With summer in full swing, I’m always on the lookout for crags that are high and shady. I’ve had my eye on just such a crag at the very top of Clear Creek Canyon for a few years now. This chunk of rock is plainly obvious when approaching Clear Creek from the west, but its sky-scraping position roughly 1000-feet above the river (at an elevation of ~8000’) has discouraged the lazy sport climber in me from doing much about it.
Earlier this year I finally hiked up the impressively long and steep hillside to investigate the crag. Although most of the cliff was too broken or low-angled to be of interest to me, I found a couple walls with great rock and some interesting features. Just as importantly, I discovered a much better approach.
Luckily for my knees, Clear Creek County Open Space acquired the large parcel of land between the cliff and I-70 in the spring. This allows for a much easier approach from the saddle at Floyd Hill through the Open Space (still not trivial though, about 20 minutes with ~300 feet of elevation gain).The formation is massive, and has cliffs facing in just about every direction, but the best cliffs are generally west-facing, staying in the shade till around noon. There are currently two developed sectors which are a few hundred feet apart. The lower, northern-most wall, dubbed the “Committee Wall” consists of long-ish, more or less vertical panels of solid, well-featured rock. The routes on this wall are in the 5.10- to 5.11 range, with generally consistent difficulty and fun climbing.
The southern sector (“Wabble of Wowdy Webels Wall”) is much shorter, but overhanging, with bullet stone, littered with incut edges. These routes are all excellent despite their brevity. The two 5.12s climb on incredible rock, featuring fun, dynamic boulder problems to reach the lip of the overhang. The best line on this sector is probably Fight the Oppressors, which climbs the stunning, jutting arête on the far right edge of the wall. The prow overhangs on both sides, but thanks to perfectly positioned incut jugs, the difficulty is never much harder than 5.10.
Cruising the short but sweet jutting prow of Fight the Oppressors, 11a.
Boer sticking the big dyno on The Meek Are the Problem, 12a.
Straining through the crux of Solidarity Brother, 12b.
Topcat, one of three new routes atop the Catslab in Clear Creek Canyon, CO.
Over the winter I bolted three routes on the steep visor that sits high above the “Catslab” in upper Clear Creek. This feature looks like a roof from the ground, but it’s more like a convex bulge, gradually sweeping from about 60-degrees overhanging at the base up to ~30 degrees at the top. The business overhangs right around 45-degrees.
Once we returned from Europe I finally got around to trying the routes. In a nutshell, all three of them offer really fun movement in a spectacular setting on subpar rock. Like most steep routes in Clear Creek, you have to weave around some mungy ledges and cracks to reach the goods. Fortunately the rock improves steadily once on the visor, and notwithstanding the typical Clear Creek exfoliating flaky stuff, the rock is pretty good where it counts (and totally bullet on the headwall above the visor).
Each of these routes has a distinct character. The first line I climbed is the middle route, Kitty’s Back. This line is incredibly fun, pretty much a complete jug haul. The line follows a system of exfoliating flakes, with super steep off-balance/barn door-y liebacking. The flakes end with one long huck right at the top of the overhang, followed by more fun jugs up the beautiful headwall. The rock at the start is marginal, but it improves substantially and is bomber in the crux and beyond. I reckon this goes at about 13a, and would be classic if the rock were consistently good.
Fingerlocking onto the steep visor on Catlong.
The next route I tried is the right-most line, which follows a seam through the steep wall. Catlong is pretty unusual for Clear Creek in that the crux requires some gymnastic finger locking (if that’s a thing). Although it has its fair share of exfoliating flakey stuff to either side of the seam, the handholds are all solid, generally large features. Unfortunately you have to weave through a 6-foot-tall band of dusty ledges just below the start of the overhang. There are solid hand jugs through this obstacle but your feet will be pasting on scaly, sandy stone. Above, the climbing is really cool and exotic if you like crack climbing. It begins with a long reach from a finger lock to reach a big jug rail, then the crux comes next with sequential moves and an overhead heel hook to set up another bomber finger lock. Next you get to do some hip scums, wild stemming and even a kneebar, all with a steadily building pump. The climb ends with large but well-spaced crimps on the headwall, checking in around 13c.
Steep, fun pretzel climbing on Catlong.
The final route, Top Cat, is the furthest left. Against all odds it turned out to be the best, with good rock throughout, and really fun, athletic climbing. It’s also the hardest, with two difficult dynos. The most powerful move is a burly stab to a half-pad crimp at the second bolt, after which heel hooks and big lock-offs between good-for-the-grade holds lead into the redpoint crux–a crossing drive-by to reach the 4th bolt. Although it’s short, it’s completely sustained from the moment you step off the slab. I think its at the low end 5.14a.
Powerful lock-offs on Top Cat, 5.14a.
Meow if that doesn’t get you stoked for rock climbing, perhaps this will:
My family and I are heading to France (with a few days in Italy) at the end of the month for spring break. I spend the vast majority of my outdoor climbing days working redpoint projects, but on this trip I expect to focus on climbing routes first go, so I’ve spent the past few weeks tuning up my fitness accordingly and practicing on-sighting. All the crags on our itinerary are limestone, so we made a point to visit Shelf Road to climb on similar stone (albeit of much, much lower quality–or so I hope).
Earlier in the winter I bolted 4 routes (and a linkup) on a nice cream-colored panel of rock in the “Tropical Wall” sector of Shelf’s North Gym, which offered the perfect objective. Granted, these would not technically be on-sight attempts since I had rapped all the routes while bolting them. However, I don’t really possess the capacity to remember the details of four random lines I bolted a few months ago, since all my memory banks are filled to the brim with song lyrics and movie quotes. So I expected it to provide good practice nonetheless.
The main feature on the wall is a 3-feet-deep roof about halfway up. Four of the five lines involve this obstacle in some way. The first line I tried (“Booty Sweat”) follows a fairly continuous crack system that skirts the left side of the roof with powerful underclings (for the grade). While basically a crack climb, there are a lot of nice pockets sprinkled around to spice things up.
Shaking out below the undercling roof exit on Booty Sweat, 5.11b. Photo Amelie A.
The most intimidating line on the wall climbs out the center of the roof. Thanks to a few sinker pockets I climbed fairly easily up to a good shake at jugs below the ceiling. Just as I arrived, Amelie announced she needed to pee and she couldn’t hold it. Fortunately there was a bolt right at my waist, so I clipped a loose sling straight in to the bolt so Kate could help Amelie. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate the imposing obstacle above. Once I was properly on belay again, I charged up to the lip and groped my right hand over to a shallow 4-finger dish. I couldn’t see an elegant way to get established over the lip, so I coiled and hucked my left hand for what appeared likely to be a big jug. It was, and I stuck it, but it was incredibly prickly. My feet swung out wildly as I stuck the jug, and Kate shouted up “that was sick!”, which is incredibly rare—usually she is completely and justifiably unimpressed by my climbing antics (having seen the sausage being made, so to speak). I replied with, “what’s sick is what happened to the skin on my hand.” My palm was torn up and bleeding in a few places, but it turned out to be nothing serious, just enough to warrant the name “More Shredded Than A Julienne Salad.”
Working up the headwall after surmounting the big roof on …Julienne Salad (5.12b?) Photo Amelie A.
Perhaps the best line turned out to be the 5.11- linkup that joins the bottom half of Booty Sweat to the top-half of More Shredded…, climbing through the left side of the big roof via a bubbly pancake flake. It’s a classic jughaul with no hard moves to speak of. I’m generally not a fan of linkups, and I had no intention of bolting this line when scoping the wall from the ground, but once I rapped the wall and saw the line of jugs I couldn’t resist.
Scoping holds on The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, 5.12a. Photo Logan A.
