California Institute of Technology


Local Area Guide: Rock Climbing

UPDATE, summer 2010: we have moved to a wiki webpage. This information can now be found at Category:Local Areas on the wiki.

This page has information on local (and not-so-local) areas for rock climbing, hiking, mountaineering, canyoneering, caving, skiing, backcountry skiing and ice climbing. And yes, we recognize this page is incomplete and always will be, so please send (nice) suggestions about areas to add, or information to change. To navigate, see the links in the right column.

Index (in random order):
gyms overview of SoCal aid climbing
williamson big rock horse flats
joshua tree tahquitz malibu
point dume stoney point new jack city
yosemite needles alabama hills
sierras red rocks mt. charleston
utah desert riverside quarry mt. roubidoux
holcomb valley pinnacles echo cliffs arizona areas

Rock Climbing

Gyms

The athletic dept.'s rock climbing class goes to Hanger 18 [256 Stowell St, Upland], which has lots of lead climbing. I hear that the gym in Costa Mesa [Rockreation] is one of the best in the country in terms of the quality of their routes. The old Jungle Gym that was in Arcadia is closed, but as of January 2006 a new gym ("The Arc") has opened up in their former location: see Arcadia Rock Climbing. This gym is by far the closest to campus (it's across from the Arcadia REI, about 10 minutes drive in good traffic), but lacks the serious roped climbing of Hanger 18. As of January 2007, they are offering Caltech students $10 off the student membership.

We now have a webpage listing local indoor gyms. Also, don't forget Caltech's own gym!. Not too many marked routes, but it can be an excellent place to train.

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Overview of SoCal climbing

Here's a map of the major sport climbing destinations in SoCal, in jpeg and pdf formats (on the map, "The Pinnacles" refers to the Holcomb Valley Pinnacles). The areas the map shows are:

    Malibu and Santa Monica Mts. vicinity: Echo Cliffs , Malibu Creek [recommended], Point Dume [on the beach] , Tick Rock
    North of Pasadena: Williamson Rock [now closed], Texas Canyon
    Desert Areas: New Jack City [recommended], Apple Valley Crags, Devil's Punchbowl
    East of Pasadena: Keller Peak, Holcomb Valley Pinnacles, Frustration Peak, Big Rock
    Other areas: Santa Barbara, San Diego (e.g. Poway Crags, Mission Gorge)
It does not cover bouldering areas (e.g. Stoney Point or Horse Flats or Mt. Baldy) nor trad places (e.g. Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks, Joshua Tree). To find out more, check out the full book from our library: Southern California Sport Climbing by Troy Mayr, 3rd ed. The book's available at REI.com.

For online topos: Dr. Topo has topos on areas in several states. The main CA areas included are Yosemite, Bishop, Joshua Tree, Black Mountain and Tramway.

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Aid Climbing

Don't have much personal experience; check out S.C.A.G., the Southern Cal Aid Guide. The S.C.A.G. site suggests the concrete bridge in Eaton Canyon. I checked this out, and while access to the canyon is allowed, it appears the bridge is officially off-limits. Anything within 20' of the ground has many layers of paint on it, covering up old graffiti. It's not a pleasant place to climb due to all the trash and old spray paint bottles, and climbing concrete isn't great fun. There are some A3 and harder lines on thin seams. For less-experienced aid climbers, there's a space between the two columns that's about 1 cm wide with two bolts at the top (that don't have rap rings). Worth visiting once, at most. An OK choice if you want to practice placing pitons.

The SCAG guide mentions the Millard Falls area (note: as of the 2009 fires, this may be off-limits). It's mainly aid, but at least one line can be freed. More info from this Supertopo thread (talks about the campground host who claims it's illegal to climb there, while it's really not illegal), and this MountainProject.com page. Jordan Ramey posted the info on Mountain Project, and elaborates a bit on his email to the list:

I posted that mountainproject stuff about Millard Canyon. Basically the rock around the falls is good because of the water. The left most bolt line is an aid line with almost all good bolts. It would be a pretty difficult free climb I think (harder than 5.12?). The middle line has good bolts and IS a free line, although getting off the ground, out the roof is VERY difficult. The rest of the route is probably around 5.10. The other "bolted" lines there are time bomb / death bolts that are very apparently terrible. As you move away from the falls the rock gets cruddy and vegetated. There are a couple OK bouldering blocks on the hike in, one of which even has a quarter incher on top (right out of the parking area). from what I've heard, it's NOT OK to bolt new lines there. I've never been hasseled there, but others have. It's legal to climb, just not bolt. I would not recommend it for the weekend.
There are indeed lots (and i mean LOTS) of people there on the weekend. Also, BIG ROCKs do fall down the falls. I was solo aiding the Left Line one morning and a bunch of stuff came down.

