Quincy Quarries: A Climber's Guide to Boston's Iconic Graffiti-Covered Crag

All you need to know about the 200-year-old granite mine that became an unexpected haven for both Northeast climbers and graffiti writers

Quincy Quarries: A Climber's Guide to Boston's Iconic Graffiti-Covered Crag

Author

Matt Stieb, Doug Marland, Tim Peck

Photographer

Luke Foley, Joseph Davies

Co-written by Doug Marland, a EMS Climbing School guide and Quincy Quarries regular, and Tim Peck, avid adventurer based in New Hampshire.

If you’ve never rock climbed on paint before, then Quincy Quarries takes some getting used to. Graffiti is everywhere, the routes are techy, the ratings are sandbagged, and the friction is…different. More than a few visiting climbers have left humbled.

But if the sensation of slipping your way up some deeply compromised granite leaves something to be desired, the location can’t be beat. Located 10 miles south of Boston in Quincy, Massachusetts, the eponymous Quincy Quarries Reservation is the rare place for rock climbing in the Northeast where you can bang out a solid half-day on the rock without getting up crazy early or bugging a friend with a car to tag along. For better or worse, there’s nothing quite like it.

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Photo by Luke Foley
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Photo by Luke Foley

Rock climbing at Quincy Quarries: The basics

Simple enough, Quincy Quarries is known for painted rock—and top-rope climbing of course. The park has over 110 top-ropes that stay mostly under 50 feet. Slab and vertical climbing dominate, though there are some stiff 5.12s that test your overhanging strength. There are two sport routes and 22 trad routes, but be careful on lead. Even a 5.5 feels different when you’re climbing over multiple layers of spray paint.

The best moments at Quincy Quarries are top-rope days, when your belayer can help heave you up the first few meters—which are uniformly covered in paint. It’s the slipperiest surface you will ever pull on in your life. Gym climbers especially, prepare your favorite curse words.

Over the past few decades, graffiti has proliferated on the granite slabs of the quarry that was essential to building one of the first railroads in America. In terms of the tagging quality—err the work of graffiti artists if you will—some of it is fine: The “You Are Conscious Matter” lettering is clean and kind of inspiring after you struggle to climb through it. The message of the bad date who “pooped on me @ prom” we could probably do without. The young Jackson Pollock fan who decided to throw buckets of white paint off the top to splatter on the rock face owes a karmic debt to nature.

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Photo by Joseph Davies

How to get to Quincy Quarries

As with most things in America, the easiest way is to drive and park for free in the lot, which usually has a few spots open, even on a crisp fall day. But the quarries are accessible on public transportation from Boston, too. Hop on either the Kingston line on the commuter rail or the Red Line on the T. (That’s the subway, if you’re not from Massachusetts.)

The commuter rail shaves off about 20 minutes from the journey for the price of $8, but the T is $4 if you want to save a few bucks for a Dunkies iced large and are willing to sit through the hour-and-20-minute commute, one-way. Both options let off at Quincy Center, where you hop on the 215 bus to the Willard St. at Copeland St. stop. Walk 10 minutes into the park and it’s time to rock.

TL;DR just Google maps it.

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Photo by Joseph Davies

Why should you visit

A better question might be: Where else can you climb on paint? It’s weird and it’s fun and when you climb next at an all-rock crag or in the gym, you will feel much more confident pulling on holds with actual friction. Access to public spaces is a wonderful thing and in an unexpected way, Mass taggers have made this mixed-use rockface one of the most unique climbing spots in America. (*Next up: check out the Field Mag guide to climbing in New York City.)

Plus, the proximity to downtown makes the reservation the easiest climbing spot to get to in the Boston area — and maybe the only one by public transportation. Mellow biking and hiking trails in the area are well worth a minor mention, too.

Local knowledge AKA what else to know

The field by the main wall gets wicked hot in the summertime and is quite wet after the rain, so prepare for swampy belaying conditions in the summer. And the anchors at the top of that wall, known as K Wall, are a bit spaced out. A standard X anchor for top-ropes slings comes up a little short, so bring double-length slings and a cordelette. Once you’ve stepped away from the ledge, the view of the Boston skyline is as good as it gets.

Also, there tends to be a lot of broken glass on the backside of the rock and a decent bit in the field below, so watch your hands while scrambling.

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Photo by Joseph Davies

The best climbs at Quincy Quarries

Big Biner (5.9)

This top-rope is short and techy, involving 20 feet of face climbing on spray painted crimps before running into a nice flake feature to take you home. Skip the ledge on the right to climb it as intended.

