NYC Bouldering Guide

Rat Rock/North Face
Preface, Access and Natural History
History, Ethics, Ratings, Disclaimer and Acknowledgements
Rat Rock/North Face
Rat Rock/North Face 2
Rat Rock East Face
Rat Rock/East Face 2
Cat Rock
Cat Rock 2
Chess Rock
Ramble Rock
Bethesda Boulder
Naturalist Boulder
Vista Rock
Vista Rock 2
Riverside Park
Great Hill Cliffs
Worthless Boulder
Roadside Boulder
Fort Tryon Park
Inwood Park

Sure there's good climbing gyms in the city but sometimes it's just better to be outside.

Rat Rock is accessed easily from either the Columbus Circle or 7th Avenue entrance at the southwest corner of Central Park.  Adjacent to the Heckscher Children's Playground and south of the Heckscher softball fields, walk to the north or east side of the large rock formation.  Officially labeled Umpire Rock by the City Parks and Recreation Department, climbers have named it for its smaller and more permanent residents.

John Blumenthal running laps. 1988

This area, consisting of two separate faces on a very large boulder, has the most popular and some of the most difficult climbing in Central Park.  It is also an excellent meeting place for climbers.
Before 1987, most local climbers had been content to repeat only the well-established lines.   At the time, only two or three individuals were capable of climbing Testpiece (referred to back them as "5.11 Direct") and then only the bottom half.  People talked of the High Traverse on the north face, but no one did it.  Only infrequently did local or visiting climbers look to new problems or attempt a severe one.  The Rat Rock scene was, in a word, quiescent.  This, of course, inevitably changed.  First, there was the Japanese contingent of Yuki, Komba and Tamaki.  These three were determined, passionate climbers who all sought problems of greater difficulty and complexity, seeking to establish a level of technique in their moves that approached artistry.  Then came two relative novices, Nick Falacci and Jeff Dahlgren, who quickly became bitten by the climbing bug and who both brought an ambitious quality to their climbing.  They were the ones out at Rat Rock on 30 degree winter days, unable to not climb for more than a few days at a time.  Then came a collection of experienced and talented climbers who had returned to the sport with renewed interest.  John Blumenthal, Sandy Mah and Chris Gonzalez brought years of refined techniqe to the mix and pushed the entire local scene to new, higher standards.
Getting things rolling, the Japanese contingent established Tweaky Shit.  Soon after, Nick Falacci managed put up Rat Patrol after an all-day ordeal.  A visiting Yosemite climber put together Ratraverse in an afternoon.  Jeff Dahlgren nabbed the first known ascent of the No-Feet variation of the Overhanging (Polish) Traverse.  Sandy Mah, a former Eldorado activist, re-established "5.11 Direct" with a new committing direct mantle finish.  Jeff Dahlgren then eliminated the big foot bulge out right from the opening moves, eliminated the prominent rail for the left hand and thus created a perfect directissima line that was far more graceful and powerful than the original problem, bumping up the grade to V4.  John Blumethal and Nick Falacci make quick repeats of the problem and due to its more difficult nature, it reverted to its older, simpler and original name -- Testpiece.
Not long after that, a whole contingent of lcoals including Blumenthal, Dahlgren, Falacci and David Sowerby pieced together a crimpy, technical low traverse of the east face called Bottom Line.  Eventually the moves were linked together by Blumethal and Dahlgren.  Possibly the only two climbers to have done the whole line as a key hold at the crux broke shortly after.  The Japanese contingent responded quickly with Komba putting up a wild, unlikely and futuristic problem under the overhanging west side.  Komba's Roof (aka Rat Trap) has since seen only a small number of complete ascents since then.
Rat Rock has never seen so much chalk or activity.  Potential for new problems dried up quickly.  Climbers were forced to create even wilder, more contrived eliminates.  Death by Dizzy, Falacci's complete traverse of the east face, was more of an endurance and nerve test than technical boulder problem and it seemed to announce the end of this era of frantic problem-finding.
However, Rat Rock would never be the same.  It never returned completely to the casual, mellow uncrowded scene of yesteryear.  New wave after new wave of strong climbers discovered its ability to delight and perplex.  A contingent of Polish climbers arrived and made the Overhanging Traverse their own, creating new beta, new variations, until they conquered even the name of the problem:  The Polish Traverse.  Since then, large rocks were removed from beneath the far end of the overhanging traverse, enabling the ability of climbers to create new problems directly under the last big block of overhanging rock, e.g. Smack The Dragon.  During all this time, Yuki, the sensei of Rat Rock continued to find new variations were few thought they existed.  A new standard of difficulty was brought to the area when another new variation to Komba's Roof/Rat Trap was added:  Sammy's Bulge  V12.  (This guide prefers not to give official names to problems that include a climber's name in -- which is in keeping with this guide's FA policy.  Until Mr. Dahlman offers a new name of his own making, this guide will refer to the problem as Belly of the Beast.) 
As of this current edition of the guide in 2015, one could make the argument that Rat Rock is completely climbed out.  There are no new problems to be found.  However, given what I have witnessed over the past 30 years, I would not bet my money on that. 

1.   Rat Rock Traverse  V0+  **
Start:  At small "starter" flake on the overhanging right side of the north face.
Go:  Traverse left without using the top.  Return right.
The most frequently climbed problem in the park.
2.  High Traverse  V1
Start:  Same as Rat Rock Traverse.
Go:  After making the opening move of Rat Rock Traverse, move into a higher traverse, using hand holds 6" to 1 1/2' above the easier ones on Rat Rock Traverse.
3.  Low Traverse  V3
Start:  Same as Rat Rock Traverse.
Go:  Move immediately down a right-leaning crack just left of the starter flake.  At the bottom, move left into the right-facing flake, using only the right side of the flake.  Continue left (crux) using handholds generally at chest level.  If any hold feels "good" it is probably "off-route."


4.  The Exterminator  V5 *
Start:  At the very bottom of the right-leaning crack mentioned in the Low Traverse.
Go:  Traverse left into right-facing flake staying even lower than the Low Traverse.  Match hands on the bottom of the right-facing flake, reach out left for a side pull, reset feet, snatch the two-finger knob with the right hand, reset feet, match on side pull and continue with the same finish as Low Traverse.
5.  The Maze  V3   (extremely contrived)
Start:  On the left side of the north face.
Go:  Move right to sloping side pull beneath the finger jam/slot.  (Avoid the finger jam/slot.)  Bump right hand to small side pull fin just above finger jam/slot.  Reset feet and cross over to irregular crack just below the top.  Move right to small finger dish.  Left hand matches on side pull part of the same hold.  Right moves straight down to the bucket hold on the large middle crack.  Match.  Reach right to small side pull, reset feet, cross over with left hand to good high hold just below top.  Move right into crack.  Then down another shallow crack and eventually to the bottom of the large right-leaning crack, then up to starter flake and finish with either of the traverses listed above.


Vadim Marcovallo still rocking the traverse after all these years.

©  Copyright Nicolas Falacci 1988 - 2015