The other two lines on the wall, Be Australian and The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, involve sustained pocket and edge climbing on great stone. They’re both worthwhile. I hiked past this wall probably 20 or 30 times while developing the rest of the North Gym in 2011, and I always intended to bolt it, but I never got around to it for whatever reason. I assumed somebody else would claim it during my 5-year exile to Clear Creek, so I was surprised and stoked to find it still untouched last November. In retrospect I’m really glad I had the opportunity to put these routes in. I’m sure some day in the future, once every route at Cactus Cliff is polished to glass and has a queue 10-ropebags deep, these routes will be well-appreciated by adventurous loners like me.
With the winter weather finally arriving in Colorado, I headed south to Shelf Road to wrap up a few projects I had bolted several years ago but (almost) forgotten about. Shelf is a really important crag to me. While I had done the odd First Ascent before I started climbing regularly at Shelf, that is where I really fell in love with vertical exploration and route development.
Between dynos on Treble Huck, one of my new 5.13s at Shelf Road.
Returning to the North Gym after a five year hiatus was nostalgic. I bolted 20-some routes there in 2011, including establishing Shelf Road’s first 5.14, Apogee Pending. Most of my new routes are in pretty obscure locations, so I often wonder if anyone besides me will ever climb them. The North Gym is among the more obscure crags at Shelf, so when I looked through the comments on Mountain Project, I was encouraged to read of other peoples’ adventures on my creations. I was also stoked to see that some other people had started adding their own routes to the ample undeveloped rock in the area.
On this trip I sent three new routes, all of which turned out quite a bit better than I expected. One of the great things about climbing primarily in Clear Creek Canyon is that when you go anywhere else the rock seems phenomenal by comparison. By the end of my infatuation with Shelf it seemed like I was running out of worthwhile options, and these three routes were bolted last because they seemed the most dubious. Five years later, with my new frame of reference, I can’t fathom my previous reservations.
I never really had any doubts about the first route, Alpha Chino’s Chinos, but it’s isolated enough from the other walls that I feared it would be ignored. The rock is impeccable cream stone littered with pockets and edges. The movement is excellent, with a dynamic, sequential crux passing a 2-finger pocket on the gently overhanging panel at mid-height. I reckon it’s one of the two best 5.12s at The North Gym (along with Who Left the Fridge Open?).
Clearing the final little bulge of Alpha Chino’s Chinos, 5.12b.
The second route was squeezed in between two previously existing routes at The Tropical Wall. After climbing the adjacent lines for a photoshoot, I lowered down, imagined a potential sequence, and returned to bolt it soon after. It climbs a slightly overhanging bulge with a few diagonaling crimps that lead to a series of very thin sidepull slots. The rock is phenomenal in the crux—easily some of the best limestone at Shelf—though unfortunately the crux is rather short-lived. The rest of the line still offers excellent climbing on great stone, but it’s not hard enough to keep the outcome in doubt to the end (which is a hallmark of every truly classic route).
Enjoying brilliant limestone in the crux of Satan’s Alley.
At the time I bolted it I wasn’t sure if the line would go. My first time up I was stumped, straining to move between distant gastons. Eventually I figured out a big throw from an undercling that got me through the bulge, then it was just a matter of crimping and locking off like a maniac until I reached easier ground above. At 5.13c, Satan’s Alley is one of the harder lines at Shelf, though admittedly it lacks the imposing stature of the area’s other test-pieces.
Near the end of my Shelf development spree I started noticing that many crags had really high capping roofs that offered the type of steep terrain that typically yields hard routes (but is rare at Shelf). The rock in this cap-layer is also quite a bit different (and in my opinion better quality) than the rest of Shelf’s limestone. It’s less fractured but also more featured, generally with lots of pockets. My third and final project for the trip was reminiscent of the rounded bulges and jutting roofs common to Wild Iris. It’s incredibly photogenic (and if I ever get a proper camera I might be able to back up that statement with some evidence), perched high above Four Mile Canyon with the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance.
