In the early 1800's Sam Davis, buffalo hunter and firebrand evangelist, would scramble to the top of a sandstone butte in northern Arkansas and preach his brimstone to the valley below, proclaiming that he would live for a thousand years. He didn't make it quite that long. He did, however, achieve a bit of immortality. His rock pulpit became known as Sam's Throne. The legends of the area, from old Sam to moonshine, still linger. The stories may or may not be true, but the abundance of steep high-grade sandstone is a fact.
This portion of the Ozark National Forest is home to several different climbing areas. Sam's Throne is the oldest, and due to it's accessibility and high concentration of routes, the most popular. It's also one of the most traditional. Until 1987, all lead climbing was done on natural protection -- no bolts or pitons were used. The Atoka sandstone, with numerous crack systems, solution pockets, and knobs, lends itself well to gear. Creativity and strength help any aspiring leader while searching for sometimes elusive placements.
The Throne is an excellent place for beginners; there are numerous moderate routes that one can top rope easily. More advanced climbers will find that while the grades seldom go above 5.11, the leads are quite adventurous. The first bolted routes in the area, Blind in Both Eyes (5.10+), Pass the Jug (5.10) and Exit Left (5.10), still maintain some of their traditional roots: all were put up on lead. On almost all of the routes with fixed protection, natural gear is still needed to fill in the gaps.
Cave Creek, a few miles from Sam's Throne, is one of the finest crags in Arkansas. In the Fall of 1989, two southern Missouri climbers, seeking relief from the hordes at the fourth -annual Climber's Rendezvous, established this area's most obvious line, Stems and Seeds (5.10). What they found was an area with a pristine canyon setting, quality rock, and in contrast to the Throne, sport climbing. Cave Creek isn't a bolted grid though; it also has serious natural leads and superb bouldering.
The Outback, easily approached from the top of the camp road at Sam's Throne, provides access to many routes. Big, nasty, overhanging cracks abound, as do many face climbs. If you want a weekend full of climbing without the crowds normally found at the Throne, this is the spot.
Northern Exposure, with its well shaded bluff, offers a reprieve from the hot, humid summer days. Missouri legend Clay Frisbee discovered the area one summer during a shade-seeking frenzy. Numerous lines have been completed here; however, new route potential is high.
Hero Maker and Valley of the Blind have some of the biggest and most impressive walls in the area. An abundance of overhanging routes and roof cracks can be found here, but if extreme leading on scant protection doesn't excite you, you may not want to climb here. Some of the climbs here are around 90 feet long, so setting top ropes can be difficult .
This area of Arkansas has much more to offer than just climbing. The surrounding land is some of the most pristine in the Ozark National Forest. Richland Creek Wilderness, just a few miles away, has beautiful waterfalls and a great swimming hole. The nearby Buffalo National River offers some of the best canoeing and kayaking in the Midwest, and the abandoned logging roads provide excellent mountain biking. For hikers, the Ozark Highlands Trail and Buffalo River Trail are close by.
Access: Sam's Throne is located in the Ozark National Forest, along state highway 123 in Newton County in northwest Arkansas. From Jasper, take highway 74 east to highway 123. At Mt. Judea, highway 123 turns to gravel (soon to be paved) -- TURN HERE. Odometer readings to the climbing areas are: Sam's Throne 4.3 miles, Cave Creek 7.5 miles. From Russellville, take highway 7 north for 40 miles, turn right on highway 123. From the turn-off, Cave Creek is 7 miles north (on the right) and Sam's Throne is 10 miles north (on the left). All distances are approximate.
Camping: Camping at Sam's Throne is free, but there are no facilities or running water. Please pack out ALL trash. Chopping down trees is illegal, but gathering dead wood is permitted.
Food: You can purchase all of your grocery supplies in Jasper and for those forgotten items, there is a small grocery store in Mt. Judea. If you don't want to do your own cooking, you will find several great restaurants in Jasper and the surrounding area, that have inexpensive food, hot coffee, and excellent desserts.
Information: For route or general information, call the Pack Rat Outdoor Center at 501-521-6340.
Recommended Routes: Sam's Throne Instant Karma (5.10+) Dry County (5.10+) Blind In Both Eyes (5.10+) Edge of Flight (5.10) White Trash (5.9) Patio Direct (5.9) Crack Me Up (5.8) Albino Rhino (5.7) Poison Ivy (5.7) Boston Rag (5.7-) Fun Alley (5.6 to 5.7)
The Outback All Star Wrestling (5.12) Sonic Love Jugs (5.11) Crater Face (5.10+) Lonely Lizard (5.9+) Silver Fish (5.9)
Northern Exposure Euthanasia(5.13) Fatal Attraction (5.11) User Friendly (5.9) Bones and Steel (5.8)
Billy Bisswanger is manager at The Pack Rat Outdoor Center and has been climbing rock, ice and alpine routes for 16 years.