One Guide’s top three Alpine Rock Climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park – by Brent Butler
We are finally in full summer conditions here in Boulder, CO and as the temperatures spike up to the mid 90s day after day, I’m starting to direct my attention to the higher, cooler conditions of the beautiful alpine rock climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Last year I followed the same pattern, escaping the lowland heat to the spectacular walls and spires we are so fortunate to have here on the Front Range. Here are three routes that I highly suggest to any proficient rock climber looking to enjoy what the alpine has to offer.
The Flying Buttress is an interesting route containing varied and fun climbing. It follows the arête/ridge feature of Mt. Meeker’s west most rib. Its positioning is unlike other routes, containing moments of fantastic exposure on the rib proper. The route is not very sustained, and would be doable for the moderate, well conditioned climber. The route goes quite quickly, but is certainly a full day adventure after compounding the approach, and the challenging and exposed descent.
Overall the Flying Buttress is a very fun route, and a great foray into the alpine. Because of its complex approach and descent I would suggest climbers consider going with a partner already familiar with the route, or gathering very good beta ahead of time.
2) Culp-Bossier – Hallet Peak – 5.9, Grade III – 8 Pitches
The Culp-Bossier is THE classic route on Hallet’s intimidating, sheer 1000 foot north face. It connects some very obvious corner and crack systems with some very in-obvious and devious face climbing.
Something totally awesome about climbing on Hallet is that the approach is relatively short – only 1.9 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead, making it a much shorter day then comparable routes in the park. The views of Emerald and Dream lake, the Estes Park Valley and Lumpy Ridge from Hallet’s north face are spectacular.
The Culp-Bossier is indeed classic. It has fairly sustained climbing difficulty, and is often thought of as being stout for 5.9. Highlights of the route include the first pitch’s clean 5.7 finger crack, the third pitch’s beautiful right facing corner, and the intimidating off-width roof top out.
Although the Culp is such a classic route, and I highly advise capable climbers to get on it, I would also offer a word of caution. Several sections on the route are very run-out, and although the climbing in these sections is fairly moderate and obvious, the sparse protection could certainly present the aspiring leader a scary obstacle. Along with the sparse protection, there are several pitches that present serious route finding challenges. Neither of these characteristics should deter the strong and seasoned leader, and anyone that enjoys clean and continuous lines should definitely consider at least following this beautiful rock climb.
3) Pervertical Sanctuary – Long’s Peak – 5.11a, Grade IV – 6 Pitches
Perveritcal Sanctuary is one of my favorite routes I have ever had the pleasure of climbing. It follows a perfect crack system up the huge east face of Long’s Peak. Any route up “The Diamond” as it is known, is a serious adventure and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Routes up The Diamond are committing, logistically challenging, and are true test pieces for any rock climber.
Although Perveritcal is thought to be the second easiest route up The Diamond, its difficulties are real and sustained throughout. A potential ascensionest should be proficient in all forms of crack climbing – from finger to off-width – this route has it all.
The highlight of the route is certainly the famed hand crack on pitch 4. Right off the belay the pitch starts out with beautiful hand to tight hand jams, it even has some face features to occasionally alleviate the sustained jamming. After a good 100 feet of sustained hand jamming, the crack pinches down to loose finger size for several moves. This is the crux of the route: pull hard and keep breathing. Once through the crux, it’s 15 feet of wide fist climbing before finally reaching the belay ledge. Once off belay, I remember looking down and taking a moment to comprehend just how GOOD the last 130 feet of climbing at 13,500 feet above sea level was!
All three of these routes offer an experience of a lifetime, one that cannot be found anywhere else besides the steep walls of the high peaks. Alpine rock climbing is challenging, but it keeps bringing me back, if only just for the sheer joy that I find in the mountains. I highly recommend anyone serious about rock climbing find some way to climb in the alpine of Rocky Mountain National Park, i’ts an experience you won’t soon forget. Oh, and need I remind you, it’s a great way to escape the summer heat!
The Colorado Mountain School is the exclusive technical climbing concessionaire in Rocky Mountain National Park. We would love to enable you to enjoy what the high peaks have to offer, either on a privately guided outing on one of the aforementioned routes, on another objective you have in mind, or through practice and skills training on one of our many rock climbing courses offered throughout the summer.