If you can competently climb the hard stuff, you are living the dream. You know how to route find, move quickly, and keep your head from exploding when the rock disappears beneath your feet, you haven’t placed a piece of protection in 20 feet and the ground seems a mile away. So here are five of the very best, most beautiful, and varied test pieces in Colorado for experts.
The Diamond, Rocky Mountain National Park
10a. Eight Pitches
Nicknamed the Cattle Route, this climb is the most popular way to get up Colorado’s most famous big wall. Prepare to move fast and be on the rock all day. Many climbers camp near the bottom to get an earlier start. Although eight pitches long, a couple of pitches can be combined with a 200-foot rope. Only one pitch is rated 5.10, but the thin mountain air near 14,000 feet makes the climb harder. Route finding can be tricky down low. Bring a standard rack. Scramble to the top of Long’s Peak and walk off.
Redgarden Wall, Eldorado Canyon
11b. Six Pitches
This mega-classic line in Eldorado Canyon State Park just south of Boulder is hard, exposed, and sometimes downright scary. The Naked Edge has it all — finger cracks, chimneys, arêtes, dieheidrals, overhangs -– you name it. Many climbers aspire to climb this route someday. If you do, you will never forget the experience. Bring extra TCUs and nuts for protection. Rap off. But before you do, take a picture, post it on Facebook, or call all of your climbing friends. They will be impressed!
The Yellow Spur
– 10a. Redgarden Wall, Eldorado Canyon. Seven Pitches. A simply gorgeous line. While not nearly as technically difficult, sustained, or spicy as the Naked Edge nearby, the Yellow Spur still offers nice exposure and spectacular climbing. Most of the pitches are in the 5.8 range but there is a 5.10 section up high and possibly on the first pitch as well depending on which of two starts you choose. Standard Rack. Rap off with two ropes or walk off. Both this route and the Naked Edge have short approaches.
10a. The Bookend, Lumpy Ridge, Six pitches
A lot of variety here. While the roof on the first pitch is the technical crux, the true test comes on the upper pitches. Pitches three and four have plenty of exposure, and there are also one or two fairly long run outs in the 5.8 range. Near the top, a strenuous chimney pitch can humble climbers not used to tight chimneys. It will likely feel easy if you’ve paid your dues in fat-crack meccas like Vedaweoo and insanely and painfully hard if you haven’t. Consider wearing long pants and volleyball-style kneepads. Bring a standard rack plus a couple of large cams. Walk off the top.
The People’s Choice
Clear Creek Canyon
10b/c. High Wire Crag, Three pitches
It’s only fair to include a sport climb, and this one just west of Golden is certainly a good one. All you need are quick draws and at least a 60-meter-rope to protect it. Bring your sticky shoes, though, because the 10a first pitch doesn’t have much to grab with your hands. While the climbing is neither pumpy nor sustained, it is loads of fun — especially at the impressive-looking overhanging roof. The crux may be keeping your head together while clipping the bolt. Experienced climbers, however, will be used to this kind of exposure.
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– Paul Sampson is a freelance reporter and photojournalist based in Golden, Colo. His adventures on rock and ice have taken him to most of the country’s major climbing areas and all over Colorado. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulSampson1.