St. Helena Sport Climbing
California has been endowed with some excellent climbing, that is without question. However, living in the Bay Area it can be hard to get away for a weekend and take advantage of Yosemite, Owens, etc. on a regular basis. While there are several nearby areas we have explored they are generally pretty limited and we are always looking for new areas. That’s why I was stoked when a friend invited me to spend a sunny fall Friday sport climbing in St. Helena.
It was still a good hour and 45 minute drive from Oakland/San Francisco, but the drive is beautiful through Napa and Calistoga and the climbing is fun. Mount St. Helena is volcanic and the rock we climbed was solid, full of friction and covered in delicious pockets and huecos.
The day I wemt there I only climbed at the Bubble, the most accessible of the crags, but it looks like there are some great routes on several other walls as well. I can’t wait to plan a trip back.
The Bubble in itself has a lot to offer. Easy 5.8 slab climbing for your warm-ups or for beginner friends to try. A high quality pocketed 5.10c named Solar Power that was great fun, and a few overhanging 5.11s that dance up the large pockets on the south face of the Bubble.
Combine the climbing with a sweeping view over Napa Valley and you have the makings of great day at the crag.
St. Helena is covered in the Falcon Guide to Bay Area climbing and also in Chris Summit’s Wine Country Rock. Mountain Project also has some pretty complete information and the handy approach map shown below. More details here.
You drive in through Calistoga, continuing on Hwy 29 up the hill out of town. The road gets very windy and after 7 or so miles from town you reach the top of the hill and will see a large parking area on either side of the road. You are in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and the parking is free.
Park on the left side and take the obvious trail up the hill. After a handful of switchbacks and a scenic and historic stop at the site of Robert Louis Stevenson’s log cabin you reach a fire road. Take a left and walk 10 more minutes and the Bubble will be the extremely obvious pocketed rock face located right on the fire road. You can’t miss it.
Climbing should be well worth it in good weather year-round, though be prepared for crisp and windy days in the winter and heat in the summer. The Bubble gets sun all day which I imagine would make it tough in the middle of summer, though the Bear should be in the shade by noon.