Big Rocks and Highballs

Welcome to EO’s guide to the best of colorado bouldering

Photos by Andrew Mann (LINK)

Over the last 15 years of road–tripping back and forth across the country, never have I encountered a state with such abundance of stunning boulders as Colorado. From the bullet Dakota sandstone of Unaweep Canyon, to the alpine granite of Mt. Evans and Rocky Mountain National Park, two words describe bouldering here: quality and variety. Though the Centennial State contains dozens of blocs, Boulder is “the capital of Colorado Bouldering,” writes John Sherman in his book Stone Crusade, adding it’s also “one of the most heavily traveled bouldering areas in the country.”

flagstaff mountain

Climbing here is very technical with powerful, often bold problems on sharp, nonporous rock; requiring much “pebble squeezing,” state local climbers.  Excellent lines here include the über-popular and greasy Monkey Traverse (V3) and the Southwest Prow (V0), which ascends the southwest arête up Beer Barrel Rock. There is also Hagan’s Wall (V5) consisting of pockets, edges and big tosses. Hollow’s Way (V8) is a thin, overhanging seam, considered one of the finest problems at Flag; but beware of ankle-rolling roots at the base. Trice (V10), established in the 70’s by legendary boulderer Jim Holloway is the lasting testpiece of this area.

Local shop: Neptune Mountaineering 888-499-8866;


the flatirons

Many consider The Ghetto, located on the southwest side of the third Flatiron, to be the finest overhanging bouldering area in Colorado. Climbing here is similar to Texas’ Hueco Tanks, steep and mega-powerful. Upper Ghetto is the most appealing of the three Ghetto areas with a warm-up on the 100-foot integral Lip Traverse (V2, using additional feet clocks this in at 5.10). The bitingly–hostile line here is Hunting Humans (V8), climbed by John “Vermin” Sherman in 1991.  The Satellite Boulders contain A7 (V1), located uphill from the Girlfriend Traverse.  Satellite’s testpiece is Fleshfest (V10), a line many consider one of greatest boulder problems in Boulder. Fleshfest ascends a blunt arête in the back of the BBC (Best of Boulder County) boulders.

Local shop: Neptune Mountaineering 888-499-8866;

eldorado canyon

Screw Bolts: Cameron Cross makes a bouldering ascent of Streaked Corner (V5), Eldorado Canyon.

The high quality crags and surrounding boulders of Eldo make it one of the finest climbing areas in the country, period. “Germ Free Adolescence (V5) is as good as they come,” writes highball master Kevin Jorgenson on his blog. Sherman made the first ascent of this line with nothing but a carpet for padding in 1980. This climb begins fairly straightforward, V1 or V2 via jugs, to a V5 mantle at 20 feet high. The pons asinorum at Eldo is Resonated (V9), which ascends a giant boulder via crimps, slopers and a handful of big moves.

Local shop: Neptune Mountaineering 888-499-8866;


A Perfect Day: Adie Drolet sends the Carter Lake classic West Face (V3) with a solid spot from Naomi Guy.

carter lake

Located 45 minutes north of Boulder and west of Longmont, Carter Lake contains hundreds of enigmas along a cliff band, offering infinite variations from V0 to V2. This is also a great area for V4-V6 and beyond. Super-classics here are Kahuna Roof  (V5), known as Colorado’s Best V5 (note: many climbers consider this grade a sandbag).  Sloper Chief (V5) is a technical left-arching traverse, complete with a heart-fluttering topout. Doughboy (V7) ascends the northwest face of the Doughboy boulder; Doughboy rivals Kahuna Roof as the best problem at Carter.

Local shop: Neptune Mountaineering 888-499-8866;


rocky mountain national park

Park View: Andy Salo makes the first ascent of Edge of Oblivion (V7) in Rocky Mountain National Park.

RMNP contains some of the most beautiful boulders in the state, perhaps only rivaled by Mt. Evans. The setting is alpine, with crisp granite and gneiss boulders, positioned in a talus field, at 10,000-11,000 feet. Classics here are Autobot (V5), Tommy’s Arête (V7) and Bush Pilot (V11).

