This past weekend, Dustin and I had the opportunity to check out a new-to-us park, Breaks Interstate Park. Breaks is a state park of both Kentucky and Virginia, as it is situated on the border between the two states. In efforts to increase tourism, the park has recently opened to climbing, due to partnered efforts of the Access Fund and the Central Appalachian Climbers Coalition. As of September 2019, there are 215 routes listed on Mountain Project, including bouldering, sport climbing, and trad climbing. Breaks had popped up on my personal radar in the past few months, when pro climber and native Virginian Sasha Diguilian visited the park and contributed to adding new routes to the area (while also making really cool video about her efforts). Otherwise there is no guidebook and not much other information about climbing in the park. We were in for an adventure!
Besides being a new crag, another reason as to why Breaks remains still relatively unknown to the climbing world is its location. It’s still a pretty far drive from many of the Mid-Atlantic urban cores. From Richmond, it was about a 6 hour drive in total.
Red River Gorge, KY: 2.5 hours
Roanoke, VA: 3.5 hours
Charlotte, NC: 4.5 hours
Chattanooga, TN: 5 hours
Raleigh, NC: 5.5 hours
Richmond, VA: 6 hours
Washington, DC: 7 hours
Park General Information
In terms of lodging, Breaks has plenty of lodging options for all price ranges, including a campground, lodge, and plenty of cabin/cottage options. We ended up staying in one of the Woodland Cottages with 3 other friends, and found our lodging convenient, affordable, and very comfortable. However, if you really wanted a plush option, the Lakefront Cabins offer hot tubs and a scenic view!
The park has one restaurant, the Rhododendron Restaurant and Conference Center. We didn’t check it out this trip, but it serves typical Southern cuisine. The closest grocery store to the park is approximately 15 minutes away, Velocity Market, in Elkhorn, Kentucky. However, be forewarned that Elkhorn is located in a dry county, so for climbers looking for alcohol, it may serve them best to drive ~25 minutes to Grundy, VA for their grocery needs.
As for weather, Breaks is located in the Southeast U.S., so it definitely gets its fair share of rain in spring and fall! Our visit, made during the last weekend in September, had high temperatures in the upper 80s and low temperatures in the mid 60s, which was not ideal. Luckily, much of the climbing areas we visited offered shade. Ideally, October-December and March-May are probably the best months of the year to visit in terms of temperature. It rained on us Saturday, but the rock seemed to dry pretty quickly. Additionally, due to plenty of large protective roofs we saw, Breaks seemed to offer climbing options for wet weather as well.
**Before climbing at Breaks, all climbers must obtain a permit and sign an online waiver, which is a pretty painless easy process.
We were amazed to see virtually no other climbers during our visit. Likewise, one of the biggest things we noticed about Break’s climbing areas was that it could definitely use some more climber traffic to help clean up all the lichen and dirt. We also experienced a lot of loose rock during our visit, so ***do NOT leave your helmet at home***. Otherwise, the climbing logistics are pretty easy. Most of the climbing is pretty concentrated in the park and involves less than a 10 minute drive from the visitor’s center to any of the parking.
After arriving at Breaks late Friday night in the dark, we took our time Saturday morning getting ready for the day. We decided to check out the Pinnacle Rocks climbing area, which looked to offer plenty of high quality routes concentrated in one area. The crag was surprisingly easy and quick to find as there were park signs signaling “Climber Access” on the trail from the parking lot. Total approach time was approximately 5 minutes from the parking lot.
We warmed up at the first few climbs we arrived at towards the start of the cliff:
Froopsy Daisy- 5.9+
Froop Du Jour- 5.9+
Both were pretty technical, although Froopsy Daisy was definitely the more difficult of the two climbs and involved some dynamic moves off of crimps for the shorties! I personally felt like it could’ve been rated a 5.10 pretty easily. I tried the route twice and had trouble making the crux move cleanly both times. Probably a better climb to try once your fingers are a little more warmed up! Most of the climbs we tried at Breaks ended up feeling hard for the grade. A lot of this can be attributed to the route-finding that was involved- there aren’t chalked up holds indicating sequencing on the routes.
