Bouldering in Joe’s Valley, Utah, USA with Chris Healy
Bouldering is one of those sports that always catches attention, and with the rise of bouldering only climbing gyms it’s pretty clear that there is a huge heart for stripping climbing back to its very essentials. With a huge social scene, bouldering can open up a whole world of possibility, gets you out into nature in a different way and improves your problem-solving skills massively to boot. Joe’s Valley in Utah is synonymous with the bouldering community, what makes it a gem within this landscape is its remote location but most of the problems are also accessible within a few minutes’ walk in. With a huge range of problems to be solved in the area, coupled with its close to Salt Lake City location makes it the perfect place to try something new.
When we pulled up at the local grocery store carpark at the closest town to Joe’s, the first thing we saw was a sign that read ‘We take care of our climbers’. Almost seconds later, La Sportiva & Friction Labs sponsored athlete Chris Healy rolls the door of his van across and waves us over. We’d been speaking to Chris for the past couple of months and couldn’t wait to see what he was going to show us that day. Admittedly, we’d always been really mesmerised by bouldering – we both had experience climbing with ropes but there was something about bouldering that felt pretty liberating to us. As we chatted with Chris, he asked us if we’d ever tried bouldering and we looked at each other and laughed as we regaled our silly tale of the feeling of success we’d felt when trying out bouldering at our local climbing gym only to find that when we topped out it was the children’s wall. The day was getting hot and we headed off to the heart of Joe’s Valley to spend the day being shown around this incredible area and all it had to offer. Throughout the day, Chris showed us some of the lesser known or perhaps less celebrated problems in the area.
Chris grew up in St. George, Utah, which is where he started climbing when he was 21. He started climbing on a rope for about the first year. It was pretty casual for him, going out only once or twice a month. But after this period, he started bouldering with some friends and that’s when climbing became a major part of his life. About 3 years in he moved to the Salt Lake area to pursue a degree in Philosophy. Of course, with this came new-to-him climbing areas, one of the major one’s being Joe’s Valley. In total Chris has been climbing for 7.5 years and has climbed up to V10.
Why do you love bouldering?
I prefer bouldering to all other forms of climbing because it allows me to go solo and the problem is right in front of you. You aren’t looking 50 ft up wondering what the holds are like up there. With bouldering the entire puzzle is displayed right before your eyes. It’s all very concise and digestible. Aside from this and all other reasoning and fancy thoughts of why I prefer bouldering to other forms of climbing, it really comes down to the fact that I just like it better. It’s just something I enjoy doing.
What makes the area unique to you as a boulderer?
I think maybe the ease of access and freedom it offers. Many other climbing areas have certain restrictions and such, but Joe’s is wild and free. You can hike and camp almost anywhere, and the area doesn’t close at a certain time each day. You don't need a guide. There is no entrance fee or anything like that. You are free to use the area as you will, respectfully of course. The style of climbing is also fairly straight forward most of the time, with the rock being of high quality and pleasant to climb on. Plus, there’s a lot of it! Overall Joe’s offers a rather comfortable and pleasant experience because of these things.
Is it the only place like this around Salt Lake City?
Little Cottonwood Canyon is another major climbing area around Salt Lake. It’s even closer to Salt Lake than Joe’s is, but the style in Little Cottonwood tends to require very specific weather conditions (cold and dry), more-so than normal, which makes it tricky to be successful there on a regular basis. Along with this, the problems aren’t as well known. Though neither area has a currently available guide book, the Joe’s book (that is now out of print) was written more recently, making information about the area and the problems more known to people. Since the last Little Cottonwood book was written so long ago, the information has become a bit more obscure and lesser known since that time. There is also no camping in Little Cottonwood, making it difficult for non-locals without a place to stay in town. Overall Joe’s is easier to navigate because of these things. There are plenty of other area’s too, but they tend to be much smaller, more obscure, and off the beaten path.
Why do people choose Joe’s over other locations?
I think it has something to do with the quantity and quality of the problems and the ease of access. It’s just a cool place overall!
How did you get into bouldering and what is so special for you about the area?
I don't know how exactly I got into bouldering specifically. I started climbing because of this cliff in Zion that I wanted to get to the top of. There is a very steep scramble up the back, and one section required actual climbing. So, my dad and I bought some climbing shoes and started climbing. Overtime my goals changed and we never actually pursued that route. I always joke that I got distracted by bouldering and I still am.
Joe’s is special to me mainly because of the amount of time I’ve spent there and the experiences that have come with it. I’ve had many breakthroughs in my climbing there, including my first V10. It’s also a place that I feel offers a bit of an escape, a way to recover from everyday life. The area is pretty remote, even to the point to where you lose cell phone service for most of where the climbing is. It’s a nice place to just go recharge so to speak.
Is the area suitable for a huge range of skill levels? Please elaborate...
For the most part, yes. Grades from V0-V14 exist with many untouched boulders waiting to be developed. I do think that very new beginners might have a challenging time, but I think that goes for just about everywhere. Bouldering is not an easy pursuit! Having climbed in many other areas around the world, Joe’s is not particularly tough nor particularly easy on this front. It seems to sit right in the middle. Once you get used to the style and such, things become much more accessible. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is a learning curve if you are brand new to climbing, but that learning curve in Joe’s is pretty moderate and not super high like in other areas I’ve experienced. I think the established climber will find Joe’s very accessible. Overall, I have yet to meet anyone of any skill level that does not have a good time in Joe’s.
Problems we covered:
Bring the Heathole
Fly The Sky
Joe's Valley is outside of Orangeville, UT. After leaving the town you can either take a right onto Route 57 to go to New Joe's, or go straight on until the road branches to the Left and Right forks. Joe’s Valley is about a two-hour drive from Salt Lake City.
Where to stay:
Huntington State Park (45 minutes north of Joe’s)
Millsite State Park (45 minutes south of Joes)
Hotels & Motels
Best time to visit:
The best time to visit Joe’s Valley is in the Spring or Autumn, but the weather is also variable enough that you can be lucky all year round.
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