Category Archives: Independence Pass


By Mike Anderson

As I said in my last article (Spring, Sprain, Summer, Send?), I’m having somewhat of a “Cinderella Season”…with things just clicking despite some minor adversity. As I bragged in that post, I sent one of my “life list” routes, Grand ‘Ol Opry (5.14c) at the Monastery. It went faster than I expected, leaving me with just under three weeks of “bonus climbing” before our big trip to Europe…what to do…in Colorado…in the summer?

We tried Wild Iris on the first weekend, and found it too hot, so instead, we opted for Independence Pass…maybe the coolest (coldest) climbing in Colorado.


Mike showing off after sending “Before there were Nine”, 13d at Indy Pass, back in July 2012.


Waaaay back in 2012, I worked and sent Tommy Caldwell’s route Before there were Nine (not his name, as far as I know). While I was working the route, Mark visited and we spotted a “futuristic” (for us) line of holds in the middle of the Grotto Wall that we were sure could hold a route.  I was living in Florida at the time, and the proposed route was out of my reach, literally and figuratively.

Mark returned, however, and bolted the line in the Fall of 2013, and sent it just over two years ago, establishing, Insurrection, 5.14c and the hardest route on Independence Pass. He described his epic send in this article from May, 2014. I always wished we could have worked the line together, but, as I said, it was beyond me, and I’m glad he got the First Ascent.


Mark Anderson on Insurrection, 5.14c, back in May 2014. Stretching for the sloping edge at the end of the redpoint crux. Check out those awesome micro-crimpers!!! Photo by Adam Sanders.

So, with about two weeks, I thought maybe I had a shot at sending Insurrection, and completing what Mark and I envisioned four years ago.  It would be really tight, but if it didn’t work out, I could return in the fall to finish it off.


The best part about climbing at the Pass is the camping!


I busted out of work on Wednesday, the 8th of June, with my good friend and trusty belayer, Shaun. I checked out the route, and it seemed plausible, but hard.  The holds were much smaller than those on Grand ‘Ol Opry, and the rests were not as good (or almost non-existent). Nevertheless, there was nowhere else cooler to climb, or better to prepare us for the granite-laden Zillertal region of Austria, so I figured I’d give it the old college try with the roughly 2 weeks I had left.


Mike Anderson on Insurrection, 5.14c. In the crux section by the 3rd bolt, setting up for a powerful undercling move. Janelle Anderson photo.


Since the 8th, I managed 5 climbing days on the Pass, and squeezed in two ARC’ing sessions at the gym to build up my ability to recover on the route.  This last Saturday, everything clicked…we had great weather (waking up at 4:45 AM helps with that!)  I had the moves dialed by now, and my fitness is peaking, thanks to the work put in on Grand ‘Ol Opry. I sent Insurrection on my first go of the day…a rarity for me. I usually get flash pumped on my first go, and really think of it as a warmup burn.  This time, I warmed up really carefully, took time to stretch thoroughly, and massage my forearms before the send.


Mike Anderson on Insurrection, 5.14c. Making the powerful undercling move. Janelle Anderson photo.

The climbing is a power-endurance test piece with hard, dynamic moves and little rests, so for me, the send was all about rationing my effort.  I really focused on breathing and relaxing my grip on every hold…this is especially important with dynamic climbing because you tend to tense up and stop breathing when you dyno, as you engage your core. The key is to recognize this, and make a conscious effort to relax after every dynamic move. The mileage I got on the rock while working Grand ‘Ol Opry really helped me dial-in this technique, and it showed on Insurrection.


Mike Anderson on Insurrection, 5.14c. Sticking the flake and getting ready to make a strenuous clip.  Janelle Anderson photo.


Insurrection is a brilliant route! It’s in the center of Independence Pass’s most prominent crag, and one of Colorado’s most historic sport cliffs. It’s now the centerpiece of that crag. The rock is excellent, and the moves are really cool, especially if you love crimping like I do!

