Following our anniversary tradition, Mark and I headed out of town for the weekend and spent a few nights at a nice resort along with a weekend of climbing and hiking. In past years, we’ve gone to Steamboat Springs and Estes Park. This year, we decided to head down to Colorado Springs.
It seems we may have been a little early for fall color viewing, but we did get a chance to sample some lovely sport climbing at the Red Rocks Canyon Open Space, just west of town.
This area is unique for the thought put into planning routes and working out access issues with the city. The rock is smooth, eroded sandstone, similar to the well-known fins of Garden of the Gods. Except in this area, there are many fewer cracks and almost no options for traditional gear. Climbers in the region worked out a plan with the city, which allowed a handful of very experienced and talented climbers to come in and bolt more than 90 routes. After they were finished cleaning and setting the routes, the park opened to climbing in 2004.
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I know many people who would frown or scorn a “pre-planned” climbing area, or throw it in the same pile as the “outdoor gyms” at North Table Mountain or Cactus Cliffs. And they might be right to do so. Having a climbing area that was not grown organically, but designed and built from the ground up, gives it a bit of the fake-ish feeling of planned suburban communities or Disney-World wildlife parks. But it also gives almost 100 interesting, well thought out, appropriately protected (not too many bolts, not too few), appropriately spaced, well cleaned, safe, and very fun rock climbing routes.
It’s really hard to complain about a climbing area where several greats of the Colorado climbing community have worked together to produce a fantastic sport climbing spot. The end result, though it might seem contrived, is a beautiful climbing area, in town, with awesome routes of nearly every grade.
On Saturday, Mark and I had a big breakfast at the resort, and then mosey’d over to the Garden of the Gods to register to climb and buy the guidebook. The gentleman at the counter made no attempt to cover up the fact that he thought we, as rockclimbers, were completely insane. Especially when we bought a “guidebook” that was no more than about 20 photocopied and stapled pages for $12.95.
We found ourselves in the parking area at around 10:30a, and set out for the day’s climbs. There was almost nobody else climbing at that hour of the morning, and the park was being generally used by joggers and people walking dogs. We started with the three routes on the Whale’s Tail.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty of each climb, suffice to say I was proud of my lead of the 5.7 slab (The Rose). The rock is classic red sandstone, which does not lend itself to any sort of foot or hand holds. And as you smear up the steep face, sand forms between your shoes and the rock, reducing your friction. The first route felt creepy. But we both lead it, and got our slab feet under us. Our next routes (Pockets a’ Plenty (5.9) and Jason’s Argonaut (5.10a)) didn’t seem so hard. The rock and the slab felt so foreign, but became more comfortable quickly.
We then wandered south along the Whale, and climbed Blow Tube Envy (5.7) and Mister MIA (5.9+).
Oh, did I mention many of these climbs were LONG? Pockets ‘a Plenty (which really only had like 4 pockets on it), Blow Tube Envy and Mister MIA were all almost exactly 100ft long. For each one, we were tying knots in the back end of the rope, and tying in on tip-toe to make our 60m rope stretch. So the routes were slabby, lacking holds, a little sandy, and very, very long. With an range of 5 to 8 bolts in those 100ft, they were very interesting, and a little spicy.
At around 2p, the rest of the Colorado Springs climbing community showed up. Mark and I started to get annoyed with the big group of guys barking at each other to our left, so we wandered across the canyon to Ripple Wall. Here we finished off our day (basically) by climbing Wake to Wake (5.10a) and Current Event (5.10b). The first route was super fun, and seemed easy for the grade. The second route was HARD. It started with a sloper and slab-o-licous traverse with protection sparse enough to make us both nervous, but close enough to keep us working the route. Mark, of course, got the red point, and I took a number of falls before I was able to commit to the delicate end of the traverse.
As I cleaned the last climb, dark clouds were filling the sky to our north. I could see lightening striking the ground a few miles away from us. Of course, as we hiked out of the canyon, we passed a group of college-aged kids (two cute girls and a guy) that had just pulled their rope all the way up to the anchors with the knot left in it. Mark, being the secret super hero that he is, couldn’t help himself. He threw on his harness, pulled out our rope, and ran up Pikes Peak (5.7) (5 perfectly placed bolts in about 90 ft of climbing), untied their knot, and rapped down while cleaning. The whole thing took less than about 15 minutes, and we made it back to the car before the storm hit.
It was a great day for both of us, with committing and fun leads, new and exotic-feeling rock, and well protected sunny slabs. My toes, arches, ankles and calves ached for days, but it was totally worth it!