I was eager to find out if the quality of the climbing matched the phenomenal setting. I was not disappointed. The climbing is everything the typical Shelf route is not. It shoots out a dramatically overhanging prow with toe cams, heel hooks and a series of big dynos. I’ve climbed just under half the routes at Shelf (the better half, for the most part), and I have to say the climbing on Treble Huck is arguably the most pure fun in the area. It’s gymnastic, wild, and dynamic. If you’re tired of standing on tiny footholds and tearing up your skin on half-pad crimps, this is the route for you. I think Shelf still has a lot of potential for routes of this kind, and I hope this route can help inspire some more exploration of the upper bands of limestone and the dramatic features they present.
If only my legs were as skinny as they appear in this photo.
Fall 2016 probably would have won the title “Best Season Ever” even if it ended after the third day (the day I finished off my year-long bout with Shadowboxing). After that send I spent a night celebrating, which for me entails eating a bunch of food I normally wouldn’t, in this case a greasy double cheeseburger, fries, chocolate shake, onion rings, several donuts…(you get the idea).
High on my new jughaul Aftermathematics, 5.12a, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.
Normally after a big send, and especially after a landmark send such as that one, I’m content to quit for the season, or at least dial back the intensity significantly. Actually, I often find it very difficult to climb at a high level successfully in the aftermath of a big send. This is most likely because it’s hard to mentally re-engage with another challenging goal after experiencing the euphoria, relief, and letdown of completing a major goal. But I had trained incredibly hard for this season, in anticipation of another extended battle. To give up my hard earned fitness and slim physique after only three climbing days seemed foolish.
So while I was itching to let myself go, scarf up my “9a Cookie” in one sitting and follow it up with a dozen Krispy Kremes, I felt like I owed it to myself to at least try to eke a few more results out of my new climbing level. Thanks to my late-2015 bolting frenzy I had a long list of potential projects to choose from.
About a week after sending Shadowboxing, this “9a Cookie” (complete with boxing gloves) showed up at my house, courtesy of my friends at Trango. Trango has meant a lot more to me than just free gear, and I really could not have made it to this level without their support and motivation.
One such line is perched high on Clear Creek’s Wall of the 90s. When I was working the twin roof-climbs Harlot and Hellcat, I was regularly distracted by an attractive swath of molasses stone heading up the extreme left end of the large roof system on the north end of the cliff. This looked to be the “last great roof problem” at the Wall of the 90s (which was already home to four roof routes in the 13d -14b range). I imagined the line would climb easily out to the lip of the roof along an incut flake, and then follow a series of small crimps up the slightly overhanging headwall. I bolted the line in November 2015, as soon as I heard that new bolting restrictions would go into effect for 2016.
As steep lines go, it was impossible to inspect the rock in the roof without bolting my way down to it. When I arrived at the roof I found the flake I was counting on to support my body-weight was barely stable enough to support itself. Once it was cleaned, there was no clear path out the roof. But, since I had already bolted 90% of the route, I decided I might as well finish the bolt job and hope I could find another free sequence.
Attemptiong the Wall of the 90s’ “last great roof problem,” which climbs out to the swath of dark brown stone ten feet left of Harlot. Photo Mark Dixon.
So I wasn’t exactly optimistic when I returned to investigate the possibilities. I climbed up into the roof, and spent about 30 minutes dangling and groping for options. When I arrived back on the ground, convinced the line would not go, I started brainstorming ways to salvage the rest of the day. Perhaps I could try to onsight something, or try another open project at a nearby cliff….
Kate’s much more logical in these situations. She realizes if I were to bail after one go, I’d just end up dragging her back out there another day to try it again. And she remembers the countless times I’d lowered off a route after one try, dismayed and convinced it would not go, only to discover the solution on my second time up (in fact, that happened once on this very cliff, during my first day on Double Stout). Unable to deny her wisdom, I headed back up one more time.
