Denver is a climbing mecca where all kinds of rock types are available within short car rides.
By Samuel Taylor
Three hours to Joshua Tree granite, five hours to sandstone in Red Rocks and six hours to volcanic in Bishop; all on a good day with no traffic. Here in San Diego we know our time in cars well. We’ve grown accustomed to sitting with are favorite tunes on, commuting to work, driving to the gym or heading on the long drives to these climbing epics.
If there’s one outstanding and impactful impression that I had during a recent trip to Denver, Colorado, it’s that a person can spend a lot less time in a car and a lot more time immersed in the constructive environments we crave.
I went to Colorado for my first time this January to visit a former Mesa Rim maintenance mastermind and designated DJ, Tom tom Rivers. His memorial route is an embodiment of his greatness (located at Mission Valley), if you haven’t climbed it yet you should check it out. Tom and his lovely girlfriend, Jess, are both great friends of mine who moved to Colorado less than a year ago. Tom, to study industrial design and Jess, to pursue her career in early childhood education. They were kind enough to host me at their lovely home in South Denver and show me around their new stomping grounds; thank you both sincerely.
I knew before I left that I was ready to climb a lot! I had my pads with me as a checked bag (fun tip: you can check two pads as one checked bag if you strap them together!), a few pairs of shoes and somewhat rested hands ready to be raw. What I didn’t know is how much more time I would spend climbing than I thought! I knew we had planned some trips to climb and I wanted to check out a local gym as well; I just had no idea how close we would be to everything.
The first area we went to was Morrison, a bouldering spot located just at the base of the Rocky Mountains, just a 20 minute drive from Tom’s house. It was formed at the mouth of a short, man-made canyon created from partial natural erosion and partial blasting. This hosts both a purely overhung, naturally eroded sandstone area perfect for avoiding the sun in the morning–however has no topout (without being rated “X or on the Y.D.S.”)–and an adjacent boulder pile with high- and low-ball sharp sandstone arrêts. We opted for the top-outs on the south side of the canyon. A decision so good we never went to the other side the multiple times we returned during the trip. The view of the Red Rocks Amphitheater and the east Rockies cascading behind was an incredible backdrop to absorb while basking in the stoke of the send on some of these satisfying and serendipitous lines.
Perhaps my favorite line of the area was “Double Arrêt”, a v5 according to Mountain Project or a v6 according to the guidebook. A slightly high, slightly overhung, compression problem (my anti-style), with an odd sort-of-exposure. About 2 feet to your left is a steep slab where a fall would be quickly arrested but turned into a slide-n-slam (into a pad hopefully). “It’s like a mild version of ‘Atari’.” ‘Atari’ is a problem in Bishop, CA, of about the same difficulty. It was destined to be a classic due to its aesthetic shape, spectacular location and devastating exposure to the right.
Another fantastic climb of the area that shares the same disjointed and arbitrary grade-battle between
v5-6, is “squirming coil”. It rests just 15 yards up from “double arrêt” and features some technical and tricky beta and seems like the biggest sandbag ever . . until you figure it out.
You can spot Tom and Jess trying to stay warm in the cave little cave behind the climb. That little cave also has some fun easier problems and a challenging v10 crimp line that emerges from the abyss. On the face just left of tom there is also a couple v0-v2 climbs that are deserving of some attention. Indubitably a great little dihedral cove for everyone to enjoy.
Right down the hill from these two gems is a hard v6 that goes by the name “Dasani”, with a v10 center-sit it is ideal for those looking for a fierce but short, <10’ fight. My personal note: the perfect “pogo” makes it that much better. Also, the pads to the right are just rested there not being used; the landing for Dasani takes about 3 pads, to pad entirely, without needing to move anything around mid-climb. Most of the landings in Morrison are this way (a spotter is always nice though). This is the only picture we had of the climb between two people; although it shows just a bit the climb, it does show the Red Rocks Amphitheater lurking in the background. I guess we were having too much fun to take more pictures.
