The Pop 40 Climbs
I'd just passed the crux on the Kor-Ingalls on Castleton Tower and was moving deep into the massive crack when...uh, hmm, wait...my head was stuck, sandwiched between some classic desert rock. With my feet flailing on the plasticky zero-friction calcite of the iconic desert tower I yelled, "Steck, Roper, I hate you two!"
Somewhere in that moment of anxiety I came to the momentary realization that the darn book, you know the one, Fifty Classic Climbs of North America is not really what I thought it was—a list of the best climbs in North America. How naive. To be certain, there are some damn good climbs in that book. Some damn beautiful rock. But it should be understood that the Steck & Roper rock climbing directory uses the term classic to mean historical, famous, important. It is not a list of the best rock climbs of all time. And will there ever be such a list? Well, has there ever been a satisfying list of the best songs of all time?
What I think is important to understand about climbs is that, like music, quality is in the eye of the beholder. Each climber has different skill sets, strengths, philosophies, ethics, tolerances and desires. And so to presume any dream of consensus on hyper-general terms like classic or best or premier is to be misled. The Best Rock Climbs of North America, The Premier Rock Climbs of North America...what does that even mean? Instead, let's be precise with our words.
Steck & Roper were deeply embedded in the history of climbing and their book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America serves to highlight some if the most important ascents in the climbing history on this continent. It is an historical text.
What I am concerned with here is in providing a list of the most popular climbs in the United States and my methods are relatively simple, but presume the widespread use of MountainProject throughout the country and tend to over-value climbs near larger city-centers. I see this list as essentially a Billboard list of rock climbs. They are accessible and have a high play-count. They are the radio bangers of the climbing world. We're talking Bieber, Beyonce, and The Beatles, not Slint, Slipknot, and Sumac. These are the Pop 40 Climbs.
The Pop 40 Climbs
- High Exposure - 5.6 - The Gunks
- Southeast Buttress - 5.6 - Tuolumne Meadows
- Incredible Hand Crack - 5.10 - Indian Creek
- Rewritten - 5.7 - Eldorado Canyon
- Supercrack of the Desert - 5.10 - Indian Creek
- The Bastille Crack - 5.7 - Eldorado Canyon
- Epinephrine - 5.9 - Red Rock
- The Yellow Spur - 5.9+ - Eldorado Canyon
- Stolen Chimney - 5.10d or 5.8 A0 - Fisher Towers
- Dark Shadows - 5.8 - Red Rock
- Double Cross - 5.7+ - Joshua Tree
- Nutcracker - 5.8 - Yosemite
- Corrugation Corner - 5.7 - Tahoe
- Direct Route - 5.6 R - The Flatirons
- Illusion Dweller - 5.10b - Joshua Tree
- Bishops Terrace - 5.8 - Yosemite
- Sail Away - 5.8 - Joshua Tree
- Scarface - 5.11b - Indian Creek
- Central Pillar of Frenzy - 5.9 - Yosemite
- East Face - 5.4 - Flatirons
- Birdland - 5.7+ - Red Rock
- Frogland - 5.8 - Red Rock
- Snake Dike - 5.7 R - Yosemite
- Serenity Crack - 5.10d - Yosemite
- Jah Man - 5.10c - Moab
- Sons of Yesterday - 5.10 - Yosemite
- Crimson Chrysalis - 5.8+ - Red Rock
- Regular Route - 5.9 - Tuolumne Meadows
- Fine Jade - 5.11a - Moab
- Cat in the Hat - 5.6 - Red Rock
- The Nose - 5.9 C2 - Yosemite
- Matthes Crest Traverse - 5.7 - Tuolumne Meadows
- Royal Arches - 5.9 - Yosemite
- Kor-Ingalls Route - 5.9+ - Moab
- Ruper - 5.8+ - Eldorado Canyon
- South Face of Petit Grepon - 5.8 - Rocky Mountain National Park
- Outer Space - 5.9 - Leavenworth
- The Moonlight Buttress - 5.8 C1 - Zion
- North Chimney - 5.9 - Moab
- Levitation 29 - 5.11c - Eldorado Canyon
*[Methods at bottom.]
These climbs are crowdsourced, based on the opinions of folks from a diversity of skills sets and backgrounds. They are the Firework, the Rolling in the Deep, the Blank Space. I don't mean to call these the best climbs in the country. The best climbs are for each of us to find ourselves.
If we are to be a list-obsessed society, we best be precise about what the collections are that we're assembling. In the words of Miguel Ángel Ruiz, "Be impeccable with your word." And so, okay, I must apologize. I don't hate Steck & Roper. I shouldn't have been brash. For what its worth, the Kor-Ingalls is a part of the Fifty Classics, but also made the cut for the Pop 40. Its a stunning route.
Once I'd freed my head I made my way happily to the summit of Castleton Tower and enjoyed a windless sunny nap with my partner. We dozed and looked up and down Castleton Valley—from the snowy La Sals in the South to the milky Colorado River in the North. Dare I say it was a classic view?
The Play Count - Using MountainProject, the climbs were first given a rank (1-50) based on their Vote Total. This gives preference to climbs that, at a minimum, made the Top 50 by MP's algorithms, but that are also hugely trafficked. This is the play count.
The Quality - Again, using MP, the climbs were then given another rank (1-50) based on their Overall Rating (1-4). This number gives preference to the climbs that are perhaps less trafficked, but that seem to be rated very highly by those that do climb them.
The Buffer - The climbs were then ranked (1-50) based on their aggregate score of Vote Total multiplied by Overall Rating. This gives preference to the climbs that fall in the middle of the spectra of highly trafficked and highly rated.
The Aggregate - Finally, the rankings from the three scores were totaled for all of the Top 50 climbs on MountainProject. The lowest overall score correlates with the highest pop quality, while the higher the score the less pop quality. The climbs were then given an Overall Ranking based on their overall score.