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Williamson (1.5 hr drive)
Williamson is now closed indefinitely. Please do not climb there illegally. We will stay updated on the situation.

All sport climbing, and some top-roping. Very popular due to it's proximity to LA. Take quickdraws, slings and locking carabiners (and rope, if you're into that). Some routes take 10+ quickdraws; the bolts are spaced pretty closely on most routes. Not too much below 5.8. Williamson may be closed completely, depending on the National Forest Service's decision this winter (see, for example, this forum). Directions: take the 210 East about 5 miles past Pasadena and then take the Angeles Crest Highway (route 2) North into the mountains. Drive for between 45 minutes and 1:15 (depending on taste). The main parking lot is on the left, just past Eagles Roost picnic area (before any tunnels). You should see some big rocks down in the valley. If you know the mile marker, email me and I'll post it here. There is apparently another parking lot farther on, with a nicer trail. Williamson is not too hot in summer, due to altitude. The road is closed at some point in the winter. Guidebooks: "Williamson Rock Guide" (by Mayr and Sweeney) or "SoCal Sport Climbing - The guide" (by Mayr and Sweeney) (the book also covers Malibu Creek and Point Dume, as well as many other locations, but not New Jack City). [Spring 2006: Mayr has the 3rd edition of his SoCal book out, availabe at REI (but not at Amazon.com)]. Summitpost.org has a site on Williamson Rock which has a lot more information than is on this page.

More info at Mountain Projecdt: Williamson Rock and google maps. 45 miles from Pasadena, about 1 hr 27 minutes driving time.

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Big Rock at Lake Perris (2.6 hr drive)

A sport-climbing area within a 1h20m drive of campus. Here are some route descriptions from a picture Wayne took of the sign there. For driving directions, see this CA parks website for a map, or use the following:.

Exit the 215 south in Perris at Ramona Expressway going east. Pass the signs for the Lake Perris Recreation Area after ~2 miles. Continue another ~2 miles to a small turnoff on the left: Bernasconi Road. Take the first left after entering the park on Bernasconi and park. Walk ~10 min to the rock. $8 day use fee.

More info at Mountain Project: Big Rock Area and google maps. 70 miles from Pasadena; estimated driving time 2 hr 40 min.

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Horse Flats (1 hr drive)

Drive up the 2 as if toward Williamson, and take the exit to Horse Flats campground just after the biker bar. Here's a bouldering guide and topo map in PDF format (you'll need the club's username and password to access it). The club has the new book Five Star Bouldering which covers Horse Flats in unprecedented detail; see our library.

There is quite a bit of potential, but Horse Flats has never been especially popular (especially compared to a bouldering area like Stoney Point).

More info at Mountain Project: Horse Flats and google maps. 29 miles from Pasadena; estimated driving time is 1 hr 6 min. Update: after the fires in fall of 2009, you should check the California Dept. of Transportation website to make sure that the roads are open.

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Joshua Tree (2.5 hr drive)

A big, great, world-famous area. Randy Vogel has a range of guides, including a recent one in 2006. The club owns most of his guides, as well as many others, including "A complete bouldering guide to Joshua Tree" and "The Trad guide to Joshua Tree: 60 favorite climbs" (the latter is a list of climbs under 5.9 -- see the paragraph below). Almost all climbs are one-pitch in length, and many approaches are short. The park is true desert, and is really cold in winter and hot in summer; peak climbing season is in spring and fall, but it is far from empty in the winter. In summer, it sees climbers on the cooler days. Bring water; campsites do not have water.

