Imagine clocking out of work at 5 p.m. and being partway up a 40-foot limestone wall by 5:45. If you live near Rockwoods Reservation in Wildwood, Missouri, this could be your new reality with the opening of 15 rock climbing routes in the conservation area.

“It’s been a long road,” said newly elected BETA Fund President Kevin McCarthy on having rock climbing reintroduced to the property. “The conversation started around 2005 when I first was an employee with the state, but even earlier in the climbing community.”

Climbing in the old quarry area near Route 109 off Christy Avenue formerly was allowed only to members of small, private group that is now defunct. It took a lot of public input and lobbying from the rock climbing community to get Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) officials to consider the possibility.

“The early mindset was that rock climbers had a death wish, which is just not true,” said McCarthy. “We did a lot of meeting people where they are [in their understanding of the sport] and explaining what we wanted to do.”

A memorandum of understanding to allow climbing in a specific area of Rockwoods Reservation was signed in November 2018, and then the real work began. It has taken countless volunteer hours to meet with officials and prepare the routes and the surrounding area for public usage.

“It was incredible the hours Russ Errett, our lead field guy, and the BETA Fund board put in,” said McCarthy. “The bolting was the quickest. The hardest part was cleaning the loose rocks and the vegetation. There were so many rough, hard days.”

Rockwoods Reservation Bluff

The 15 routes currently open are “sport climbing from the ground up,” said McCarthy. “Several of the routes are pretty close together to get in as many as we could in finite space, but you can have probably 14 climbers on the bluff at once.”

Anchors and chains are in place, with routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.12 in difficulty. 

“It’s limestone, with cool horizontal edges and crimps. Some side pulls, some slopers,” said McCarthy. “One route has a really desperate move right at the jug on this nasty sloper. It’s going to pitch a lot of people off until they get the beta. It’s really cool.”

The parking lot off Christy Road will hold about 12 vehicles, with a short, 5-minute approach to the bluff. No permits or fees are required to climb in this specified area at Rockwoods Reservation. “Helmets are always encouraged,” said McCarthy. “And people definitely need to respect the fact that this is the one and only MDC-approved climbing area in the state, so if they want more, they need to treat it nice.

“MDC has been an incredible partner, and they have for sure put in staff time, signs, parking, and access improvements,” McCarthy added. “We’re thankful for their support, and for the BETA Fund board and everyone who pushed this project.”