A view of Wall 2, showing the rap stations and walk off/scramble for the left side routes.
With a few sparse and singular exceptions, Santa Barbara has always lacked decent crack climbing in quantity. Happily, that has now changed. Tucked away in a hidden canyon are more than 60 full crack/gear routes (primarily from 5.6 to 5.9 and mostly 90+ feet in length). Seems impossible, right?
Wall 3 Tower and some of the lower right & left flanks. (Note team on top and also climbers on the bottom, right of center.) Photo by Jan Roestel.
Panic Town is a series of five sandstone walls arrayed up the canyon behind Arlington Ridge. The area is reminiscent of San Ysidro with a shaded base under oaks, sycamores and bays then breaks out into towering south-facing crack systems; the difference being that these are all gear-exclusive, long trad lines that require good anchor building skills. (Fortunately, most of the top-outs are near solid oaks trees, sling-able boulders and/or excellent slots.)
The first three walls at Panic Town.
Of course, most local climbers loathe approaches (seems silly if you've invested in trad gear), but in the time it takes to drive to Sespe, you can easily tick off a couple of long routes at Panic Town, and be ready for dozens more. Almost all of the climbs are steeper than the Black Wall, too. Many of the cracks are reminiscent of Joshua Tree (if Joshua Tree were all sandstone and moderate). And what makes this truly worth the 30-40 minute hike, is that after several hours of climbing, you can exit the canyon, turn left and be swimming in the spring-fed pools in a couple of minutes. (And, there are two deepish-water solo problems above Pool 2, FYI.)
Keep in mind that this is all virgin rock, and has only been tended to over the last couple of years. There's still a fair amount of vegetation cropping up in the cracks (naturally), so don't expect everything to be pristine. A number of routes were cleaned over the last couple of months (as recently as 4/19/14), so any additional gardening you do on route will be much appreciated by all.
Trevor Marks making things a bit safer for those yet to climb on the FA of "Nice, Fresh Breath" (6/10/12)
A note of warning: If the winds really start picking up, you should exit the canyon. There will always be hazards (falling trees and large blocks) that come down every time there are major gusts. Area Ethic - No Bolts All routes were climbed onsight, ground up with requisite gardening and trundling done on lead. Additional cleaning was done after the FAs. The ethic for this canyon is, and should always remain, bolt-less. There are a few modest rap stations in key areas to save damage to the oak trees and manzanitas on top (two stations on Wall 2, since a 70m will not get you to the ground). All the face climbs between the cracks should remain clean. Feel free to TR them or set pro in adjacent cracks, but there is absolutely no reason that any of the face lines should be bolted. (Also note that they've already been climbed, but haven't been named beyond a few exceptions.) This canyon was developed because there isn't any comparable trad climbing in the entire county. If you feel the need to clip bolts or put up yet another sandstone crimp-job, please go elsewhere.
(Onsite ground-up gardening? What does that mean?) Ches Upham getting ready to thrash through some unforgiving oak up left on the FA of "Monsters," while Alex Lau has his own problems on "The State of My Tractor." (5/28/12)
Acknowledgements Panic Town has been a labor of love/work in progress for several years. All the trundling, weed pulling, rock fall, poison oak rashes, gouges, bee stings, rattlesnake strikes and general unpleasantness was endured by a group of great and dedicated climbers, namely: Menzo & Linda Baird, Alex Lau, Trevor Marks, Christian Maurer, Jan Roestel, Ches Upham, Chris Wing, Phil Woods and Jeff Mahoney. If you happen to run across any of them, tell them thanks for helping establish this unique climbing area (and then buy them a beer).
The first ascents team.
(Lat/Long: 34.47856, -119.70599) You're basically taking the Jesusita Trail to Mission Creek, then heading up the canyon 1/3 mile (just before 3 Pools). Average approach time is 30-45 minutes from the car.
Panic Town reference perspective. (Looking WNW from Tunnel Trail.) Stay along the 3 Pools/Mission Canyon trail (white line, roughly), not up to Arlington.
Start at the Tunnel trailhead and follow the road to the end, then stay straight on the dirt to the Jesusita junction.
Stay straight (leftish) at the end of of the asphalt road.
Follow this to the creek and across. About 60' up the creek on the left side, you'll see a short, loose scramble past an oak tree that takes you above 7 Falls.
At the hairpin that takes you down and across the creek, cut right early and across, then up the obvious scramble left.
At the 7 Falls overlook junction with the start of the Arlington/Cathedral trail, stay straight on the traversing trail that heads up the canyon.
At the lookout point above 7 Falls, stay straight on the contour trail (don't head up toward Arlington).
If you've been to 3 Pools, this is where you're headed. Stay on the trail until it ends at a 15' 3rd class wall with obvious footholds and a diagonal ledge.
The 3rd class wall at the end of the path.
Past this is Theology Crag. Stay in the creekbed and boulder hop for another 350 yards, until you see a boulder with a sporadic cairn and a path leading left.