Of course, the second time I found hope. I wasn’t able to do all the moves, but I could imagine how they would go, and figured I would be able to do them. The remains of the loose flake offered a couple decent underclings, from which I could make a huge reach to a sloping, 1-pad, three-finger edge just over the lip. The problem with such a reach is that it leaves you over-extended, from which it’s hard to do much of anything, but with the right toe-hooking and core tension I figured I could match near the lip, and then theoretically dyno higher to another good edge.
Reaching up to undercling the remains of the big flake. After matching the undercling, you have to make a huge reach to a 3-finger edge along the crescent shaped rail near the bottom of the lime streak.
Two weeks later I made it back to the project, and this time I did the move. Once out of about 10 tries. Not super encouraging, but at least I knew now that I could do it, eventually. The rest of the route was getting much easier, and at least the crux was only a few moves in. I wasn’t able to return again until the end of October, and so I assumed I wouldn’t have the power to do the crux anymore, but I wanted to find out for sure before moving on to less bouldery projects.
My first go of the day I managed to stick the crux dyno after only a couple of tries. Anytime you’re throwing and catching all your body weight on small holds, there’s a chance of destroying your skin. I think when I had tried the move earlier in the season, I was reluctant to really commit 100% to latching the target hold, for fear of wrecking my skin. But now, nearing the end of a long season, I had little to lose, and found myself squeezing much harder on the latch.
After a short break I roped up again. I had more trouble than usual getting to the lip of the roof. These moves require my maximum strength, and doing them even a few times can take quite a bit out of me. I had to lunge the last few inches to the three-finger edge, a move I did statically on my first go. As I worked my feet into position for the throw, I could feel my hand slowing opening up on the three-finger edge. “Now or never,” I thought, unleashing myself outward and upward over the lip. I nailed the hold and somehow controlled the violent recoil of my lower body. I threw a foot up, slapped up onto the hanging upper panel, and cruised up incut crimps to the anchor.
Cranking between incut crimps on the pumpy, slightly overhanging headwall.
I named the route “Seven Minute Abs” for its core-intensive crux. I reckon this is the hardest of my roof climb first ascents. The crux move is much harder than the crux move on any of my other roof routes, but the climbing is quite a bit less sustained than on the others. I put it at the low end of 5.14b, but with a relatively intense, reachy crux that makes for sketchy grading. I find it bizarrely ironic that I’ve evolved into a roof-climbing connoisseur. I really don’t care for that type of climbing at all, nor do I consider myself in the least bit good at it, but when you want to do new routes in a place that’s thoroughly picked over, you have to work with the rock that’s left over. Clearly nobody else likes hard roof climbing either, since so many “good” roof routes have been left for me to claim. I am grateful for that.
With my hard projects wrapped up, I was free to try easier routes (and eat donuts). I was particularly psyched to check out some routes at a steeply overhanging wall in Clear Creek called Aftermath that I bolted in December 2015, but hadn’t yet had the chance to climb.
The rock is relatively fractured, resulting in tons of jugs, jutting overhangs, and a relatively adventurous flavor (for sportclimbing). Overhanging jughauls are unusual for the Front Range, so I hoped the climbing would make up for the marginal rock quality. I headed up there a few weeks ago with my friend Boer to check out the routes. We were lucky to have Nick Zepeda along to shoot the flattering photos you see here. Check out more of his gorgeous climbing shots on his website, https://zepedaphotography.carbonmade.com/
Just after topping out the crux mantle of Aftermathematics, 5.12a. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.
Certainly the crag won’t appeal to everyone, but those who don’t mind a bit of an adventure are in for some really fun, exposed climbs at relatively modest grades. The crag has five lines, ranging from 5.11+ to 5.12+. There are three routes climbing out the largest overhang, and all of these climb almost entirely on full-hand jugs. Boer and I thoroughly enjoyed the climbing, so much so that I climbed “Strapped with Lats” twice, just for fun.
The first ascent of Strapped with Lats, 5.12c, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.
