Climbers scale the walls of Clear Creek Canyon west of Golden. Photos: Gabe Toth

Climbers scale the walls of Clear Creek Canyon west of Golden. Photos: Gabe Toth

CLIMBING OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE to those who want to hang out

By Gabe Toth

With endless crags, crevices and cliffs, Colorado offers plenty of terrain for novice rock climbers and pros alike.

Clear Creek Canyon and Boulder Canyon each offer a variety of routes a stone’s throw from Denver. Just a little further north, the Colorado rock climbing community has effectively “annexed” Vedauwoo, Wyoming, according to Ben Coryell, owner and guide at Golden Mountain Guides.

“All of these areas are within an hour and a half drive from Denver and have many beginner accessible routes,” he said.

Would-be adventurers have a few options for getting started. For the completely uninitiated, Coryell recommends hiring a guide or taking a class, sometimes offered at local gyms or stores such as REI. Another approach is to learn from a local expert.

“It’s not so common anymore, (but) it used to be the way that everybody learned to climb was actually finding some sort of mentor and just following them around outdoors for a long time until you felt comfortable with all the different systems that you’re using,” he said.

Doing the necessary research is essential to climbers in a new area, to ensure they’re not getting in over their head.

MountainProject.com is a major clearinghouse for routes and area information, with climbs listed in every corner of the world.

“It’s a cool resource, because a lot of times people will post pictures of where the routes begin,” Coryell said. “You know if there’s any safety hazards on the route, say, for example, a loose rock halfway up.”

Another good resource is a local guidebook.“For every location, there’s going to be a different guidebook,” he said. These handy books list approaches and explain whether or not crags are in the sun at certain times of day. Of course, people who sell climbing equipment are also good resources.

“Another good idea is going into a local gear shop and just talking to the folks there,” he said. “They call it local data.”

Naturally, safety is a major concern for rock climbers. Coryell’s number-one safety item is to make sure climbers are using a closed system by knotting both ends of the rope. For top-rope climbing, that means the climber is tied on, and there’s a knot on the belay end.

“The biggest thing that we see, especially in Clear Creek nowadays, is people lowering their partner off the end of the rope, just because it’s not long enough,” he said.

Being part of the climbing community means being part of the greater outdoors community. A top priority is to take care of the climbing area and leave it in the same condition, or better, at the end of the day.

Climbers should be sure to keep their gear collected at the base of the wall to minimize the area being impacted and to keep from obstructing other climbers or hikers in the area. Coryell also recommends volunteering with an organization that works to maintain and fix the bases of crags.


“There are a lot of great organizations around, like the Boulder Climbing Community, the Front Range Climbing Stewards, and the Access Fund,” he said. “A lot of people don’t really understand that those rocks need to be placed in a certain way to keep the base of that crag safe or to keep people from literally sliding down the hill. I think volunteering would be a great way to increase awareness as to how to keep the base of a crag cleaned up and well maintained.”

Following are a few recommended climbing areas. Keep in mind that the routes at each location are numerous.

Clear Creek Canyon

• East Colfax Route - an abundance of 5.0 to 5.9 routes with a five-minute approach.

• Catslab Route - a great beginner area with lots of 5.10 and below. A 70-meter rope is highly recommended, as is tying a knot in the end of your rope. Lots of lowering and rappelling accidents occur at this crag.

Boulder Canyon

• The Sport Park Route - lots of tightly bolted routes up to 5.11s.

• Animal World Route - 5.7 and up.

A former newspaper journalist, Gabe Toth is the head distiller at The Family Jones Spirit House, as well as an avid snowboarder and outdoors enthusiast.