The height of adventure: Climbing, rappelling at Hocking State Forest
By JANELL HUNTER
Times Leader Staff Writer
ROCKBRIDGE, Ohio — Imagine dangling 100 feet above the ground, making your way up a sheer rock face.
If that type of adventure appeals to you, you may want to visit an area of the Hocking State Forest that has been set aside for rock climbing and rappelling. Forest Manager Dave Glass has been overseeing the 92 acres specially designated for the sport for the last 17 years and said safety is the main goal for that portion of the park.
The Hocking State Forest Rockclimbing and Rappelling Area, located off Big Pine Road in Spring Hollow, is the only facility on state land in Hocking County that permits rockclimbing and rappelling.
“Nearly a mile-long cliff, ranging up to 100 feet high, along with numerous slump blocks, cracks, chimneys and overhangs provides a variety of challenges to the rock climber and rappeller. Your safety is our main concern. Novices are encouraged to work with an experienced climber or rappeller who ‘knows the ropes.’ Because the area is comprised of soft sandstone, use of climbing aids such as pitons (metal spikes) and chocks is strongly discouraged. It is much safer to top-rope,” an Ohio Division of Forestry brochure states.
Glass said between 4,800 and 5,000 climbers and rappellers register to use the area each year, but many more who do not register visit as well.
“It’s difficult to get an exact number because some folks register and some don’t. But the numbers have been pretty consistent over the 17 years that I’ve been here,” Glass said. “Interest seems to have picked up more lately. We get more requests for information over the phone and via email.”
Glass noted that climbers and rappellers are very safety-conscious, and he has only seen one injury that led to a fatality on the cliffs. He added that it’s been “a couple of years since there has been a squad run.”
“One of the first things you hear from the people who do this is ‘safety first.’ They always have a two-rope system, wear helmets and gloves and all other safety gear needed,” Glass said. “Students from Hocking College hold a rope rescue class here every year. It’s very interesting to watch.”
Glass stressed that climbing and rappelling is not permitted anywhere else in either the Hocking State Forest or Hocking State Park. Hocking State Forest encompasses 9,200 acres and includes the state parks of Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, Old Man’s Cave, Rock House and Cantwell Cliffs. The Buckeye Trail system runs throughout the area and is marked with blue blazes on the trees. The top of the sandstone cliffs can be accessed from the trail. Big Springs Hollow trail and the In Between Hollow trails lead through the area.
“The most casual visitor can park in the parking lot and can walk the trail to access the top of the rock faces or the bottom of the rock faces,” Glass said. “This is such a unique area. We have rock faces of 3 feet at the shallowest, and the tallest is Big Springs Area which is around 130 to 140 feet down.”
Climbers can bring their own gear and operate without a guide, but specially permitted guides and tours with gear can be contracted with at the State Park Welcome Center in Logan.
“There has been an increase in requests for guided tours. We offer facilities only,” Glass said. “The majority of people have their own equipment that do rappelling.”
The sandstone cliffs of the forest have hosted Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups and military training operations, as well as training for law enforcement and emergency management services over the years.
“You see all ages and sizes here. We just want to emphasize safety first. Beginners should get with a guide that can offer a well-trained experience,” Glass emphasized.
“All the guides we permit are great. We’ve had many repeat visitors. And people that do this sport are very good stewards of the area; there is always very little trash after they have an outing. They appreciate the opportunity.”
Glass said he has seen up to 100 people on a rock face at one time. Peak leaf week in October is usually the busiest time for rappelling at the forest.
“There are four seasons here in the Hocking Hills, and each season draws a different crowd that wants to see something different,” Glass noted. “But fall is our most-visited season.”
The state forest closes at dark year round, and it is the only state forest that closes at dark.
“The rocks, the terrain can be very challenging and can be something that doesn’t give you a second chance,” Glass explained.