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Erik Leidecker Revisits City of Rocks
Posted on October 26, 2015

Morning Glory Spire (the Incisor) and the Anteater (right). Climbers are nearing the summit of Morning Glory via Skyline (5.8).

Idaho’s City of Rocks has long been known as one of the world’s best sport climbing destinations. In the ’90s it drew elite climbers at the edge of the sport, but when the pros migrated elsewhere in search of limestone, “the City” retained its pull for climbers hitting the road in search of a solid trip, with stunning routes and cragside camping. No stranger to fall trips to the City, Eddie Bauer guide and Idaho resident Erik Leidecker rendezvoused at the City with fellow teammates David Morton and Jake Norton, both to revisit the classic routes and to introduce their families to the classic experience of climbing in this world-class, family-friendly venue. —LYA Editor

Erik stretched out on Animal Cracker (5.10a), Animal Cracker Dome

Words by Erik Leidecker, Images by Jeremiah Watt

Every time I climb Crack of Doom, a laser-cut 5.11 splitter on Morning Glory Spire that gradually widens from tips to fists, I’m astounded by Ogden, Utah, climber Greg Lowe’s first ascent of this route in 1968. He managed this without sticky rubber or modern protection—an incredible achievement. Lowe’s ascent of Crack of Doom was likely one of the hardest free climbs in the country in its day.

Even with the benefit of light cams, techy shoes, and probably a dozen previous laps on the thing, Crack of Doom is still not a foregone conclusion. So it was with some trepidation that I launched into the opening moves in the waning light of a blustery, end-of-summer day this past September. With me were Eddie Bauer teammates David Morton and Jake Norton, and this was our final day together at City of Rocks, a complex maze of granite fins, walls, and towers located in southeast Idaho. We brought our families with us for nearly a week of climbing and camping in what was once one of the premier sport climbing venues in the world. As chill and supportive as these guys are, I was aware of a certain measure of performance anxiety, and when I clipped the chains at the top of the route, I felt a sense of accomplishment similar to that when I first sent Crack of Doom nearly twenty years earlier.


At that time in the early ’90s, “the City” had already begun to fall out of vogue with the world’s elite climbers, many of whom had flocked to the area in search of 5.13 granite test pieces such as Tony Yaniro’s Calypso (5.13d) on the Dolphin. But in the United States, as in Europe, limestone climbing was becoming all the rage. And at the City, access to the hard climbing became restricted. The Dolphin, home to the highest concentration of 5.13s at the City, is located on private property, and the landowner frowned on trespassing. By the mid ’90s, the golden age of route development and cutting-edge sport climbing at the City had come to an end.

But the City remains one of the most magical places to climb in the United States and has become an increasingly popular destination for climbers with kids. The landscape and rock formations are right out of a child’s imagination, and it’s not surprising that kids love the City.  The camping isn’t relegated to outside the park boundaries, and is in fact nestled into the same fantastic and improbable features on which the climbing takes place. Even though the climbing illuminati have moved on to the latest and greatest limestone crag, the City of Rocks remains one of my favorite places in the country to climb.

One of the challenges of climbing at the City for me is fighting the fear of the “un-send” a funny term I heard recently from a guiding colleague, which refers to falling off a climb that you had previously flashed or redpointed. On this trip we climbed many routes that I hadn’t been on for years, and in some cases, decades! Unfortunately, on at least one of these, including the amazing Beware of Nesting Egos (5.11b) on Elephant Rock, I got the “un-send” when I fell entering the crux section. For any given climb, I try to focus on the quality of the rock, the enjoyable movement, and the challenge of the ascent, but I’d be lying if I said the grades didn’t matter. Certainly the nesting ego inside of me was slightly bruised when I pitched off this route.


These days at the City, though, my own nesting ego isn’t the only one I have to worry about. Both my daughters, Sascha (13) and Svea (11), made their first leads at the City on this trip. Along with my wife, Gretchen, we made a Leidecker family ascent of the 4-pitch Little Time (5.7) on Lone Rock. Sascha and Svea swapped turns on the sharp end, with each of them leading two pitches. Both girls have been doing a lot of indoor climbing and they floated effortlessly through the cruxes. I was surprised by and proud of how easily and confidently they lead above their protection, and I was excited by how much they seemed to enjoy leading.

In the future at the City, I look forward to watching where climbing takes Sascha and Svea. Instead of worrying about whether or not I’ll fall off a route I’ve climbed 5 times before, I’ll worry instead if they’ll fall off it! Regardless of which one of us gets the send (or the un-send!), it’s exciting to anticipate years of climbing together at this remarkable venue in our home state.

"Dad, that was definitely not 5.12!"

Learn more about Eddie Bauer guide Erik Leidecker at








Author: - Monday, October 26th, 2015

  1. Harriett

    I wish I were a kid again with fun parents (again) and awesome gear (not back then)! Wish we could all go!

  2. Rick

    Great story and images! I really miss living in proximity to the City, truly a special place.

  3. Diane

    Great pictures…..lucky people.

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