Leaving the dry creek bed.
After 80' look up and left and you'll see the right end of Wall 1. (If you get to the first pool, you've gone too far. Backtrack about 100'.)
Just before you hear the creek babbling (year-round, regardless of how bone-dry the approach might be).
Head up this canyon and that's it. (The entrance has been cleared and is now wide and passable, but still be mindful of the poison oak. Even though we've pulled out hundreds of pounds of it, along with the bramble, it will always be lurking.)
The attractive lightning bolt line below the big oak tree on the right side of Wall 3 Tower. Alex Lau enjoying the wonderful fingers following on the FA of "I Wanna Be Your Pussy Cat" A contender for the best finger-crack route in the area (if only the upper part were a lot longer, alas). Head straight up to the horizontal, step right and go. The rock is on the soft side and skidaddly down low but gear will become abundant. Sew it up or just enjoy the ride. Build an anchor off the tree. It's a good idea to set up a toprope and run a lap on "What on Earth?" and/or "Cow" a...[more]Browse More Classics in CA
I gotta admit, when Jeff first told me about Panic Town, I was skeptical. I've searched and bushwhacked the canyons behind SB looking for routes, only to have my hopes repeatedly dashed. And how many times have you heard an overzealous local touting "untapped potential" in thar hills?
Panic Town may have a "long" approach by some standards, but when you factor in house-to-crag time, and the sheer number of vertical feet available, Panic Town is not only a convenient destination, it might be the best moderate mecca for gear-heads within a two-hour radius. If you're considering a long weekend drive to Yosemite to log some hours on 5.7-5.8 cracks, consider saving money and check out Panic Town. It won't replace the Big Ditch, but it will get you ready for bigger objectives abroad, while providing good local flavor in the meantime.
I've only climbed a handful of the prominent cracks, but all were fun, well-protected(ish), and tall.
Ya radical - super impressive and inspiring work! Thanks for the strong efforts - pretty amazing find, sorta sums up the central coast trad dream right there. Hope to check out the climbs soon and pitchers will be on me if I run into any of yall at the brewhouse.
Wow, someone even more optimistic than me when it comes to "that could be a good crag." Tried to scurry up interest in this place but no one was willing to invest, even with Dr. K telling everyone he'd lead the charge. Excellent vision as to what is possible. Congrats! Hopefully it'll get enough use to stay this way.
One comment and one question: seems like after all that work, you'd have given those walls actual names. The PO Wall, Garden from Hell... just a couple of things that come to mind.
Finally, what do the "modest rap stations" consist of?
Thanks, Steve. Yep, lots out there to climb if you're not expecting a "Crag o'" approach.
Given the immediate and sequential nature of the walls in the canyon (and the fact that routes were going up everywhere right away) Wall 1, 2, 3, etc. was just the default. Hopefully, in time, we'll see some nicknames that are more characteristic and descriptive that eventually stick. (It was truly a temple of doom situation when we first went up there---everything could've been called the PO Wall and/or Garden from Hell.) We'll be bulk loading routes for "Invisible Wall" soon (the sport area in Cold Spring Canyon---I sent you an email about a year or two ago. Deb said you and Bob had been looking at it) which has more creative-ish names for the walls.
Lastly, the "modest rap stations" are primarily camo'd single-ring Fixe 1/2" anchors (4.5 to 6" lengths) in pairs, with the exception of the right side of Wall 2 and there's just a single. (People were fine rapping off a chipmunk-chewed piece of 5/8" webbing around a small oak on a single Walmart ring, but seem to need convincing on a solid 1/2" bolt---go figure.) Here's what they look like.
Oh, man. What an awesome place. I can't remember the last time that I had such an enjoyable outing in Santa Barbara. Despite afternoon temps in the 80s, we found the area to be pleasantly shaded.
Our initial hike in took about an hour (I'm sure we could get that down to 45 minutes on our second attempt). We had a little difficulty knowing when to leave the dry creek bed to head up the side canyon that is home to Panic Town. Fortunately, there were cairns marking the way.
WAIT! Were you there on Saturday? Damn, we were up on 5 doing maintenance. The few things I heard wafting up the canyon were quite complimentary, haha. Wait until you get on the some of the other routes. (Ping me next time.)
But, thanks, Matthew. Yeah, kind of a shocker: lots (and lots) of legitimate trad in S.B. Still seems impossible, but thankfully it ain't.
(And thanks for adding the pic of where to leave the creekbed. I have the same shot, but waited to post it until we cut up the big bay tree that recently fell and was closing off the trail just past there. You were lucky we were an hour or so ahead of you and got most of it trimmed and moved out of the way. Ah, timing...)
This area is fantastic. It is a Mecca for moderate trad! If you're one of the few trad climbers in Santa Barbara, you have to check this place out. Thank you so much for those who worked hard to make this place accessible to the climbing community!