Praying Monk, Camelback Mountain

Enough, already it's time to get out of the rock gym and climb outdoors. We know indoor climbing walls are fun, but they are to climbing what stationary bikes are to cycling. And there's no better first climb to conquer than Praying Monk. Camelback Mountain is right in the middle of the Valley, meaning that if you really screw up, there are plenty of hospitals and a nearby fire station filled with friendly, trained mountain rescue professionals. But don't worry, the toughest part of your day will probably be finding a parking spot in the tiny lot at Echo Canyon, off McDonald Drive. The Monk is a freestanding, leaning tower of ancient congealed mud, tinted red like the rest of Camelback. A short scramble gets you to the Monk's plateau; the often-shaded, boulder-strewn cubby at the base is a good place to don your climbing shoes. The east face route is bolted so you don't need much gear, just one rope and some quick-draws, which are two carabiners connected to a bit of sewn webbing. Life on the "sharp end" of the rope, as leading is sometimes called, can be a bit unnerving because there's no rope already fixed at the top to catch you when you come off the rock. But the bolts are close together, and you won't run into any life-or-death decisions. A lead fall here, unlikely as that is for a competent climber, would be perfect practice for a more serious climb. You will, however, be mesmerized by the exposure. Your heels will stick out over a hundred feet of air as you look for embedded pebbles to grasp for finger-holds on the orange-pink, not-quite-vertical face. Gym rats should take a good look around as they go up this is real climbing. A pleasurable, free-hanging rappel brings the climbing party back down to earth. You've now graduated from lead school. Next stop: K2.


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