Climbing Eldorado Canyon, in the snow

February 10, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Saturday was a beautiful day in Northern Colorado. Temperatures topped out at nearly 55F (~13C) in the Fort, and the sun felt great. On Sunday morning, my parents left Colorado, and Kevin headed back to Denver. Mark and I got up early, packed our bags and then drove down to Eldorado Canyon for a day of trad climbing – just the two of us. There are a few pictures from the day in the gallery.

We realized at some point in the last few days that Mark and I had not climbed together, as a pair of partners, with nobody else around, for several months. We thought that it would be nice to get back out on the rock for a quiet day of adventure. When we left Fort Collins on Sunday morning the Front Range was covered in a thick lenticular cloud, but we could see sun over the mountains. As we pulled in to Eldorado Canyon, it seemed the cloud had been pushed higher over the mountain. The canyon was dark, cold and covered in snow. Mark declared that he had not driven an hour and half and paid $6 to not climb, so we bundled up and headed to the Whale’s Tail.

We roped up for the creepy traverse across to the ledge at the bottom of the formation, but I’m not sure that the route we took across in the morning really warranted it. As Mark was racking up for the first climb, the clouds receded, the sun began creeping down the canyon towards us. By the time he was off the ground the rock was warm and sun-lit, and the weather was officially beautiful. It was quiet in the canyon, too. We could see and hear only one other distant pair of climbers for most of our day there, which is wonderful in a place which is normally so busy that rap lines land on leaders and rocks fall on crowds below almost every weekend.

(1) West Crack (5.2 or 5.4) – The first climb of the morning was a great one. This crack was long, exposed, took great pro and was an all around aesthetic climb. Mark and I both had huge smiles on our faces when we came down from this one. It felt simply like the reason trad climbing had been invented. Note, though, the route took most of our 60m rope. If you have less than a 58m rope, I don’t think you’ll reach the ground from the rap anchor.

Mark Ties His Knot

(2) West Dihedral (5.2 or 5.4) – Mark and I spent some time discussing how best to climb this route and then set a TR on the middle slab and then clean that TR anchor and come off the rock from the rap anchor above. Once Mark had led the dihedral, he ended up building an anchor up and left of the overhanging crux, and worked out great for the slab. He ran up the dihedral, placing only 4 pieces of pro before the anchor, and I had no problem with it either.

(3) West Face (5.6 X) – This slab climb was long and fun. It had a few thin parts, but Mark climbed it in his old rental shoes with no problem. I think it’s worth doing on TR if you’re in the area, not worth risking your life over as a lead or free-solo. But that’s just MHO. After Mark climbed it, he climbed above our anchor back to the rappel anchor on top of the rock, and then set up the rappel. He cleaned the anchor for the slab on rappel, on his way down, which involved a bit of aerial ballet but nothing too crazy.

As we pulled the rope from this last climb, another couple climbed over to our ledge, and the sun began to touch the edge of the canyon on the far side. We packed up our gear, and Mark lead back across the ledge to our stuff in the gulley next to us. This time, he took “the low road” which ended up having a very exposed technical downclimb move that Mark protected well. It was an exciting way to finish the day, and made me feel like we had just gotten in another whole pitch of climbing. By this time, the canyon was starting to feel crowded again, and we met a guided group of about 6 climbers looking to get on our climbs as we packed up in the last of the sunshine. We chatted with the other climbers and then hiked out in the new shade of the sunset, which ended up being around 3p. The days are short in a steep canyon like Eldo, but I think we managed to squeeze a perfect climbing day out of this one. Mark and I got to be alone together in the sun, in a dramatic and beautiful place, doing what we loved.