Driving through Glenwood Canyon, most people eye the Colorado River and the crumbly limestone cliffs right above the road. In the winter, Glenwood has a few attractions as well, including the ephemeral Glenwood Falls ice climb on the north side of the road right after the tunnel by exit 105.
Most people never notice the aptly named Hidden Falls, high on the south side of the Canyon just west of the Shoshone Power Plant. Michael Kennedy was the first to explore Hidden Falls when he saw the area from the road more than twenty years ago. He did reconnaissance on the approach to the climb in March 1975, and discovered a wall of ice nearly 500 feet tall and almost 200 feet wide.
The interesting thing about Hidden Falls is that the water actually seeps from a large rock roof, and the ice ends abruptly at the roof, instead of on a gently sloping snow slope the way many ice climbs do.
Kennedy recruited his friend Steve Shea for the first ascent and went back up the next day. The pair chose a difficult line on the right side of the wall, vertical to overhanging for the first full rope length pitch, which Shea led.
Because of the width of the falls, there have been three first ascents. Kennedy and Lou Dawson made the first ascent of the difficult center line in 1977, with Dawson leading the crux free-hanging pillar on the third pitch. Dick Jackson and Brad Johnson made the first ascent of the left side in 1979.
But getting to Hidden Falls may be more difficult than the climb. Park at the Shoshone Power Station, which is accessed only from eastbound I-70 (ironically, climbers looking to do Glenwood Falls also have to approach from the east).
The first crux presents itself immediately: crossing the Colorado River. If the weather has been cold enough, the river freezes up and you can walk across it. If the river isn't frozen, you may have to hike about a mile east and then cross by boulder hopping, then hike back down past your starting point on the other side of the river. Alternately, if you have a raft, you can boat across the river. Do not walk on the train tracks -- that's technically trespassing -- and do not cross the river on the dam for the same reason.
About half a mile west of where you parked your car, slog straight up a steep gully to the base of the ice. Depending on the snow cover, this can take one to two hours. Add another half hour to 45 minutes if you have to hike to cross the river.
Choose your line and climb. The left side and center route are usually the more difficult. The right side first pitch can be done in one long rope-stretcher or broken in two with a belay in an alcove halfway up. The middle tier of ice is the easiest, usually no more difficult than WI3+, and leads to the final stretch of ice hanging from the roof. To descend, rappel from V-thread anchors or bolts under the roof, and rap from trees at the top of the first pitch to get to the bottom. Double ropes are useful for the descent.
After slogging back down the gully, you may encounter a sting in the tail. On my first climb of Hidden Falls, we descended the gully in the dark via headlamp, only to find we had to wait twenty minutes for a train to pass before we could get back across the river. Some climbers have also found that the ice they initially used to cross the river has melted.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.