Oklahoma has a rich history of urban climbing; buildings, bridges, and other structures. We may not have the best crags in the world but we make up for it in the creative climbs we unlock or create elsewhere. This is a snapshot of the urban climbing scene in Norman and Oklahoma City.
The University of Oklahoma
I went to school at OU and spent a lot of time climbing on campus. I’ve written two books about urban climbing at the University of Oklahoma. The first was OU Excellence: A Climber’s Perspective and was written in 1997. About 20 copies were printed at Kinko’s – just for friends.
The follow-up book was Urban Assault: A Historical Guide to Climbing in Norman, Oklahoma and was written in 2000. The book was self-published and professionally printed by a short-run press and sold online, at Backwoods, and Borders. The book is now out of print (but a new version may be in the works).
Following are some selected excerpts from Urban Assault
(Pg. 21) Hal Neimann Wall
Located off Jenkins south of Lindsey and to the southeast of Houston Huffman Fitness Center. Probably every climber on campus knows about Hal Neimann Wall and may have attempted one or several of the problems listed here. Then again, you may not know the specifics of some of them. Campus police seem to be more accepting of climbers on Hal Neimann Wall than elsewhere. You should still keep a low profile.
Height and Landing: Low in heigth and very safe. Landing is dirt or grass in every place except for Cocaine Corner which is cement. It’s best to use a crash pad for this climb.
Visibility and Escape: Visible to Jenkins and the Huffman/dorms parking area. There’s a lot of traffic to contend with here but no one seems to mind that you are climbing here. Most stories of police officer encounters I’ve heard of here have been favorable towards climbers. Just play it cool and explain to them what you are doing, everything should be fine.
1. (***) The Traverse–Thin sandstone edges interspersed with jutting overhangs on the west side. Climbing this is quite difficult, probably 5.12+ to get all the way around the wall. Tiny edges and a tricky sequence makes this on hard. This climb is typically started on the northeast side of the wall and is climbed clockwise around it. The tops of the overhangs are off! The climb is harder than it used to be because some places on the overhangs have been repaired with cement making the edges much thinner. Difficulty: hard, sustained
2. (***) Cocaine Corner–Named for copious amounts of chalk covering the wall at one time, this climb is found on the north end of Hal Neimann Wall. Use only the holds on the narrow face (not the right or left arete) and ascend the wall. Difficulty: hard, devious
3. (***) Purple Vein–This climb is on the east side of the wall and follows the line between the two pairs of steel rings anchored in the wall. There is a catch, only the natural holds on the bricks are fair game, all edges between the bricks are off! Difficulty: hard
4. (***) Unknown–On the northwest side of the wall climb the face without using the arete to the left. Difficulty: moderate
(***) Unknown–Climb the face just right of the third jutting overhang. Difficulty: moderate
(pg. 72) (****) “The Slam Dunk Dyno” (aka Aaron’s Dyno)
I came up with the idea one afternoon visiting friends who lived in the honors dorms: jump from the concrete bench all the way out to the lip of the awning and latch it!!! Standing underneath the awning looking out towards the edge and into the sky, the idea seems impossible. But once you take flight you’ll find that the edge isn’t that far away. It is a great problem to try over and over again. And the best part is the feeling of finally catching it!! This problem is the ultimate in gymnastic buildering. Difficulty: moderate, gymnastic
Visibility and Escape: All of the honors dorms have the same awnings on the north sides. You can pick which one you think is the least conspicuous. I always do the one at the corner of Lindsey and Asp Ave. Beware of landing/falling on students walking in and out of the dorms. As far as escape, be inventive.
Landing and Height: There is a nice soft landing spot….I guess you would call it a flowerbed, although it has monkey grass in it. The distance of the fall it you miss the dyno is only 4-5 feet. Have a spotter available to watch your head and back if you fall backwards while grabbing the awning. You could have a nasty knock on the concrete if you swing upside down. On the day that these photos were taken there was about 2 inches of snow on top of the awning. Still, I needed a photo for the book so I convinced Adam that it could be done. Leave it to him to show me that it really could!
(***) On either end of either Honors dorm are walls containing several thin horizontal brick edges. You can climb these edges directly up and into one of the Honors dorms windows if you have someone inside to open the window for you. Difficulty: hard
Height and Landing: Landing is in bushes or on concrete. Beware.
Visibility and Escape: Highly visible, high traffic area between dorms….best to save this one for night.
Following are some buildering pics from the early 1980s. From left to right: Marion and an unknown climber on the now extinct dog wall; an unknown climber on Monet Hall, Old Law Building mantle problem; Duane Raleigh on Hal Niemann wall; 2 photos of Marion on Hal Niemann wall; an unknown climber one of the arches; Marion on what appears to be the microbiology building; an unknown climber on the Physical Sciences building.