My experience is limited, but I think the 5.14c rating is legit, and I think I’m in a good position to make a comparison to Grand ‘Ol Opry. GOO took me 6 climbing days, and 14 days from start to finish. I was able to send Insurrection in slightly less time…5 climbing days spread over 11, but that was with the benefit of the fitness and technique I developed working GOO. GOO is longer, and has more moves to dial in, but it has much bigger handholds and pretty good jam-crack rests, one huge rest right before the crux. Insurrection is in your face from the start on very small, crimpy holds, and you have to do a long, 3-bolt crux section with no shakes. You really have to hold it together mentally. Regardless, it’s a great route, and it brings Independence Pass back into prominence as a cutting-edge sport crag, the best summer destination in Colorado.

I’m feeling my strongest ever now, at the age of 39, and I have really high hopes for Europe. This winter and spring were humbling for me, and I had to re-dedicate myself to training and climbing. My birthday was May 5th, and at that time I told myself: “it’s a new year…forget about 38 because 39 is going to be your best year yet!”  It’s working so far, and I plan to keep it up! Training on Trango’s Rock Prodigy Forge, with it’s specially engineered micro cripmp, has really paid off. My crimping is the strongest it’s ever been and it’s showing in my climbing.

Mike hang small crimp

How I got this way! Thank you Forge hangboard for your awesome micro crimps that help me train smart and climb hard!


Thanks Mark for having the courage to bolt this line and see it through to a route. Your passion and dedication are a huge inspiration to us all!

New Indy Pass 5.14

by Mark Anderson

It’s been ages since I’ve done a proper road trip. Camping with young kids can border on misery, so we’ve made a point to avoid it since Logan came along. When Amelie turned two last month (Logan is four-and-a-half) we tested the waters with a 3-day trip to the Black Canyon and discovered they’ve magically blossomed into champion campers. With new confidence we headed north to the annual Lander International Climber’s Fest with a trunk full of camping gear and a loose itinerary.

The crux of Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

The festival itself was loads of fun. Our friends at Trango provided awesome lodging in a rustic cabin (not that rustic—it had a shower, microwave and mini-fridge) at the Baldwin Creek B&B. We enjoyed two great days of craggin’ at Wild Iris, including the clinic on Saturday. Logan’s been getting much more interested in climbing (and rope swinging), and we found a great spot for him to practice his skills on rock, capped off with a great swing off the lip of the Calamity Jane roof. The best part of the festival for me was meeting numerous Rock Prodigies and hearing their inspiring success stories.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Another highlight was Ethan Pringle’s keynote address on Saturday night. He shared several short videos about his effort to snag the second ascent of Jumbo Love (5.15b!). It was downright hilarious and ultra-inspiring at the same time. My favorite bit was Ethan’s Seven Commandments for climbing success:

  1. Coffee
  2. Poop
  3. Safety Third
  4. Lookin’ good
  5. Food
  6. Sex
  7. Send!

Ethan spent seven years working the route and 18 days just this season. It made me reflect on my definition of a “long term” project. I’ve never spent 18 total days on a route, despite several projects that spanned multiple years. I’ve never clipped the chains on a project and thought “that’s the hardest I can climb”, either. Instead I always finish knowing I could do something harder if I could tolerate the uncertainty of a project that was seriously in doubt (and commit to the extended effort required). Perhaps it’s time for me to make a serious commitment to something.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

After the festival we headed further north to Grand Teton National Park. This is one of Kate’s absolute favorite places. The mountains are spectacular and for whatever reason the wildlife viewing is incredible. We saw a Grizzly Bear and a Black Bear on the slopes of Signal Mountain. The only other time I’ve seen a grizzly was 15 years ago in Alaska (which almost seems like cheating). At one point he stood up on his hind legs to scratch his back on a tree and he had to be at least 8-feet tall.

Trust me, there's a Grizzly Bear in there somewhere.

Trust me, the blurry brown blob is a Grizzly Bear.

If the last pic didn't convince you, surely this one will!

If the last pic didn’t convince you, surely this one will!

