Eldorado Canyon, CO


Eldo.  I’d read about it for years.  World class trad climbing.  Rich history.  Layton Kor.  After spending the day climbing Rewritten with Joey, I’m calling this area El Chossorado, and I will openly admit that I don’t get the hype.  I guess I’ve done the bulk of my trad climbing at Joshua Tree, which isn’t exactly known for having pristine rock.  Compared to Eldo, though, Josh is like surfing shoulder-high Cardiff on a crisp autumn morning. Clean.

I don’t want to hate on the place.  This was our first time climbing in Colorado and I’d be a fool to spew negativity after sampling a single climb.  Or maybe it really is a chossfest.  Go visit and decide for yourself.

Entrance to Eldo

We flew into Denver late on a Wednesday night, hoping to get to bed early enough that an alpine start would, at least, be a theoretical possibility.  As soon as I set my eyes on the baggage claim, I knew it was not to be.  I made the (poor) choice to fly Spirit Air, where neither your carry-0n, or even a mid-flight soda for that matter, are free.  The flight attendant told us our bags would be arriving on carousel number one.  After walking untold miles through the enormous maze that is the Denver International Airport, I finally arrived at the baggage claim.  Seven other flights were listed on the screen for carousel one, which looked like the entrance gate to a rock concert.  A horde of weary travelers, five, six – ten people deep in spots, surrounded the carousel.  Oh, you have to be kidding me.  I was so glad I checked my small, black, and completely mundane looking suitcase.

Oh, I just looked it up.  Denver Int’l Airport is the third largest in the world and apparently twice the size of Manhattan.  It’s BIG.

I found Joey after a bit, and we stood there for the next hour, waiting for people to clear away.  Eventually, I found my suitcase on carousel number two. Thanks again, Spirit.

We made it to the illustrious Silver Saddle Motel in Boulder sometime around 2 am.  I groaned at the thought of five adult men, drunk and/or hungover, that would be sharing the two beds and tiny bathroom over the next several days.  The toilet situation, I’m afraid to report, became a bit of a fiasco.

And so we pulled ourselves out of bed at 9 am, ate a leisurely breakfast at Moe’s (delicious bagels) and eventually made our way out to Eldorado Canyon.  We had two climbs in mind; Bastille Crack and Rewritten, both of which are classic moderates that were recommended to us.  The Bastille looked super fun, but was only 3 minutes from the parking lot and felt a bit like an outdoor gym.  It’s not much fun climbing below or above other people, especially while the inevitable gumby parade is watching from below.  We moved on towards Rewritten, which is to say that we started bushwhacking through possible poison ivy and over loose scree for the next 45 minutes.

Poison Oak?

Poison Oak?

I’m not great at identifying toxic plants, so I tried in vain to avoid anything that looked remotely oily, or three-leafed, or oaky, or ivy-y.  Joey admitted that he had simply given up, and was just thrashing through whatever happened to block our path.  After getting cliffed out, we had to backtrack and work our way back to the main trail, and eventually we found our way up to the start of the climb.  I was completely out of breath and feeling like crap.  Must have been the altitude and the lack of any recent physical activity.  My lead head was back in San Diego, or maybe I had left it in Joshua Tree.

Joey started up the Great Zot , which was the harder (8+) but “cleaner” variation to the climb.  After negotiating some hollow flakes and so-so protection, he made it to the choss-covered ledge that would serve as the first belay.  I felt like absolute crap as I followed.  I led the second pitch, which I have already purged from memory because it wasn’t worth what little space I have left in this old head of mine.  I brought Joey up using my slick new DMM Pivot, which definitely lives up to the hype.  As Joey climbed up to meet me, I scanned the sky and began to worry about the possibility of a thunderstorm ruining our day (or lives).  Colorado’s weather is notoriously unpredictable, and the thought of climbing a pinnacle of rock during a thunderstorm did not appeal to me at all.  Joey met me and we spent the next 30 minutes watching the sky, and trying to decide if we should push upwards or bail.  Any higher, and bailing off the climb would pose it’s own uncertainties and risks.  At one point, I am pretty sure we decided to bail and I tried testing a horn of rock, which might serve as a rap anchor.  I slung it with a nylon runner and then we watched with amusement as a tiny flick from my finger pulled the sling off and away from the rock entirely.  Rather than hang our lives from such a precarious attachment, we looked at each other and just nodded; it was time to bust our asses and make for the top.


And so we climbed higher, becoming more and more exposed on the intimidating face of the Redgarden Wall, the tallest cliff in Eldo.  I had the privilege of leading the popular 4th pitch, which traverses an exposed horizontal crack for about 20 feet, eventually moving up to another ledge system.  It is from this ledge that, not long ago, a refrigerator size block of rock decided to tip over and careen to the bottom of the canyon, exploding into a million pieces.  If you think I was climbing without all this in mind, you would most definitely be mistaken.  Reaching the next belay, as a light rain began to fall on my helmet, I had to step carefully over the loose chunks and shards of rock, remnants of past chossfall on this popular route.  Special care was taken, to ensure that the rope wouldn’t knock something loose, sending a dangerous projectile in the direction of Joey’s head.




Look of Enthusiasm


At one point, Joey stopped moving and though he was below and out of sight, I had to assume that he was trying to clean a stuck piece of gear.  Light rain spattered against my eyes, and the clouds were growing thicker by the minute.  I started shouting as loud as I could, “Move!!  JOEY!  You have to MOVE!!!”

It turns out that he couldn’t hear me.  This is often the case while climbing, and it’s great fun to scream stuff – important stuff – at your partner, knowing there is only a 1% chance that they can hear anything at all.  I’m sure everyone a half mile away on The Bastille could hear me, what with the curious way that sound travels, and I bet all the native Coloradoans were smirking at this pair of fair-weather gringos who were freaking out over a bit of drizzle.


Not exactly enjoying myself at this point

Joey reached the ledge and since I was belaying him off my harness, it took less than a minute to do a quick gear exchange and he was off and running.  Two more pitches to go, but I knew we could link them with our 70 meter rope, so I suggested that he just bust his ass all the way to the top as fast (and safely) as possible.  And that he did, and it was probably the fastest climbing either of us have ever done.  Those final three pitches, in total, took us no more than an hour and included some non-trivial moves up an exposed face.  By the time I reached the summit, we were both smiling.  We watched a couple of lightning bolts strike to the west, a safe distance away.  We followed the trail around and over the top of the wall and got surprised by a rattlesnake on our way down, but encountered no other snafus.

The ever-popular BWA (Body Wedge Anchor)

The ever-popular BWA (Body Wedge Anchor)


Just past the snake on the descent

No poison oak, I can safely report. Unless there is some sort of week-long incubation period that I am blissfully unaware of.




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