A few days ago I hiked up from the valley in southwest Virginia to scout out rock climbing Tinker Cliffs and check out the possibility of setting up some solid routes. From a mile down in the valley, the possibility for rock climbing on Tinker cliffs appear endless. And up the 3+ mile Andy Layne Trail to reach the summit of Tinker Cliffs, I found exactly that. The beta for the Cliffs is sparse, with the Mountain Project info limited to a few comments on a forum and other sites simply hinting at the possibility. So I wanted to hop up there and see what rock climbing Tinker Cliffs would look like up close.
The half-mile long Tinker Cliffs is located in southwest Virginia just 30 minutes from Roanoke and 45 minutes from the home of the Hokies and my alma mater, Virginia Tech. It is at the summit of a long ridgeline that the scenic Appalachian Trail follows. In fact, The Appalachian Trail courses directly over the top of Tinker Cliffs. Just a few miles North of the most photographed place on the entire Appalachian Trail, McAfee’s Knob, Tinker Cliffs is a beautiful section of trail in its own right and comprises the northernmost sight of the Triple Crown in Virginia. With access to the mountain biking trails at Carvin’s Cove, kayaking and tubing at McCoy Falls on the New River, caving at the Murder Hole, and hiking on the Appalachian Trail, the Tinker Cliffs area is a one stop shop for an epic adventure.
And if you’re looking for an adventure, simply accessing the rock climbing at Tinker Cliffs can provide you with one. The Andy Layne Trail provides the most direct route to Tinker Cliffs but in doing so sends you straight up from the valley. It’s 3.5 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain which rounds out to a solid 12% grade average for the ~1.5 hour hike. The maintainers of the trail do an incredible job but nature is an unruly force to contend with, so make sure you do the hike in clear weather otherwise you’ll be fighting slick mud on the way up. Also, be sure to carry plenty of water from the car because there are no sources along the hike besides the two cow crap loaded streams at the base.
However, if you’re willing to endure the slightly longer approach than the generic one expected from the New River Gorge, Pilot Mountain, and other crags in the area, Tinker Cliffs possesses beautiful untouched clean lines waiting to be climbed. From featureless slab to juggy overhangs, 100s of classic boulder problems, trad routes, top ropes, and sport climbs await. However, the perk of this place may be the insanely easy access to top roping. Be considerate of hikers up top. It’s dangerous to hikers and climbers to run anchors across the trail and at minimum it’s bad form. But the lower traffic on Tinker Cliffs on shoulder seasons could make TR anchors less risky.
I went up on a clouded in day so I didn’t get any pictures of the beautiful views, but I did get some pictures of the rock. So let’s get to it and check out some potential lines!
In summary, there’s so awesome potential for some cool routes if someone wants to put in the effort. If Tinker Cliffs were roadside it would be the most popular crag in the Roanoke area without question. With a half mile of 40 foot cliffs with some routes up to probably 55 feet, it would see daily traffic from local climbers. For better or worse, the climb up to it is prohibitive to most climbers so it will likely remain relegated as a novelty crag for only the most curious of climbers. I’d love to see it take off and get a few bolted routes, especially on some of the overhangs where the rock remains clean and dry. But in the meantime, if anyone gets a chance to get out there and put up some trad or top rope route, let me know so we can share the beta.
I am a long distance backpacker, triathlete, adventurer, climber, kayaker, and lowly medical student currently living in Norfolk, VA attending Eastern Virginia Medical School and getting out for adventures on weekends.