We did a nice family bike ride, took the ferry across Jenny Lake, watched climbers on the classic Baxter’s Pinnacle and hiked to several mountain lakes. Logan loves swimming and doesn’t seem to mind icy cold mountain water at all. I think he has the makings of a successful alpinist. I could stare at the mountains for days, and I was definitely feeling the itch to climb up there again. I did The Grand and Mt. Moran in my “youth”, but it’s been such a long time that I’ve nearly forgotten the alpine starts, unplanned bivies and knee-pounding descents.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Next we headed back south to Independence Pass, just east of Aspen, CO. Aspen’s one of those rare places where you can see a beater ski-bum-mobile parked next to a Ferrari. Despite its Beverly Hills sparkle the town is surprisingly kid-friendly. There are many great parks, fountains, ice cream shops, etc. There are endless things to do and sights to see in the area, from abandoned mining towns to the Maroon Bells, flow-style MTBing, whitewater and sport climbing on the Pass.

Amelie and Logan at Outrageours Overhang (Indy Pass).  For some reason Logan’s look in this pic just kills me.

Amelie and Logan at Outrageours Overhang (Indy Pass). For some reason Logan’s look in this pic just kills me.

We were there for the climbing of course. In particular I was hoping to work and perhaps send an open project that Pass local Jay Brown had recommended to me after I finished Insurrection. A couple weeks earlier we made an overnight trip to the Pass to climb with Mike’s family. I took that opportunity to check out the project and it captured my interest immediately.

Tricky footwork and burly pinching in the crux of Captain America.

Tricky footwork and burly pinching in the crux of Captain America.

The line climbs the 20-degree-overhanging arête of a shallow right-facing dihedral. I’ve long considered myself an arête connoisseur, having cut my teeth at the arête paradise of Smith Rock. The climbing involves burly pinching and slapping for 20-or-so relentless moves (and a finishing boulder problem after a sit-down ledge rest). I was bouldering fairly hard in the Lazy H at that point, and I was able to do all the moves that first day, but I was unable to link several sequences. I hadn’t done any real training since early May, so I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence. I often feel that way early in a project, and it seems I’m constantly reminding myself to trust the redpoint process—routes do become easier with practice.

A short, insecure boulder problem guards a bivy-sized ledge rest.

A short, insecure boulder problem guards a bivy-sized ledge rest.

Once I finally got back on it the climbing went better than expected. After one burn to reacquaint myself and refine some sequences I one-hanged the project twice on my first day back. Both times I fell on the same stopper move though—a dyno into an overhead 3-finger undercling on the arete. You have to hit the hold precisely while also maintaining strong core tension. It’s the kind of move I could imagine falling on repeatedly on redpoint.

Logan swinging from the top of the classic 5.11 Thug Route.

Logan swinging from the top of the classic 5.11 Thug Route.

We spent the next day enjoying some of Aspen’s other outdoor attractions. Logan hopped in a couple more mountain lakes, we gazed at the Maroon Bells, strolled around downtown and did several short hikes. We had a nice picnic in Wagner Park and bumped into Kevin Costner (actually his grocery cart) at the Citi Market.

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons)...

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons).  Notice he didn’t bother to remove his shoes or pants…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…and Maroon Lake (Aspen area), the only one he seemed to think was cold.

…and Maroon Lake (Aspen area), the only one he seemed to think was cold.  He was easily the most hygienic member of our party.

By the next climbing day we had been on the road for nine days, including the last five nights in a tent. The kids were still happy as clams but Kate and I were itching (literally) for showers and a real mattress. Knowing that a send would be rewarded with soap and a fluffy clean comforter, I tied in under the leaning prow early that morning.

Dressed for the occasion.

Dressed appropriately for Captain America.

