Climbing in/near Bull Run Mountains?

  • Tuesday, January 09, 2018 10:20 AM
    Message # 5668957
    Deleted user

    On drives back to DC from Shenandoah, I have noticed what appears to be a significant outcrop of light-colored rock visible from eastbound Route 66 (visible from near mile marker 34 where 66 crosses Highway 55 near Broad Run). From a cursory examination of Google Maps, it appears to me that the outcrop may be in the Bull Run Mountains. There are no listed climbs in that area in Mountain Project. Does anyone know of established routes on that formation? Are the outcrops open for climbing? Thanks for any information you can provide.


  • Tuesday, January 09, 2018 11:37 AM
    Reply # 5669189 on 5668957


    Most certainly you saw the Bull Run climbing area.  There are quite a few climbing routes on it.  Many of them were established years ago, including one I did a first assent--"The Sickle". However,  it has been closed to climbers (and hikers) since The Nature Conservancy acquired the property in the late 1980's (or there about).  (Although, I understand locals on motorcycles and ORVs run the trails even though they are not allowed.)

    This brings up an interesting question.  About 3-4 years ago I heard that PATC was talking with The Nature Conservancy about doing a cleanup on Bull Run.  The MS section discussed the idea that we could "piggyback" on there effort and reestablish climbing on Bull Run.  Does anyone know if any progress has been made on that effort?  Is there anyone in the club who lives closer to Bull Run and would like to investigate this further (or perhaps lead an effort to reestablish climbing there?


  • Thursday, January 11, 2018 12:01 AM
    Reply # 5675838 on 5668957
    Deleted user

    I would love to see climbing return to Bull Run.  I live in Warrenton so I have quick access to the area.  I drive through the area almost daily when out seeing appointments.  I know very little about access negotiations but would be willing to help in any way.  I'm constantly sad when I drive by and know that the crag is so close and so unavailable.  There is definitely a small group of rouge local climbers that still sneak around in that area but I have never been up there.  If anyone knows where we should start with this please advise me.  There is apparently also rock south of 66 in that area on the backside of some camp.  I also have not been there yet as it's a bit of bushwacking and only a few people have permission to go there.  


  • Sunday, February 04, 2018 9:28 PM
    Reply # 5717729 on 5668957

    I'm not an expert in the history and status of Bull Run Mountain, but this subject comes up every couple of years. My understanding is that it is pretty much a lost cause. The conservancy doesn't want climbers and the homeowners below the cliffs really don't want climbers. If somebody really wants to pursue this I suggest working through Mid Atlantic Climbers and the Access Fund and pulling together a documentary record. 

    If you are really interested you can post on the email list. I suggest you just ask for a summary, maybe pull several response together and post here for the record.

    PATC-MS did climb at Bull Run Mountain regularly in the old days. There is information in old Up Ropes online. There used to be a lot of activity at Crescent Rocks off the AT as well. That area is still open, although convenient parking is a big headache. There were various other areas used in the Old Days where information is still floating around in old Up Ropes.

    Mark Maier

  • Sunday, February 04, 2018 9:38 PM
    Reply # 5717750 on 5668957

    Here is stuff that was posted on the PATC-MS email list some years ago:

    I had to look back to refresh my memory on this one. Below is the thread where we left off on Bull Run three years ago.


    Bottom line is that the crag itself is off limits to all public access—a true “no breathing” area. Mark Fletcher and I were discussing this on the way back from Indian Grave Ridge on Sunday.

    If anyone has more recent information, please post.


    -----Original Message-----
    From: Chris Biow [
    Sent: Thursday, October 08, 2009 11:35 PM
    To: 'Eric Boesch'
    Cc: 'Potomac Mountain Club'
    Subject: [PATC-MS] Re: Bull Run Climbing-an overview



    Ah, so the cliffs themselves are north or west of the trail network shown at and *not* in the portion of the

    Preserve administered by BRMC and outside Jennifer Helwig's domain. I hadn't

    put that together.


