By far the most impressive climbing photos I have are from my ascent of Montezuma’s Tower in the Garden of the Gods, a 140 ft. spire just past South Gateway rock. Ironically enough, this is one of the easiest climbs I have ever done. Guidebooks rate this climb as a 5.7 but I’d say it’s actually about a 5.5. It just goes to show that those gnarley photos you see in climbing magazines aren’t always the hardest climbs.
In the case of Montezuma’s Tower, the foot holds look like they were cut into the rock. The inflated rating is probably due to the Tower’s height and exposure – it’s not a climb that inexperienced people should just hop onto. There are 8 bolts. About 100 ft up there is a nice belay ledge (pictures to the left). You need two ropes to rappel down from a three bolt anchor on top.
Typically when people come to Colorado they want to climb something high. And it was no different for Sebastian when he came to visit me in June. Sebastian is from Munich, Germany and already has some hiking experience under his belt, but we were both still uncertain of how he would handle the transition from Boston to Colorado. Scott and I didn’t want to take him up a boring trail full of tourists, so we headed over to Idaho Springs to find something more interesting. Scott owns land up in the mountains outside of the town and has built himself a small cabin, which we stayed at for some glorified camping during the weekend. He even entertained us with some party tricks.
We trekked up St. Mary’s Glacier (located off of Fall River Road) which was still pretty snowy in June and then continued up past the Continental Divide and to Mt. Evans. There were some great views of Fall River Reservoir and Grey’s and Torries across the way.
We followed that hike with a summit of Grizzly Peak (the trailhead is located off of Loveland Pass). The good thing about both of these hikes is that they start relatively high so the elevation gain isn’t very extreme and people from lower altitudes don’t struggle with them too much. Additionally, these hikes aren’t very long and are very beautiful, so you won’t be spending an entire day hiking through monotonous terrain. Most importantly, they aren’t extremely crowded, so they are pretty good places to bring visitors.
The town of Idaho Springs (located right outside of Golden) is a great little mining town. A lot of people pass by this place every year but not a lot of people spend any time here. I’d recommend stopping by Tommyknocker Brewery. Colorado is famous for its microbrews and Tommyknocker is really good. If you are there during the summer ask them about their Green Chile beer. Its seasonal and they only make one batch every summer, so its hard to get…but definitely worth it!
Kindergarten Rock (located south of the main park area) offers a different kind of rock than that found on North and South Gateway Rocks. It’s more like limestone – hard, sharper, more broken and less gritty. Overall, Kindergarten Rock is my favorite place to climb in the Garden. However, most of the easier climbs are trad – only the route rated over 5.10 seem to have blots – so you’ll need to bring some gear. There are some awesome multi-pitch climbs on this rock and the face is pretty steep so there are some wicked airy views from the anchors. Kindergarten Rock has some great cracks (some are really big) but they are pretty dirty and some smell bad because of the birds that live in them.
A fun, crimpy sport route that leads up the east face of Kindergarten Rock. It’s pretty sustained climbing and some slippery moves near the end definitely require good balance. This is a great forearm workout.
New Era, 5.7
A classic trad route that runs up the crack/dihedral on the east face of Kindergarten Rock. Bring medium to large pro because it’s pretty big. When I climbed this route with Arek, we reached the summit with three pitches. There are decent anchors, though the first one is tight…the first pitch is the easiest and a good place to set up a top rope for beginners – as a did when Sebastian visited.
The Manitou Incline runs up the side on Mt. Manitou along old railroad ties – basically 1.1 miles of wooden steps up a mountain. It has an 89% average grade and a 2,000 ft elevation gain. It’s also exposed to the sun, making for a brutal workout.
Barr Trail starts near the Cog Railroad and continues up to the summit of Pikes Peak. It’s about 13 miles long and an easy trail leading up to a popular 14er. Barr Camp is located off the trail just below treeline. You can camp here in lean-tos or tents – and be sure and stop in the cabin to chat with the caretakers and eat some yummy pancakes!
Adam’s Mountain Café – the best restaurant in Manitou! It serves ‘slow food’ that is organic, local and definitely worth the wait. I recommend breakfast the most, it’s a great place to eat after running Ute Indian Trail or going up the Incline.
My first outdoor climb of Summer 2008 was in the Garden of the Gods. The Garden of the Gods is a great sport/trad climbing area located in the middle of Colorado Springs, about 10 minutes west of I-25 off the Garden of the Gods exit. Free to the public, the Garden is a good place for some qucik climbing on good, gritty red sandstone. Just sign the ‘idiot waiver’ at the Visitor’s Center and carry your rope and qucikdraws down the sidewalk and climb away. Be prepared for an audience though. Needless to say, I was a bit rusty from well over a semester of inactivity, no rock climbing and still coming out of the depression that had nearly shut down my life at the end of 2007. Following my newfound policy of making rather irrational, yet carefully planned out, decisions, I climbed in the Garden with a boy I had met on the internet and had never climbed with before. Of course, climbing well-bolted 5.6s and 5.7s in the Garden is an extremely well-calculated risk…and Scott’s experience and ability far outweighed any dangers. Little did I know at the time, but meeting Scott would completely change the course of my summer and launch me into three months of travel and climbing, solidifying my love for the outdoors and Colorado.
The following day, I took advantage of another invite to the Garden, this time to climb with several soldiers who had recently returned from deployments in Iraq. This turned out to an extremely different experience, with some much more aggressive repelling and some rather large falling rocks. Three routes stick out in my memory:
Located on the west side of South Gateway rock, West Point Crack is a sandbag 5.8 route leading up to a well placed anchor. The route continues onto a second pitch, but the quality of the rock rapidly deteriorates and ultimately isn’t worth it. West Point Crack isn’t really a ‘crack’ so much as a very very big flake. Liebacks can be used but the crack is so big you can just step up it like stairs. It’s well-bolted and safe – with the exception of the first move. The route starts above the belay station on an exposed ledge – the move calls you to lean back then step up onto the ledge. It’s a bit boulder but once you get yourself on the rock the route becomes really easy. Like I said before – sandbag.
Credibility Gap 5.9
A much more exposed route that West Point, Credibility Gap starts behind the large flat rock that juts up in front of South Gateway rock. It also follows a crack/flake up to the anchor and is protected with pins and fixed pitons. The area right under the anchor get pretty bare and people seem to frequently pull off flakes of rock right there, so be prepared to do some dodging if you have a grabby climber on belay. Definitely a fun route!
Located on the Drug Wall of South Gateway Rock (the side that faces east), Mighty Thor is an awesome sport route that stems up a dihedral to an anchor. There are some big reaches, some serious liebacks, and stemming. This is a fun, pumpy route that requires a lot of balance and patience as the tourists walk by commenting on your progress. This is one of my favorite routes in the Garden, so I definitely recommend it.