Ascending Santa Barbara


“This obsession is a curious thing. Sometimes I wonder about the merits of devoting so much of myself to a singular climbing objective. Much of the time it beats me down, leaves me hanging my head in despair. But then there are the moments that bring me to life.” -Tommy Caldwell

Photo courtesy of Cade McLean

As rock climbing has evolved from the grueling aided mountaineering projects of the 1960s to scaling vibrant polyurethane features found on 50 foot walls in climbing gyms scattered around the country, it is easy to say that the popularity of the activity is increasing rapidly, both around the world and in our own community. Throughout the week, those looking for an adventure, workout, challenge, or thrill grab their tight rubber-soled shoes and tote small bags filled with chalk in hopes of freeing their minds and having a good time, whether that be on an artificial wall at the SB Rock Gym or beautiful and rough sandstone faces packed into our Santa Ynez mountains.

Climbing has something for everyone. This day and age, most people get their first experiences climbing at climbing gyms, indoors. More often than not, it is a birthday party, summer camp, or an invite from a friend that draws people into these vertical playgrounds. The SB Rock Gym is a perfect place to start, with a wide range of difficulty in the bouldering section, and a collection of easy toprope routes. For those unfamiliar with these terms, bouldering consists of short, physical climbing on a smaller rock usually ranging from 8-20 feet tall. When you boulder, you are not attached to rope. On the flip side, for toprope and sport climbing, you are tied into a rope and connected to your belayer. A sport climber works to ascend faces ranging from 25 to 100 feet tall. At the Santa Barbara Rock Gym, you can find climbers of all skill levels and it is a very easy place to make friends and socialize while you work out problems on the wall. 

When asked what makes the SB Rock Gym a fun place to be, senior and relatively new climber Juan Escobar replied, 

Photo courtesy of Cade McLean

“You meet new people, you’ll be struggling with a climb and someone else that is watching gives you advice to help reach the top, and then a conversation starts.” It is not difficult to make conversation with buddies and strangers with such an enjoyable shared interest.  

After gaining confidence within the safety of your local gym, the natural next step is to take your skills to the great outdoors. Luckily, Santa Barbara and Ventura county has a near endless amount of outdoor climbing, with California boasting some of the most famous rock climbing areas in the country and even the world, such as Yosemite Valley, Bishop, and Joshua Tree. Here in Santa Barbara, climbers can easily access their own slice of heaven, with hundreds of routes only minutes away in our local mountains. Stand out spots for bouldering on our classic central coast sandstone include Lizard’s Mouth, Skofield Park, and The Brickyard. If you are looking for roped climbs, The Playground, Fire Crags, and Gibraltar Rock have plenty to offer. It is worth mentioning that you can get information on nearly every outdoor climb in the country on the free app Mountain Project, created by REI. 

The climbing community is not a small one, and it is full of friendly people ready to share their passion with those willing to give it a chance. 

“I love climbing because it’s the perfect combination of physical and mental challenges. It’s also very individualistic. Everyone climbs in their own style and depends mostly on themselves to climb,” reports Hazem Alshaikhmubarak, an experienced climber whom you can often find sending difficult boulder problems off West Camino Cielo and inside Rock Gym on a given day. If you are interested in climbing, do not be shy to ask a friend for their one day guest pass or for a ride with them up to the sandstone abundantly strewn across our Santa Ynez mountains. Giving climbing a try is not  something you will regret, and you will not want to miss out on what Santa Barbara has to offer.