This was by far the most successful season of my climbing career. All told I sent my hardest route ever, and still had time and psych left over to complete more than ten first ascents between Clear Creek and Shelf Road (including two 14b’s, a 14a and three 5.13’s). For the first time in a couple years I found myself wanting to extend my climbing season rather than jump back in the barn to train for the next one. I’m a bit bummed it has to end, but I have plenty to get stoked (and strong) for this coming winter.
I finally clipped the chains after freeing all 110 immaculate feet of “Black Beards Tears” yesterday at the Promontory, placing all 15 cams and one stopper on lead! This is definitely one of, if not the coolest and most unique FAs I’ve ever done in my life! I’d fantasized about how this fabled crack climb might look and feel for weeks before I saw it at the start of the month. When I first laid eyes on it, my jaw hit the floor.
On September 2nd I rapped in and installed an anchor right below the very top of the wall. I knew as soon as I saw the line up close that it was going to have some bad ass climbing on it and it did not disappoint. After 10 days of the usual kind of hard work and of course a fair amount of blood, sweat, a few tears right there at the end, I nabbed the red point.
Once I started giving it legit red point burns I pushed my high point higher every day (including one fall from the very last move on Saturday) so I thought I might get off easy without entering the realm of pre-send stress, the realm of manifesting worst case scenarios.
But of course as happens with the most meaningful projects, progress wasn’t linear and I had a heady couple days of “regression” before realizing how dialed I had it and taking advantage of a one hour window of the right kind of wind yesterday. The important ones always get heady, break you down and force you to check at least some of your ego at the bottom. That’s what I love and hate about hard projects: they force you to surrender.
I have soooooo many people to thank for hours of belaying, catching big whips, generally showing up and supporting both virtually and in person. You know who you are. Thank you so much! HUGE thanks to @jimthornburg for his dedication to supporting and documenting this project until the bittersweet end.
Now I can finally leave the black hole/golden triangle of Humboldt and Del Norte counties for a while, reintegrate back into civilization and probably hear the words Trump and Clinton a lot more.
See you later Promontory. Thanks for everything. It’s been real.
Oh and since everyone wants to quantify climbs with numbers, I’m thinking 14c. Come try it. It’s good.
Last fall our good friend Chris Alstrin of Mind Frame Cinema came out to The Bunker in Clear Creek Canyon to shoot video of my route Born On The 4th of July, which I opened in May of 2015. Chris posted the video today on the AAC’s Instagram page. You can check it out here: (or, link to the AAC page here)
On February 13, 2016, Drew Ruana made the first ascent of “Assassin” (14d). “Assassin” toppled the classic “Just Do It” (14c) and the unrepeated “Shock and Awe” (14c) as the toughest route at Smith Rock. The first ascent of the Aggro Gully linkup pushed Smith Rock’s highest grade upward for the first time in 13 years (the FA of “Shock and Awe” – still unrepeated).
Drew Ruana on the first ascent of Assassin (14d), Smith Rock’s hardest route.
Here’s a quick route synopsis and send footage from Drew:
I spent the end of 2015 bolting a bunch of new lines. With a huge “To Do” list looming over me, I focused my winter season on ticking off as many of those new lines as I could. The weather during February and early March was amazing (from my perspective)—highs in the 50s or 60s most days and zero precipitation—which allowed me to get a lot done.
As the snow melted, I worked my way up Clear Creek. I polished off two crags in the canyon that I’m particularly proud of. The first, dubbed the Iron Buttress, is a brown shield of rock I had been eyeing for a long time. When I finally hiked up there, I was a bit disappointed the cliff wasn’t steeper, but the rock quality exceeded my expectations. In the end the routes turned out really good—among the best I’ve established in the5.10 to 5.12- grade range—and the fact that it’s not super steep means that more people will get to enjoy these climbs.
Climbing Good Time To Be Pretty, 12a, the best line at the Iron Buttress. The name is a Tina Fey punchline. Just to the left is an excellent 5.10 jughaul, Chocolate Bandit, named for my daughter Amelie who is almost scheming ways to steal my Dove Dark Chocolates.