From the previous Alpine Club website: "Top Roping: you can get away with a few lockers and a few thirty foot slings on many top ropes. They are often big boulders to sling at the top of the routes. Watch out, the rock here is VERY abrasive. Leading: The cracks tend to flair often, making hexes pretty useless. Carry a good set of cams if you don't want to run it out, as well as nuts and at least a few shoulder length slings. Sport: There is sport climbing, but it tends to be pretty sporty (i.e. run-out). Ten draws is usually enough."

You can get directions and such from the Summitpost.org Joshua Tree site. Basic directions: take I-10 past Palm Springs/Highway 111 exit (where the wind generators are). Exit on US 62 North toward 29 Palms. Go through Morongo Valley to Yucca valley, then continue a few miles to town of Joshua Tree. Turn Right on Quail Springs Road (West Entrance). Follow for 5 miles to get to the entrance of the park. See also the National Park Service Joshua Tree site and the climbingjtree.com site. $10/vehicle entrance fee.

Hidden Valley Campground is usually the campground of choice for rock climbers, but it is often full. Assuming you're climbing in that area, then next campground choices are Ryan and Jumbo Rocks. All campgrounds have at least one message board, which is useful for meeting friends since most cell phones don't work in this area.

Greg has collected GPS coordinates (UTM format) off the web for about 727 routes at Joshua Tree, with reference numbers and pages for one of Vogel's guidebooks (not his "Joshua Tree West" though). Greg reformatted them into a printer-friend list, which you can find in postscript format or text format.

We have a list of 60 enjoyable routes, taken from "The Trad Guide to Joshua Tree: 60 Favorite Climbs from 5.5 to 5.9", by Charlie and Diane Winger. The list is categorized by area, and shows the rating and aspect of each climb. If you are on campus or have the club's username/password, you can download it here (in PDF). Some of their picks are dubious, while others are fantastic.

More info on the whole area is at Mountain Project: Joshua Tree; that website also has info on the sub areas. Driving time varies, depending on which area you are going to. Hidden valley campground is roughly in the center of it all; here is a google map to the campground. It's 138 miles to the campground, which is about 2 hrs 38 min.

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Tahquitz and Suicide Rock (1.6 hr drive)

For getting there, see Summitpost.org's Tahquitz Rock page. For a guidebook, you might try Randy Vogel and Bob Gaine's book (the club has the third edition in the library). Cold in winter. From previous website: "The cracks here are more Hex friendly than at Joshua Tree. Pretty much everything works here so I normally carry nuts, small tricams, cams and hexes." We also have several older guidebooks to this area in our library. This area is mainly traditional climbing.

For the descent, here's what Vogel and Gaines say:

"The Friction Route Descent is a class-4 downclimb on the southern side of Tahquitz Rock. It is the most commonly used means of descent off Tahquitz Rock. More than a few climbers have inadvertently strayed while descending, sometimes with catastrophic results. Please descend carefully, or, if possible, follow other climbers familiar with the descent your first time down it.

"From the summit area of Tahquitz Rock, head down and west (right) to where a large boulder on the brink of the South Face cliff will be seen. From the top of the West Face and South Face climbs, head up low-angle slabs (east) along the ridgetop of the rock, near the edge of the South Face. A very large boulder will be seen ahead. If you get near the larger summit blocks of Tahquitz, you have gone too far.

"Shimmy down the far (northeast) side of this large boulder for about 30 feet to a ledge/ramp. Move right for about 50 feet down the ledge/ramp, then work diagonally left across ledges, then slabs that lead to the base of the cliff. Hike down along the South Face."

More info on Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks is available on Mountain Project: Tahquitz and Suicide and google maps. 83 miles from Pasadena, which is about 1 hr 43 min.

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Malibu Creek State Park (1 hr drive)

There's some top-roping and lead climbing. Planet of the Apes Wall is a main attraction, with a 5.8, two 5.9s, some 5.10s, and some excellent 5.11s, as well as a few 5.12s, all top-rope (or free-solo) only. The other areas have true sport climbing, and there is bouldering as well. The Park overall is a gorgeous setting, and on hot weekend days in the summer, it's packed with picknicking families and people swim in the river.

Directions from Caltech: take the 134 West until it becomes the 101 North. Take the 101 to "Las Virgenes" exit, and go South on Las Virgenes a few miles until you get to Mulholland Drive.

