Climbing Colorado

Colorado has more crags and more diverse climbing than just about any state in the Union. Start exploring here, and you'll soon see why some Colorado climbers never leave!
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    Epicenter: Boulder, Colorado

    Welcome to Climber-ville. This town of about 100,000 has more than 4,000 routes so close that you can send in time for yoga class and a jaunt to Whole Foods for coconut water and kale salad. With traditional, sport, bouldering, and even seasonal mixed and ice climbing, there is a reason why many of the world’s best climbers live and train here. Whether you want to spend the day in Boulder Canyon crushing granite classics, bumping dubstep during a bouldering sesh at Flagstaff, running out a blood-curdling “5.8” in Eldorado Canyon, or cruising 1,000 feet up a Flatiron beneath a full moon, Boulder is an essential stop for every itinerant climber (and you might never leave).

  • Perfect Substitutes: Ditch the crowds with one of these under-the-radar climbs

    What do you do when you hike to a classic route and find a line six climbers deep? No one is better prepared to answer this question than professional climbing guides, whose job is to salvage the day when a client’s dream route is occupied or out of condition. We asked guides around the country for their favorite “second-best” routes—alternatives to classic climbs that are close by, similar in grade and style, and every bit as good.

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    Get Sandbagged! 7 Notoriously Tougher-than-Advertised Routes

    “This is a 5.9?!” Visit enough crags and you’ll learn climbing’s universal truth: Ratings are subjective. Grades depend on when an area was developed, what gear was available at the time, which climbers were establishing routes, and so forth. And when certain routes seem optimistically graded, they usually don’t get changed—instead, they get billed as sandbagged. But these aren’t routes to avoid. On the contrary, they deliver some of the country’s most fun and spicy climbing. Here are seven of our favorites.

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    Numbers Game: Master the classic sandbags at four historic crags

    Not all sandbagging comes in the form of a cruel joke from your friends. Some of it was born from an era where the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) topped out at 5.9—once believed to be the limit of climbing abilities. In the 1960s, many hard routes were given a 5.9+ rating even when moves soared well beyond that pay bracket. (An extreme example is Boulder Canyon’s The Umph Slot, which was originally rated 5.8+ in 1965. Consensus today says 5.10+!) Some routes are notorious and bear a reputation that precedes them, while others lay quietly in wait to shut down an unsuspecting punter.

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    Psicobloc Americano: 6 deep water soloing areas on this side of the pond

    When summertime highs hit the triple digits, even the most hard-core climbers lose enthusiasm for chasing shade at their local crags. So this summer, ditch the draws and cams, unearth your bikini and board shorts, and find a climb over deep, cool water. You don’t have to fly to Mallorca to experience deep water soloing. Below, some of North America’s favorite “psicobloc” destinations.

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    Road Trip! Insider Tips, Crag Beta, and Photographic Inspiration for the Best Trip Ever

    What do we love more than climbing? Road trips to climbing areas! Here, we've covered more than 40 crags and peaks across the United States, with dozens of routes recommended by locals, kick ass rest day activities, the lowdown on the best grub and pubs, and more!

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    The Good Book: Revisiting The Fifty Classic Climbs

    The Fifty Classic Climbs of North America started as an idea hatched over a bottle of wine. It was the mid-1970s, and Steve Roper was eating lunch with Allen Steck; the two were reminiscing over epics in Yosemite from the early 1960s. Both were pioneers of the Valley, but each had considerable careers on peaks elsewhere, including Steck’s first ascent of Mt. Logan’s complete Hummingbird Ridge in Alaska and Roper’s first free ascent of the Kor-Ingalls Route in Castle Valley, Utah.

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    Cool Couloirs: 6 fun snow climbs

    Expanding your repertoire to include snow climbing opens up a tremendous trove of new objectives, including those alluring lines called couloirs that drop like ribbons down mountainsides. While the masses choose the path of the choss field to gain the summit, you’ll ascend couloirs in record time by the addictive rhythm of kicking steps in the snow. It’s truly hypnotic. Best of all? Snow climbing doesn’t necessarily mean winter conditions.

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    Nutty Climbing

    Before spring-loaded camming devices came along, climbers’ racks consisted of stoppers, hexes, and slings. The following nine routes were originally climbed only on passive pro; many are still doable in this style (some only if you’re bold). Enjoy a taste of what leading was like in the Golden Age of clean climbing.

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    True Grit

    It’s easy to get down on winter. The fourth season brings short, cold, and damp days, which drives rock climbers to the gym. But here’s the good part: All those laps you ticked and workouts you completed should have you in the best shape of the year—just in time for snowmelt. Test yourself at one of these go-before-you-die areas famous for the endurance their routes require.

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    Uncharted Territory

    You know that cliff you’ve driven by countless times, scanning it for features, eyeballing the approach, and wondering if it’s climbable? Other climbers have probably seen it, too. And at some point, someone will bushwhack up and tug on some lichen-covered holds. That’s how development starts. Climbers pull out brushes and drills, scrub handholds, and put up a handful of routes. Then a handful more get developed, and soon approach trails begin to form. Before you know it, a new crag or boulderfield is born.