I climbed briskly to avoid exhausting my meager power endurance. This time I stuck the undercling move and managed the desperate clip at the third bolt. I barely stuck an arête slap a few moves higher, and I could feel my legs and arms trembling slightly as the pump grew. I finally reached the first shake 30-feet up and took my time recovering my breath—not a trivial matter at an altitude just under 10,000 feet. After one more insecure windmill move I pulled up onto a massive ledge.  Still quite worked, I took off my shoes and relaxed for a good 10 minutes. The short headwall above is probably V7 or 8 in its own right, requiring several committing slaps to clear a steep bulge. After an unsettling moment of hesitation searching for the proper right-foot hold I snagged the first left hand pinch, then the second. I set a high heel hook, slapped my right hand up to a good sidepull, and paddled up jugs to the top of the cliff.

Staring down the ensuing heel hook on the final boulder problem.

Staring down a heel hook on the final boulder problem during the first free ascent of Captain America, 5.14a.

 Many thanks to Wade David who discovered, equipped and cleaned the line, and thanks to Jay Brown for telling me about it.

Unfinished Business Part 2: Insurrection – New Post on!

Check out my new post on “Unfinished Business Part 2: Insurrection” over at

“In July 2012, Mike and his family took an extended road trip through Colorado, visiting a number of crags, included the ultra-scenic and oft overlooked Independence Pass. I spent that entire summer re-habbing an A2 Pulley Strain, so I was not climbing, but the family and I visited the Pass one weekend to hang out. Mike was working a classic 5.13+ face climb established by Tommy Caldwell called Before There Were Nine, located on the right end of the overhanging central shield of the Pass’ proudest cliff, The Lower Grotto Wall.  I wandered up to the wall, and between burns Mike and I gazed at the large swath of flawless, unclimbed granite to the left of his project, fantasizing about a potential directissima through this shear and stunning wall….”  Continue Reading

Unfinished Business Part 2: Insurrection

In July 2012, Mike and his family took an extended road trip through Colorado, visiting a number of crags, included the ultra-scenic and oft overlooked Independence Pass. I spent that entire summer re-habbing an A2 Pulley Strain, so I was not climbing, but the family and I visited the Pass one weekend to hang out. Mike was working a classic 5.13+ face climb established by Tommy Caldwell called Before There Were Nine, located on the right end of the overhanging central shield of the Pass’ proudest cliff, The Lower Grotto Wall.

The magnificent Lower Grotto Wall.

The magnificent Lower Grotto Wall.

I wandered up to the wall, and between burns Mike and I gazed at the large swath of flawless, unclimbed granite to the left of his project, fantasizing about a potential directissima through this shear and stunning wall. The nearly featureless cliff was traced with discontinuous rails and random edges—perhaps just enough to support a free sequence someday.   I filed away my impression of the wall and went about my usual business for more than year.

In October of 2013, fate intervened. The Federal Government Shutdown left me with plenty of time on my hands and no partners, so with ‘nothing better to do’, I threw some gear in my trunk and drove the two-and-a-half windy hours to inspect this wall a bit closer. I found some of the best graniteI’d seen in Colorado, and a conceivable sequence. It would be hard, but I thought it would go—eventually. I hurried back to the top of the cliff, this time with my drill.

"The Indy Pass Project"

“The Indy Pass Project”

The route begins with a desperate, balancey V9/10-ish boulder problem right off the bat, liebacking powerfully up a suspended dagger of stone. A gymnastic 5.12 traverse heads left to a large eyebrow, and then straight up to a decent stance below the next crux. A devious sequence spans a pair of opposing rails, leading to a strenuous clip off a sharp crimp. The redpoint crux begins here, with a series of dynos to reach the Crimp Rail—a ¼”-deep, right-facing flake. The hardest single move is matching this feature, followed by two more difficult moves to reach a marginal shake at the fifth bolt. This stretch is around V11/12 by itself. About ten more 5.12 moves lead to the only really good rest stance on the route. You can camp out here on a pair of large jugs and contemplate the final thin, reachy boulder problem that guards the chains.

Just above the Crimp Rail.

Just above the Crimp Rail.

