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5 Classic Crags for Climbers of All Levels in Colorado

by Michelle May 9, 2017

THE CLIMBING terrain in Colorado is as varied as the spring weather. Whether you like slabby runouts, easy sport climbs, high altitude traditional routes, or a bolted route that makes your palms sweat, check out the areas below. From 5.8 to 5.14, sandstone to granite, walk-up to hike-in — rack up your quickdraws and cams for the best climbing in Colorado.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park.

It is home to 4.2 million visitors a year, but you can still escape the crowds in the backcountry. Lumpy Ridge has the densest number of climbs in one area. The south-facing ridge extends about two miles, with mostly traditional (gear) routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12. The classics congregate in the middle zone, 5.9-5.10. The granite cracks chew up your skin, so be sure to tape up.

Venture into the backcountry and commit yourself with multi-pitch high alpine routes at 12,000+ feet above sea level. Classics include the North Ridge of Spearhead (5.6) and the Casual Route (5.10a) on Longs Peak’s 900-foot face, the Diamond. Local hero Tommy Caldwell put up an intricate and technical test piece above Chasm Lake for the hardy sport climber, l, Sarchasm, (5.14a).

2. Rifle Mountain Park, outside of Rifle.

While Rifle is known to be the testing grounds for hard climbing, there is a host of mid-level climbs. The limestone can be slick, and most of the climbs range from slightly to extremely overhanging, so Rifle can be frustrating for beginners. The classics start at 5.12, with pockets, crimps, and open-handed, flat holds to test your forearm endurance.

A lift of the bolting ban came with the caveat that every hard climb had to have an easier one as well. Check out the Canine Wall for fun climbs ranging from 5.8 to 5.11. Stay away from Rifle on summer weekends, when the Front Range crowds venture across the divide into the cool mountain canyon. A pure sport climbing area, be sure you’ve got a large rack of quickdraws on your harness.

3. Shelf Road, near Canon City.

Be careful not to get sandbagged at Shelf, where the dead vertical limestone sport climbs will seem twice as long as they are. Shelf is known for stout grades, so get a few under your feet before venturing into unknown territory.

Climbing in the high desert is a draw, but the Cactus Cliff classics will keep you entertained year around with about 150 climbs ranging from 5.8 to 5.12. Cactus Cliff is regarded as a moderate climber’s dream; you’ll tie into a climb just 20 minutes from the car.

4. Eldorado Canyon State Park, south of Boulder.

The brilliant red and golden walls of Eldo soar 700 feet, but not all the climbs are multi-pitch. This is primarily a traditional climbing area, so you’ll find few continuous cracks. Typical routes mix fixed gear and placing pro, although there are a few standard sport climbs.

From the iconic Bastille Crack to the Redgarden Wall, the routes can take some getting used to. In this area with huge variety, you’ll encounter delicate face climbing, traverses, and technical moves, sometimes on the same climb. With many of the climbs established in the 1960s, runouts and old gear are common, as is clipping bolts after the crux move. Both north and south-facing crags allow for shade-hopping during hot summer days.

5. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose.

If adventure climbing is your thing, the 2,722-foot-deep canyon has over 140 documented traditional routes. It’s remote, multi-pitch (10 or more pitches). Climbing involves carrying a pack (with emergency gear) in the event of an unexpected overnight.

The walls are sheer schist and gneiss. While the climbs start at 5.8, it’s not a place for beginners since many of the routes require the additional skill of aid climbing. The climbs are committing and have been known to be deceiving. Permits are required to climb in the canyon, and guide services are available.

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