Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Ultimate Guide to the Reserve

I've been wanting to do this for a little while but needed to go back up to The Reserve first. For those of you that don't know, The Reserve is one of the major bouldering areas at Devils Lake. It's out of the way and somewhat unique in that it's very concentrated and many of the problems are some of the best at the lake.

For years I tried to get directions to The Reserve and couldn't. I kept on hearing rumors about it, but never anything concrete. This was before any directions were posted on any websites and that info wasn't widely available. I had no real clue where it was and had these big, wild ideas that it was out in the middle of nowhere with a brutal, uphill slog.....both ways.

It was to my surprise, and joy, when Jason asked if I wanted to go out to the Burma Boulders and The Reserve. This was back in 2003 or so and I hadn't been to either one to actually climb, so I was beyond excited. There was so much history with both of the areas and I was so happy to finally climb at both for the first time.

Turns out that when you know where to go and how to get there, the hike isn't too bad. And it's worth every step. The problems are good, the landings are friendly and everything is super concentrated. Pretty much all of the rock is super slick and glassy but it offers a good lesson in precision.

The hike is about 35-45 minutes long depending on how fast you hike and is mostly on level ground that's easy on the legs. The trail itself is faint, at best, and can be tricky to navigate and even harder to actually stay on the trail. Take the trail with a grain of salt and think of it as a basic guideline, rather than a true trail.

To start out, park at the South Shore boat landing parking lot and walk to the right corner of the lot with your back facing the lake. You'll walk a couple hundred feet into the woods and you should see these:

This marks the start of the hike and is where the trail starts up. If you find these you have a better chance of finding the reserve than most do! Walk past both of these slabs of concrete and start looking for a very faint trail. There is a small trick as well, and I need to thank Jason for pointing this out to me during my first hike up there. Keep an eye out on trees for small black or faded orange spraypainted dots. Much like this one:

There are more of these right away and help you up the first hill and make life a little easier. Keep in mind that you more than likely will get lost a couple times. I've been there many times and got lost maybe 3-4 times on the way there and another couple times on the way back. Take it with a grain of salt.

As you go further and further into the woods you'll start to head a little more East(Left) and you'll be more on top of the South Bluff. You'll hopefully keep on seeing the occasional black dot like these:

I find that if I get off trail I normally need to trend left to get back on it. As long as you stay near the top of the bluff you'll end up hitting the Reserve. As you get closer the trail gets a little rockier and you'll start to see some more outcroppings of smaller boulders. After a while you'll come over a small rise and see this!

The Reserve itself is a nice bluff line with maybe the highest quality freestanding boulder in the immediate area. The Lake Boulder is absolutely classic and is worth the hike alone. There are classic problems from VB-VHard. All of them are within about 50 Yards of one another and most have great landings, especially for the lake.

If you end up going too far you'll hit a small talus field that is a couple minutes past the Reserve. You just need to double back and walk around a little.

I often forget how sandbagged that place is and then I go up and get a good thrashing. Same was true when Katie and I went back a few weeks ago. I got on a lunge problem that was apparently a V3 and it shut me down pretty well. The lack of friction and exact nature of the climbing is always interesting to climb on. To be honest, the Cave Traverse at Taylor's Falls felt more doable than this one. It's always humbling.

I hope this helps someone find the place. It's tricky, but well worth the effort.


  1. Excellent directions, Steve. It is good to see something like this. I look forward to seeing the rest of the guide you put together! For what it is worth I think I always thought that lunge was v4 or 5. Oh, and maybe you could do the same thing for Burma??? Pic of the chain fence and mileage you park next to, to find the trail?

    Also of note, about 5 minutes before one reaches the Reserve there should be a fallen tree with a small cairn on it and a "trail" splitting off to the right. A minute or two walk along this will lead one to the Amazing Pillar. Just a little more info for your readers!

    What do you think tho, time to spill the beans on the "Secrets of the Lake" Boulder?

  2. I think the chain fence at the Burma parking is gone, but the eye bolts are still in the tree.

    Be wary of directions from Huston, he's a total sandbagger!

  3. Thanks Jason! I'm glad you liked it. I'd actually like to do something like this for all of the areas at the lake. I keep on wavering on what format I want for the guide. Specifically since I can't draw at all and topos are a pain in the ass. Especially at the lake when everything is so confuzzling anyways.

    What do you think? Wisconsin bouldering guide blog??? Thoughts???

    The fence at burma is gone but the scars on the trees are still around. I think that all of the secrets at the lake should be a secret no more. That's just me though. I think that many, MANY people disagree still.

    Send me a note about the "Secrets of the Lake" boulder....

  4. Thanks Steve! Looks great, it sounds like I gave up too early. I was following the black dots and eventually said the hell with this. Yeah Jason, where is that Secret Boulder? CE

  5. Chris, perhaps someone had given you the roped-climbers time to the Reserve, 20-30 minutes. The boulderers time is 35-45 minutes.

    And I fully agree, Steve, post up directions to all areas at the Lake. There seems to be a lot of energy for bouldering in Wisconsin and the whole just-hike-around-for-10-hours-and-you'll-find-something attitude is lame and has lead to a lot of people missing the opportunity to climb on a lot of really good problems.

    I think an online blog for bouldering at the Lake would be great. It is just so much easier to include multiple photos and loads of directions all in one place. Though, out at the area I think it is nice to have something printable in your hands to help find problems..."now was that problem on the west side of the boulder, or the east?" Perhaps, if you had the photos and descriptions I could do something similar to the Qual Wall topo, for a printable guide. Anyways, I like the start, it would be great to see more.

  6. And sandbagger!? I have no idea what you are talking about...

  7. Fantastic. I'll start something up soon. If nothing else, it'll be a good start.

    And yes, you are a sandbagger....just a little one though.


  9. Perfect. Hoping to have something started very soon on all of this.