Over the last five years, Buzzard Rocks has gone from being an obscure crag to everyone’s favorite day trip destination for moderate climbing in the DC area. The approach hike is a little daunting, but the rewards are excellent views, a good breeze on even the hottest summer day, and of course excellent slab climbing on high friction sandstone.
Don’t be fooled by the bolts — this is not a sport climbing area. While a few of the routes need gear only for the top, for the most part the bolts only protect sections that do not take gear. While many of the routes are long, the mixed climbing means that a standard single rack with a few extra slings and quickdraws is adequate. None of the routes are too long for a 50m rope, but if you want to rappel rather than walk down you will need either two ropes or a stop at an intermediate tree.
Cell Phone Coverage/Internet Access
Cell coverage is good on the ridge and adequate at the base of the climbs.
Nothing closer than the usual DC area outlets.
Take I-66 to exit 6 for US-340/US-522, heading left (South) at the exit. Drive about a mile, keeping a close eye on the speed limit — it drops quickly here and there is often a law enforcement presence on weekends. After going over a bridge turn right (West) at the light onto 55 — look for a 7-11 on the left. Drive another well-policed 5 miles and turn left (South) at Fort Valley Rd/VA-678. After about a mile turn left on VA-619 on at a sign that says “Fish Culture Station”. Drive 1.2 miles past the fish hatchery and look for a sign on the right for the Buzzard Rocks trailhead. Park in the small dirt lot and follow the trail about 2 miles to the top. The trail takes a circuitous route around private land, but avoid the temptation to take shortcuts — these are people’s back yards. The hike to the top takes 40-60 minutes depending on whether you hustle or stroll. After about 1.5 miles you’ll reach an overlook over the fish hatchery and a steep uphill section that leads to a set of switchbacks. After the switchbacks you’ll walk a few hundred feet on the ridgeline and then encounter a side trail off to the right which takes you to the base of the Three Amigos area. The routes are described here starting there and working north. The climbs from Three Amigos to Half and Half can all be accessed from here, but you will need to return to the ridge to get to the Anonymous Flake and Edge of Sunshine areas.
Where to Stay
Dispersed camping is permitted in most of the George Washington National Forest, though the valley below Buzzard Rocks is closed to camping due to heavy use from fishermen. There is an established camp site a few hundred feet past the top of Edge of Sunshine, though hiking the approach trail with climbing gear, overnight gear, and water is a rather athletic endeavor. Consult the Lee ranger district of the George Washington National Forest at (540) 984-4101 for more details. Indoor accomodations are available in Front Royal, but this is a day trip destination for most climbers.
Where to Eat
There are a few country convenience stores along 55 with reliable stocks of coke and candy bars but unreliable weekend hours. The strip mall complex north of 66 at the exit has fast food and a 24 hour Wal-Mart super center with groceries.
Other Web Sites
|Three Amigos Double Direct||5.5||70||0||Left of the base of Three Amigos, climb a zig zag crack through a lichen-covered section of rock. Gain a brushy ledge above, and continue up Three Amigos or Three Amigos Direct. A great beginner lead that gobbles gear of all sizes.|
|Three Amigos Direct||5.5||70||0||Same as Three Amigos, except finish up the low angle face to the left to a small overhang with two parallel vertical cracks.|
|Three Amigos||5.5||70||0||At the very north end of the climbing area look for a prominent flake/corner system on the left side of a small face. Make easy 5th class moves to a ledge, then move up the flake/corner. Finish up twin cracks near the top.|
|Unknown (wide open spaces)||5.4-5.8||75||0||To the right of Three Amigos is a large slabby face. A great beginner to intermediate toprope area with many possible variations.|
|Pulp Friction||5.9||90||5||An area classic, with challenging friction moves. 50′ south of Three Amigos, look for the obvious single bolt line up a slab with a small water groove to the right. Purists will keep their chalky little hands out of the water groove and stick to pure friction moves. Slab past four bolts with a few tiny edges along the way to gain a small ledge. A short section of pure friction with a single bolt leads to another small ledge and 40′ of 5.4 PG climbing to the top. Some small, dicey placements are available in the upper section, or take a deep breath and run it out to medium gear just below the belay. An awkward escape right with better gear is also possible after the 5th bolt.|
|Raising Arizona||5.7||95||4||25′ right of Pulp Friction, and on the other side of some pines growing in a large flake system on the cliff, look for an obvious bolt line. 4 bolts of slab/face climbing lead to a slight runout above that can be protected with small cams|
|Failure to Communicate||5.7||95||4||10′ right of Raising Arizona, look for another obvious bolt line. A flake below the high first bolt will take small gear, and a medium piece can reduce the runout at the top.|
|(Don’t) Fear the Leeper||5.7||95||1||To the right of Failure to communicate is a section of lichen-covered rock with an old bolt about 35′ up. The stainless hanger is not an actual Leeper, but is similar to the infamous west coast time bomb hangers. This climb and its lichen are probably best left undisturbed.|
|Crack Cow||5.8||80||1||This one is a mystery to me, Vance has a picture of it on his site that shows a bolt, but I’ve never found it. RC.com says it’s just below a three-trunked pine and you rap down to a ledge from there. Figure this one out and I’ll buy you a beer.|
|Kimberly||5.7||65||2||Shortest, leftmost bolt line in an area a short hike past the Raising Arizona cluster. Work up erratic crack features to a bolt on a slab section, then follow a crack that takes small to medium gear. Another bolt near the top protects a crimpy crux. Rap from a tree with slings. This tree can be reached via an 80′ rappel and a swing to the left from the tree at the top of Melungian Brotherhood, allowing a single rope descent of that route. Be sure to tie a backup knot!|
|Melungian Brotherhood||5.8||125||7||The base of this route used to be marked with an aluminum tube wrapped around a tree. Until an historically accurate replacement can be fabricated and installed, look for a prominent line of bolts above a 7′ high slabby boulder resting against the base of the cliff. The bolts protect nice slab climbing below, which eases off to easier but slightly run out climbing above. Water grooves and other features in the top section take small and medium gear.|
|Ass Cannibal||5.8||125||6||Just right of Melungian Brotherhood look for another bolt line that leads up over a small overhang at the edge of this section of the cliff. Slightly easier slab climbing at the base leads to a nice move at the overhang, followed by a little more edging before the grade eases up. Make an awkward move under a small tree and continue up, passing some small to medium placements and another bolt. As is often the case at Buzzard, small cam and nut placements under thin flakes are tempting in the upper section but would be unlikely to hold a fall.|
|Long Corner||5.5||125||0||The cliff break right of Ass Cannibal actually forms a long right facing corner, with large “crack” features between the rock layers on the left side. Dirty and seldom climbed, this route’s main redeeming quality is the opportunity to practice some offwidth hand techniques in a low angle situation.|
|The Bulge||5.9||120||8||A few hundred feet south of the base of the Kimberly/MB/AC area the trail makes a 5′ descent, turns a corner, and leads to this obvious bolt line.|
|Half and Half Left||5.7||120||4||Just south of The Bulge, look for a line of khaki colored bolts leading to a brushy ledge with a large pine tree with rap slings and a small overhang above it. Work left of the overhang and follow a crack to the top. Dirty and lichenous.|
