The aptly named Sunbowl is located in sleepy Sunderland, MA. Although the rock quality is fairly poor and the number of routes modest, the moderate grades, temperate micro-climate and easy access make this one of Western Massachusetts’s most popular crags for novice leaders or those seeking a quick workout.
As the name suggests, this southwest facing, wind-sheltered craglett is toasty on even cold winter afternoons – providing the sun is shining. However, ample tree cover offers shade in steamy summer days as well. The wall – approximately 35 feet tall and 150 feet long – is comprised of Mount Toby conglomerate and offers a maze of cobbles and pockets. Two slabby wings and a steep, central wall yield fewer than a dozen, well-protected sport routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.11. A long, V2 traverse offers a pumpy workout.
The parking lot lies just off Clark Mountain Road (CMR) in Sunderland. Take 116 north from Amherst or south from Sunderland and turn east onto CMR. This turn is just across 116 from a small strip mall containing a Dunkin Dounuts, a package store and a 7-11. CMR passes a long term storage facility on the left and very close to a residence on the right before it deteriorates into a one-lane, unmaintained road. (Four wheel drive is not usually necessary, but ample ground clearance is.) Climb CMR for about two-tenths of a mile being careful not to drive off into the drainage swale on the right or collide with a descending vehicle. Avoid the left hand turn near the top of the rise and instead turn right at the T intersection just beyond. Continue for about one tenth of a mile through a few large puddles and park at the third pullout on the left near a small clearing in the woods. The pullout is marked by a small fire ring and an old logging road branches off from a narrowing CMR.
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Walk past the fire ring and hike up the old logging road for about a half mile. The road will cross over a small stream and begin to climb a modest grade. As the road begins to level out, a small cairn marking a well worn climbers’ trail will appear on the left. Hike a few hundred yards up this steeper trail and enter the cliff at the right side. The best way by far to set up climbs is to lead them, but the top can be accessed by a trail around on the far left end. Be extremely careful when traversing the top: the unstable footing and steep slope make leading much safer than setting a top rope.
Aside from Mormon and Farley, no other Western Mass crag has suffered more during the frequent visits of a certain bolt chopper than the Sunbowl. Thankfully, the roughly textured Mount Toby conglomerate hides these scars better than our beloved granitic gneiss. Local climbers cleaned up most of the damage and replaced all of the anchors. Although this is always difficult work, the porous and alarmingly soft nature of this rock made this task even more challenging. These climbers opted for the security of glue-in anchors at the top of most of the climbs, but each climber should evaluate the soundness of each bolt for him or herself before clipping.