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J.R.R. Tolkien


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View of Mission Gorge Park By Dmadeo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

View of Mission Gorge Park By Dmadeo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

We love cities in America. Living in an urban area has much to offer, even to the outdoor enthusiast, who is sure to find some outlet for their adventure-seeking, as well as easy access to a community. One great example: rock climbing options in the Bay may be limited compared to, say, Boulder, Colorado, but you’ll never have to look far for a theater screening a climbing documentary.

Living in the city is about finding balance, and one exceptional way to do that is to root out the local climbing crag. This consistent, accessible feature gives you options on the weekends, a place to train or meet other climbers, and a local spirit that, on the good days, reminds you why you moved there in the first place.

San Diego is no exception. The “home break” rock area in this large-but-livable city is Mission Gorge, a sport/trad area in the Mission Trails Regional Park, approximately 20 minutes from downtown.

The first thing you see on any of the climbing area pages posted on is a “Climbing Season” graph, which tells you approximately what time of year you might want to visit, say, the Gunks (spring/fall) or Red Rocks (fall/winter/spring). San Diego’s page basically has a straight line. It dips a little in July and August, when the inland areas warm up to sunny with a chance of slightly uncomfortable.

Four main climbing areas feature over 200 leads, mostly in the 5.10 zone, but with plenty of options for beginners and number chasers.

Classics to look for are the Mission Gorge Traverse (5.8), Prime Detective (5.10c), and the excellent beginner crack Shadowfax (5.8), a name which brings up a curious feature about Mission Gorge: all of the climbs in the Middle Earth climbing area—one of four main areas in the park—are named after…that’s right, places and characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This doesn’t much affect the quality of the climbing or weather, but along with the San Diego River gurgling in the distance, it’s one more point of charm in Mission Gorge’s favor. If you’re in San Diego, it’s worth getting to know this place; if you’re from out of town, skip the zoo (or better yet, SeaWorld) next time you’re here and get some crack practice at one of California’s best free outdoor gyms.

By Brian Gruters

Brian writes about science, conservation, and ways that people interact with nature for various publications, as well as his blog, He is an aspiring surfer, member of the Southern California Mountaineers Association, and likes to explore mountains and canyons.