In Harford, seeking thrills on the rocks Popular: Climbers flock to Rocks State Park, considered one of the premier spots in Maryland to try their skills.

June 21, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

The hot sun reflected off her neon green shoestrings yesterday as Amy Bria held her rope securely and stepped gingerly down a rock crevice.

First one foot and then the other as Bria, a 32-year-old accountant from Lansdowne, slowly descended the steep cliff while friend Ronald W. Bungay encouraged her to "trust the system."

It was a scene repeated often at Rocks State Park in Harford County, where climbers flock to the natural formation known as the King and Queen Seat to test their skills.

As a rock-climbing craze has swept the state, serious climbers and thrill-seekers have come to "the rocks," as it is known, to experience what many believe is one of the premier rock-climbing spots in Maryland.

And while Rocks Park officials point out there have been relatively few climbing deaths -- two in almost 10 years, with the most recent in April -- they caution that climbers must be prepared. Officials say they are trying to keep the fun as safe as possible.

"When people are not using the proper equipment, then they are not climbing, they are scrambling," said park ranger Dave Powell. "That's not to say that accidents don't happen, but equipment can minimize that risk."

Yesterday, eight members of the Adventure Club of Towson shrugged off the heat and climbed and rappelled the jagged rocks that hang 190 feet above Deer Creek. The King and Queen Seat, at the top of the formation, is named for its natural indentations that resemble seating areas.

The recreational club has more than 100 members and promotes fellowship through physical activities such as climbing, canoeing, camping, biking and rafting. The climbers cheered each other after successful climbs up the steep cliff and indulged in the tradition of kissing the hook that secured their safety rope once they made it to the top.

"You have to have faith in yourself that you can do it," Bria said after her descent. "And when you go to the top of the rock, I just love that view."

Climber Carol Ricker, 51, said she enjoyed coming to the park because of its proximity to her Baltimore County home. Rock climbing has a special place in her heart, Ricker said, especially because Bungay proposed to her last month on Mother's Day on a rock in Patapsco State Park.

"My mother told me we better not get married on the rocks because she won't be there," said Ricker, who, with Bungay, is a teacher with Baltimore County's Adult Education Program. "I won't say that we haven't thought about it."

Ranger Jeff Shein said climbers come from as far as Pennsylvania and Delaware to try their skills on the cliff.

"Our rock formation is considered one of the best in the tri-state area," Shein said. "The sport of rock climbing is a true sport, and for the most part people know how to handle themselves."

Officials said there have been 10 accidents requiring ranger assistance since 1993.

In April, Howard E. Ashton, a 36-year-old Glen Burnie cabinetmaker and carpenter, died while attempting to climb the rocks without using ropes. Ashton's death was the first since 1989, officials said.

Adrian Ballinger, a rock climbing and mountaineering instructor with Earth Treks' Climbing Center in Columbia, said he has seen a rapid increase in people wanting to learn how to climb.

The area at Rocks State Park offers enthusiasts a beautiful area with good rock quality and some of the longest climbs in the region, he said.

Ballinger, whose company runs an indoor climbing gym, said that in the past year and a half, more than 15,000 people have tried their hand at scaling its faux rock walls.

"But you really need that intermediate step of a place you can go that's easy to get to, and where climbers of different skill levels can enjoy themselves. The park offers that," he said.

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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