I pushed all my other projects aside, and obsessed over this new line for the next month. On October 30th, nine days into the campaign, I finally stuck the match at the crimp rail on redpoint. This was my first new highpoint in several days of work. And then I fell on the next move! Still, I was very close. At this point in the climb each move is slightly easier than the move before it, so it’s theoretically possible to sketch through with a moderate pump to reach the jugs 15-feet below the anchor. I could sense that after so many days away from the gym, my fitness was beginning to fade, but I had a good feeling that the next day would be the day.

The summit of Independence Pass sits at a dizzying 12,095 feet, making it the highest paved through-road in Colorado. The weather on the pass can be epic, and so the highway department closes the road for “winter” (typically closing the road on November 7th and re-opening on the Thursday before Memorial Day each year). Time was running short, but I figured I had at least a few climbing days left.

Nightmare anyone? Artwork along Highway 82, just outside of Twin Lakes

Nightmare anyone? Artwork along Highway 82, just outside of Twin Lakes

After a rest day, I returned with Kate on November 1st. The drive from our home in Evergreen is scenic but occasionally terrifying. On more than one occasion we passed overturned vehicles on Fremont Pass, the connector route from Interstate 70 to the tiny village of Twin Lakes, nestled at the east end of Independence Pass. After two anxious hours in the car, we turned onto Highway 82, just outside of Twin Lakes, and beheld the flashing hazard sign that deflated all my hopes:


Frowny Face!

Frowny Face!

I pulled off the road to consider my options, and after a few incredulous minutes, I hatched a plan. Aspen sits at the west end of the pass, and it’s accessible via a 4 hour drive from our house along I-70 through Glenwood Canyon. The closure point on the Aspen side is just under 4 miles from the Grotto Wall. We could drive around the Sawatch Mountains via I-70 to Aspen, and then hike up the road to the cliff. It would be difficult to pull off this approach and still have enough left in the tank to climb at my limit, but I couldn’t accept quitting when it seemed I was so close. I had to try. Fortunately Kate is always willing to support (perhaps mostly for the morbid curiosity of observing my insanity in action). It was already too late in the day to implement this harebrained scheme, so we headed home to make arrangements for the coming weekend.

Rigged to tow Logan up to the Grotto Wall.

Rigged to tow Logan up to the Grotto Wall.

After 4 hours of driving and over an hour of hiking with a heavy load, I was pretty well spent. I put in two attempts, but I was unable to match my previous highpoint. We stashed whatever we could, and then headed back down the road to Aspen. The next day the hike was more of the same. Clearly this approach would not work, but having tried, I could finally accept that my dream to free this wall would have to wait a few months….

I spent the intervening months preparing, like Rocky holed-up in a snowy cabin, training to face Ivan Drago. I trained and I climbed. I selected Mission Impossible as a stepping stone, for its similarities to the Indy Pass Project, and so I might be calibrated to eventually grade it. I sacrificed climbing opportunities at the end of my winter and spring seasons so I could be in peak condition on the day Independence Pass finally opened. And I watched as record snowfall hammered Colorado’s high mountains.

Finally, at noon on May 22nd, 2014, the Pass re-opened, two hours ahead of schedule! Of course, I still had one barrier to overcome, which I put away on May 23rd. Normally I hate climbing on back-to-back days, but I couldn’t stand another day of wondering, so we headed out to the Pass early on May 24th.

Indy Pass Open Pic_lo


My first go was typical—spent trying to re-fresh my muscle memory. I have many gigabytes of video and detailed text describing the route’s beta. I spent countless hours studying film during my layoff, so I knew the moves on a conscious level, but it would take some effort to get back to the point where my subconscious could take the reins.   By the last go of the second day back, I reached the crimp rail with my left hand, and nearly stuck the match move. I was more or less back where I left off in the Fall. I felt very solid on this sequence, and much like my second Mission Impossible campaign, I was making huge leaps in progress between attempts. My skin was getting hammered by the sharp crimps, so I was happy to take a couple rest days before returning.

