Acadia National Park may be an overlooked rock-climbing destination. But, according to Eli Simon of Bar Harbor’s Atlantic Climbing School, that’s also precisely what makes it so special.
Rock climbing in Acadia National Park might not be up there with excursions to Moab or Yosemite when climbers are dreaming about their next big trip, but that’s also precisely what makes it such a great climbing destination – Acadia’s craggy faces are sort of like its best-kept secret. We spoke to Eli Simon of Atlantic Climbing School about why Acadia makes for the ultimate climbing destination, and touched on some of the routes newbies should be sure to visit.
What makes Acadia such a cool climbing destination?
Two things: One, it’s pleasantly off people’s radar – you’re not worried about standing in line for a popular climb or dealing with huge crowds. Oftentimes, you’re the only one there. With other places, you can get out there by 7 a.m. and there are already four parties on the route. Secondly, you’re usually climbing sea cliffs – beautiful granite, right over the ocean. That’s hard to find the whole world over, and we have it in spades. Just this morning morning, I was guiding a climb at one of the sea cliffs, and we saw a harbor porpoise, a harbor seal, just so much cool sea life. And the sounds of waves, the smells…that’s what makes it most unique.
Climbing over the ocean? How does that work?
It’s sort of like climbing turned on its head. When people think of rock climbing, they envision hiking to a cliff base, then climbing up, and hiking back out. But because of Acadia’s famous vertical granite cliffs that gradually melt into the sea, you can’t hike into that lower point; rather, you must rappel down first before you can do any climbing up. So sea cliffs are very unique, mostly because the most efficient way to manage the system is from the top. But that can also be overwhelming.
But you’ve also been known to say that the climbing is very beginner friendly here?
There’s certainly a good mix of climbs – easy, medium, and hard. But what’s great for beginners in Acadia is the amount of featured climbing, meaning horizontal ledges, good cracks, natural holds, and places in the rock to put your hands and feet. That’s because of the nature of granite, which is super solid rock with a lot of features. Other major climbing areas don’t really have that, and mostly rely on friction. Our granite is probably the most desirable rock to climb out there.
What are some of the can’t-miss routes that beginners should try?
There are definitely a handful of classics. You’ve got the steep but shorter perfect granite walls of the 70 popular climbs that make up the stretch of Otter Cliff, then some of the more popular entry-level routes on The Great Chimney. The Great Chimney is probably the most iconic pitch in Acadia – at a 5.5 on the Yosemite Decimal System, it’s not particularly hard, but it’s the only chimney I’ve ever climbed on the ocean. Also, The Precipice – also called the South Wall – is a great three pitch with a beautiful crack system, nice ledges, and great views, and it’s certainly a classic for the beginner.
What else should beginning climbers know?
I’d also highly recommend that they check out a few of the more obscure climbing areas. Some of the popular areas I just mentioned see more than 90 percent of the annual climbing visitation, but there are 10 to 12 climbing destinations that rarely see any traffic. They’re a little more adventurous in spirit because they don’t get climbed as much, but it’s a pretty marvelous experience. The North Bubble has one of the greatest 5.10s in Acadia that never gets climbed. The Pleasure Dome has some really cool moderates and some greatl scenery. Eagle’s Crag would be another one. Sure, Otter Cliff is so popular because, yes, it is so awesome – you’re climbing on the ocean, it’s super accessible, and very high quality – but because of that, some of these other areas just get overlooked.