Looking Glass Rock is a terrific first multi-pitch outing, and a ton of fun for all climbers.

Twenty-plus miles south of Moab, Utah, stands a giant sandstone dome in the middle of the desert. It has a hollowed and overhanging southern face and a peculiar window opening on its western flank. Long used as a landmark for travelers on the Spanish Trail, cowboys later used it to spot their cattle. Today, base jumpers and rock climbers are drawn there. It’s known as Looking Glass Rock.

“You could take anyone up there,” said John Brewer of Moab Cliffs and Canyons guide service in Moab. Brewer has been climbing in the region for 20 years, and he has established routes in mountains as far away as Patagonia.

Through the Looking Glass

“As long as you’re reasonably athletic and not intimidated by exposure, it’s a great first day out in the desert,” he said.

While this three-pitch route is not demanding, it’s still a technical ascent up a sandstone dome by little more than dusty smearing, a technique of balance relying on pure friction. Rumor has it those cowboys climbed it in their boots. But even with today’s modern climbing shoes, it’s a head trip. The only real vertical climbing is found within the first few moves, which is nice because you can quickly get away from the rattlesnakes (although on a blustery winter day they were out for the season).

How to do it

You can expect about three bolts per pitch, all placed when they are warranted. A fall would be more of a slide but still wouldn’t be fun. There are double-bolted anchors at the top of each pitch, with ample room to enjoy the view.

“There is a really exciting free-hanging rappel,” Brewer said.

And that’s where things get spicy.

At the top of the third pitch, you can wander left to an odd set of three spinning, unflushed bolts. You could rap the entire dome from here, but it’s best to use them for an awkward short rappel toward the edge into a key-hole notch where the real fun begins. Here, you’ll find a five-bolt anchor with chains and a much more exciting start to the rappel. It’s a little funky up there. You could also walk down a spine with severe exposure and approach the notch from here, but it’s a long way down, even if you are still on belay. In short, just rappel to the rappel.

Climbers ascend Looking Glass Rock. The dome was a landmark feature for travelers on the Spanish Trail.Josh Stephenson

Rope up

You can do this with one 70-meter rope. All those guide books are wrong. That also means if you drop your rope, you’re hoping someone nice comes along soon.

The rappel is a long 120 feet or so. It’s a wild, free hang into an amphitheater, with another rock opening as a backdrop. It’s majestic, memorable and so fun that you consider running up the whole thing again just to get another rapp. That’s where the rope swing comes in.

Swing loose

Once you’re down, you can scramble back up into the amphitheater and take up rope in your belay device as you go. At first it’s awkward, but the higher you go the better the swing. There is a clear ledge that makes the most sense, so aim for that. And yes, watch out for the snakes. It’s all worth the extra effort. Swing until your heart is content, then lower back down.

“Anyone can do it,” Brewer said.

So go on, take a peek through the Looking Glass.

Getting there

Looking Glass Road is about 23 miles south of Moab, Utah, on U.S. Route 191. Head west for 2 miles and turn south on a two-track undeveloped road toward the dome.