    Then, yes, the broad issue is that these State Natural Area Preserves

    generally allow no access whatever--even hiking is by exception and climbing

    is entirely out. That seems even further along the unreasonable and

    unenforceable continuum. It's certainly a surprise to me that such a

    draconian policy is in use by my state. I'd like to find out what has been

    done so far to change this and how we climbers can be alerted any time

    high-angle terrain is proposed for such a fate. I'm actually wondering if I

    should be objecting to *all* proposed designation of Natural Area Preserves,

    this side of extreme circumstances such as preservation of the last

    remaining unicorn lair.


    -----Original Message-----

    From: Eric Boesch []

    Sent: Thursday, October 08, 2009 10:34 PM


    Cc: Potomac Mountain Club

    Subject: Re: [PATC-MS] Re: Bull Run Climbing-an overview


    Thanks for clearing up the status of the cliff, Brian. Chris, unless I

    missed something, the cliff is in a section where the general public

    isn't even allowed in to hike. I'm not sure if there's a good reason

    for that, but if so, it means at least two things would have to change

    before it would become possible to climb legally at Bull Run -- they'd

    have to open that section of the preserve, and the state would have to

    remove climbing from their list of inappropriate activities for

    preserves. That's a tall order, though fixing that second point might

    help elsewhere even if Bull Run remained inaccessible.




    -----Original Message-----
    From: Chris Biow [
    Sent: Thursday, October 08, 2009 8:37 PM
    To: 'Potomac Mountain Club'
    Subject: [PATC-MS] Re: Bull Run Climbing-an overview



    Page 9 of

      Rock climbing and caving.  Rock outcrops, cliffs, and caves are among the

    most fragile of

      habitats and support some of the rarest occurrences of natural heritage

    resources in the state.  The

      repeated presence of humans at these places often leads to habitat

    degradation and, if prolonged

      or chronic, is well-known to cause damage or extirpation of rare species

    of plants and animals. 

      For this reason, access to most cliffs, rocky peaks, and caves on natural

    area preserves will be

      restricted to designated trails or observation points only, or to

    visitation during an organized field

      trip, or following issuance of a written Research and Collection or

    Special Use permit from



    That may make it a tough fight, but it sounds like one worth conducting, as

    over time more and more land will falls under these provisions. This kind of

    "all or nothing" overreach, going far beyond anything they can enforce,

    winds up being as useful as "no breathing" rules. After seeing supposed

    "wilderness areas" like St. Mary's with campfire circles everywhere, it

    seems they should concentrate on achievable basics.


    Possible criticisms or avenues would be:

    - the fallacious confounding of climbing and caving: "Strip mining and

    breathing are known to interfere with newt festivals, so they must be

    stopped before it kill somebody..."

    - the question of whether/where there actually *are* rare species at issue,

    and therefore whether this crag should be an exception to the presumptive


    - the fact that any plants there clearly did persist after many years of


    - club activity as an "organized field trip" exception


    I presume this is where Access Fund should come in, to tell us if it's

    feasible to work at the Va. State level against this. (Else why do I send

    them money every year?)


    -----Original Message-----

    From: Brian []

    Sent: Thursday, October 08, 2009 3:25 PM

    To: Potomac Mountain Club

    Subject: [PATC-MS] Re: Bull Run Climbing-an overview



    The Mangement Guidlines for State Natural Area Preserves specifically

    restrict climbing as a "Incompatible and Inappropriate Use" (http:// ).  I think

    that would require anyone to declassify climbing from this category or

    rezone the Bull Run area as not a "State Natural Area Preserve".  I

    don't believe that BRMC or VOF would change this, mostly because they

    aren't the one who have the authority to do so.  BRMC is leasing the

    area from VOF.  VOF are the owners, but it's still a State Natural

    Area Preserve.


    I like that we're all on board with talking about this and working

    through scenarios, this one just might not be one that we can do

    anything about.


    Ocean Eiler would be the Access Fund POC for us on requesting AF help.




    On Oct 8, 3:03 pm, "Chris Biow" <> wrote:

    > The BRMC website link from DCR is broken, but they seem to have moved

    > to'll want dark glasses on before opening their

    > home page.


