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Cliff Notes

New Basalt Paradise: Arizona’s Oak Creek Waterfall

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Oak creek waterfall. Water shapes and colors Arizona’s premier trad-climbing destination in a number of ways. The wind-whipped falls have scoured sections of rock to an alligator-skin texture and painted it hues of copper and midnight black. Groundwater seeps have left white and flame-orange streaks on sections, inspiring the names of particularly colorful routes, like A White Bread World (5.11), Black and Tan (5.10) and Pyrokinesis (5.12+). Cooling and fracturing of the volcanic rock have formed columns from five to 10 feet wide, separated by cracks. Nearly every crack system is climbable, from tiny seams to offwidths, and concentrated routes make for convenient cragging.

Over the past two decades, the Oak Creek Waterfall near Flagstaff, Arizona, has developed into one of the country’s best traditional climbing areas. Stories about the beautiful splitters of Paradise Forks hint at Arizona’s wealth of excellent basalt crack climbing, but the Waterfall (as it’s called by locals) has raised the bar for quality and difficulty. Currently holding over 120 climbs from 5.10 to 5.13+, the Waterfall is the crown jewel of Arizona’s basalt climbing.

Perched on the rim of Oak Creek Canyon between Flagstaff and Sedona, this expansive amphitheater of volcanic rock was deposited in a series of lava flows around six million years ago. Over time, the rushing waters of Oak Creek eroded and exposed the cliffs to form the 300-foot columns. The crag is named for a 250-foot cascade that, during spring runoff and summer thunderstorms, gushes over the center of the wall and pours down to feed Oak Creek.

Tim Toula, guidebook author and first ascentionist, pioneered the first few Waterfall routes in the 1980s. He climbed the most prominent and protectable cracks: No Feelings (5.10), a beautiful twin-crack feature with an improbable roof finish, and Double Clutching (5.11-), a varied line that traverses a series of roofs.