The Power of Positive Thinking (5.10+)

Arguably the king line of the park, TPOT goes up the tallest point of the main wall with an awesome layback feature about 40 feet in the air. It requires a good bit of balance and the movement is as good as it gets south of New Hampshire.

Ladder Line (5.10d)

Steep face climbing on small crimps await just to the left of the main wall. It’s tough, but relatively graffiti-free. If the moves are giving you trouble, move over to one of the surrounding 5.8’s for a similar style and an easier finish. If you like the vertical wall at the bouldering gym, it’s a solid 50 feet of that.

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Photo by Luke Foley

The rich history of the Quincy Quarries—paint and all

Located just minutes from the largest city in New England, rock climbers have been ascending the Quincy Quarries’ smooth granite walls since the 1920s. Back then, two of the nation’s leading climbers—Robert Underhill and Kenneth Henderson—were leading the charge, using the Quarries as a training ground for much bigger objectives in the Northeast and further afield.

Route development at the Quarries remained limited in the early years, mainly because the area had been an active quarry since at least the 1820s, when the Granite Railway, the first commercial railroad in the country, was designed and built by Gridley Bryant to transport the stone to the Boston harbor just a few miles away. Over the next 140 years, Quincy Quarries became a very popular source of stone, supplying granite across the country, including, most notably to a number of historic sites including Boston’s Bunker Hill Monument, Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and for the base of the Statue of Liberty. At its peak in the post-WWII era, there were twenty-something operating quarries in the vicinity, earning Quincy, Massachusetts the moniker “The Granite City.”

In the 1950s, Willie Crowther and Ray D’arcy wrote the area’s first guidebook, A Climber’s Guide to the Quincy Quarries. In it are many climbs that remain challenging under modern standards. Crowther, in particular, used the Quarries as a training ground for his first ascents of classic Northeast routes like Arrow in the Gunks (the second pitch of which feels distinctly Quarries-like).

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Photos by Luke Foley

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Rock climbing at “the Qs” (as the climbing area is called by many locals) really took off in the 1960s when active quarrying operations ended. But while Quincy’s main quarry—the Granite Railway Quarry—was much deeper then (over 200 feet), between natural springs and rain, it began to fill with water. As a result, climbers accessing classic Quarries test pieces like Outside Corner, Pins, and Power of Positive Thinking did so by boat or by being lowered in from the top. The possibility of a fall into the murky depths below upped the pucker factor.

In the early 2000s, the Massachusetts department of conservation and recreation filled the quarries with dirt from Boston’s “Big Dig,” as part of an effort to stop local teens from cliff jumping into the water-filled abysses. Although nowadays many Quarries’ climbs have little actual visible rock, the area remains a popular post-work playground ground for Boston rock climbers. Both the local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club and the ski patrol of the nearby Blue Hills Reservation have regular climbing nights, while local climbing gyms and climbing schools regularly use the area for lessons.

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Predator 5.13b at Rumney, NH | Photo by Jodie Morse

Other climbing in Boston Area

Plenty to see and do for climbers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and it’s surrounding areas. Below are just a few of my favorite spots.

(Only interested in climbing in Beantown? Check out our guide to Boston climbing.)

New Hampshire’s finest at Rumney and Pawtuckaway

At the southern reach of the White Mountain National Forest, Rumney Rocks offers the best sport climbing in the northeast bar none, with over 600 sport routes in addition to hundreds more boulders and trad climbs. It’s two hours north of Boston, but gyms in the area have frequent trips up there in the summer and fall. A little further south in Pawtuckaway lies some of the best bouldering in New England, though get ready to get high: Many of the area classics top out around 15 feet.

The North Shore

Roughly an hour north of the city by car, there’s a great selection of boulders scattered around the exurbs of the Cape Ann peninsula. Lynn Woods Reservations offers the densest number of problems for a day trip. If you’re over the Quincy paint, the Red Rock Park in Lynn has close to 40 easy-to-moderate top-rope lines to pull on.

Lincoln Woods

Is Providence part of the Boston area? The good people of Rhode Island would probably disagree, but Lincoln Woods State Park just north of the state capital is close enough by car to count (about an hour). There’s close to 1,000 boulder problems in the park, including the Pond Cave Traverse, a V4 with a little bit of spray paint on it and a lot of chalk in the cave. But the overhanging line on mostly jugs is must-try New England moderate. Check out our guide to climbing at Lincoln Woods here.


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Lincoln Woods State Park | Photo by Luke Foley

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Quincy Quarries: A Climber's Guide to Boston's Iconic Graffiti-Covered Crag

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Luke Foley, Joseph Davies

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