Texas Climbers Coalition President and Access Coordinator Adam Mitchell (right) and Brian Tickle look up to Medicine Wall after taking ownership of the climbing destination.
Adam Mitchell (right), president of the Texas Climbing Coalition, with Brian Tickle, Access Fund’s Texas regional director, looks up at Medicine Wall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Medicine Wall, a roughly 80-foot limestone bluff in northern San Antonio, will become the city’s first officially sanctioned outdoor rock climbing area when access to the site opens in 2020.

After roughly two years of negotiations with landowners and developers, the nonprofit climbing group Texas Climbers Coalition, formerly known as Central Texas Mountaineers, took ownership of the property last Friday, the organization’s President Adam Mitchell said.

Medicine Wall is the first property Texas Climbers Coalition has owned outright, said Mitchell, who lives in Marble Falls. A nationwide nonprofit conservation and advocacy group known as the Access Fund will maintain a conservation and recreation easement on the land, said Brian Tickle, the Access Fund’s Austin-based Texas regional director.

“It’s an urban crag. It’s right in San Antonio,” Tickle said. “So many climbers are introduced to climbing through gyms, and then typically the progression is to go outside at some point. Medicine Wall will definitely fulfill that need.”

However, the wall will be closed to climbers until approximately spring 2020, they said.

An expanded Salado Creek Greenway trail will give climbers access to Medicine Wall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

That’s when construction should be complete on a new 4-mile section of the Salado Creek Greenway trail that will connect to Eisenhower Park, City special projects manager Brandon Ross said. The trail will be Medicine Wall’s only access point.

Climbers will be allowed to park at a parking lot meant for trail users on the south side of Loop 1604, Ross said. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department has funding for the trail segment in place, and construction on the trail will begin in early 2019, Ross said.

San Antonio climbers have waited many years for a reliable place to practice their sport outdoors, though the city has at least two indoor bouldering gyms.

Climbers currently have to drive more than an hour to reach the nearest public access areas at Milton Reimers Ranch Park, owned by Travis County Parks; the City of Austin’s Barton Creek Greenbelt; and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, near Fredericksburg.

Medicine Wall was among a handful of under-the-radar locations in San Antonio. It served as a a popular sport climbing crag for about 20 years, Mitchell and Tickle said. After two climbers died in a fall there in February 2015, the landowners removed hardware from the wall and began cracking down on trespassers, they said.

Volunteers will have to set up sport climbing routes before the wall opens for climbing, they said.

“[Medicine Wall] doesn’t have any hardware so it would have to be completely bolted,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to try to put the best possible equipment in there, stuff that’s going to last a long time.”

The limestone peak of Medicine Wall reaches about 65 feet in the air.
The limestone peak of Medicine Wall reaches about 80 feet from the base. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mitchell and Tickle declined to share the exact terms of the land deal, but they said the landowners wanted the bluff to be preserved.

Records show the wall and the future trail site lie on land once owned by the Rogers family. Lloyd “Laddie” Denton Jr., co-founder and CEO of real estate development company Bitterblue, worked with the City and the climbers on opening access to the wall and portions of Salado Creek for the trail.

Ross said the City’s Parks and Recreation Department decided against seeking ownership of Medicine Wall.

“We don’t really have a lot of direct experience with climbing,” Ross said. When the climber groups expressed interest, it seemed like a better alternative, he said.

“They seem to know what they’re doing in terms of safety regulations and what types of protections are needed for the environment itself,” Ross said. “So it made sense for them to be the stewards of that wall, since that’s their wheelhouse.”

Tickle said the deal “wouldn’t have happened without San Antonio climbers bird-dogging for us for a long time.”

“Texas is loaded with rock that’s on private property, and there’s kind of a secretive element to knowing where all these climbing areas are,” Tickle continued. “For an organization like the [coalition] or Access Fund to be successful, you have to rely on a vast network of local climbers that know where the areas are, know what the issues are, and can reach out for help.”

Tickle said that Texas climbers have an incentive to take good care of the places where they can climb.

“Access can be pretty hard-fought, so when you get it, it’s a pretty valuable thing,” he said. “You try to take care of the resource as much as you can.”

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.