In the heart of New York City sits Central Park—843 acres of nature among America's most densely populated city. And hidden among the finely manicured fields, ball parks, and pathways sits nearly a dozen rocky outcroppings known for decades among the area's tight-knit climbing community.
After a few years of living in New York City and climbing in Central Park countless times, it’s still a surreal experience. Unlike a trip to your average bouldering crag, climbing in the middle of Manhattan isn’t at all an escape from city, instead it’s an unexpected addition to the experience.
While Rat Rock is certainly the most popular, we recently went for a session at Worthless Boulder, located farther uptown near 110th Street. The session starting same as they always do—by lugging crash pads through the subway from Brooklyn. It was a warm summer day, so our session was nice and lazy—equal parts snacking to climbing. No complaints here.
With the exception of Shit Rock, appropriately named after its popularity as NYC’s backyard toilet, Central Park boulders are all about 10 feet heigh. Although short, CP boulders can be difficult—polished footholds from high traffic, with powerful moves on sharp Manhattan schist. Worthless boulder may seem small, but has a number of quality problems and diverse wall angles.
Frederick Olmsted designed Central Park as the first landscaped public park in the United States, and fortunately, for climbers, Olmstead deliberately left many of the rock outcroppings intact. Rat Rock, Cat Rock, Shit Rock, and Worthless Boulder are some of the more popular spots. With the first of the few being the most well known. Though the actual extent of bouldering opportunities on natural rock in New York City is comparatively minuscule, the unlikely setting of Central Park provides a unique bouldering experience.
Central Park isn’t the greatest quality crag, but it offers an accessibility matched by few cities of any worthwhile size. As tourists and native New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds pass through one of the most visited parks in America, they may encounter rock climbing for the first time. Only recently rising to the mainstream, climbing still feels very inaccessible to those not wealthy and/or not privy to the outdoor recreation. Unexpectedly, NYC offers a solid introduction to outdoor climbing.
6 Central Park Bouldering Do’s & Don’ts:
- Do treat the space as you would any other crag—leave no trace!
- Do be sure to scan your landing zone for hazards such as trash, needles, and literal shit (not a joke).
- Do anticipate some strange looks from tourists and maybe even a small, curious audience watching you send. Be nice.
- Do be prepared to have your ass kicked on the “Polish Traverse” AKA the hardest V5 ever.
- Don’t expect much friction! High traffic of climbers and scramblers leaves hand and foot holds well polished.
- Don’t stay too late at Rat Rock without the expectation of being ambushed by the boulder's namesake rodent population.