When Eric Horst started rock climbing above active train lines in Lancaster County in the 1970s, he never thought about the day he would get kicked off the rock. The train conductors seemed to enjoy watching the skinny boys hanging from the vertical faces as they rolled past.
The mud colored rock that Horst has spent his life climbing are man made. Train companies bought the strips of land in the early 1900s along the Susquehanna River to build lines from Harrisburg to Baltimore. Using explosives, the engineers behind the Pennsylvania Railroad created miles of vertical rock, some sections reaching over 100 feet tall.
Nothing like this existed anywhere else in central Pennsylvania. And it remains so today.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, a new style of climbing was taking over crags across the United States. This new type of climbing, called “sport”, involved drilling holes into the rock face and screwing bolts into the holes. As climbers went higher and higher on the rock face they could attach themselves to the bolts and be protected from falling the whole way up. (The earlier style of climbing, referred to as “traditional”, involves finding natural features in the rock to attach removable protection. It requires a different skill from climbers and generally is a larger commitment in both time and money. Nevertheless, it survives today with an extremely loyal band climbers.)
As sport climbing grew in popularity, the numbers of climbers who came to Safe Harbor exploded. By the early-mid 1990s, the train lines were deactivated and removed. But the land was still owned by the train company and they no longer wanted climbers.
Horst and his growing community of climbers were kicked off of the crag they had created.
Over the next decade, Horst continued to fight for access to the land for climbers. Off and on during the 2000s, climbers were granted access, but never for more than a few months at a time. Not until November of last year were Horst’s efforts rewarded with permanent access.
To learn more about Safe Harbor crag, check out safeharborclimbing.com, or visit their Facebook page.