    > The specific source of a climbing prohibition seems obscure, through this

    > stack of VA DCR, VOF, and BRMC. The email below uses a  posture of "we

    > normally would not allow anyone access ever, so just be glad we might let

    > you hike" to justify it, but I'd infer from the lack of any specifics that

    > it's within the discretion of BRMC and VOF. BRMC is a relatively substantial

    > membership organization and VOF is quasi-state. Might Access Fund be an

    > avenue to influence the policies of either?


    > From: Mike Dannhardt []

    > Sent: Thursday, October 08, 2009 11:24 AM

    > To: Potomac Mountain Club

    > Subject: [PATC-MS] Re: Bull Run Climbing-an overview


    > shtml


    > Hello Vincent,


    > In 2003 the Bull Run Mountains became a "State Natural Area Preserve."


    > is a very stringent designation bestowed by the state and there are 59 of

    > these areas across Virginia. Many state natural area preserves do not


    > any public access at all, however there is public access allowed on part


    > the Bull Run Mountains. Our organization, BRMC, leases 800 acres from the

    > state and BRMC opens it up to the public. So the public can access the 800

    > acres from sunrise to sunset. However, because of the preserve


    > many public uses are prohibited- like climbing, camping, dogs, fires, etc.

    > Visitors are really only allowed to hike.


    > Thanks for your inquiry and we hope that you visit our trails.


    > Jennifer Helwig


    > Naturalist, Bull Run Mountains Conservancy




    > On Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 11:06 AM, Brian <> wrote:


    > Where is this PATC/MS owned parking lot?


    > On Oct 8, 11:01 am, Jeanette Helfrich <>

    > wrote:






    > > I'm on the road so can't give a comprehensive reply but I worked on Bull

    > Run

    > > access in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The are several conflicting

    > > surveys of where the property lines actually lie, so don't depend on


    > > one version.  The rocks themselves appeared to be on the property

    > belonging

    > > to the heiress of the Paul Mellons on the west side and the trusts then

    > got

    > > involved.  I have a box of documents on the issue as it stood at the


    > >  Also the MS along with PATC bought a pulloff parking lot on the east


    > > for straight up access to the top of the ridge and then hiked south and

    > then

    > > slightly down the west to the rocks to climb.   We (PATC) is still in

    > > litigation over some of that for the Hauters.  Best update can be had by

    > > calling the PATC lands manager  which I did a few years ago.



  • Monday, February 05, 2018 2:57 PM
    Reply # 5722629 on 5668957
    Deleted user

    Well......That sounds like a definite battle.  I will do some digging and see what I can find out.  If the cliffs are truly not all in the preserve and some were on the Mellon estate I'm pretty certain that sold and their may be new owners.  I have a few leads on that in the local community I can follow up with.  I believe it's a set of sisters now who owns part of the property leading up to the cliffs.  I'm guessing from what I read below that the top of the cliffs are part of the state nature preserve area.  I'm a member of Mid Atlantic and Access Fund so once I've gathered some info I will put something together to see if this is even feasible with the state laws in place.  Thanks for the info!!  I should've known if it was easy it wouldn't be closed.... 

  • Monday, February 05, 2018 4:28 PM
    Reply # 5722858 on 5668957
    Deleted user

    So some further digging makes it seem that all the cliff tops are part of a major species restoration project that is in it's 3rd year.  The Virginia Outdoor Foundation now manages access instead of BRMNC.  That being said they openly list bolts as vandalism on this page discussing the restoration  I think between the info found here and the DRC page for this area of VA we are out of luck.  Any significant work on access before this species restoration project is finished is probably going to be unsuccessful. They are trying to allow a group of pine trees that are genetically specific to High Top Mtn. reestablish themselves after major erosion. Maybe when this project is finished access could be revisited.  It looks like even PATC isn't doing much regarding the trails there anymore as only 6 miles are open to public a few days a week certain months of the year.  I will try to do some research on the private climbing area I was told about south of 66.  

    Last modified: Monday, February 05, 2018 4:48 PM | Deleted user
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