A huge boulder has fallen from the sheer rock wall at the climbing area at the Belle Isle quarry. It likely happened in the past two weeks as a result of the recent extreme swings in temperature. The part of the boulder that had been hidden within the granite bedrock for millions of years was the whitest granite I’ve ever seen.
“Such spalling is a natural reaction to the freeze-thaw cycle that we get at this time of year,” said James River Park manager Ralph White. Water can seep through tiny cracks between rocks, then freezes into ice, which expands the cracks and eventually could lead to separation. He said that if it appears that a slab of rock might fall on someone walking below, then the parks department would see if it could be pried loose.
The boulder looked to be about 8 feet by 6 feet and dropped at the far right side of the narrow earthen path that runs along the quarry wall, impaling a thick telephone pole.
“The park does not assure the safety of any rock surface for climbing. We do not do patrols or inspections. You use it at your own risk. We are not an indoor climbing gym. This is a natural area park and users must undertake their own responsibility for exploring it,” White said.
Kevin Tobin of Peak Experiences is no stranger to the quarry wall and runs his Passages Adventure Camp to the climbing walls all summer long. He said that he has been climbing in the quarry for 16 years and that about eight years ago a professional climber set the top ropes in the quarry.
“In the summertime, we evaluate the area each day,” Tobin said. “All the changes happen in the winter months,” due to the freeze-thaw. He said that Passages makes efforts every year to prevent erosion and keep the area clean.