Winter Destination: Big Bend Boulders

by Jon Vickers /

Drive Time: 3.5 hours
Rock Type: Sandstone
Discipline: Bouldering
Grades: Sandbagged
Camping: Across Road

The skiers and snowboarders are rejoicing, but as the snow falls, local bouldering becomes more and more of a challenge. No doubt someone is out in Little Cottonwood with a heater and a broom, trying to get those ‘send temps,’ but for the rest of us it is indoor time. Some climbers are sharpening their ice tools and others are planning for their dedicated winter of training. However, if you are still hoping to get out and climb even though it means driving and camping in the cold, you should consider prolonging your outdoor fall a little longer with some bouldering at Moab’s Big Bend Boulders.

This roadside area was developed in the 80s and 90s by legends such as John Sherman, Dan Osman and Tom Gilge with local hardmen Noah Bigwood and Eric Decaria establishing many of the most difficult problems. The bouldering at Big Bend has a particularly old school style and those used to gym climbing or even Joe’s Valley might find themselves learning some lessons in desert climbing. Despite the sandbagged grades and it’s atypical style, Big Bend is home to some of the best sandstone bouldering in Utah. Climbers of all ability levels can find something fun and challenging there.

Jeff Skalla on Chaos.
Momentum staff member Jeff Skalla on Chaos.

The boulders, which seem to be sculpted for climbing, have a variety of holds and features. From unusual pocket pulling to compression prows, Big Bend has something for everyone. Though varied, the climbing here has a distinct style that requires a lot of body tension and power. A problem can often feel impossible until the correct sequence is identified and many of the problems have tricky solutions. Below are some of our favorites and some tips to help you to the top!

Area Beta: Located about 8 miles out River Road, Big Bend gets sun most of the day and comfortable sending temperatures are possible throughout the winter. Make sure to check the weather for occasional storms! Just across the road is the Big Bend Campground. The sites closest to the boulders get earlier light than the sites toward town. If camping is not your thing, lodging in Moab is easy to find during the winter months.

V0 Leftover Lover: This classic line starts on jug sidepulls and follows the obvious line of pockets and edges to the top of the Flat Top Boulder. Consider utilizing some heel hooks and make sure to grab a cool photo with the towers in the background.

V1 Center Start: The middle line on the Black Box Boulder, this problem follows edges to a straightforward top out. Make sure to stay under the holds and tight to the wall to make it up this one.

Sean Faulkner warms up on The Black Box Boulder.
Team Momentum’s Sean Faulkner warms up on Slots of Fun (V2) to the left of Center Start on The Black Box Boulder. Photo by Jeff Skalla.

V2 Mr. Trujillo’s Big Day: This is such a cool problem once you know it! While there are several ways to get to the top, try flipping your hand to a press to make it smooth.

V2/3 Split Decision: This climb is given a variety of grades and can be done in several ways. My favorite is probably starting on underclings outright and traversing through a pocket before following the crack to the left. That way is likely V3, but other great options exist.

Nicole on Split Decision
Momentum’s Youth Programs Director Nicole Brandt on Split Decision.

V3 Arete Right Side: Great rock on the right side of a pretty arete. Located on the Black Box Boulder, this is a great one to do after warming up on center start.

V4/6 Circus Trick: This is in the running for the biggest sandbag in Utah, but it is well worth your time. Start either left or right and climb to ‘the trick,’ which is a committing throw to a monster jug rail. Be careful, the standard start to the left has a flexing jug that may not last much longer. Please consider doing an eliminate without it.

V5 Army of Darkness: A great V5 if you like highballs and have spotters and pads. Tech your way up the perfect rock via slopers and exit right before things get too high. If this isn’t enough scare for you, consider The Grim Reacher (V5) on The Chaos Boulder.

V6 Blankety Blank (Sit): A sequential compression problem with some of the coolest holds at Big Bend. Don’t get frustrated with this one, as it takes some time to figure out. It also has a stand start that is quite a bit easier (V4).

Ryan Shilton on Blankety Blank.
Momentum member Ryan Shilton on Blankety Blank.

V7 Black Angus: A beautiful feature to follow, Black Angus starts low on a jug and moves through a crimp rail before establishing on the varnished arete. Follow the arete to the top with one tricky and crucial heel hook. There is an easier variation that moves right onto the crimpy face.

V8 Chaos: This classic problem goes up the center of the biggest boulder at Big Bend. Whether you stand start, squat start or sit in the dirt, this problem is amazing! Follow the beautiful flat edges to the scoop, catch a breath and then dance up the easier highball terrain to the summit.

V11 Hell Belly: Be ready to squeeze! This problem is like climbing a refrigerator tipped at a 45 degree angle. Slap, heel hook and scream your way to the same scoop that Chaos goes to. There is a V7 stand start that does many of the coolest moves.

Zach Jensen on Hell Belly.
Team Momentum coach Zach Jensen on Hell Belly.

Important Note: The sandstone at Big Bend is particularly fragile when wet. Do not climb on desert sandstone when it has been raining recently, as it is very porous and may break, changing the problems forever. Even if the stone is dry to the touch, please allow at least 24 hours to dry. A general rule of thumb is if the ground is wet, the rock is wet.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *