Northwest Branch


Overview

Northwest Branch is the largest developed bouldering area between Baltimore and Washington, DC., and may be the most convenient as well.  The boulders are located just off Route 29 in Silver Spring, with a Trader Joe's, Starbucks, and California Tortilla just up the hill.  With 81 problems currently listed on rockclimbing.com, plenty of other unlisted climbs to be found, and the main concentration of boulders less than a five minute walk from the parking lot, it's easy enough for anyone to put together a decent circuit.  Northwest Branch is characterized by good (though sometimes sharp) incut holds and lots of solid crystals for feet, with relatively flat landings making a single crash pad usually sufficient even for a solo boulderer.

Safety

I've heard plenty of stories about NWB being a hangout for local gang members, and some rumors of animal sacrifice.  I can somewhat confirm the latter rumors, having once found a dead rooster next to the Tulip boulder.  As for the gang member stories, I've never had a problem.  Sure, a few drunk guys walking around, probably trying to walk it off before going home to their wives.  And yes, plenty of teenagers hanging out, but I seem to recall doing the same thing at their age.  None of them have ever given me a problem, and several of them have shown a genuine interest in the fact that someone is climbing.  Point being, you're in about as much danger here as you are anywhere else.  Be aware of your surroundings, greet people when you see them, and remember that to them we probably look like the crazy ones.

My main safety concerns at NWB have to do with the physical environment itself.  River crossings can be a bit dangerous, especially with fast moving water near the crossings for the Roof and Tick areas.  Watch out for wet rocks, which are often more slippery than they look.  As with any bouldering area, some landings can also be more dangerous than others.  I frequently go to NWB by myself, with a single crash pad, but in those cases limit myself to boulders with flat landings.  There are other boulders where an unspotted fall will result in a roll downhill or a landing on sharp rocks.  Use good judgement, and if you're uncomfortable bouldering in a taller area such as Long Wall, nobody says you can't bring a rope.

Be especially careful of ticks.  Some ticks in the area have been known to carry Lyme disease, and that's no fun for anyone.  Check yourself thoroughly for ticks when you're finished.  I even tend to look down at my clothes or skin whenever I brush a bush or tree branch, and have caught several ticks before they've been able to attach themselves.

Also copperheads have been sighted near some of the boulders, so try not to step on any!

Directions

According to the Montgomery County parks website, the Northwest Branch boulders are located in the Burnt Mills East Special Park at 10701 Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20901.  Be aware that this address leads to the parking lot on the west side of the road, whereas the boulders are accessed from the lot on the EAST side.

Getting there is easy enough.  From the north (Columbia, Baltimore, etc):
-Take Route 29 south
-Shortly after crossing 650 (New Hampshire Avenue) you'll see a shopping plaza on the left with the Trader Joe's, Starbucks, California Tortilla, etc.  Go through the light and make a u-turn.
-Now heading north on Route 29, turn right into the parking lot with the old red brick building.
-The trail to the boulders is in the far corner of the lot.

From the south (Silver Spring, DC, etc):
-Take Route 29 North
- After crossing over Route 193 (University Blvd.) and going down the hill, look for the old red brick building on the right side and pull into the parking lot.
-The trail to the boulders is in the far corner of the lot.

When you see this building, turn right into the parking lot

In the image below, the red star indicates the location of the parking lot, with the shopping plaza visible next to it.  The main concentration of boulders is situated approximately within the blue rectangle.


Areas

Once on the trail, you'll hit the first of the boulders in less than a minute, and most of the others are only a few minutes past there.  Further downriver you'll find Long Wall and some boulders near the 495 overpass.  There's a nicely drawn map and printable guide to the main area here.  Below are photos of several of the boulders.  If the caption appears as a link (white letters), you can click on it for more information about problems in that area.

Suspended Boulder (Pyramid Area)
Dirty Ernie's Boulder
Hobo Cave Area
Long Wall Area 
495 Boulders 
The Cracks

Note:  I'll post photos of other areas (such as Pipe Line) as time allows, and will continue to update info about areas already shown.

Additional Beta

*Updated downloadable guide now available at mdguides

For a great look at several NWB problems in action, click here to see Shawn Seifert's video.