Five Tips for Enjoying Life on the Rocks in Colorado

Clear Creek Canyon offers some of the best, and most variable, climbs in the greater Denver area.
Clear Creek Canyon offers some of the best, and most variable, climbs in the greater Denver area. c/o Mountainproject.com

The Front Range is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts: A short drive can take you to great hiking, biking or skiing terrain. But Denver is also incredibly close to some of Colorado’s best rock-climbing locations, from Clear Creek Canyon near Golden to Eldorado Canyon outside of Boulder.

“Denver is one of the best places to go climbing,” says Dan Krug, founder of the Denver Climbing Company, which leads guided outdoor trips for climbers of all levels. “Within thirty minutes, you can be in world-class climbing areas.” Want to enjoy life on the rocks this summer? Here are five tips to help you take advantage of the magnificent climbing opportunities in and around the city.

1. Find a gym. Denver is home to many indoor climbing gyms; Thrillseekers, on Jewell and South Broadway, is the longest-running in town. "People come here who want to learn," says founder Kevin Smith. Most gyms include a traditional wall-climbing area that requires a rope and harness, as well as a bouldering area where you can climb short, technical routes ten to twelve feet off the ground without a rope. For climbers who eventually hope to get outside, Thrillseekers has countless guidebooks and an experienced staff willing to give advice on where and what to climb. "Thrillseekers has always thought of itself as a means to an end," Smith says. "People climb here to climb outside." Other great indoor gyms include Movement Climbing and Fitness, which recently opened and also features a yoga studio and cardio room, and REI's rock wall at its flagship store on Platte Street.

click to enlarge Thrillseekers, the oldest climbing gym still running in Denver,  has been in operation since 1992. - C/O THRILLSEEKERS
Thrillseekers, the oldest climbing gym still running in Denver, has been in operation since 1992.
c/o Thrillseekers
2. Go on a guided trip. "Climbing with a guiding company first is the best way to learn how to climb without any bad habits from the beginning," says Krug. The Denver Climbing Company's outfitter offers guided courses to the Clear Creek and North Table Mountain areas; equipment and instruction are provided for climbers of all levels, from first-timers to veteran crushers who want tips in advanced anchor-building. Other groups, like REI and the Colorado Mountain Club, also offer guided courses.

3. Become part of the community. Climbers are notoriously friendly. If you are on your own and have never climbed before, try out the bouldering area of a gym, where you won't be required to have a partner belay you and you can begin to meet other climbers. Gyms like Thrillseekers even have a "Partner Board," where you can reach out to other climbers of similar skill levels to climb together. Denver Climbing Company brings its clients together, putting on events like weekend climbing/camping trips where clients are invited to climb and meet other like-minded members of the community.

click to enlarge The first pitch of the Bastille Crack. - F DELVENTHAL
The first pitch of the Bastille Crack.
F Delventhal
4. Find the best spots outside. As it turns out, this isn't hard to do if you have the right gear, and Clear Creek Canyon, outside of Golden, is probably everyone's safest bet. This beautiful canyon features over 1,200 bolted climbs ranging from 5.2 to 5.14 (in the climber ranking system, this range includes essentially every difficulty level). Other great sport-climbing areas with pre-bolted routes include Golden Cliffs and North Table Mountain.

If you are willing to drive a bit farther, Boulder is home to some of the best climbing in the country in the Flatirons and in Boulder and Eldorado canyons. In fact, if you ask any guide or experienced climber for the quintessential Colorado climb, they're likely to answer, "The Bastille Crack in Eldo," without skipping a beat. To climb this, you must be comfortable a) placing your own gear as you ascend (this is called "traditional" climbing, or "trad"), and b) as they so eloquently say in climber lingo, fearlessly "jamming your hands" into the crack that winds its way up five pitches of sandstone like a lightning bolt. For you beginners, it's okay to let this route loom like the Holy Grail in the back of your mind while you learn the ropes.

5. Finally, "There is no right or wrong way to learn how to climb," Smith reminds us, "as long as it is done safely." Whether you've been climbing and building anchors since you were a kid or you've never even heard the word "belay," Denver is the spot to get involved in climbing.

"There's a lifetime of climbing" in this area, notes Smith, so why not be part of it? As they say, "Send it!"
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Gabe Fine is a fifth-generation Colorado native and a student at Colorado College. He’s written about everything from the environment to housing justice to the postal service as an editorial intern for Westword.
Contact: Gabe Fine