Quincy Quarries: Boston's Graffiti-Covered Climbing Destination
How a nearly 200-year-old granite mine became an unexpected haven for Northeast rock climbers and graffiti writers alike
Tim Peck, Doug Martland
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.
Located minutes from Boston, 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. Underhill’s unpublished 1926 guidebook Rock Climbs Around Boston describes two routes: “One course of 150 feet, worth roping up for. One face climb, 120 feet, difficult and exposed.”
Route development at the Quarries remained limited in the early years, mainly because the area had been a working quarry since at least the 1820s, when the Granite Railway, the first commercial railroad in the country, was built to transport the stone to a harbor a few miles away. Over the next 140 years, Quincy Quarries supplied granite across the country, including, most notably, to 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 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, including one of our favorites, Big Biner—a short, techy “5.8” that’s pretty stiff. Crowther, in particular, used the Quarries as a training ground for his first ascents of classic Northeast routes like Sliding Board on New Hampshire’s Whitehorse Ledge and Arrow in the Gunks (the second pitch of which feels distinctly Quarries-like).
Rock climbing at “the Qs” (as many locals call it) really took off in the 1960s when active quarrying operations ended. Pete Cleveland put up Ripple (5.10) in 1967, a slab climb that’s still tricky even by modern standards. During the same period, Kevin Bein had first ascents of several other routes, including Ladderline, a fantastic (albeit sandbagged) 5.10. 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.
The Quarries’ heyday continued well into the 1970s and 1980s. For a while, the Quarries were Henry Barber’s home crag. John Strand, another prolific climber in New England, published an updated area-focused guide book in 1985, Blasted Rock Quarry Climbs. A few years later, he sent one of the area’s first 5.12s (Temple of Doom, 5.12+) in 1988.
In the early 2000s, the Quarries were filled in with dirt from Boston’s “Big Dig,” as part of an effort to stop local teens from jumping into the water-filled abysses. And the improved access benefited more than just climbers. Indeed, since we first started climbing in the Granite City in the early 2000s, the graffiti has proliferated. What used to end a body length up from the ground now covers entire walls. These days, ladders are essential gear for the spray paint crowd.
Although nowadays many Quarries’ climbs have little actual visible rock, the area remains a popular post-work playground ground for Boston climbers. Both the Boston chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Blue Hills Ski Patrol have regular climbing nights, while local climbing gyms and climbing schools regularly use the area for lessons. On weekends, too, the parking lot is usually full, as the Quarries are teeming with climbers negotiating the area’s classic routes. Sure, the paint makes the climbing harder—but the photos of this Granite City are something else entirely.