When people think of Eugene they probably first think of drum circles filled with hippies and plumes of weed smoke. To be fair, this is mostly correct.
Beyond the patchouli and hippies, Eugene offers up many other redeeming qualities.
While Eugene has a lot going for it, the one thing it doesn’t have is a lot of climbing areas in it’s backyard. There are a few smaller crags within an hour drive, but nothing you’d be willing to spend much more time getting to. Luckily, if you ever find yourself in Eugene with climbing gear on hand you can at the very least get a few quick laps in at The Columns.
The Columns are located in the heart of Eugene on the west side of Skinner’s Butte park. There is a small parking lot that sits in front of the crag that can hold around 7-10 cars. The crag is made up of short basalt columns, no more than 40 feet tall, which can be climbed setting up top ropes or on lead with trad gear. There are no bolts on the face of the climbs outside of the bolted anchors at the top.
The face of the climbs face due west and are in the shade all morning which makes for great climbing on hot days. The crag is broken up into two halves with the left hand side of the crag made up of very easy ledgy climbs that are typically top-roped and used for teaching beginner climbers the basics. The right hand side of the crag has continuous columns from top to bottom that offer up great opportunities for learning to place trad gear on lead with routes that range in less than vertical to fully vertical. Most of the traditional lead routes take gear well and are on solid rock. The far right hand side of the crag is covered in chain link fence due to lower rock quality and cannot be climbed.
The Columns is smack in the center of Eugene. It’s easy to get to, and the walk from the parking lot to the base of the climbs is even easier. Pull-up, park, and a few steps later you are roping up. There is no hike in. I bet it’s harder to find parking and make your way to the front door of your local gym than it is to rope up at The Columns. There’s even a placard that outlines all the climbs and their grades – no guide book required.
While the area is known for people setting up top ropes for beginners, if you get to the crag early and actually want to lead climb, you should be golden.
Although the climbs are short, they do offer up plenty of opportunities to place gear. It would be a great place to learn how to place and clean gear due to the smooth, even sized, and strong cracks that make up the climbs. Each column typically has opportunities to place pro on either side.
On a lot of climbs there are typically moves you can make that don’t involve jamming a crack, but if you want to, you can jam your way up the entirety of each climb. The classic Bat Crack is perfect training ground for learning how to hand and feet jam your way up a climb, while other climbs in the area offer up solid finger locks.
After you’ve had your fill of climbing, coast on down to Ninkasi or Hop Valley for a cold one. Both are just less than a mile away and have all the glorious beer you can drink.
Did we mention the climbs are short? Bring your gym rope if you have one.
If you’ve climbed a few routes you’ve likely climbed most of them. Given that only one half of the area feels like something you’d actually want to climb, your options are limited. If you don’t like climbing basalt columns, you’re SOL.
You didn’t come to Eugene to climb, that’s for certain. But if you are in town and needing to scratch your climbing itch you’d be a fool to not set some proper expectations and go have a little fun at The Columns for a morning.