You have two choices: take a right onto Mulholland and park on the shoulder fo the road within a few hundred yards, then look for a pretty good trail heading South. Take this into the park, and continue over a hill onto the dirt road (~10 min hike), follow the road as it curves, and when the road gets closest to the creek, follow the creek upstream for a hundred yards and Planet of the Apes Wall is on your right. Continue up the creek farther for more crags.

Alternatively, continue on Las Virgenes past Mulholland, turn into the well-marked Malibu Creek State Park parking lot and pay $8 per vehicle. Follow the dirt road as mentioned above.

The hike is maybe 15 minutes total if you park in the main parking lot, and perhaps 25 minutes if you park on Mulholland. The drive is about 35 minutes with no traffic.

More info at Mountain Project: Malibu Creek State Park and google maps. 40 miles from Pasadena, which google estimates is a 54 minute drive.

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Point Dume (1 hr drive)

There's one slippery slab on the beach with some bolted routes. There's a slab side facing the beach and a steeper side facing the waves (5.9, 5.10-ish routes). A bunch of bolts at top, so you can toprope (and hike to the top). Good for group outings since it is on the beach. Can be chilly if there's no sun or in the evening. Directions: get to Point Dume State Beach (off of the Pacific Coast Highway, Northwest of LA), and either park before the gate or pay the fee and park inside. Head South as far as possible along the beach until you run into a small cliff; that's it. There are bolts on the slab for lead climbing, in addition to the toprope anchors.

More info at Mountain Project: Point Dume and google maps. 45 miles from Pasadena, which google estimates is 55 minutes.

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Stoney Point (50 min drive)

A sandstone area with bouldering and top-roping. Located inside the Stoney Point city park (closed from sunset to sunrise) in Chatsworth, at the corner of Topanga Canyon Blvd. and Ronald Reagan Freeway (118). Park on the main road; do not drive down the dirt road. From Pasadena: take the 210 West for about 18 miles, then take CA 118 West for another 12 miles until the Topanga Canyon Blvd. (CA 27) exit. We have several guidebooks on Stoney Point in our library. See also www.sowr.com - they have a nice free bouldering guide, as well as an area map (click the "Boulders" link in the upper left). The website is associated with the "Urban Rock" climbing guide book; we have a 1997 edition in the library. The main boulders (like Boulder 1, which has a perfect landing) are covered with people, so you don't need any guidebook as long as you are outgoing. There is a bit of graffitti as well as rock-colored paint covering up old graffitti; this is more of a problem on the less popular rocks.

In general, I recommend Stoney Point as a bouldering location. It is rather close, and there are lots of boulders, with many problems at a reasonable level of difficulty (i.e. V3 and under), as well as enough mid-range (V4-V5) and high range (V6-V10) problems to keep every kind of climber busy.

Another nice website for Stoney Point is Ayola.com. For North Stoney Point, see rockclimbing.com.

More info at Mountain Project: Stoney Point and google maps. Distance is 34 miles from Pasadena, which google estimates if 38 minutes.

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New Jack City (2 hr drive)

A newer sport climbing area. Lots of climbs. Season: late fall through spring. A Pomona Website has the following to say: "Directions: From I-15N, exit Barstow Rd (Hwy 247), and take 247 South for about 15 miles. Turn right (West) onto an unnamed dirt road at mile marker 63.0. Follow this road for 1.0 miles, then bear left and follow the road for 0.6 miles to the main parking area. Guides: "New Jack City - Sport Climbing Guide" by Mayr and Sweeney. Recommended climbs: Welcome to New Jack City (5.10a), Espresso (5.10c)." I think Climbing ran an article on NJC in January, 2005.

Here's a link to an 8 page pdf topo, permanently hosted on this site: NewJackGuide.pdf.

More info at Mountain Project: New Jack City and google maps. 121 miles from Pasadena, which google estimates is 2 hr 10 min driving.

Update 2010: there may be some rule changes at New Jack City. Stay tuned...

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Yosemite (5.5 hr drive)

Not much needs to be said. Information on camping, directions, etc.: Summitpost.org's Yosemite page. Lot's of guide books - we have almost all of them, from Roper's 1971 guidebook to Reid's latest 2007 guidebook, all stored in our library. To avoid crowds, give Yosemite a try in the winter months. It can be suprisingly warm.

