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Rock Climbing

Blair Garrett

Living among the mountains certainly has its perks.

Just a short drive in any direction, there are beautiful sights to see, trails to pioneer, and peaks to reach. Of the various summer excursions available to the public, one not-so-often thought of may be the most riveting and challenging for adventure seekers.

Rock climbing in Thurmont is a thriving adventure, offering locals and visitors a chance to test their limits in a fun, new way they may not have done before. Most of the rock climbing in Thurmont and Frederick County stems from beautiful and natural rock formations scattered throughout the region’s national parks.

A few places of interest for climbers and those interested in getting out of their comfort zone include Wolf Rock, a 1.5 mile hike from the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center. It is a place of boulders, crevices, and rock walls. Climbers can free-climb their way up the rock, or explore another climbing method on one of the many different rock faces. Nearby is Chimney Rock, a popular hiking destination and natural rock formation, overlooking a stunning scene of mountains and rolling hills. This semi-strenuous trail begins and ends at the east corner of the paved parking area by the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center. The hike is 3.9 miles round trip and provides stunning views of the mountains from the top of Chimney Rock. Also worth checking out is Sugarloaf Mountain, a small mountain and park about 10 miles south of Frederick.

A rock range in Carderock, Maryland, northwest of Washington D.C. provides rock formations that are vast and offer varying degrees of difficulty, giving beginners an opportunity to learn and veterans a chance to push themselves. There are dozens of challenges to undertake, so a one-day trip may not be enough for avid climbers.

There are two main crags in Carderock: Jungle Cliff and Hades Heights. A crag is just a steep or rugged rock face, and these two have become extremely popular over the years for their accessibility year-round. Top roping these rock formations is the preferred method of climbing, but rappelling is also a commonly used technique in Carderock. There are a few styles of rock climbing that are different and challenging in their own ways, but let’s explore some of the options most beginners to advanced climbers find themselves doing.

Top Roping

As one of the safest methods of climbing, most beginners find their way into the sport through top roping, which includes a rope and anchor system to protect and prevent climbers from taking a nasty fall. Top roping includes a climber hooked into an anchored rope at the top of the climbing destination, and a belayer at the bottom, which is a person who takes the slack out of the rope secured with carabiners and a belay device to catch the climber should they fall. The person belaying uses a simple-to-follow method to pin and lock the rope while the climber finds hand and foot holds to advance on the route.

Top roping is a fun and popular climbing method, but it’s often limited to indoor rock climbing because placing new anchors can be damaging for rock faces. Utilizing pre-existing and permanent anchors are preferred for this method.


One of the widest performed climbing techniques used is bouldering, which involves free climbing without the use of ropes or harnesses on typically smaller natural or artificial rocks. Bouldering is considered a more dangerous style because of the lack of safety equipment, even if the fall is usually around just 10-15 feet.

Climbers bouldering often use horizontal movements to traverse tough terrain, which can be particularly difficult and strenuous even on the most experienced climbers. Bouldering competitions are also extremely popular in the sport, and most indoor facilities offer training or classes for bouldering.


Soloing, or free-climbing, is something that should only be reserved for the most experienced climbers. Free-climbing involves the use of many of the skills sharpened by other rock climbing techniques, but without the safety of a rope to prevent falls.

Soloing is a completely individual effort, too, so relying on a partner or friend for guidance or safety is off the table. It’s not recommended to free solo high off the ground, but seeking the biggest and best thrill is often what drives solo rock climbers to do what they do.

There are several other variants of climbing like sport and alpine climbing, and those who are serious about getting into the sport often find groups of like-minded individuals to take trips for the select disciplines in rock climbing.

An option for locals is to explore the different methods of rock climbing with a guided professional. Daybreak Excursions in Thurmont offers professional instruction in the rock climbing techniques previously mentioned, along with a few other exploration avenues like caving and kayaking. Interested participants can schedule a time and day to hit the trail and seek the adventures that draw them the most.

For all climbers, whether it’s your first time or your hundredth time, it’s always advised to know your routes, and climb with a trusted partner to keep you safe in all situations. Using a helmet is always advised, and taking the proper safety precautions for each climb ensures you have done everything possible to protect yourself.

Checking something as simple as properly tied knots for top roping or securely fastened shoes can make all the difference in the world for a climber. After all, the safety of you and your crew is the most important thing for a climber.

Whether it’s Wolf Rock in Catoctin Mountain Park, a peak at Sugarloaf Mountain, or a small rock formation in another local park, like Cunningham Falls State Park, there’s more to see than we could ever imagine. Rock climbing is yet another way to explore the great outdoors, so don’t be afraid to get out there and do it.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Pictured climbing is Alex Case.

Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Pictured climbing is Mckenna

Photos Courtesy of Daybreak Excursions