An Easy Day on Crystal Wall

August 16, 2009 at 8:41 pm

The weekend was rainy and Mark was sore from CrossFit. Yeah, that’s a great way to start a climbing trip report. This one is gonna rock!!

Relaxing Between Climbs

Mostly, I just wanted to write this one up because there isn’t much information about climbs in the Poudre Canyon (northwest of Fort Collins) out there. And there’s probably a reason for that. The area is quiet, we’ve had problems with access in the past, and lack of traffic has left many of these routes loose and vegetated. Not very high on the Choss Score Card, really.

Rapping the slightly overhanging Crystal Wall

But, if you live in Fort Collins, and you want to climb something slightly taller than the boulders at Horsetooth, your options are limited. Enter The Palace and The Crystal Wall.

These two bolted sport-climbing areas lay on opposite sides of Hwy 14, about 15 miles up the canyon from Ted’s Place (where Hwy 14 branches west from 287). Once you pass the Mishawaka, you’ll go through a tunnel cut through the rock. The Palace is on the north side of the road, and the Crystal Wall on the south side. Park carefully at the large pullout on the right, just across the river from the Palace.

The Palace has more routes, most on decent quality rock, and we have enjoyed exploring it’s granite grottos for several years. The problem, though, is that the Palace sits across a wide, fast-running, and very cold stretch of the Poudre River. Unlike Boulder Canyon, there really is no good place to hang a Tyrolean here, so crossing becomes dangerous during spring and early summer, and too cold to contemplate after the first snows.

Looking down on the Palace from the top of the climbs

When we arrived last weekend, the river was still a bit higher than we were hoping. So, rather than swim for it, we turned our attention to the Crystal Wall.

To access this monolith, you have to find the secret little 3rd-class climb in the roadcut below it. There used to be a fixed rope that ran all the way down to the highway, but last weekend, the rope only covered the top 15ft or so. We’re lucky our dog is still spry and sure-footed. She scrambled up this steep climb without any problem (and down it later).

We arrived at the base of the wall on the right-hand (west) side of the face. The rock is probably well over 200ft tall in the center, and filled with hard, vertical to overhaning, 1 to 2 pitch sport climbs. I had heard there were some easy moderates on the far right, and indeed, there were.

Our three routes for the day (5.7, 5.9, 5.8?)

(1) Clean-Up on Aisle 9 – Covered in jugs and more overhanging than anything we’ve climbed this year, we struggled a bit on this one. Mark got the redpoint, but not without some swearing and shaking. It took me a while to figure out the moves past the second bolt. A shot of sport-climbing reality for sure.

(2) Lunch Bucket Crack (5.8- PG13) – From the ground, this route looks runout, with a good crack for pro. We thought it shared anchors with the route to its left (3). Mark took a biner of nuts up with him, and protected the runout between the 2nd and 3rd bolts fairly well, though the rock around the crack was loose, chunky, and chossy. Anything but confidence inspiring. And then, as he climbed to the anchors to the left, he found himself in another 20ft runout section, on loose, vegetated rock. This is because the route actually shared the anchors with the climb on the right (1).

If you do this one, traverse right at the top bolt. Not left.

(3) Gates of Crystal (5.7+) – This was the best route of the day. Perfectly vertical climbing on ledges and crimps up the tall granite wall. I wish we’d started with this one, but it made the day pretty worth while.

There are routes all along the Crystal Wall.  We barely scratched the surface.

Clouds rolled in around 2p, so we packed up and headed home. I would like to spend some time exploring the longer routes on this wall as well. We’ll be back, and I’ll hopefully update this site with more information about the area as we discover it.