Rugged Emigrant Lake walls are great for rock climbing

Sophie Stiles works her way down a rock face at the Emigrant Lake rock-climbing area.

Emigrant Lake, located just east of Ashland, is much loved by local residents for its ideal summertime setting. But even though I was born and raised in the area, I never knew it was home to some of Southern Oregon's best rock climbing.

I recently went with some friends from Rogue Rock Gym to check it out. While almost every route has bolts in place for sport climbing, the setting is not ideal for lead climbing. The walls are rugged, and many of the climb rocks lie in different planes. This makes falling on lead a huge risk for injury — sprained ankles, in particular. But thankfully, it is the ideal situation for top roping.

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For non-climbers, top-rope climbing is a style in which a rope, used for the climber's safety, runs from a person (a belayer) at the foot of the climb through one or more carabiners connected to an anchor system at the top of the climb and back down to the climber, and the person on belay takes out slack as the climber ascends.

In lead climbing, by contrast, the belayer feeds slack to the climber as he or she places protection and attaches the rope while ascending.

At Emigrant Lake, the routes range in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.11 on the Yosemite Decimal Rating System (the higher the number, the more difficult the climb), so if you're wanting to try outdoor climbing for the first time, this is a great place to do so.

To reach the climbing area from Medford, take the second Ashland exit off Interstate 5, go left on Highway 66 and follow the signs to Emigrant Lake.

After entering the park, follow the road into the campground. Parking costs $4. At the end of the campground there's a parking area in front of the approach trailhead. Follow the trail along the waterline until you reach the rocks. The easy routes are farther up the hill, while the more difficult routes are on the waterline.

If you follow the approach trail to the end, a light scramble will lead you to the top of the cliffs. There are plenty of bolts that will allow you to set up anchors that will make any route available for top roping.

As you climb, don't forget to turn and take in the peaceful view behind you. It's a bouquet of earthy colors — the blue shade of the mountains, the lake's sparkling green and the brown outline of the bank. But one thing stands out among the rest: the unmistakable view of Pilot Rock towering over the hills of the State of Jefferson.

Sophie Stiles lives in Medford.


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