Classic Routes: The Naked Edge

Inside Colorado’s most famous route

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This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of our print edition. 

Brad Gobright Naked Edge Eldorado Rock climbing colorado
Brad Gobright free solos The Naked Edge. Photo: Kevin Ziechmann

Grade: 5.11b
Location: Eldorado Canyon, Colorado
Type: Trad
Length: 460 feet
First Ascent: Layton Kor, Rick Horn (1964)
First Free Ascent: Jim Erickson, Duncan Ferguson (1971)

From the parking lot in Eldorado Canyon, the great hulk of the Redgarden Wall dominates the horizon, with the left skyline creating a steep arête that climbers worldwide recognize as The Naked Edge. This five-pitch route, arguably the most classic line at this historic climbing area, features insane exposure and challenging movement. Eldo is known for its unique style: thin gear, delicate face climbing, loose rock, and creative route-finding. The Naked Edge offers up the area’s signature variety with finger cracks, slabs, a chimney, a dihedral, and a plethora of technical sequences. With a fearsome reputation for being a mental and physical challenge, no climber can resist the route’s pure beauty and old-school style.

The first ascents (aid and free) were cutting-edge. The aid ascent required multiple attempts over two years by the ambitious and energetic Layton Kor in the 1960s. Early Colorado free-climbing pioneers Jim Erickson and Duncan Ferguson set a high bar with their 1971 free ascent. Though modern climbers will probably find the crux on the fourth or fifth pitches, Erickson reported that the first pitch finger crack was his crux with fixed pitons jamming the locks.

Today the route sees speed ascents in under half an hour. The current record holders, Stefan Griebel and Jason Wells, did the whole endeavor—go across the bridge over South Boulder Creek, hike to the base, do three “approach pitches” up to 5.8, climb the route, scramble down the fourth class East Slabs, and then sprint down the trail and back across the bridge—in 24 minutes, 29 seconds. [Ed. Until October 2015, Bennett and Brad Gobright held the record at 24 minutes, 57 seconds.]

The most memorable part of the climb is pulling around the arête on the final pitch into one of the wildest and most exposed positions ever. The wall falls 650 feet to the creek below, and the holds, well, they suck. It’s stressful until you power into a perfect hand crack and glory-jam your way to the top.