TWIN FALLS — A house-sized basalt boulder in Auger Falls Heritage Park became a beginner-friendly rock climbing destination this month as a college professor finished developing the city-owned park’s first fixed climbing routes.
“Moss Rock was a labor of love,” College of Southern Idaho climbing instructor Shawn Willsey said. “I spent tens of hours cleaning and prepping this scruffy little cliff.”
Why the name Moss Rock? Dumped near the falls by the Bonneville Flood about 17,400 years ago, the boulder had gathered moss on its sheltered, cooler north side, where Willsey envisioned his four fixed-anchor climbing routes.
The attractions: a highly featured rock with cracks, edges and pockets for toe- and handholds, a less-than-vertical north face and a gently sloped south side. A climber can simply walk up that south side to hang gear and a rope from the top-rope anchors — no need for a lead climber.
“This spot is perfect for families with small kids just learning to climb,” said Twin Falls climber Laura Allen, whose husband helped Willsey scrub moss and mud off the new climbing routes and remove loose rocks.
Willsey and the climbers who use Moss Rock are taking advantage of the absence of a city policy on rock climbing at the Auger Falls park. City Hall doesn’t have one at city-owned Dierkes Lake either, a heavily used climbing destination where development of bolted routes began more than 25 years old.
“We don’t regulate climbing in our parks,” Twin Falls Parks and Recreation Director Wendy Davis said Tuesday after consulting with the city’s attorney. “We neither prohibit nor condone climbing in our parks.”
And that may have to be good enough for climbers.
“We’re never going to welcome and … say, ‘Hey we’ve got these great climbing areas, come climb at Auger Falls.’ We’re never going to say that,” Davis said.
Climbers hope city leaders will never say the opposite, either.
“Remember we are on city land and continued access depends on how we behave as climbers,” Willsey wrote in a Facebook post to the Southern Idaho Climbing Coalition, which he chairs. “Please tread lightly here, pack out your trash, keep a low profile, be respectful to bicyclists and hikers, and put earbuds in if you have to listen to music.”
The Bonneville Flood deposited boulders the size of small cars all along the Snake River, said Willsey, who’s also a CSI geology professor. But around Auger Falls is the only stretch of the Snake where the flood left boulders the size of Moss Rock.
Two of those boulders caught Willsey’s attention after a big 2010 fire burned away the park’s trees.
“I’d stop my bike and look at a boulder and say, ‘There could be something there,’” he said last week, visiting Moss Rock with Allen and her family.
After asking a CSI anthropology professor to check the two boulders for petroglyphs or evidence of Native American dwellings, Willsey started developing the one he dubbed Moss Rock last fall — testing the routes and consulting other climbers before finally drilling in fixed anchors.
By last week’s visit, the Allens had already climbed at Moss Rock twice with their three daughters — even 3-year-old Brynlee.
“It’s kind of slanted a little bit. It was a good confidence builder for her,” Laura said. “Some of the climbs at Dierkes intimidate her still, so this spot was perfect.”
And 7-year-old Kate’s assessment?
“I got a little scared and I a little cried,” she said, as her parents and Willsey prepared their climbing gear at Moss Rock last week. For Kate, high is relative — to her 9-year-old sister. “Usually Lilly goes higher than me. It was the first time I went higher than her.”
The Allens already do a lot of mountain biking at Auger Falls. Now if the girls get bored with one activity, they can switch to the other.
“This will be one of our favorite spots this summer,” Laura said.
As soon as dad Tim Allen finished knotting the rope at Brynlee’s chest, she tried to start up the rock.
“Wait, wait! Don’t go yet,” Tim said, patting the 3-year-old’s helmet.
When Willsey was ready to belay, he, too, patted her helmet: “Go ahead and climb! You’re good now.”
Both men encouraged Brynlee from below, pointing to good holds for her My Little Pony shoes, as she babbled snatches of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”
Lilly, climbing the adjacent route, chimed in to coach her sister, too. “Look! There’s that big crack right there.”
The men discussed Brynlee’s chances of making it to the top — “If she gets over to the crack, she might have a shot at it,” Willsey said — then the options for getting Tim up to Brynlee. They settled on a friction hitch on the belay rope.
“Are you done?” Tim asked when he reached her.
Brynlee, making nervous little fake-cry sounds, insisted: “No, I want to keep going.”
As soon as dad and daughter started their joint descent, Brynlee announced she wanted to go swimming.
“There’s only 24 hours in a day,” Laura remarked from the sea of gear spread near the base of Moss Rock.