We arrived early on May 29th, with the cliff (and seemingly the entire Pass) to ourselves. I didn’t sleep at all the previous night, straining over what may come, so I wasn’t feeling super confident. My warmup went smoothly, hiking the first pitch of Victims of Fashion and then the uber-classic Scene of the Crime. After 30 minutes of pacing below the object of my obsession, I couldn’t take any more delays and began to rope up.

Finishing the opening boulder problem.

Finishing the opening boulder problem.  Photo Adam Sanders.

The opening boulder felt desperate. I snapped a hold here on the previous day, making the third move just that much harder, but I was able to scrape through. I flowed through the next section to a brief shake before the crux. I was pumped, no doubt, but the sort of pumped where you can still produce power when you need to. I launched into the crux, climbing quickly and efficiently, the best I’d felt on this section. I was able to move my left hand to the crimp rail statically—a good sign. I placed it carefully and paused a moment to adjust and ensure it was in the perfect spot. I wrapped my thumb over, shifted my hips and prepared to match. I stuck the match, and while the pump was steadily growing, I was still in control. I moved out left, positioned my feet, and made a long stab for a flat edge. I matched and clipped, the crux behind me, and tried to shake on the sloping ¾” shelf.

After a few cycles of chalking, I decided the situation was deteriorating, so I better push on and hope for the best. Trusting my beta, I thrutched through each move, ignoring my complaining forearms. Finally I reach the jugs in the black streak. This was a great rest, but I was quite pumped. I had never been this pumped at this point on the route, so I didn’t know what to expect. I camped out for several minutes, slowly regaining my strength. With the sun creeping higher, and the temperature noticeably rising, I set off up the final headwall. My arms felt dull as I paddled toward the anchor. One last, gnarly crimp move guards the chains. I placed my fingers on the edge and cranked.

Stretching for the sloping edge at the end of the redpoint crux.  Photo Adam Sanders. 

As I clipped the chains, I felt a strange sensation—almost melancholy. Not the euphoria I was accustomed to. It’s taken me some time to understand this feeling, but I think it was a sense of loss. The Indy Pass Project has been my companion, my motivator, for a long time, and now it’s finished. With many projects, I tire of the route long before I complete it. That never happened with this route. I enjoyed the “commute” right up to the end. The crag is quite beautiful and great for the kids. I was looking forward to spending more time there. We often had the entire cliff to ourselves, and when we didn’t the people we met were friendly and encouraging. The style of climbing is my absolute favorite, and I enjoyed every single burn on the route.

I think Insurrection is the hardest route I’ve climbed. After so much time on the route, and the long layoff, it’s easy to lose perspective on a route’s difficulty. First ascents in particular are hard to grade because the beta is a complete mystery. The project took me 14 days over two seasons.  Based on the math, I would have to say that for me it was a bit harder than Mission Impossible, somerwhere in the 14c range. The two routes are similar in many ways, though MI is much more bouldery with excellent rests. The moves on Insurrection are not as hard, but you’re more pumped when you climb them.

Nearing the good rest.

Nearing the good rest.  Photo Adam Sanders.

More importantly, Insurrection is the best route I’ve established. The line is pure and continuous. The movement on the route is fantastic, linking a maze of discontinuous and barely-there features in a snaking line up the wall. It’s unlike your typical crimp ladder; you need more than just brute strength. The Pass has some of the best granite in Colorado—and the rock on this section of the cliff is excellent. A remarkable collection of legends have established routes on this wall, including Harvey Carter, Henry Barber, John Long, Lynn Hill, Charlie Fowler, Michael Kennedy, Kurt Smith, Tommy Caldwell, and Matt Samet. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to add a line of my own.

It’s great to get any First Ascent, but when you discover the line, conjure a vision of its possibility, and then put in the effort to make it real, that is another level entirely. When such a route happens to present a challenge that demands all of your ability, that is something really special.  Thanks to all the people who contributed to this project, especially Kate, who braved my driving through numerous blizzards, Logan and Amelie, who suffered through my mega-burns, Adam who came out to take photos, Mike, who led me to this wall, and Janelle who held the rope during the send.

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