Irony Man starts up this sweet arête, but deteriorates a bit on the upper half. To the left is another ultra-techy 5.12, Iron Maiden.
The original Chocolate Bandit helps daddy camouflage some hardware.
The second crag was actually bolted over a year ago, but I never got around to climbing the routes since high water in Clear Creek prevented me from reaching the crag over the summer. “The Talon” is a precarious, jutting finger of rock that overhangs on the north and west faces, creating a super sick overhanging arête on the northwest corner. There are two other great lines, to either side of the arête, but Where Eagles Dare, 13b, is the premier line.
The west face of The Talon. Where Eagles Dare climbs the arête just left of center, essentially following the lime green lichen streak.
The rock on the arête is outstanding, with beige and knobby quartzite intrusions reminiscent of Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows. The line offers true arête climbing, with many slaps and heel hooks.
Entering the high crux of Where Eagles Dare. This send was somewhat epic—on my second go I sent to one move past this point, and as I was midway through the last significant move, the hold I was hanging from exploded. After I pulled back on, I found another hold that worked just as well, but at that point I was six burns into the day, and wasn’t sure I would have the energy for another quality attempt. On the next go I barely made it to the same spot, sure I would fall on the final dyno to the lip of the tower, but I went for it anyway and somehow managed to stick it.
Full beta for the Iron Buttress can be found here and The Talon can be found here.
In related news, back in January I applied for a seat on Jefferson County’s inaugural Fixed Hardware Review Committee (FHRC). I was selected in February along with six other great folks from the Front Range climbing community. While I would certainly prefer unregulated bolting, an FHRC is much better than an outright bolting ban. We’ve had three 2-3 hours meetings since then, trying to define our internal procedures as well as attempting to establish new fixed hardware approval processes. I’m really optimistic about the direction things are headed. The Jefferson County Open Space staff has been a real pleasure to work with. They are incredibly receptive to the FHRC’s recommendations and have proven to be very reasonable and open-minded in their approach to climbing management. I can’t really speak on the record about what is in the works, but hopefully there will be an official update coming out soon.
In mid-November I learned some unfortunate news–the agency that manages my county’s open space lands had decided to begin regulating bolts on county land (among other climbing restrictions). A permit would be required to install any bolts or other fixed hardware, and development of new crags would require extensive environmental impact and trail building assessments. When they explained the intended permit evaluation process, it became clear that this would make it extremely difficult to develop new crags on Jefferson County Open Space land (though I’m optimistic it will still be feasible, albeit time-consuming, to add new routes to existing crags). The most significant area affected would be Clear Creek Canyon, where I’ve spent the vast majority of my climbing and route development energy over the past three years. Other affected areas include North Table Mountain, Cathedral Spires, and Three Sisters, but Jefferson County is peppered with rock outcroppings, some of which may hold substantial potential.
I spent quite a bit of time over the last two months attending meetings, coordinating with The Access Fund, The Boulder Climbing Community and interfacing directly with Open Space managers. Based on everything I was hearing, I wasn’t very optimistic, but open space officials did provide a temporary grace period, declaring at the public meeting on November 19th that it would remain a “free-for-all until January 1st”. That’s all I needed to hear.
One of the new crags I bolted in late November, with the working title “Iron Buttress”. Though not very tall, the rock here is some of the best I’ve seen in Clear Creek.
In the next three days I bolted four routes in Clear Creek. The first two were lines I had been eying for years, but figured I wasn’t quite good enough to climb yet. Well, there was no longer time to wait for my abilities to catch up to my imagination! While approaching the cliff to install those first two lines, my eye caught a well-hidden alcove along the highway, and the next day I returned to have a closer look. It never ceases to amaze me how you can pass by something literally a thousand times and not notice a line staring you right in the face. The next day I returned to bolt two radically steep lines shooting out the clandestine cave. It may be a few years before I’m able to climb the harder of these, but it’s tough to judge a line’s difficulty from rappel, so who knows?
