Trip Report by Dean Flemming
Beyond the bustling San Diego suburb of Poway, Highway 67 shortly gains the summit of a rocky inland ridge. Just before the apex of this ridge, views of too-good-to-be-unclimbed boulders dominate every bend in the road. The sight of Mount Woodson would sweat the palms of any climber’s hands. Glassy quartz monzonite boulders charmingly augment the foothill crest producing an uninterrupted panoramic view of potential climbing about five times the size of Bishop’s Buttermilks.
Thousands of boulders are scattered along this ridge, yet unlike the Buttermilks – with their ideally sculpted sandy landscape – a heavy brush comprised of chaparral, scrub oak, manzanita and poison oak dominates the undergrowth. Simply finding the approach trails leading to Mount Woodson’s established boulders can be quite confusing. Venturing into uncharted territories typically demands crashpad-tossing jungle warfare.
Since the early 1960s, generations of local boulderers and top-ropers have stormed these rugged hillsides to climb new routes. Hundreds of problems have been established along Woodson’s summit road, yet because of the incredibly thick underbrush, the climbs closest to this road remain the major attraction for most visitors. Unfortunately, many of the boulders south of Mount Woodson are within private property boundaries.
Woodson isn’t regarded for its steep and powerful boulder problems; in fact, it’s pretty rare to find overhanging climbing on Woodson’s glassy eggs. Reminiscent of cracked jellybeans, the smooth pebbles that dot the summit road can be absolutely featureless. Many are so dreadfully sheer that one might be so bold to label sections unclimbable. That is, until California powerhouses like Ethan Pringle, Chris Linder (who grew up in a house near the base of Mount Woodson) and Poway resident Dan Beall made their way up the winding road to climb some “unclimbable” slabs, punchy arêtes and smooth overhangs. Their efforts have added double digit bouldering and a slew of new-age classics, recharging this old school crag with excellent quality modern bouldering.
Circumnavigating the base of almost any boulder at Mount Woodson will usually reveal a perfect hand, fist or finger-sized crack. Or, if you’re lucky, a series of crimps leading up an otherwise impossible face. Many of the cracks and technical face climbs at Mount Woodson are perfectly uniform, tall and intimidating. That harrowing height that’s just too short to justify lead climbing and just tall enough to break an ankle. In other words, Mount Woodson hosts an unprecedented amount of perfect highball bouldering. And for those willing to fight the brush: decades of first ascents.
Scrambling up the paved summit road and simply wondering the bushes for classic lines is probably the easiest way to spend a day of rock climbing in Southern California. Even for the savviest of trail-sniffers, Mount Woodson quickly becomes a complex and hard-to-read crag. Fortunately, area classics like Robbin’s Crack (V0), Baby Robbins (V0), Jaws (V1), The Rail Problem (V6) and Silk Banana (V5) are close to the road and easy to access.
From San Diego take Highway 8 east (or Highway 52 east) to the Highway 67 junction. Head north on 67 for about 18 miles until you crest a huge hill littered with boulders (this should be obvious). After cresting this hill, park on the left (north-west) side of Highway 67 at a sign marked “hiking trail.” I’m serious. Hike up (heading south along Highway 67) until you reach a paved road. This road leads to the summit of Mount Woodson and the established climbing areas. It’s a hell of a hike and there’s no water so bring plenty. Cars have been vandalized at this parking area so put your wallet in your bag.
WHERE TO STAY:
Very nice camping with showers and water can be found at Dos Picos County Park in Ramona, just a few miles north-west of Mount Woodson on Highway 67. From the parking lot at Mount Woodson head north on Highway 67 for about 3 miles, then turn right onto Mussey Grade Road. After 1 mile turn right onto Dos Picos Park Road. Follow this to its end at the campground. Camping here costs $19.00 per night and there is zero firewood. Pack your car with friends and sticks and split the bill.
Robbin’s Crack 5.9 or V0, Jaws 5.11a or V1, Driving South 5.11d or V3, Lizard Corner V4, the Rail Problem V6, Asylum V10, Uncertainty Principal 5.11c and Stairway to Heaven 5.12b or V4.
There are a couple guidebooks to the area, namely Craig Fry’s Southern California Bouldering and San Diego County Bouldering by Dave Kennedy and Chris Hubbard. Neither are comprehensive books, but both can point you in the right direction. A book dedicated to Mt. Woodson is in the works and it should be out in the near future.