|Half and Half||5.8||120||7||Pull the overhang above the ledge (small or medium gear) and continue up, passing three more bolts. This route has a bolted anchor at the top, but the anchor is in a suspicious bit of rock — setting your own anchor is recommended.|
|Half and Half Right||5.8||120||4||Work right of the overhang along a large undercling flake to easy climbing at the top. More worthwhile than the left variation.|
|Center of Mass||Vance tagged the long, undeveloped center section with this name. A few people have tried climbing out here, but there is a lot of lichen and the rock is frequently broken up by ledges and trees.|
|Obscure Adventure||5.7||4||50 feet left of Keep Off the Riff Raff and down a short scramble look for a bolt on a relatively lichen-free section of rock. Typical Buzzard Rocks climbing leads past a total of three bolts to a brushy ledge with a large pine. Rappel from there or place some gear in a broken overhang and pull a one move wonder to reach another bolt and easy, lichen-covered climbing up the center of a large flake. Rappelling from the ledge is recommended unless you need to get to the top — the bottom section is fun, but the dirty, easy top section is not worth another lap down the Anonymous Flake walk down.|
|Keep Off the Riff Raff||5.7 R||155||2||Fifty feet north of the base of Anonymous Flake look for a prominent 1′ wide ramp that runs up and to the right. Start at the base of this ramp and head straight up through increasingly difficult moves, keeping left of a seepage and water stain, to reach an undercling flake. Right of the seepage is an old Leeper-style bolt that looks tempting but takes you substantially off route and is not safe anyway. Thin slab moves with substantial runout lead to a bolt and easier climbing up flakes to an undercling with a bolt above it. Work left to a flake and gain easier climbing at the top. Direct Variation (5.8): head straight up the thin, unprotected slab to a brushy, broken section at the top. While this is a very good route, both variations are heady leads with little gear in the unbolted sections and potential for dangerous falls. Drop a toprope unless you are comfortable with 20′ runouts at the grade.|
|Anonymous Flake||5.9||140||2||Along the ridge trail look for a pine growing between rock layers that has fallen down but is still alive. This is the top of Anonymous Flake — the 3rd class descent is just past this on the ridge trail. From the base of the slab head up easy terrain that gets gradually more vertical, placing small and medium gear and clipping a bolt as you go. Just below the flake is an older rusty 3/8″ stud bolt with an SMC hanger next to a more recent bolt. Once you reach the flake the only placements available are finger-sized cams under the flake. The height, exposure, and the blind placements under the crack add up to a bold lead, and this route has spat off its share of strong leaders.|
|Anonymous Flake Direct||5.10c?||140||3||Finish straight up over the flake on tiny edges rather than working the undercling.|
|Right to Anonymity||5.8?||140||2||Clip the bolt just below the flake with a long runner and head right of the flake up the face.|
|Rather Be S8boarding||5.8||80||5||500′ past the top of AF look for a prominent, funky knob at the top of the cliff with some blackening from a fire on it. Go another 200′ and look for a high point on the trail with an 8″ pine with blazes on both sides. Walk down just past this high point and look for bolts on the cliff face. Rather be Sk8boarding is the left of the two bolted routes here, ascending large features including a nice bulge in the middle section to a large belay ledge just below the ridge. This route and Prajapati can be lead safely on the bolts alone, but some small to medium gear and a cordelette or webbing to sling a large flake is needed for the anchor. The belay ledge can be reached easily by walking down from the north side at the top and a single anchor can easily serve Rather be Sk8boarding and Prajapati — a good strategy is to just pre-set the anchor before walking down so as to not have to climb with a bunch of gear just for the anchor.|
|Prajapati||5.9||80||4||Twelve feet of easy but unprotected climbing leads to a ledge from which the first bolt is easily reached. A powerful move at the bulge at the first bolt leads to some high-quality climbing above. The top section is quite vertical for buzzard, and offers a difficult, reachy move to the right or an easier escape to the left.|
|Edge of Sunshine||5.6||80||1||Clip the first bolt of Prajapati and then move right to the obvious flake system. A more direct start up the flake from the base is also possible.|
|Edge of Sunshine Direct||5.9||80||2||Clip the first and possibly the second bolt of Prajapati and then head up the unprotected face between Prajapati and Edge of Sunshine. An R/X adventure that is probably best toproped.|