The family and I were escaping the heat, the crowds, and (we hoped) our pandemic-reality by taking a break from our jobs in the Monongahela National Forest. I loaded our luggage, outdoors gear, and clipped my rock climbing shoes onto my daypack, just in case.
I dropped my climbing gym membership when they reopened, not wanting to risk breathing in coronavirus-infected indoor air. So I haven’t climbed anything since March 11th. For the Mon I recall a lot of cliffs that were short and chossy, and giant boulders covered in roots or moss. Seneca rocks, the Mon’s prime rock climbing destination wasn’t far, but wouldn’t be a family outing for us.
So I looked up bouldering in the Monongahela and the first thing that came up was the Tucker Boulder Park. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a facility with memberships and a daily fee, or something else. After reading a little more, it was clear that it was an outdoor playground. But it wasn’t just an ordinary playground with slides and a swing, this playground had two top-out boulders.
When we drove through town, I couldn’t find the park. I assumed that it would be front-and-center. Davis, WV is the highest town in West Virginia and it’s also within the confines of the National Radio Quiet Zone, meaning, because of an observatory and a Navy communications facility, radio, including cellular service, is limited. My GPS didn’t work and the best cell signal I could find was 1X and it faded as you went south of town and disappeared altogether. In town, I saw Stumptown Ales just fine (and their Bewildered Hippie was delicious!) We did not return to Davis for days. Out of town, the trails were peaceful and I found lots of large moss-covered boulders in Otter Creek Wilderness, though never anything suitable for a crag. Maybe there was, but with our kids’ little legs, we couldn’t hike as deep into the backcountry as might have been necessary.
One afternoon, before we drove back to Davis for dinner out, I checked my map for the Tucker Boulder Park when I was at our cabin’s wifi. It seemed pretty obvious where it was, so we went there first. But when I drove to the edge of town, the intersection where you are supposed to turn seemed to lead to a long row of houses, not a park. So we turned around and went straight to Milo’s Cafe and we filled up on burrito’s and pork nachos. Afterward we drove to the edge of town one more time.
I kept driving past the intersection I thought the map referred to and saw a fence that held in a baseball field. At its far end were two top-out boulders and no one on it. The road I was looking for, if you could call it that, was actually a narrow gravel path. I shouted and pointed and the kids saw it too and shouted for joy; they knew their father’s curiosity was turning into a lark.
We sanitized our hands and picked some holds to rainbow. Nothing was labeled with tape. I followed the kids around a little as they need some guidance. After a few burns they needed longer breaks from pulling plastic and I got to jump on a backward leaning problem. I’ve neglecting my fingerboard since May, which didn’t seem to matter now. My legs pushed me and core held. Schnickelfritz asked me to help him on a problem he set his eyes on, where the holds were bigger and a ledge, he thought would get him to the top of the little boulder. “Help” meant holding his waist as he worked on the footholds; an ab workout for me too, since he’s getting bigger! It was as if we had been looking for a prime skiing resort but discovered a little slope with only a two-seat lift, only the locals knew about and had much more fun.
Bouldering has become a go-to option for more climbers, seemingly than ever before. Actually, I’ve been bouldering long before it was more popular, but trad and sport climbers disparaged bouldering as a lesser activity. Though I agree that dedicated boulderers, me among them, were weird. I should have had more self-confidence. I’ve been vindicated by how bouldering is part of a diverse form of training for trad and sport, as well as a specialized discipline that has a new trendy following. I thought bouldering-only gyms in Chicago and New York City were wonderful, but this Tucker Boulder Park has something more going for it.
Because the Tucker Boulder Park is a public apparatus, there are no waivers to sign. Rules and guidelines are posted. The rules sign is inviting, rather than discouraging, and the best line is this: “Climb at your own risk.” The town has accepted the risk within these guidelines. In a way, it reminds me of a public swimming pool when there is no life guard on duty. It’s not like a private gym, which is concerned about staff oversight and liability. It was the closest pulling plastic got to the real rock experience with rules I have ever experienced.
Your town needs a boulder park. My town needs a boulder park. Put on your rock climbing shoes or your sneakers. Bring your own crash pad. Volunteer to set routes for your neighbors with the parks department. No ropes, except for adaptive climbing, of course. And the rules are reasonable. No paperwork. No fees. Just a fun time in your community.