After warming up, a brief thunderstorm passed over us, so we moved to another area of Pinnacle Rock that was protected by large overhang. The rock was actually quite stunning and reminded us a lot of the New River Gorge in terms of features. Richard, one of our friends, set up Melungian, a thuggy steep 5.12 with big moves and good holds. I didn’t get the chance to try it, as I ended up working a nearly 5.10d, Dominion. This ended up being my favorite route I tried all weekend. It started with pulling a powerful move onto the pillar, and then moving through 3 bolts of technical climbing. This section, the crux, involved a bit of finagling to figure out how to move through efficiently. The second half of the climb eased up, but continued with sustained movement on better holds on a slightly overhanging cliff face. Dustin and I both ended up sending it clean our second go on the climb.
Next, we tried Spirit Blade, a slabby 5.10b with a small roof at the top. Slab climbing is not my favorite, and most of the holds on the route were also slopey. It took a bit of time to find the “good” holds. Likewise, I thought the runout at the top to the anchors was a bit scary!
At this point, the late afternoon sun was beating down on us and we were feeling pretty toasted. Richard tried one last route for the day, #WombLife, a 5.12 that ended up being one of his favorite routes of the trip! It involved a VERY awkward rest in a hueco, hence the route’s name.
However, it does bake in the sun in late afternoon so probably a better route to try during cooler weather!
On Sunday, we checked out another climbing area, Eastern Prospectors. The approach to this cliff was a bit longer, maybe closer to 15 minutes total. It also is pretty steep decline to get to the climbing and thus, a steep hike out at the end of the day. This area was pretty, but not as visually stunning as Pinnacle Rock. We warmed up on a promising 5.9, Belle of the Ball. The start of this route was HARD, and involved navigating through a myriad of sloping crimps covered in lichen. I fought through the first 15 feet not to fall off! The next 80 feet of the route involved somewhat thoughtful slab climbing with a grand finale of pulling a small roof to the anchors. Overall, this route was rated pretty highly on Mountain Project, but due to the heinous start, I wasn’t overly enthused by it. Also, setting the draws will feel harder for shorties, especially above the roof. I couldn’t reach the bolt above the roof from the clipping jug, and ended up bailing my first go on the route as that section is also pretty run out and slabby. On my second try (after the draws had been already set), that section of the route felt much more secure. The view from the anchors did offer a delightful view of the gorge however!
We also got to hop on a couple of 10s nearby the ended up delivering on the fun! I highly recommend Cornucopia of Delightful Climbing (5.10c)! This route started out with mellow vertical climbing before offering some fun big moves through pockets at the top. This was also one of the only routes we tried all weekend that felt pretty true to its grade, ha. Next to it, Fancy and Fresh (5.10d) climbs an arete to a very hard crimpy sequence at the top that includes what our friend Allie describes as “potato chip holds”, ie, flaky small crimps. I followed up the route on TR and still thought the route felt more like 5.11a/b (but aren’t all 5.10ds like that anyway?).
Unfortunately, time got the best of us, and we ended up having to leave after those 3 climbs to make the 6 hour trek back to Richmond. As we drove away from the park on the winding mountainous roads (that also included randomly passing by a 3-story Walmart), I couldn’t help but reflect on how surprised I was at how GOOD Breaks was for climbing. The park has a lot to offer to climbers of all different abilities, and seems to still have a lot of potential for development. And as much as I hate to admit it, it needs to see more climber traffic, because as I’ve mentioned, most of the routes we tried were still a little dirty. In my opinion, Breaks is the perfect option for the NRG-loving climber who is looking to get away from the crowds on a holiday weekend. I can’t wait to get back.