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Rock climbing has its own unique vocabulary. Trad, belay, beta, crux, protection, jug. If you are not familiar with these terms, you aren’t alone. But as any rock climber will tell you, the lingo is the least challenging aspect to the sport. “It is such an amazing feeling once you get up to the top,” says Kaylie Sylvester, “That feeling of conquering a fear, completing something that is physically super demanding is wonderful.”
The McCall area isn’t widely known as a climbing hot spot, but there is ample terrain to explore no matter your skill level. The geology of the area means that granite is the primary climbing surface. “Granite is great to climb,” says Sylvester. “Unlike basalt, which is really cool to look at, but slippery, granite is a solid, sticky rock and you can find the tiniest little holes to place your fingers.”
Climbing routes are classified by grade, ranging from 5.0 to 5.15. Typically, 5.0 to 5.4 is considered easy, 5.5 to 5.8 is intermediate, 5.9 to 5.10 is hard, 5.11 to 5.12 is difficult and 5.13 to 5.15 is very difficult. In addition to numerical ratings, many routes have a letter classification (a, b, c, or d) with “a” being easier than “d” on the scale.
For easy access to some great climbing areas, look no farther than Payette Lake. Some of McCall’s most well-known routes can be found at The Thinking Spot. With sport climbing options on routes known by names such as “Big Ernie’s Revenge” (5.8c/5.10c), “Fire on the Mountain” (5.10c), and “The Sparkle Dance” (5.7), this climbing area has a wide variety of routes for all abilities. The east face and backside offer more challenging routes while the northeast face is a great for fun beginner climbs. On the southeast face, there is a great area to set up a top rope. To access The Thinking Spot, take Warren Wagon road and turn right to go toward North Beach. There is a pullout near the bridge about a mile from the turnoff. The formation is right by the road and easy to spot.
Another mile down the road from The Thinking Spot is Fireman’s Point. This area is rated 5.8/5.9 and is a great top rope climb. Along with spectacular views of Payette Lake from the top, the parking area for Fireman’s Point has a beach to enjoy the water after a climb.
If you are after a premier climber’s playground, head south of McCall to Gold Fork’s Pins and Needles. Ranging from 6,250 feet to 7,800 feet elevation, the climbing season here typically starts in June and lasts until the snow flies. The Pins and Needles are home to approximately 150 bolted routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.11, most falling in the 5.9 to 5.10 grade. For a comprehensive guide on routes at the Pins and Needles, visit the Gravity Sports website: gravitysportsidaho.com.
The McCall area is also a prime area for bouldering. Bouldering has its own classification system ranging from V0 (easiest) to V16 (hardest). Two well-known spots, the Aspen Boulder and the Lost Shoe Boulder, can be found just south of Fireman’s Point on the backside of Payette Lake. The Lakeside and Scree Boulders around Jughandle Mountain, are also great for exploring. Louie Lake provides the best access point to both areas.
If you are new to the sport, Sylvester recommends trying your hand at bouldering and top roping. But her best advice? “Find a group of people that you trust and they will show you the way.” While teaching her own five-year-old daughter, she says she realized that the rewards from climbing are universal. “Climbing is a confidence builder,” she says. “You have to trust yourself, trust your rope.” The view from the top isn’t bad, either.
Know the Lingo: