Rocks Worth the Climb

Rocks Worth the Climb

By Christian Toews
From the July 2020 Biskinik

The sport of rock climbing has gained in popularity in recent years. With indoor climbing gyms opening across the nation, more people are being exposed to the sport.

According to the Climbing Business Journal, the commercial climbing industry grew at a rate of 6.9% in 2016, 10% in 2017, and 11.8% in 2018. Rock climbing’s recent surge in popularity is reflected in the decision to add the sport to the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.

Sarah Toews climbing at Robbers Cave State Park
Sarah Toews makes a complicated move while bouldering in Robbers Cave State Park.

Indoor climbing gyms have become popular in part because they offer the experience of climbing without dealing with the elements of the outdoors, but most climbers will agree, there is nothing like climbing on real rocks outside.

If you don’t live in Oklahoma or haven’t explored some of the state, you might be surprised that people are climbing here. While the majority of the state is made up of prairies and plains, Oklahoma has some areas that are great for climbing, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma holds two of the best places to climb within the state.

Ryan Jumper at Robbers Cave State Park
Ryan Jumper looks at his landing spot as Sarah Toews makes sure he doesn’t fall after landing.

Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Oklahoma is known for being an excellent place to explore the outdoors, take in amazing views, and it’s also a destination for rock climbers. With its huge sandstone rock faces, many climbers love to “top rope” in this area. Top roping offers the rock-climbing experience with all the rewards but minimal risks.

Top roping, simply put, is climbing a rock face with the climbing rope always anchored above you. Much like an indoor gym, you have someone who belays the climber. The belayer takes the slack out of the rope above the climber and then lowers the climber to the ground when they have completed the route. If you fall, you only fall a short distance, minimizing the risk of injury. Top roping is good for beginners but requires a lot of gear. You need harnesses, ropes, helmets, and other gear, depending on the rocks.

Ryan Jumper climbs at Robbers Cave State Park
Ryan Jumper climbs a low overhang in Robbers Cave State Park.

Another popular style of climbing is “Bouldering.” Bouldering is rock climbing stripped down to its raw essentials. Leaving behind ropes and harnesses, bouldering only requires climbing shoes and a bag of chalk over safety mats or “crash pads” as climbers call them. The challenge is to climb short but tricky bouldering “problems” (a route or sequence of moves) using balance, technique, strength and brain power.

Bouldering is a very popular option in climbing because of its simplicity, safety, and the ability to hang out with other climbers while challenging yourself. “I love bouldering because it’s challenging but relatively simple. You just need a crash pad, your shoes, and a few friends. My favorite part of bouldering is the problem-solving aspect. The route is short, but a simple change in your foot position can either make or break your success,” Said Rachel Toews. Toews is a Durant, Oklahoma resident and avid climber.

McGee Creek State Park
Sarah Toews tops out after completing a route in McGee Creek State Park.

A second bouldering location within the Choctaw Nation is Mcgee Creek State Park near Atoka, Oklahoma. This state park is located on the southwest edge of the Ouachita Mountain Range. Dallas, Texas locals first started developing here in the early 2000s, and many of the classic climbing routes have long been established. Much of this information hasn’t been published or made public but a guidebook is currently in development and in its final stages that will include McGee Creek bouldering, according to mountainproject.com. McGee Creek State Park offers many outdoor recreation opportunities including water activities, camping, hiking and fishing in addition to rock climbing.

Rachel Toews climbs at Robbers Cave State Park
Rachel Toews climbs above her crash pad in Robbers Cave State Park.

Both of these rock-climbing locations are listed on mountainproject.com. This website (and mobile app) is the definitive guide to rock climbing routes and locations. With over 220,000 routes listed, you can find climbing locations across the United States and around the world. If you would like more information on climbing at Mcgee Creek or Robbers Cave state parks, you can visit this website to find precise information on climbing routes, difficulty level, and location of each route. If you do make it out to one of these locations, be sure to wear the proper safety equipment when climbing and follow all safety practices within the State park.

Maybe you are an experienced climber who would like to try some new routes, or you have always wanted to get into the sport; either way, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has something for you to discover and enjoy.