Those who think of Little Cottonwood Canyon in terms of backcountry skiing and resorts in winter or mountain biking in summer are missing one big thing that makes Little Cottonwood world-famous: bouldering.
Bouldering is like a flash version of climbing. Done without ropes or harness, climbers use a thick foam “crash pad” on the ground below for safety as they spider up various sizes of boulders, usually between 10 and 20 feet high, which feature a variety of routes and “problems”—the focus is on the technique of the climb and problem-solving how to get up and over the boulders; the short, tricky moves.
Mike Duncan, who has worked for climbing and bouldering haven Black Diamond for eight years, says “Utah is really good in terms of climbing in general. It’s amazing how many world class climbing destinations there are in Utah; Little Cottonwood is especially well known.”
One good site is close to the mouth of the canyon: Secret Garden, which is about 250 yards up from the digital sign, on the left. A quarter mile up from that, also on the left, is the “Cabbage Patch,” where boulder-ers can be seen from the side of the road. One of the most popular sites is “Seven Sisters,” again on the left side. You’ll see an indented roadside parking area, often filled with vehicles. Start the scenic hike up, and you’re likely to find plenty of climbers who will let you use their crash pad to try a boulder.
Duncan’s favorite spot is “The Gate” just below the first set of avalanche gates. “There’s a variety of problems there; it’s easy to do a quick circuit,” he says.
There aren’t many places to go bouldering in Big Cottonwood Canyon, because its rocks are more jagged and crumbly, with few smooth boulders. It’s not a destination spot like Little Cottonwood.
Duncan also recommends another nationally well-known bouldering spot, near Orangeville in Emery County, called “Joe’s Valley.” About 150 miles from Salt Lake City, it’s different from the Wasatch area because the boulders are sandstone, while rocks in Little Cottonwood are the harder material of granite. Duncan explains the difference: “Granite tends to be technical and tricky to climb, just because the rock is so hard. Sandstone forms holes that are a bit more incut, so it’s easier. It has steeper angles, and that makes it fun, because climbing sandstone is gymnastic and powerful.” There are several official camping grounds, even an RV park, in the area.
There are also good bouldering areas in Ogden, mostly on the city’s east bench.
If you want to give the sport a try before investing time or money, visit any of these areas on a weekend. The climbers are friendly, and will give you tips, as well as allowing you to use their chalk and crash pads. Who knew that a hard climb up a short rock could be a good source for new friends?