More info at Mountain Project: Yosemite valley and google maps. 313 miles to Camp 4 from Pasadena, about 5 hr 23 min. See also Mountain Project: Tuolumne Meadows and Tuolumne on google maps. You can access Tuolumne either from the West side (i.e. via Fresno and the Central Valley, same as you would drive to Yosemite Valley) or via the East side (i.e. via Mammoth and the Owens Valley). Via the West side is 315 miles and 5 hr 26 minutes. Via the East side is 410 miles and 7 hr 42 minutes.

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Needles (4 hr drive)

Hard, bold trad. Recommended area.

See Mountain Project: The Needles and google maps. 204 miles from Pasadena, about 3 hr 58 min driving time. We have a guidebook in the club library.

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Alabama Hills (3 hr drive)

Just outside of Lone Pine on the Whitney Portal Road. The club will soon have a guidebook for this area. Mainly sport. This is where many Hollywood Western Films were shot. Not a very "famous" climbing location, but may be convenient if you are already in the Owens Valley. Link to the Mountain Project Alabama Hills webpage.

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Sierra mountains (3.5 to 6 hr drive)

Lots of good cragging on good granite (for alpine routes, see our local mountains page ). The Whitney Amphitheater / Whitney Portal has good stuff, and is somewhat documented (Croft's book lists about two routes). I recommend Climbing California's High Sierra by Moynier and Fiddler as a guide (it's is for technical climbing -- the third edition comes out 2007), as well as Peter Croft's The Good, The Great and The Awesome and Chris McNamara's Supertopo High Sierra Climbing. We have all these books in our library. They are mainly mountaineering-oriented. Update (2008): we have purchased a PDF version of the High Sierra Climbing Supertopo. Access is limited to Caltech/JPL people.

It takes as little as 3 hours to get to Lone Pine (i.e. Mt. Whitney area) and 4 hours to Bishop, but traffic, weather and individual driving speeds make this highly variable.

We also have the newest guidebook to bouldering in Bishop (Young and Ryan's 2007 book), as well as guidebooks on the Owens River Valley -- see our library. The bouldering in Bishop (e.g. the Buttermilks, the Happies) is first-rate. Also nearby is the Owens River Gorge which has great sport climbing; we have the newest guidebooks in our library. In general, you can't go wrong in Bishop. It has, or is close to, bouldering, sport, alpine, skiing, real restaurants (unlike the other Owens Valley towns), and best of all, hot springs.

Links: Mountain Project has information on many of the crags. They also have a Sierra Eastside overview page, and a Bishop Area overview page

Recommendations from Sierra Mountain Guides. These are the favorite Sierra cragging areas from four of the SMG guides (taken from a July 2008 newsletter):

  • Neil: Owens River Gorge
    Though the ORG is like a witches caldron right now [in July] it is the only area you can climb in the winter with a short sleeved shirt. The ORG is like eastsider's little rock gym where we climb to get fit for bigger and better objectives. Neil recommends starting out on Gorgeous and Annie urges you to check out the awesome crack climbing opportunities in the north gorge.
  • Howie: Cardinal Pinnacle
    This 3-4 pitch crag boasts some of the cleanest granite on the eastside and a great view too! A great area for more advanced climbers, the best climbs are around the 5.9-5.10 range but you can climb 5.6 or 5.12 if you want to too!
  • Jed: Rock Creek
    Because you can climb South East facing 5.7 or North facing 5.11. Awesome granite crack climbing and a beautiful area! Rock creek is one of our largest granite cragging areas.
  • Annie: Pine Creek
    A close second for our other guides' choices, Pine Creek is awesome! No where else will you find a three pitch 5.7 clean granite slab/crack climb with bolted belays and no crowds or an incredible 5.9 offwidth right next to a 5.13 sport climb. Test out your more advanced skills on several great 5.10 crack climbs, or the slew of sport climbs available.
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Red Rocks (4.5 hr drive)

A favorite area for alpine club members. Lot's of information at the climbingRedRocks.com site. The Alpine Club Library has most of the existing Red Rocks guidebooks, including a new one in 2007. Red Rocks is home to sport climbs (e.g. Calico Cliffs) as well as famous long, multi-pitch trad, including nationally-known climbs such as "Epinephrine" (5.9 or 5.9R) and "Levitation 29". The "Rainbow Wall" is a legitimate big wall. In general, the trad grades are a bit soft. More info at Mountain Project: Red Rock and google maps. 272 miles from Pasadena. Located about 5 miles outside Las Vegas. Estimated driving time is 4 hr 33 min, but be careful of heavy weekend traffic from LA to Las Vegas. It's reasonable to spend the night in Vegas (20 or 30 min drive to the crags) or you can camp as well, though the camp site often fills up on weekends in peak season (anytime but summer and a few cold winter weeks).

