Canyons and Cattle


In retrospect, Roy, NM may have been an ambitious choice as a first climbing destination for this trip. Geographic convenience and average seasonal temperatures can have a huge impact on where we choose to climb. Roy is nearing the end of its viable climbing season, getting far too hot and rattlesnake infested during the late spring and summer, making an early stop necessary. It also happens to be roughly on our route to the Promised Lands of granite domes further West. Reading through the New Mexico Bouldering Guide, published in the past year, I was prepared for the idea that this destination wouldn’t be quite like the others we had been to in the past. Longer approaches, fewer nearby amenities, and tall, really tall, committing lines being the norm. These elements make bouldering in Roy challenging, and particularly so for those of us who haven’t been on rock for a few months. We ended up heading out after a few days, having briefly checked out a couple major areas detailed in the guidebook; knowing there was more to see, but exhausted at the prospect. This shouldn’t be taken as a negative review, however. Bouldering in Roy is a truly extraordinary experience, and when prepared for, would be exceptionally rewarding.

The boulders themselves are scattered throughout the canyons of the Canadian River within the Kiowa National Grasslands, about 15kms north of the town of Roy. Many are found in mostly dry riverbeds, and on the canyon edges, resulting in some scrambling and jumbled landing zones, but not as much as might be expected. That is lucky, because, as I mentioned, the boulders here are big. The guidebook uses exclamation marks beside a problem description to indicate how ‘highball’ it is. We found that one exclamation was usually pushing the limits of what we were comfortable with, and many lines that had no highball rating at all would have been considered as such, were they in Ontario. We didn’t even look at lines that warranted two exclamations. Here is “Beautiful Pig”, a neo-classic line in the Jumbles area, that should give you an idea of what one exclamation looks like.

What might not be obvious from this picture is the amazing rock quality and movement found on many of Roy’s boulders. I climbed moderate problems three days in a row and my skin hardly sustained any damage. The sandstone holds are unique and ergonomic, many having that quality of ‘wanting to be touched’ that draws climbers to a problem. Best of all, the rubber and chalk varnish that cover many classics in other bouldering areas are notably absent here! Those willing to make the journey will be rewarded with technically intriguing, mentally committing, and above all, memorable climbing. While I wouldn’t recommend Roy to those just starting out climbing outdoors, if you are confident at moderate and harder grades you will have plenty to get psyched on.

Regardless of how hard you pull, I would encourage other visitors to either buy the guidebook (New Mexico Bouldering by Owen Summerscales), go with friends familiar with the area, or ideally, both. Merissa and I visited during the week (Mon-Thurs) and didn’t meet any other climbers the entire time so the guidebook was indispensable. The Kiowa Grasslands have complex land ownership and particular access considerations that are important for visitors to respect, not to mention the canyons and plateaus are huge – it would be easy to get lost. The main campground is fairly obvious, but beyond that a guide – human or book, is a huge help. Here are some quick observations and tips for visiting Roy:

  • Access to some of the bouldering areas crosses grazing land and you will encounter gates on the way. Climbers can pass through these gates but must close them again. If you encounter a gate that is open, err on the side of caution and close it anyway once you have passed through.
  • 4WD is not necessary, but would be helpful in some cases.
  • The Mills Canyon Rim campground has vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. It is an amazing campground considering it is free. There are other primitive camping areas to be found as well.
  • Bring your own water, lots of it!
  • Expect fairly solid to stiff grading, many lines are committing up high so work up to those at your limit.
  • Mills Canyon and the Grasslands are an outstanding and relatively wild bouldering location, take the time to appreciate and respect your surroundings.

Next stop is Flagstaff and the limestone roofs of Priest Draw. Cheers!



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