Scroll Top

Winter Climbing Near Burlington: Alternate Plans

Winter Climbing Near Burlington: Alternate Plans
By Matt Bresler

My leg is shaking. My calf, twitching and balled up, will not cooperate. If only I could flex my foot, stretch, and relax for a bit!
Oh wait, I can.

I’m top roping one of the popular steep ice flows at Bolton Quarry. I first visited the quarry by parking at an undisclosed location nearby and sneaking down a snowmobile trail behind someone’s house to pop out in the woods above the quarry. Now, since this wonderful resource is protected by CRAG-VT, I simply drive up the plowed driveway and put on my crampons in the comfort of the parking lot. Although the approach is shorter and less nerve-wracking, the climbing remains as fun as ever.

One increasing challenge at the Quarry and other popular top roping locations is crowds. On weekends, it can be hard to find a spot for my rope. Here are some other winter climbing destinations I consider when it’s time to avoid crowds at the Quarry:

Upper Upper West Bolton. This well-known destination for rock climbing is closed for Peregrine Falcon nesting for much of the summer. Climbing here in the winter extends my season at this scenic and quiet crag. Routes here range from 1-3 pitches and tend to be WI4 and under. In cold weather, there are some very thin climbs that can be top roped from fatter flows. This is not a top roping crag for me, and I always come prepared for thin or unbonded ice. Luckily, there are great hiking trails that provide an alternative when the climbing isn’t in good shape.

The gym. One of the things I love about climbing is the lack of rules. There’s no rule that says I must suffer when climbing in the winter. Sometimes, I’d rather be painfully pumped indoors than while slogging up a gully. It’s warm, it’s a good workout, it’s social. No avalanche hazard, no screaming barfies, no fiddling with ice screws in subzero temperatures. I’m still climbing, and it’s still winter, so it counts.
Townline. Across the Winooski River from the Quarry lies some of the most reliable lower-elevation ice climbing in the area. I think this can be a hard-to-find area, since the climbing is spread across a trailless hillside. Top roping is possible, in some locations, although I wouldn’t say it’s easy. I’ve never encountered another party climbing on the 1-2 pitch, mostly moderate flows here. This is an area I love to explore on snowshoes, with a long ice season and some hidden gems up to 100’ high.

North Amphitheatre. If I’m heading to Smuggs to top rope and find the Workout Wall too busy, I sometimes head here instead. Follow the climbers’ trail past the base of Jefferson Slide and contour across a steep hillside. There are several WI2-3 options here, making it a favorite of mine for less-experienced groups. The base area is less comfortable and more challenging than at the Workout Wall.
Go rock climbing. If conditions aren’t right for ice climbing, I throw a heater in my chalk bag and find the driest, warmest rock around. A crag like the Cat’s Ass at the Quarry is perfect, since it’s South-facing and protected from falling ice. If I have any doubts about falling ice, or even walking under an icy cliff, I avoid that area at all costs. See #2 above. But when it’s sunny, calm, and warm, winter rock climbing can be a blast.
Sure, I like to ski. But I don’t like to wait in lines. And I love the beauty of winter climbing. Even if I don’t get many pitches done, it still beats a day at home. Exploring our state’s climbing resources has been a rewarding pastime for me, and I encourage everyone to get off the beaten path and check out new areas once-in-a-while. Happy Climbing!

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.