These lines will all be really fun jug hauls. There are two other new lines at this crag not shown.
Over the next two weeks I continued working my way through the canyon. Last spring I conducted a fairly comprehensive “survey” of Clear Creek, bushwhacking around the canyon in search of hidden gems. I have a “black book” spreadsheet detailing the potential, so I had a good idea how to prioritize my time. Depending on your aesthetic standards, there could be a lifetime of new routes remaining in the canyon. I didn’t have a lifetime, so I focused on the best rock and the lines most appealing to me personally (in other words, the hardest lines). By early December I had bolted 16 new lines in the canyon, including breaking ground on three new crags. But, I was starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality, so I turned my attention elsewhere.
For the past several years I had been curious about a nearby area. From a distance it was obvious there was a great deal of rock, but a complicated approach had deterred me from exploring more closely. Realizing it was now or never, I dusted off my gaiters and snow kit and set out for some recon. I’m glad I did.
When I saw this wall I knew I’d hit pay dirt. Note the rope which gives an idea of the wall’s steepness. The rock on this cliff is flawless.
Over the month of December I returned eight times, adding 25 more new lines in the process (for a total of 41 routes between November 20 and December 24th!). We’ve had way above average snowfall so far this winter, and so, many of those outings were fairly intense. I was routinely crawling on all-fours through 2-3-foot snow drifts, up steep, loose, and heavily vegetated slopes. On the worst days it would take me close to 30 minutes to get only a hundred yards from the car. At various points, trudging through the powder-coated talus, I sunk chest-deep into the pits between boulders. I can’t count the number of times I face-planted when a foot got tangled in the underbrush, but the worst incident resulted in an Urgent Care visit to flush out a corneal abrasion I received when a tree branch snapped back suddenly, whacking me in the eyeball! Thanks to the marvelous invention of steroid eye drops I was back in action three days later 🙂
Another section of the previous cliff from below, with two routes in.
The cold was harsh on my batteries and on some days I got as few as 18 holes drilled (compared to 30 on a good summer day), but in the end I think I got around to all of the very best lines. There are now lines on five distinct cliffs, and room for easily another 25 lines if someone is willing to do the work (and paperwork) in the future. The rock is magnificent, and this is hands down the best new crag I’ve discovered. I can’t wait till the summer thaw so I can return to climb some of these.
Another cliff, this one composed of bullet-hard quartzite. The leaning arete left of center will easily be in the 5.14-range, and to the right of that are five more lines that I would guess will range from 5.8 to 5.12.
Now that January is here, the county has released the final Climbing Management Plan. Unfortunately they didn’t concede a single point on the new bolting regulations (including opting not to eliminate the clearly un-safe permit requirement for one-for-one bolt replacement), so I’m glad I got some routes in before the end of the year. However, they did compromise on a number of other items that affect the average climber much more directly than route development. Specifically, they significantly reduced the size of proposed seasonal raptor closure areas and eliminated a proposed ban on temporary project draws. Watching the Access Fund and the BCC in action I can say they did a tremendous job fighting for our interests. I can assure you that your donations are very well spent. Without a team of experienced advocates that could respond at a moment’s notice, the outcome would have been far worse. In particular, Tony Bubb of the BCC was a marvel to behold. He got everybody together and kept pressing for the best possible outcome when others were ready to give up. Without him I’m certain the seasonal raptor closure would have been much worse. Thanks to everyone who attended meetings, sent in comments or donated money in the past. Please consider making a contribution to the Access Fund or becoming a member if you aren’t already.
The area also boasts a number of steep slabs with bomber, well-featured rock like this.
Finally, below is a mini-guide to a new Clear Creek crag I developed a while back called “The Banana Stand.” I was waiting to share this information until construction on the Peaks-To-Plains bike trail was completed (since the construction traffic makes the approach much more difficult), but with the new bolting rules I think it’s best to publish it now. Some Banana Stand action shots can be found here.
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