Many people besides “climbers” have climbed at Andrews Park. It’s just hard to resist! The rock walls have thin edges, some slopers, and a few tiny pockets. They are great for practicing face technique and they give the feeling of real rock climbing. The best climbing is on the main pavilion in the center of the park but the smaller buildings surrounding the swimming pool area, although shorter, have some good climbing too. On the main pavilion there’s a north wall and a south wall. The south wall is a bit higher and the landing a bit harder. The north wall is a tad-bit shorter but the advantages are that it faces away from the Norman police station so cops driving by are not as likely to notice you. Plus, except for a small drainage pipe at the base of the wall, the landing is grass.
Andrews Park is just north of the Norman public library and the police station. For all you out-of-towners, from I-35 go east on Main Street. Drive approximately 2.2 miles. You’ll reach downtown Norman, turn left (north) on Webster. Take Webster to Daws St. You can continue straight and park in the west lot or turn right on Daws St. and park in the south lot.
Variations to try
1. On the North wall of the pavilion try both arete routes (A & B). Facing the wall, the left arete feels like the easiest way up the wall (and down). In many cases you will do a harder variation in the middle of the wall and traverse the top ledge to the left to down-climb the left arete. The right arete is slightly harder.
C. There are many great lines if you choose to eliminate certain holds or use only the rocks and not the holds between them.
D. Just left of the right arete is a more difficult face problem utilizing some cool pockets and hidden edges.
E. Another great line is to traverse from inside the pavilion on one side of the wall all the way across the base of the wall to the other side.
2. On the South wall of the main pavilion both arete routes are good (C & E). The right arete is slightly easier than the left arete.
A. “Pocket Launch”– Located on the North wall about 3 feet left of the right arete (facing wall). Uses pockets and features on the rocks, all edges between the rocks are off. Begin by reaching high up and left to a 3/4 moon-shaped pocket with a lip; sharp/positive hold. Crank off left to a right two ﬁnger undercling (long reach). Hop to another two-ﬁnger pocket with your right then to a higher left pocket. Finally, dyno to the top. An awesome line!!
B. The middle line is fun if you use only the rocks and not the holds between them.
D. The traverse route across the base starts in-side the pavilion near the ﬁreplace and traverses all the way around the wall. This traverse is easier than the traverse on the north wall.
3. Inside the pavilion there is a traverse that stems across a door-way, then traverses over a ﬁreplace and then across another door-way. When going across the ﬁreplace you can try traversing with your feet low and then try traversing with your feet high, across the bricks on top of the ﬁreplace.
4. There are two pillars at the entrance to Andrews Park just before the bridge. The north and south sides of the pillars are climbable with the favorite climb being the north side of the east pillar. On each of the climbs only the face holds are on, don’t use the corners.
5. There is a climb on the east side of the bridge beginning in the drainage ditch. Use the rocks on the bridge and climb up without using your feet to mantling out on top of the bridge.
6. On the structures to the south of the pool there are a few good traverse routes and even a couple of dyno problems on these small buildings. The traverse on the east pool building is very good.
There is a dyno on the east side of this building too. These buildings are a good place for new climbers to practice topping out on a climb. The key is to be inventive, you can easily choose to eliminate holds to make for longer reaches or difficult cross-throughs or, as on other climbs mentioned, use only the holds found on the rocks and not the edges between the rocks.
Bridges in Norman
There are three bridges in Norman for climbing: the north end of the I-35 bridge over the South Canadian river, the Highway 9 bridge near Shaklee, and the railroad trestle bridge on Highway 9. Climbing at the I-35 bridge features glued-on rocks on box-roof like features and traverses. Many of the climbs have evolved over time with some rocks breaking off and others added to change the nature of the routes. There was a short period of making long lead climbs across the concrete beams. These climbs were protected by specially designed metal plates with welded rings. These metal plates were adhered using Bondo to the cement – that’s right the lead anchors were actually glued onto the concrete beams and used to catch falls – usually huge swinging falls!
The Highway 9 bridge was a different story. Where the “ethics” at the I-35 bridge was to not make any holes in the concrete, hence gluing lead anchors to the wall, the Highway 9 bridge featured nothing but drilled pocket climbs and lead bolts. The routes were (and still are) about 20-25 feet tall and range in difficulty from 5.9 to 5.12. I put all of these up – except for the incomplete route. I haven’t been here in years.
Here’s some route descriptions for you:
East Side of Northeast Pillar
A. The Stallion (5.12) The hardest route on the wall. 2 bolts, 1 anchor bolt.
Aid Line(A?) Four rivets that might hold. Drilled on lead, bottom to top in under one hour. Could be A1 could be A3, who knows.
B. Mr. Friendly (5.9) The easiest route on the wall. 4 bolts, 1 anchor bolt.
C. Pickled Pockets (5.10+) A personal favorite. 2 bolts, 1 anchor bolt.
D. Flash Flood (5.10) Fun route that ends in an akward position. 2 bolts, 2 anchor bolts.
West Side of Northeast Pillar
E. Pseudo Crotch (5.11) Beware of the moves after the second bolt. Not only are they difficult but a fall above the second bolt has opened the cold shut. 3 bolts, 1 anchor bolt.
F. Free Ride (5.10) The first route at the bridge. Fun. 3 bolts, 1 anchor bolt.
G. Incomplete Route