On-Site Column (VJ 8)

Ely's Peak, Minnesota

by Stephen Regenold

Good basalt is the stone of gods. Not too sharp, yet sticky, quick drying and sound as Californian granite. I'm not referring to the evil slick basalt commonly squirmed on at areas like Taylor's Falls, no, good basalt is found at areas like Devil's Tower where good technique will allow tape-less fist jamming on bomber rock.

Somewhere between the volcanic bliss-stone of Devil's Tower and the glassy walls of Taylor's Falls, Ely's Peak near Duluth, Minnesota, grants climbers good stone and a handful of fun routes. Separated into two distinct bluffs, the 20 or so climbs range from 5.0 to 5.12 and are mainly crack endeavors.

Situated over an old railroad track, the main area, called Tunnel Bluff for obvious reasons, holds two of the more classic lines at Ely's. On the west face of the Tunnel Bluff, Bionic Finger Crack (5.12a) and Dislocation Overhang (5.6) share the right edge of the 100 foot wide swath of vertical rock.

Both routes begin on easy ground, shooting through a slabby section with abundant holds and cracks. At 40 feet, a ledge marks their division. While both routes go straight up the big face via beautiful cracks, Bionic Finger Crack takes a vastly more strenuous approach to the summit.



At the ledge, head slightly to the left and jam the thin, smooth crack to begin the struggle that is Bionic Finger Crack. Relatively good jams await climbers equipped with long arms for the first couple moves. From the midway point, look for any scratch on the face and be efficient with layback techniques. Pro is minimal to nonexistent on this hard trad route and an unfortunate ledge lays ready to cripple falling leaders. The toprope approach, in contrast, is a pleasant way to get acquainted with the 5.12. 

Dislocation Overhang is a much friendlier route to the top of Ely's Peak. At the mid-height ledge, head right into the shadow of the substantial overhang. Step up and layback off the solid 5.6 crack to pull the roof. From there, jam the wonderful basalt to the top. Although only 5.6, Dislocation Overhang is exciting and somewhat challenging for its grade. Additionally, the height of the bluff and the great view of the forest surrounding the St. Louis River and Jay Cooke state park give the 80-foot route the feel of some real exposure.

Many other good routes lie on the Tunnel Bluff and the neighboring Northwestern Bluff. Overall, Ely's Peak is not a major climbing destination, but is a great stop on your way to Minnesota's North Shore or as an alternative day area for Twin Cities climbers.


Heading north on I-35, turn south (right) at Midway Road (County Road 3) just south of Duluth. Travel for approximately 1.5 miles to 123rd Street and turn left and drive to the parking lot. Head right on the paved bike trail and hike for about 50 yards to the obvious trail on the left. Hike through the field, downhill across the railroad tracks, and then up the hill to the old railroad bed and the mouth of the tunnel. The main Tunnel Bluff routes lie on the obvious face just uphill from the railroad bed. Head through the woods on one of the many trails past the Tunnel Bluff to reach the Northwestern Bluff routes.

For additional information on Ely's Peak, consult Rock Climbing Minnesota and Wisconsin by Mike Farris.

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