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. The early history of this American sport climbing mecca is murky—several teams of climbers began exploring separate sectors of Rifle’s two-mile limestone canyon around the same time in the late 1980s—but there’s no question that Mark Tarrant was the first to recognize the area’s sport potential. Tarrant went to high school in the nearby town of Rifle and fished and camped in Rifle Mountain Park. Later, after moving to Boulder across the state, he remembered the limestone walls he’d seen as a teenager. “When sport climbing hit in the mid-1980s, I thought Rifle would be just perfect, especially since all the hard routes in Europe were being done on that strange rock called limestone,” he recalls.
The first route Tarrant attempted was a towering blue streak that eventually became The Eighth Day (5.13a). Tarrant said, “I had an eye for the streaks in the canyon. Of course, The Eighth Day was the most obvious; it actually glowed in the dark when my brother and I drove in on a rainy spring night in ‘87.” But after Tarrant successfully toproped and bolted this 175-foot line in 1989, another climber grabbed the first ascent. There had been access issues at the foot of the roadside climb, and Tarrant hadn’t been in any particular hurry to redpoint. “I was naive, thinking no one would ever go to Rifle to climb,” he recalls ruefully. “I saw no rush to get things done in an obscure place with so-so stone. By ‘89, I saw that I had been wrong, and the rest is history.”
That year, while working on The Eighth Day, Tarrant and Richard Wright installed another anchor above a spectacular gray streak about a hundred yards upstream. “The obviousness of this line, its length, relative moderateness, and the access it gave to the other lines on the wall were the initial appeal,” Tarrant said. “Rumor Has It was the name of a band that was playing in Rifle when we put the route up. It seemed to be the perfect name for one of the first routes in a place with such great potential.”
Tarrant and Wright quickly bolted, cleaned, and climbed the new route, and though drills were already whirring by then on the other side of Rifle Creek and downstream at the Wasteland, Rumor Has It, with its relatively modest rating, likely was the first route redpointed. Originally, the climb extended nearly 150 feet to the canyon rim. Now it has a lower anchor, but it’s still a sustained, 30-meter pitch of funky laybacks and side pulls. Although some climbers dislike the route’s slick footholds, atypical-for-Rifle vertical terrain, and somewhat dangerous crux between the first and second bolts, others consider Rumor Has It the best 5.11 in the canyon: a four-star prize.
Wright established more early routes at Rifle with the late Alan Nelson. But after drilling Rifle’s first bolts, toproping the first modern climb in the canyon, and establishing Rumor Has It and the classic Ricochet (5.12a) across the creek, Tarrant grew unhappy with the crowds in the peaceful canyon of his childhood. Ever since 1991, when he lost out on the first ascent of The Eighth Day, that glow-in-the-dark streak that first caught his eye, Tarrant has never returned to Rifle to climb.
Find It: Start on a small hill right of the Sapper Cave and left of the Project Wall, about 1.2 miles up the canyon from the Rifle Mountain Park entrance station. After a crux start, continue up about 11 bolts of sustained technical climbing along the prominent gray streak.
Gear: 60-meter rope mandatory
Season: Spring through fall. The route gets morning shade.
Guidebook:Rifle Mountain Park and Western Colorado Rock Climbs (Wolverine Publishing, 2008)