The days are short, the air is crisp, and the snowflakes have begun to fall. In response, we’ve donned our beanies and puffy jackets and have set forth to solve problems—boulder problems. Don’t let the early darkness and modern commercialism of the holidays get you down, for ‘tis bouldering season! It remains common knowledge amongst climbers that low temps mean high friction, allowing our fingers to grip and our rubbery shoes to stick but for a moment longer. As such, please join me for fine winter climbing beta on the jewel of West Virginia bouldering: Coopers Rock State Forest.
Sitting atop Chestnut Ridge and tucked between Monongalia and Preston counties just five miles from Morgantown is the Gritstone mecca of Coopers Rock. Gritstone, you say? This far from the UK? Why, yes, indeed! Coops, as the locals call it, has a plethora of classic Gritstone climbing conundrums. Coopers Rock State Forest is easily accessible from I-68 and sits plum on the rim of the Cheat River Canyon, Morgantown’s recreation epicenter that also boasts top-notch paddling, mountain biking, hiking, and cross-country skiing.
Grotesqure boulders in an eye-catching variety of abstract shapes dot the forest landscape as if tossed around by a jolly giant. Ranging from five to 30 feet in height, these sandstone bones of the earth have weathered to produce a plethora of features seemingly made for the placement of hands and feet. An aesthetically pleasing abundance of hemlock, rhododendron, and other wild shrubberies provides unrivaled peace and solitude in the forest.
“Whether there’s snow on the ground or not, our region allows fellow pebble-wrestling enthusiasts the chance to practice our art outdoors,” said Evan Moser, a Morgantown-based geologist and longtime Coopers Rock climber.
Coopers climbing history dates back to the 1960s, long before the age of downturned shoes and hi-tech chalk. The 1980s saw the likes Don Wood and the late, great Pittsburgh hardman Cal Swoager, who cut his teeth here and put up bold routes that stand the test of time. The late 90s saw a spurt of development by climbers exploring the forest with crash pads, creating a safer climbing environment and opening up creative new lines.
Coopers Rock saw a massive surge in visiting climbers when a bouldering guidebook was released in 2007, showing the area’s true potential as a climbing destination. With its world-class gritstone problems now clearly defined in location and difficulty, climbers from all over continue to hone their skills and mental fortitude in this small corner of West Virginia. Grab a hardcopy of the Falcon guidebook at Pathfinder, located on High Street in downtown Morgantown.
Coops has a reputation for the boulder problems to be harder than the grade suggests, or ‘sandbagged’ as we climbers so graciously put it, so don’t get frustrated. Turn that frown upside down, pull down a bit harder, and lose yourself amongst the Gritstone.
Tilted Tree is described in the Falcon guidebook as the “Bread and butter of bouldering at Coops,” and I couldn’t agree more. This area is quite vast with multiple zones and a wide variety of climbs. Everything from short, powerful overhangs to tall, technical routes reside here. The hike in from the main road is straightforward and no more than 10 minutes to the furthest zones.
Black Scar V1
Roof of Death V3
Twist Da Hick V5
Crash and Burn V5
The Illusionist V7
Easy access is the name of the game here. A quick downhill approach from the climber’s kiosk in the main gravel parking area will bring you to the first group of boulders. Roadside is home to the most popular top-roping area in the Sunset Wall, which can mean large crowds, but don’t let that deter you from hitting the primo problems in this area.
Mad Butchers Traverse V2/3
Woodys Arete V3
Sandbaggo Grande V4
Mountaineers Route V5
Bitch Slap Arete V5+
Upper Rock City
From the main gate, drive to the end of the main road to the parking area near the Trading Post gift shop. Follow the main trail system behind the building and veer left down some stone-cut stairs into a corridor. Rock City is home to some of Coops’s most sought-after boulder problems.
Knife Fink V1
Colorful Corner V4
Ships Prow V5
Raiders of the Lost Tomb V5+
Keep in mind a few things before you head out to experience the glorious gritstone of Coopers Rock: the main gate to the park closes mid-December after deer season and reopens late March, but dedicated winter boulderers can hike out the roadside trail to get their fix. Keep in mind you’re looking at a 2.5-mile hike to reach the first climbing area in Tilted Tree, so make sure to stuff some extra water and snacks in your crash pad. There is absolutely, positively NO climbing on the rocks below the main overlook area due to protected habitat for the flat-spired three-toothed snail, a threatened species endemic to the Cheat Canyon. And as always, practice Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics while in the forest.
Mike Paugh is a GIS specialist for Monongalia County, a father of two little crushers, and a longtime lover of Gritstone pebble wrestling. You can often find him somewhere on a rock between the boulders of Coopers or the towering fins of Seneca Rocks.