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    Killer Pillars

    Here are seven must-do pillar ice climbs, from New York to British Columbia, including the uber-classics The Rigid Designator in Vail, Colorado, and Dropline in Frankenstein, New Hampshire.

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    Yvon Was Here

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    First Strike

    Ice climbers, like alpinists, have short memories. Come fall, the wet ropes, overburdened packs, and screaming barfies of the previous winter are long forgotten. As the Internet lights up with rumors of fresh ice, climbers start yearning for those first swings—or perhaps delicate taps—into glassy smears and dripping pillars. Early season ice climbing has its issues, though.

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    Constriction Concentration

    Take a look at some of the best hand-sized crack climbs across the country, from Nevada to West Virginia.

  • Lucas Goren stays dry on an unnamed traverse at the Stumbling Blocks area, Malibu Creek. Photo by Devlin Gandy

    Bouldering to Go

    Climbers love to travel, but it can be annoying to visit a distant city solely for work or other reasons, thus interrupting your dedicated training schedule or weekend cragging plans. But don’t let non-climbing travel stop your fun. We tracked down 21 bouldering destinations within two hours of eight major cities—there’s no need to train inside an unfamiliar gym.

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    Road Warriors

    In recent years, bouldering has generated the most news on Mt. Evans. The striking granite blocs along the six-mile Chicago Creek basin and the jumbled apron of boulders above Lincoln Lake have seen an explosion of new routes. Roped climbers also have begun exploring Evans again after nearly two decades of relative stagnation. Two entirely new areas have been developed—the Tan Buttresses and Possibility Wall—at both ends of the difficulty spectrum.

  • Climb Free or Die

    Today, with countless steep sport climbing crags across the country, the art of delicate slab climbing on sweeping faces, with its emphasis on balance, smearing, and precise footwork, has somewhat lost its allure with the mainstream. So why risk a severe road rash by climbing slabs? Simple: it will make you a better climber.

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    Long and Free Classic Climbs

    Some climbers wait to attempt America’s greatest free routes until they’re good enough to do them in perfect style. But what if you are never that good? Purists would say you should stay off the climb—leave it for those who have the necessary strength and talent. I say go for it: Do your best to free climb, but don’t hang your head in shame if you pull on a piece or stand on a bolt.

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    Captain Beyond (5.10c), Boulder, Colorado

    Mickey Mouse Wall and the twin summits forming its namesake "ears" loom above the eastern ramparts of the Colorado Rockies. Outside the borders of Eldorado Canyon State Park, Mickey Mouse offers an array of stellar routes.

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    Mt. Alice - Denver, CO

    Those willing to put in the effort of a long approach will be rewarded with one of the biggest 5.8 routes in Rocky Mountain National Park—and a fraction of the climber traffic of many other Colorado alpine classics. Eight full pitches of alpine rock along a tilted ramp on the left side of the 1,000-foot east face will bring you to a short hike up the Hourglass Ridge to Alice’s summit, with one of the best views in the Park.

  • Sleep Easy: America's Best Climber Campgrounds

    Sleep Easy: America's Best Climber Campgrounds

    When it comes to camping, many climbers prefer a no-frills, quasi-wilderness experience, while others like their creature comforts. Whether you see sleeping under the stars as the best part of a climbing trip or a necessary evil, we've got you covered. We sifted through guidebooks, called park rangers, and solicited climbers to identify 10 (in no particular order) of the U.S. best drive-up climber campsites.

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    Soft Kor: 7 can-do classics courtesy of Layton Kor

    Climbing is one of the few disciplines in which you can literally walk (well, climb) in the footsteps of the masters.

  • Morning Fix

    It was becoming a habit. Hoping to tick some routes before facing my abusive boss, I set out for a little before-work scramble in God's own playground, the Flatirons. The rising sun slanted through the pines as I approached the East Bench of the Third Flatiron.

  • Crag of the Future

    No matter if it's for a hot date, for a meeting, for your girlfriend's period, or, in my case, in the season– "late"; is never good. Laboring halfway up a barren Colorado hillside in convulsive 100-degree July heat, I beg for mercy– and for shade.

  • Rumor Has It (5.11b), Rifle Mountain Park, Colorado

    The first sport climb ever redpointed at Rifle, Colorado, was not a bulging wall of seeping pockets or a blocky overhang overcome with kneebars–it was a vertical gray streak of funky laybacks and edges called Rumor Has It, which climbers today seem to either love or hate.

  • Pyscho-Path (5.9+), Big Gypsum Valley, Colorado

    Most of the famous sandstone towers of the Colorado Plateau are in Utah, and most of them are 5.10 or harder. But deep in Big Gypsum Valley, in southwestern Colorado, thereâ's a seldom-climbed tower that goes at a modest 5.9+, yet holds one of the most exciting pitches in the desert. From some angles, Psycho Tower looks a bit like the Geico gecko standing up on its hind legs.

  • Comic Relief (III 5.10b), Black Canyon of the Gunnison

    In 1983, Ed Webster and Chester Dreiman, two peerless Black pioneers, ducked into morning shade in the SOB gully. Their goal? A clean, grey thousand-foot buttress walking the thin line between spectacular multi-pitch trad and begging for a tasty epic.