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Mt. Charleston (5 hr drive)

Very hard sport climbing. More info on Mountain Project: Mt. Charleston and google maps. Located about 34 miles N of Las Vegas. 294 miles from Pasadena, about 5 hours drive.

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Utah Desert Areas

Indian Creek has world-famous crack climbing. Either you'll be miserable, or you'll learn how to jam really well. There is climbing along the River Road that goes north from Moab, including Castleton Tower, the Priest, the Nuns and many other towers. The Fisher Towers are famous for their tough, muddy climbing on poor sandstone. There are towers everywhere, and aid climbing probably still dominates free climbing in this area. Zion has lots of big walls. There a few guidebooks on Utah, as well as more specific area guidebooks (David Bloom's guidebook to Indian Creek is beautiful). In the Moab area, you might find the climbingMoab.com site useful.

More info on Mountain Project: Indian Creek and google maps. You can fly to Salt Lake City and drive from there, or drive from LA (772 miles, about 12 hours).

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Riverside Quarry (1 hr drive)

Some great, hard sport climbing if you don't mind the urban setting. There are virtually no 5.10 and easier routes; most of it is 5.11 to 5.12. It looks like there's some aid climbing as well. REI sells this book on Riverside Quarry and calls it "one of the hottest new playgrounds for southern California climbers". Some people really like this climbing area. We have the aforementioned book in the Alpine Club library.

More info on Mountain Project: Riverside Quarry and google maps. This is on the way to Mt. Rubidoux. Take the 210 E, then connecting highways to the 60. 47 miles, estimated time is 56 minutes, but highly dependent on traffic.    (back to index)

Mt. Roubidoux (or Mt. Rubidoux) (1 hr drive)

In my opinion, not worth the trip, unless you happen to live in Riverside. They say some famous rock-climbers have haunted these slopes during their youths, but I doubt if those climbers ever came back.

John Long writes somewhat fondly of the area in his article on the mythical Oliver Moon -- see p. 39 of Rock and Ice vol. 166, March 2008. The route in question is "Moon Shot".

More info on Mountain Project: Mount Rubidoux and the google map. 51 miles; take the 210 to the 57 to the 60. Estimated time is 1 hr 4 min (or 1hr 14 min if you take the 10).

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Holcomb Valley Pinnacles (1.7 hr drive)

more information will be added later. To the East of Pasadena, roughly 1.5 hours.

More info on Mountain Project: Holcomb Valley Pinnacles, and here's the location on google maps. It's 83 miles via the 10 freeway (estimated time: 1hr 43 min).

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Echo Cliffs (1.3 hr drive)

A popular sport climbing area, within roughly an hour's drive (55 miles). See the SoCal sport climbing guidebook for more info. You can drive there via either the 1 (google estimates the driving time to be 1hr 15 min) or via the 101 (estimated time 1hr 18 min).

Good info is available on Mountain Project: Echo Cliffs. Here's Echo Cliffs on google maps.

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Arizona areas (9 hr drive)

See the climbaz.com website, including the 'Backcountry Rockclimbing in Southern Arizona' book (by Bob Kerry) which is scanned in on the climbaz.com site.

Climbaz.com also has a "Hall of Horrors" describing climbing accidents.

One of the big locations is Mt Lemmon (Mountain Project link). Here is the gogole map. Located about 28 miles / 54 minutes from the heart of Tucson. About 510 miles from Pasadena (8 hr 40 min).


Rock Climbing Areas

Mountains

Other activities [i.e. hiking, canyoneering, caving, skiing, ice climbing]

Hot Springs

Indoor Rock Gyms

Skiing

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