook.  We’re putting together a list now of climbs we have to hit this season.   We’d love to hear your thoughts on climbs we can’t miss, including your pick for the top 5.11 sport climb.  We live in the DC area and are members at Sport Rock in Alexandria.


Cool enough, Eric wrote me back the same day (NRG stands for New River Gorge; RRG stands for Red River Gorge):

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the kind words about my books. Best 5.11 sport climbs…that’s a tough one, since there are so many at the NRG and RRG.

Here’s a short list at the NRG: Tongulation (11a), Sheer Energy (11a), Wild Seed (11a), G-String (11a), Discombobulated (11b), Skinhead Grin (11b), Smore Energy (11c), Sancho Belige (11c), Michelin Man (11d), Under the Milky Way (11d)

The very best two of this bunch are Discombobulated (11b) and Michelin Man(11d).

Now go send them ALL!

Before typing up this post I ran into Lillian Chao-Quinlan at the gym.   She’s the president of Sportrock, and probably the best climber I’ve ever seen in person.  Cool enough, she’s also a delight to chat with and always makes time to answer questions.

Her thoughts on the best 5.11?

She laughed and said there are so many great ones at the New and the Red it’s hard to pick.   Plus, every climber is different, so what may be the perfect 5.11 for Antonie may not suit me well at all.   She suggested getting down to the New as often as we can and testing out several different areas, not focusing on any one climb in particular, but trying out a bunch and seeing what comes to each of us.   And then climb hard and have fun.

My good buddy and climbing mentor, Jeff Rowes — also a fantastic climber — agrees.   Just get out there, try a bunch of routes, and climb hard.  Here’s a quick clip of Jeff and me on top of Castleton Tower, shivering and considering spoon session round 2:

BOTTOM LINE:  I’m going to take all of their advice.

I’m definitely going to try each of the routes Eric mentioned, and make sure we get in a whole bunch of climbing outside.   Since Old Rag and Franklin are so close, we can project a few 5.11s at each crag.   This weekend we’re going to check out Priapus Verde, a 5.11a on Old Rag’s Middle Sunset Wall.   And the next weekend we spend at Seneca, I think we’ll shoot over to Franklin and give Brutality Crack, A Moment of Clarity, and the classic Barnacle Bill a shot.

We’ll hit the New (and Summersville Lake) several times this year.  And we’ll also make many weekend trips to Seneca/Franklin, a few day trips to Old Rag, spend at least one weekend at the Gunks, and do a big destination trip.  We’ll climb hard, try lots of different routes, and send some 5.11s.

I’m pumped!



About Bob Ewing

On twitter @DCBarefootRun. Media guy for libertarian law firm by day, primal/paleo (rocking climbing, BJJ, barefooter) by, well, lunchtime... https://theprimalchallenge.wordpress.com/ http://DCBarefootRun.com
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One Response to What’s the best 5.11 sport climb in the Mid-Atlantic, or DC, area?

  1. Jay says:

    Hi Bob,

    I’ve done my fair share of climbing around the New River Gorge. I’ve been living here full time since 2005, and I do the digital marketing for Adventures On the Gorge, one of the local adventure resorts. My opinion… Discombobulated only has stars in the guidebook, because of it’s proximity to Legacy, which actually IS one of the best 5.11 sport routes around here.

    The best single 5.11 sport climb in my opinion has to be Satisfaction Guaranteed at Summersville Lake. No matter what style of (non-crack) climbing you like, you’ll find it in quality abundance on that route. Start by pulling a head-high roof with a finger crack, climb a delicate slab to a body-length roof, pull through on jugs, grab a hand-jam rest in a fantastic horizontal and then puzzle you’re way of the headwall on a beautiful face of rounded, water-sculpted crimps of varying sizes.

    I’m sure there will be some people who like other climbs more, but I highly doubt you’ll ever find somebody who climbed it and didn’t love it.

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