Originally from Ohio, Mark “Indy” Kochte started climbing technically in North Carolina in 1983. Now, from his home outside Baltimore, he spends his free time uncovering and recording all the state’s climbing routes for his print guidebook “Climb Maryland.”
“When I moved to Maryland, I didn’t know there was so much climbing in Maryland,” Kochte said. “No one else knew anything, either.”
Though mostly geared toward roped climbs in Maryland, “Climb Maryland” features general descriptions of bouldering areas.
His guide’s section on Catoctin Mountain Park is about to get a lot more detailed.
Earlier this summer, Catoctin Mountain Park opened all access to bouldering in the park for the first time since the activity was restricted in 2011.
For Kochte, the restored unlimited access to bouldering means a whole new crop of rocks to route and document in the next edition of his guidebook and the online version, “Indy’s Underground Climber’s Guide to Maryland.”
“It’s going to take some inertia to get climbers back there on a regular basis, but there are some good routes there,” Kochte said.
To restore open access bouldering, Catoctin Mountain Park worked closely with Mid Atlantic Climbers, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving rock climbing access in the Mid-Atlantic region, and Access Fund, a national nonprofit that advocates for keeping climbing areas open.
“The park was really trying to work carefully with those partner groups because, in some ways, they understand what the public wants and what works for climbers more than we do,” said Rick Slade, Catoctin Mountain Park superintendent.
Slade described Catoctin Mountain Park as filling a “niche” in recreational activities in central Maryland, given its proximity to Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas and its higher-quality rock.
“I like the stuff out toward Frederick better. It’s a quartz-type rock,” Kochte said. “It’s more solid, and it’s not prone to breaking.”
Slade hopes bouldering will become a popular recreational activity at the park in addition to its other common activities like camping, hiking, biking and hunting, but he also expects climbers to respect the park.
“Our mandate is resource preservation but also visitor use,” Slade said. “The more people who care about a place, the more likely they’re going to pass it on to their kids.”
Just about any climber would agree with that, but Charlie Savel, a Frederick native who grew up climbing at nearby Sugarloaf Mountain, knows it personally. He still lives and climbs in Frederick County, but now he has a 2-month-old with a baby-sized climbing wall in the nursery room.
“Now that climbing is becoming 10 times more popular than when I got into it, when it’s done improperly, it can do damage to the environment, wearing down the trails trying to get to rocks in the middle of nowhere,” Savel said.
Savel, a member of the Access Fund, felt the frustration among community climbers when Catoctin closed access to bouldering. The Access Fund’s improved relationship with the National Park Service, especially coinciding with the NPS’s centennial anniversary, shines hope on opening up access to all areas for roped climbing. For now, roped climbing at Catoctin still requires a permit and is limited to designated rocks.
“Local climbers will go up there, and anything you can get your hands on, you’ll climb it and find gems,” Savel said.
Bouldering, which does not require any equipment besides a crash pad to soften a climber’s fall, is more convenient than technical climbing, which involves proper gear, skill certifications and more environmental impact.
“You can go and boulder by yourself, and you can focus on your moves,” Savel said. “Even if you only have half an hour, you can go up there and work on an eight- or nine-move problem. It’s all five or 10 minutes to hike in, and it’s absolutely beautiful up there.”
Jackie Feinberg, spokeswoman for Mid Atlantic Climbers, will now have the opportunity to travel from her home in Silver Spring to Catoctin for bouldering — a much shorter drive than heading all the way out to West Virginia or Pennsylvania for what she considers quality rock climbing.
“Some of the best boulders we’ve found have been at Catoctin,” Feinberg said. “It’s public land, so it provides a really easy way to access, and it’s not too crowded. Catoctin does get a decent amount of visitors, but it’s a little more remote. It really is great to get away from the city and our more crowded city parks.”
Catoctin offers boulders for all ranges of age and skill level.
“Because the bouldering wasn’t open for a number of years, there isn’t a ton of resources online at the moment, but we’re working with Catoctin to compile information for an online presence,” Feinberg said.
Along with Mid Atlantic Climbers and Access Fund, Catoctin Mountain Park will monitor activity around boulders that could impact the surrounding environment. According to Feinberg, the nonprofits will sponsor volunteer events year-round like “Adopt a Crag,” trash cleanups, graffiti removal, painting, trail erosion prevention and other activities to give back to the park.
“Everybody has a job and responsibility when it comes to preserving the environment,” Savel said. “We need to honor it.”