That same day, we went just 30 minutes further (50 minutes from Tom’s) to some beautiful pine-forest highball granite at Alderfer-Three Sisters Park. I could have sworn I was at Black Mountain, though there was a slightly different aesthetic quality to this forest–it was more flat.
We had a fun half-day of scrambling on Joshua Tree-like rock piles and climbing airy highballs.
Once again, I returned with a lack of digital photos, however Tom took some wonderful film shots that I’m sure he’d love to share, when developed.
About 45 minutes north of Tom is Boulder, Colorado, which is home to the famous ‘Flatirons’ that tower over the university mountain town. Up into the mountains a little ways is the Flagstaff area. The rock formations there create a very interesting climbing experience. Flagstaff is made of a volcanic-conglomerate stone that contain small crystals of quartzite and pebbles of polished “dueltex-like” smears. It felt like comp climbing on a real rock.
I’m not certain what this climb is actually called; it was on the ‘Red Wall’ and felt as though it would be
in the v4 range, with really specific beta that seemed incredibly forced. You’re supposed to drop-from-a heel hook to a smearing and glassy starting crimp so you can hand-foot match your left hand to balance up to a thumb-single finger pinch. From there, a whole new sequence I encourage anyone to try. We
didn’t stay too long because we were to head back to Morrison that afternoon for a sunset session, although this wall and area boasted a high density of truly interesting climbing and we all look forward to heading back with fresh bodies!
On one of our rest days Tom and I took a full hour journey up to the Keystone mountain ski hills, whereone can take a mellow, over 3-mile-long, cruise from summit to base. That rest day quickly turned into a serious “leg day” when we clocked in just under 15,000 vertical feet of backcountry powder and superb snow conditions on groomed runs. Some hidden hideouts are to be found here as well; a little pond with a swing, table and igloo is a great place to spend a break, if you can find it!
If you’re hanging out in the city you should check out Mutiny – Information Café; it’s a coffee shop… or bookstore… or records store… comic shop… pinball arcade… music venue… chess club? It’s a lot of things and boring is not one of them. Hours flew by in this place while I found countless nooks and crannies. If you are a lover of rare books like I am, there’s a treat in the locked bookcase behind the coffee bar: the second-ever copy of George Orwell’s 1984. There’s some other ‘easter-eggs’ to be found, too, including rare collectibles and an epic selection of esoteric nic-naks for any closeted geek.
Hungry or jonesin’ for a drink but have those picky vegans with you? Check out City-O-City by the Arts Museum, downtown. They have countless vegan options; I recommend the mac-n-cheese with homemade cashew cheese from which I am still having withdrawals. You can stay late because the night scene is popular there… from what I heard.
We decided, instead, to go check out the favorite bar: Forest Room 5. Another must see, if you’re over21. The ambiance of the Forest Room was like you were hanging out in Holcomb Valley at the climbers camp only with more people, music and rowdiness. A stream running through the outdoor-forest area created a calm and unique experience, for a bar. As we sat gathered around campfires, sharing stories and laughing at the couple that had fallen into the treacherous 10-inch freezing rapids, it felt nostalgic; we reflected on the times spent laughing and playing around a campfire, bringing us back to the places and memories we cherish. The nostalgia was broken, however, when I was shown a hidden closet under the stairs that was filled with dozens of teddy bears sprawled about. Another place with lots of hidden and truly odd features.
I have heard from countless people about how great Colorado is. Now, I am grateful to be one of those people who rave about how wonderful Denver truly is. The density of to-do’s in Denver is incredible, after just dipping a toe into the water of what it has to offer, I am itching to get back as soon as I can. There aren’t very many places you can climb five types of rock within a 2-hour drive, (there is limestone and basalt near as well). Not to mention the plethora of other activities to do, both in the city and in the surrounding areas. It’s enough to keep the restless busy for a long time. Once again, big thank you to Tom and Jess for showing me around and hosting me at their home. I can’t wait to get back there soon!