Since moving to California, high on my list of places to visit has been The Grotto. Reading descriptions of the massive pit with walls of basalt would give any climber a curiosity that could only be satiated by laying some skin on the rock.
For a tiny area, the pit at the Grotto has an amazing dichotomy of climbing. The Main Wall, shown in the picture above, is fissured by a bunch of splitter cracks from 5.8 to 5.11. The columnar formation is reminiscent of Devil’s Tower. One of the columns sticks out past the rest and sports AC Devil Dog, a wild 5.10. The guidebook calls it a “refrigerator masquerading as rock.” The smearing and dynamic slapping bear hugging high stepping required will test your nerves. But AC Devil Dog is just the beginning.
I’ve never climbed on basalt until visiting the Grotto and got a quick lesson on Rawhide (5.10d). The off-fingers true splitter starts at .75 and tapers to .3 before yielding a good hand jam below the anchors. Rawhide may be the single best pitch I’ve done since arriving in the Bay Area and I was victimized by the last horrible foot and a good old fashioned pump.
Opposite the Main Wall is the Ort Wall. Unlike the columns of the Main Wall, the Ort Wall is full of juggy, overhanging sport lines. The good holds and short cliff ensure that Ort Wall routes are no harder than 5.11. With closed eyes, the Ort Wall could easily be confused with the gym.
We spent two days climbing in the pit and the Welcome Wall. The latter crag, which sits just outside of the pit, has a number of 5.10-5.12 sport lines and offers an incredible view.
I climbed 18 pitches over the two days there and knew it was time to pull the plug when I got spit off an overhanging Ort Wall 5.11 that I sent without issue the day before.
Along with Rawhide and AC Devil Dog, one of the highlights was Grotto Monkey. The very overhanging 5.12- climbs the left side of an outcropping called the Cave that forms the back wall of the pit. Though the route is short, its continuity and burl-factor pack a serious punch. Take a look at a short video of Grotto Monkey:
When traveling from the Bay Area, The Grotto is on the way to Yosemite and thus many climbers will just pass on through to the granite castles. However, I was sufficiently impressed that I will definitely be making a return trip. The shade in the pit and surrounding crags also makes the Table Mountain area that hosts The Grotto climbable in the summer. The relatively short drive from the East Bay (1:45) is an added bonus.
But beyond climbing logistics, the California countryside around Jamestown is beautiful and even on a summer Saturday night, plenty of quality camping is available next to the gorgeous Lake Melones.
The Grotto and Table Mountain area illustrates a great example of cooperation between private land owners and climbers brokered by the Access Fund. To access the climbing, you have to hike or drive a private road. The delicate agreements are a testament to the need for us to continually conduct ourselves in a way that is respectful to both the land and rock as well as the gatekeepers who largely have no concept of what our reckless little activity truly means to us.
The first exploratory trip to the Grotto at Table Mountain went even better than expected. It was great to hop on the sharp end for some gymnastic sport climbing and follow it up with excellent crack climbing in a one-of-a-kind mini-cirque.
I’m looking forward to going back and hopefully finding something hard worthy of serious effort.