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Thursday, June 28, 2012

MN Bouldering: A Brief History by Josh Helke

     Minnesota has a very long history of bouldering. After the glaciers tore down the last of the mountains that once stood in MN with their natural force rivers carved through the bedrock leaving many deep river valleys lined with short and stout climbs and boulder problems. Many of the first boulder problems in the area started at Taylors Falls, split equally between MN and WI. Here iron hard Basalt cliffs, pot holes and boulders have been caressed by climbers hands since well before the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps created a desolate logging kink in a powerful river into a natural area for recreational enthusiasts from the nearby Twin Cities. 

     Just about every child growing up in the Twin Cities has been introduced to what rock climbing is by experiencing the joy of bouldering in the Natural wonderland of Taylors Falls. Throughout History Taylors Falls was on the forefront of bouldering through the 1960s,70s, 80s and 90s. With visits from Historical bouldering heroes like Jim Holloway who managed an early repeat of the early taylors falls test-piece B2 Bomber, to bouldering icon John Sherman who choose to feature Taylors Falls and its prodigy Chris Ecklund, pioneer of nearly every testpiece on the basalt in his 1990s publication Stone Crusade. During this Period Taylors Falls was on the forefront of Bouldering in the world with top notch cutting edge 1990s problems like Mikes Right V8, Cave Traverse V9, Left of Lloyds V11, and numerous lines that crossed the top Rope/bouldering line like Softer than Ice harder than Diamonds .13c-14a, All Pilgrims Must Hang 5.13c, all lines that were bouldered in Taylors Falls fashion.
     In the late 90s with the introduction of crash pads bouldering began to take off in MN. Small groups of boulderers began to emerge from the communities with climbing gyms. Rochester MN, the Twin Cities, Stillwater MN, Duluth MN. Many of the early 1990s classics began to be repeated and some sit starts and modern tweaks to the older problems climbed. Many small areas began to Emerge as young climbers remembered local small crags near their childhood homes and some smaller areas like The Waz in Southern MN, The granite erratics of the MN river Valley, The Boomsite and Twin Springs near Stillwater MN and Louisville Swamp near Shakopee were climbed at for their high concentration of eliminate type problems and close distance to local climbers homes. After spending some time on the amazing sandstone of Jackson Falls in Southern, IL, in 1998, I was urged to check out the old sandstone quarry by local legend Doug Dokken to check out an unrepeated traverse in the back of an old quarry. Quarry had nothing on the amazing sandstone potential of the kettle river valley and its natural river featured boulders. 

     And between 1998 and 2002 over 200 boulder problems were cleaned and climbed by excited climbers from MN, WI and IA in a 4 mile stretch of the river valley mostly within Banning State Park land and a dense concentration on private property. It is to be noted that while exploring and developing numerous chalk arrows were found on classic lines and it was rumored Chris Ecklund had left his mark in this river valley as well with the gift of more amazing lines. Classic lines My Friends a republican V6, The Gym Teacher V9, That Girls a bitch V7, Pocket Hercules V8, Best V5 in MN, Ugly Duck V7, First Born V8, Panic Arete V6, Oreo V8, 12 Grams V7, new pair of glasses V5, 30 Degree Stand V7, Invisible touch V10, and many many more were added to the sandstone. 

     In 2002, no trespassing signs were posted on the highway 123 parking area of Sandstone bouldering. During this period Brent Zweirs and I launched the Minnesota Climbers Association to work on access to Sandstone, re-bolting Redwing and some other minor access issues. I contacted the land owners and presented climbing to a woman whose name is not remembered. It was decided that it would be best to respect the no trespassing for a time after this talk and the MCA spread work of this closure. Development moved to some discrete sections of Banning State Park and the kettle Boulders were developed in the far north sector of Banning state park as well as some bouldering under the boat launch parking area and front Hells Gate to the railroad bridge. Many fine problems were climbed. During this period we were approached while climbing in a pot hole along the trail near the rock crusher by a very nice park person and asked to please refrain from climbing and that climbing was not technically allowed within banning state park do to fragile rock and the ecosystem of many of the rock formations, furthermore climbing was not allowed in any pot hole in MN state parks. 

     After this Most of the Development withing the kettle River slowed to some small illegal sessions by climbers who had heard rumors of what the areas held. Most of the attention during this period shifted to the north Shore along Lake superior at areas like Ely's Peak and Sawmill Creek Dome. Sawmill Creek Dome was first developed in a fast paced phase by Matt Tschohl and Andy Raether who cleaned and climbed many of the first classics. With Sandstone closed boulderers trained for winters in Hueco and for new additions and variations to existing hard lines at Taylors Falls, and remaining projects and sawmill. During the mid 2005s the City of sandstone became very interested in the climbing potential in their quarries for economic stimulation of the city and climbing access to the city park was granted and some sport climbs and farmed ice began. During this period Jeff Engel who had emerged as the hero of pushing the quarry opening through sent a letter to the landowners of the private bouldering area across the river from the quarry with the kindness and attention to landowner fears that he had developed as a hunter using private land and was granted some access to the private land and bouldering began again around 2007 with access ok.
     During the mid to late 2005-2010 years Vertical Endeavors in St Paul, MN put more focus into bouldering areas of their gym and a second explosion of bouldering development took place in MN pushing the levels to new heights, areas like Taylors Falls, Sawmill Creek Dome, and Sandstone saw many hard lines added by a band of devoted climbers.
     Today with youth teams at all the local gyms quickly pushing climbers into the V10 range and the newly Formed Minnesota Climbers Coop granting 24 hour access to local college students at a very affordable price bouldering is on a ever increasing spike of popularity in the land of 10,000 lakes.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad at the end of the discussion about bouldering in Banning it was clarified that Climbing is not allowed currently in Banning and people should refrain from bouldering there. This is a very sensitive time because the MCA is working with the DNR and Banning to get that changed. I would hate to have our negotiations squashed because people are bouldering in Banning. Please don't boulder in Banning now. I am optimistic it will be opened. We had a good meeting with the District super, Banning super and resource specialist a week ago.