San Antonio Getting First Sanctioned Outdoor Rock Climbing Area in 2020

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Texas Climbers Coalition President and Access Coordinator Adam Mitchell (right) and Brian Tickle look up to Medicine Wall after taking ownership of the climbing destination.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Adam Mitchell (right), president of the Texas Climbing Coalition, with Brian Tickle, Access Fund’s Texas regional director, looks up at Medicine Wall.

Medicine Wall, a roughly 80-foot limestone bluff in northern San Antonio, will become the city’s first officially sanctioned outdoor rock climbing area when access to the site opens in 2020.

After roughly two years of negotiations with landowners and developers, the nonprofit climbing group Texas Climbers Coalition, formerly known as Central Texas Mountaineers, took ownership of the property last Friday, the organization’s President Adam Mitchell said.

Medicine Wall is the first property Texas Climbers Coalition has owned outright, said Mitchell, who lives in Marble Falls. A nationwide nonprofit conservation and advocacy group known as the Access Fund will maintain a conservation and recreation easement on the land, said Brian Tickle, the Access Fund’s Austin-based Texas regional director.

“It’s an urban crag. It’s right in San Antonio,” Tickle said. “So many climbers are introduced to climbing through gyms, and then typically the progression is to go outside at some point. Medicine Wall will definitely fulfill that need.”

However, the wall will be closed to climbers until approximately spring 2020, they said.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

An expanded Salado Creek Greenway trail will give climbers access to Medicine Wall.

That’s when construction should be complete on a new 4-mile section of the Salado Creek Greenway trail that will connect to Eisenhower Park, City special projects manager Brandon Ross said. The trail will be Medicine Wall’s only access point.

Climbers will be allowed to park at a parking lot meant for trail users on the south side of Loop 1604, Ross said. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department has funding for the trail segment in place, and construction on the trail will begin in early 2019, Ross said.

San Antonio climbers have waited many years for a reliable place to practice their sport outdoors, though the city has at least two indoor bouldering gyms.

Climbers currently have to drive more than an hour to reach the nearest public access areas at Milton Reimers Ranch Park, owned by Travis County Parks; the City of Austin’s Barton Creek Greenbelt; and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, near Fredericksburg.

Medicine Wall was among a handful of under-the-radar locations in San Antonio. It served as a a popular sport climbing crag for about 20 years, Mitchell and Tickle said. After two climbers died in a fall there in February 2015, the landowners removed hardware from the wall and began cracking down on trespassers, they said.

Volunteers will have to set up sport climbing routes before the wall opens for climbing, they said.

“[Medicine Wall] doesn’t have any hardware so it would have to be completely bolted,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to try to put the best possible equipment in there, stuff that’s going to last a long time.”

The limestone peak of Medicine Wall reaches about 65 feet in the air.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The limestone peak of Medicine Wall reaches about 80 feet from the base.

Mitchell and Tickle declined to share the exact terms of the land deal, but they said the landowners wanted the bluff to be preserved.

Records show the wall and the future trail site lie on land once owned by the Rogers family. Lloyd “Laddie” Denton Jr., co-founder and CEO of real estate development company Bitterblue, worked with the City and the climbers on opening access to the wall and portions of Salado Creek for the trail.

Ross said the City’s Parks and Recreation Department decided against seeking ownership of Medicine Wall.

“We don’t really have a lot of direct experience with climbing,” Ross said. When the climber groups expressed interest, it seemed like a better alternative, he said.

“They seem to know what they’re doing in terms of safety regulations and what types of protections are needed for the environment itself,” Ross said. “So it made sense for them to be the stewards of that wall, since that’s their wheelhouse.”

Tickle said the deal “wouldn’t have happened without San Antonio climbers bird-dogging for us for a long time.”

“Texas is loaded with rock that’s on private property, and there’s kind of a secretive element to knowing where all these climbing areas are,” Tickle continued. “For an organization like the [coalition] or Access Fund to be successful, you have to rely on a vast network of local climbers that know where the areas are, know what the issues are, and can reach out for help.”

Tickle said that Texas climbers have an incentive to take good care of the places where they can climb.

“Access can be pretty hard-fought, so when you get it, it’s a pretty valuable thing,” he said. “You try to take care of the resource as much as you can.”

11 thoughts on “San Antonio Getting First Sanctioned Outdoor Rock Climbing Area in 2020

  1. Yes! Great article, Brendan. I really appreciate the articles on outdoor recreation, fitness and environmental issues from the Rivard Report.

  2. It is always scary to hear someone “bolting up” routes, as the equipment defaces the rock. Any good route does not need bolts, as the temporary pieces can be placed by the lead climber as the belayer protects him/her from below. The rule, of course, if you cannot lead the climb, then don’t climb it.

    • Foolish statement from someone who does not care about other climbers. Bolted sport climbing allows for an easier and safer barrier to entry to the sport and pursues fitness in and of itself in the climbing community. Mature up. This rule you speak of has never been and never will be a rule. Grow up.

      • Climbing, by its nature, “defaces” the rock. How often do hand holds break off off routes? How often do routes become “polished” from all the oils in human skin and the constant rubbing of hands and feet? How often does gear get stuck in the rock, thus becoming permanent litter?

        Any amount of human presence will affect the rock. Adding bolts for human safety, allowing non-trad climbers to be inducted into a community that advocates for stewardship, is pittance pay for the overall benefit.

        Climbers care well for the rock and the lands that house them, bolts or no bolts. Human safety, too, will always be paramount. Rock has no feelings and cannot die; it doesn’t mind if you bolt it. Folks that look down their nose at sport climbing by virtue signalling to “preservation” need to rap down off their high horses.

    • Way to promote your own personal ethos as some sort of universal rule about climbing. Bolting reduces accidents and accidents are back for access.

  3. I’m glad this is making a comeback to San Antonio and I cannot wait to help with cleanup and prep.
    Nice job on getting us amped up for the return!!

  4. Yeah, Mark Kellmann is obviously not aware of the necessity of bolts on limestone walls. This geologic fact was proved in the ‘80s at Smith Rock. Limestone can not reliably be climbed using traditional climbing protection. While there may be cracks and holes that such protection could be placed in, the nature of limestone is such that it can break when the protection is dynamically weighted.

    Over 30 years ago climbers learned the only safe and responsible way to climb limestone was with the thoughtful and educated placement of specialized “bolts” designed specifically for limestone.

    Today’s technology provides hardware that will last decades and is minimally invasive.

    The people and climbers of San Antonio can be assured that TCC has the expertise and hardware to do the job right.

    Tommy Blackwell
    Past president of CTM
    Rockclimber since 1994

    • Thanks for that. I hate hearing arguments about not bolting rocks. They’re rocks. If people get outside to enjoy nature while gettimg excersise, and bolted climbs make this more possible, then the minimal amount of hardware going in is well worth the cost. The only unfortunate thing is there’s not a tip jar for developers to recoup the $100+ they put into each climb.

  5. Thank you for the informative article for someone who does not climb rocks. I’d much rather see or know bolts are there for the protection of the climbers involved. Are you referring to Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon? That is an awesome place. I’ve been there to watch the climbers.

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