Local shop: Estes Park Mountain Shop 970-586-6548;



The boulders of Morrison near the town of the same name are located outside Denver, near Red Rocks. Morrison is composed of Dakota sandstone conglomerate, like the Flatirons, and climbs like an indoor gym via its west-facing overhangs. Most problems here do not top out, rather the climber jumps off from beneath a giant roof. Morrison gets too hot in the summer, but makes a great little oven in winter.  Many of Morrison’s “problems” are eliminates, but this doesn’t stop the core cadre from climbing here. The enduring line here is Breashear’s Crack (V1) at the Black Hole, which traverses jugs and spacious pockets to an airy finish. The heart fluttering Ground Separation (V4-V5) begins with positive grips, quickly turning into a slabby affair, complete with scary finish. Additionally there’s The Pearl (V8), a thought-provoking line ending with a 5.11 slab 16 feet off the deck.

Local shop: Bent Gate Mountaineering 303-271-9382;


Rock Solid: Carlo Traversi makes the second ascent of the new Mount Evans test piece, Sunseeker (V13).

mt. evans

Mt. Evans contains perfect granite freestanding blocs surrounded by beautiful granite faces. The price of admission? A steep, burly one hour hike in after parking at 10,000 feet. The reward? Super classic highballs. Archetypal lines not be missed are Timeline (V0+ R), tall and with a committing finish via slopers on licheny ripples; Maker’s Mark (V5), 15 feet, climbs a hanging arête to slopey mantle; and Bierstadt (V9), ascending the underbelly of the Bierstadt Corridor.

Local shop: Bent Gate Mountaineering 303-271-9382;


Pueblo is the “Shangri-la of Dakota blocs” says John Sherman in Stone Crusade. This area was thoroughly explored by bouldering master John Gill.  Unfortunately for today’s climbers, much of the bouldering in Pueblo is positioned on private land.

Local shop: Mountain Chalet in Colorado Springs 800-346-7044;


poudre canyon

Located outside of Fort Collins, Poudre Canyon contains granite, gneiss and schist blocs. The late Craig Luebben developed many problems here. Classics are The Warm Up, (V1, V2) at the 420 boulders, and the Sharma Dyno (V10; V11 sit start) positioned on a lone boulder.

Local shop: Fort Collins Mountain Shop 970-493-5720


horsetooth reservoir

Rock and Ice magazine once stated Horsetooth Reservoir, located outside of Fort Collins, as one of the best bouldering spots on earth! Right Eliminator (V4) climbs southwest face of Eliminator boulder, Pinch Overhang (V5), contains a horrific sloping topout (“mantle or die,” states one climber), and Moon Arête (V9), 10 feet of powerful climbing.

Local shop: Fort Collins Mountain Shop 970-493-5720;

independence pass

Independence Pass contains a plethora of alpine bouldering on granite and metamorphised gneiss located at 10,000 feet. The base of the Grotto Wall, beneath the trad line Cryogenics (5.11c) is the Upper Boulderfield and a good place for beginners. The Ineditable (V6-V7 X) is one of the tall/great Colorado problems. The moderate highball here is Jaws (V3), which ascends a jug haul along roof to an engaging crux 20 feet off the deck. Jaws “Definitely gets the grade because of the height and not the difficulty,” says one climber.

Local shop: Ute Mountaineer in Aspen 970-925-2849;


South of Carbondale by 30 minutes is the town of Redstone and the Redstone boulders.  This area is rich with local climbing history and hard problems. Today, Redstone is the backyard bouldering area for the staff of Rock and Ice, having once graced their cover. Frankenstein (V8), and its neighboring Slopenstein (V6) comprise slick cobbles and wicked slopers. Other classics are Corkscrew (V5) and The Big Easy (V3), which traverses an entire boulder via slopers for 50 feet.

Local shop: Summit Canyon Mountaineering 970-945-6994 in Glenwood Springs;

unaweep canyon

Unaweep is located outside of Grand Junction and has both granite and sandstone problems, but the sandstone blocs are most popular. Quintessentials here are Route 2 (V5), next to Route 3 and Route 4 (V4) at the Plethora boulders. They are considered the best problems at Unaweep with big moves, positive holds and a flat landing.

Local shop: Grand Junction’s REI  970-254-8970;

Chris Van Leuven recently completed his first book, Supertopo: Yosemite Sport Climbs and Top Ropes. He is the assistant editor/reporter at The Sopris Sun.

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