Manchester Wall is one of Virginia’s premier climbing spots. While it competes in central Virginia for popularity with Peak Experience, it holds a key advantage. Manchester Wall is an outdoor climbing wall, making it more interesting and cheaper than an indoor climbing gym. Manchester Wall is a popular spot for climbers with any level of experience. Manchester Wall is actually four separate climbing walls. All made from the same original structure and all made of the same stone, all four walls have excellent climbing
routes. The first and largest of the walls is the most well-known and popular. Towering several yards above the other, smaller pillars, the main structure draws climbers for its interesting and challenging routes. The other pillars, which are also very popular, are shorter, but not necessarily easier climbs. Manchester Wall is located on the South side of the James River near the Suntrust building. Parking can be difficult, but the climbing is great.
Manchester Wall has a rich history. The wall used to be part of the railroad bridge from Richmond to Petersburg. The stone footings of the bridge were constructed in 1832 by hand. If you look closely, you can still see the marks from the tools that made the bridge over 150 years ago. In the 19th century, when railroads were very important for growing industrial cities such as Richmond, this bridge was used to connect the two cities of Richmond and Manchester. Also, this railroad was very important for the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was used to transport raw materials and supplies. The original bridge was burned down in April, 1865 during the evacuation of the city, leaving the North Bank damaged.
Manchester Bridge was rebuilt in 1866 and also 1882, using the same original stone footings still here today. In the early 20th century, the bridge was rebuilt on new and smaller footings. When the Federal Reserve Building (directly across the river) was built in 1978, the old bridge was demolished, and the only thing that remains standing are the old, original footings. A new, larger bridge was built and still stands today, serving the Richmond area. The stone footings from the original bridge have been used for rock climbing since the 1980’s.
Manchester Wall has a total of 43 routes. The routes range in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.11a. The most commonly rated route is 5.9. The rating system for rock climbing Works on a scale about 5.0 to 5.15. Most beginner climbers will choose routes between 5.0 and 5.7. The main wall has 20 routes, the first pillar has nine, the second pillar has eight, and the third pillar has six. Manchester Wall has several options for the beginner climber. One of Manchester’s 5.4 route, known as The Ladder, or Potty Training, can be found behind the first pillar. This is a wonderful route for the beginner climber to start on. For a slightly more experienced climber, a 5.5, Bolts From Heaven, can be lead climbed and the safety equipment set up at the top. Lead climbing involves the climber clipping into D-ring
checkpoints along the climb to reduce fall distance. Bolts From Heaven is an excellent route to learn how to lead climb on. On the second pillar, there is a popular and challenging climb known as McKenna, or The Crack. As made obvious by its name, this 5.8 is climbed using a crack in the stonework running up the wall. This route has challenging and diverse opportunities for practicing new skills and is also very enjoyable. While the pillars have many entertaining and challenging routes, the main wall is where most of the serious routes are. The Wall, being taller, has routes that are longer and are harder on the climber, requiring endurance as well as strength and skill. One of the hardest route at Manchester wall is appropriately named Tendonitis, because of its difficulty. Rated at 5.10d, Tendonitis is a very challenging climb and can only be completed by those who climb frequently and seriously. The route has few foot and hand holds and makes the climber rely on small pockets in the rock for fingers. Manchester Wall offers a wide variety of climbs for people with skills ranging from complete beginner to professional.
Recently, the city of Richmond has announced plans for a new footbridge extending from the western end of Brown’s Island to Manchester Wall. The Bridge will be built over the the Brown’s Island Dam. The
renovations will make the bridge easily accessible for walkers, runners, bikers, and the disabled. The bridge will be named the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge and will make Manchester Wall easily accessible from Brown’s Island and Belle Isle. It will also provide a spectacular view of the river and Richmond.
All photos by Allison Grainer.