A Resource for Rock Climbing on the Western Slope of Colorado.
Route and Crag beta on Locally Grown Climbing.
A Way to Explore Adventurous Rock Climbing Close to Home.
Helmet and Adventurous Soul Required.
Beardedmountains.com is devoted to sharing information and updates on Western Slope Rock Climbing.
Western Slope Colorado rock climbing is not for everyone. Unfortunately, some of our rock is loose and sandy. Approaches can be long, steep and brutally hot in the sun. That being said there are many spectacular climbs on The Western Slope worthy of the adventure.
Some of our adventure rock climbing crags are situated in some of the most naturally beautiful setting on earth. We are very lucky to have lightly used crags, and sunny climbable days throughout the year. The relentless steepness and incredible movement on much of our climbing in exceptional. Best of all much of the climbing is close to home.
Rock climbing on the Western Slope is continually changing. As one climbing partner calls them “may pops” (loose holds) pull off of even the most popular climbs with the annual freeze thaw cycle. Often melting snow above crags washes dust and dirt onto a previously clean project.
Western Slope crags are dynamic places and not to be approached with the comforts of gym climbing or more solid rock. Please wear a helmet, be careful what you pull on, belay from protected stances and stay on route. Any form of climbing is dangerous and can be deadly.
Western Slope routes can be very challenging at first go. Many routes have seen few repeats and it only takes a season for dust to reclaim a hold. Climb with a small brush and please helps maintain routes. Please also help keep hangs waste free, don’t remove fixed anchor gear, use wag bags and practice Leave No Trace ethics. Keep our crags positive places, and well maintained. As climbers lets be excellent diplomates of local climbing and the environment.
25 Ways to Stay Safe Rock Climbing on Colorado’s Western Slope
1. Wear a helmet when you climb.
Western slope climbs are an ever changing entity. Freeze thaw wreaks havoc on routes. It’s not just the rock on the routs one should worry about. The hibernating bombs above the routes that roll off the tops of cliffs can be deadly. Even some of the most popular zones such as Rifle and Main Elk can see catastrophic seasonal shed and rock fall. In addition some of the zones such as the Chamber of Secrets have very active big horns that walk around at the top of the cliff bands.
2. Climb with a belayer who wears a helmet.
With almost 15 years of hospital based medicine experience I can tell you with confidence it does not take a significant impact to your head to alter the trajectory of your life. You partner not wearing a helmet is their choice but becomes your problem when they suffer a head injury.
3. Make sure you know your belayer’s skill level.
The Grigri revolution is fantastic for working your project and hang dogging. But make sure your belayer is practicing safe Grigri technique. Make sure they feed lead slack safely and know how to lower at a controlled rate. Especially be cautious if your belayer is wearing belay specs. Belay specs are great but can also lead to much more slack payed out then you might want as the lead climber.
4. When Belaying don’t stand directly under the climber’s feet, off set a little.
It doesn’t take a large rock to do much damage. A small peddle to the eye could lead to permanent ocular damage. Many of us learned when belaying to “always stand right under the lead climber or first piece of protection.” This is generally a good rule of thumb to avoid getting slammed into the cliff as a belayer. Ask my wife about standing 20 feet from the wall when my almost 200lb meat sack takes a lead fall. On the Western Slope take a step to the right or left so you are not directly under the climber’s feet. If the climber knocks small loose rock it will at least not be in a direct trajectory at your face.
5. Put the rope down in a protected spot.
Rocks typically fall off a climb and land in a particular impact zone. It doesn’t take a Ph D to make an educated guess of where a rock might land. Gravity is pretty consistent in that way. Put the rope on the ground in the least likely path of rock fall. Rocks can also threaten the rope on steep scree slopes by rolling onto it in places such as at the Gash.
6. Have a plan if the climber yells rock where you are going to seek cover as a belayer.
Many climb starts have nooks, bulges and hallows at the start that make nice zones of refuge during rock showers. Often a falling rock gets deflected slightly away from the cliff.
7. Stay on route, the bolt line is usually the safest path.
Every route setter on the Western Slope spends a substantial amounts of time cleaning to the right and left of his or her climb. This varies with each climb to a degree. Climbing 5-10 feet to the right or left of bolts to try and avoid crux’s is dangerous and will get you and your belayer hurt. If a section to the right or left of a climb looks unclimbed, dirty or fresh it probably is. Sometimes taking, hanging on a bolt, or taking a short controlled fall is much safer then climbing off route.
8. Know when and how to fall safely and practice.
Let’s face it there are safe and unsafe falls. Many climbs in the Western Slope have moves over ledges or bulges. Climb above any ledge or bulge with extreme caution. Sometimes it is best to forgo the prestigious onsite and learn the moves above a ledge and then go for the send. Even 5.11 climbers fall on 5.9 moves overs ledges and bulges! Discuss how you want your belayer to give slack when you are over a bulge or ledge.
9. Going in Direct.
Unless you have put substantial time in at Rifle, the thought of going in direct instead of flopping on the end of the rope like a fish out of water might not even occur to you. If you do go in direct do not do or try moves on a static system. Going in direct may also help your relationship with your belay partner blossom by giving them a brief rest.
10. If it looks loose, it probably is.
Be careful what you pull on and take responsibility for what you pull on. If you are going to pull on a “may pop” (not recommended) pull down not out and let your belay partner know. Learn to cruse past loose looking holds as if they are not even there. Learning what can and should not be pulled on or stepped on will also make you a better alpine climber.Type your paragraph here.
11. Communicate with your partner.
The old phrase “on belay, belay on, climbing, climb on” is no longer hip but it sure did keep a lot of climbers safe for decades. Vintage as the phrase is, use it every time before you start climbing. Discuss the lower plan with your belay partner. Getting down from the climb is a very vulnerable period in the climber-belayer relationship and accidents happen. Make sure you have told your belay partner if you are planning on getting lowered or raping off a climb.
12. Learn how to thread a ring anchor without ever fully removing yourself from the rope system.
If there are fixed lower draws this is not necessary, clip and go. But if there are large rap rings learn how to take a bit of rope and push it through the rap rings and then clip it to yourself with two locking carabiners, then untie from the rope.
13. Never trust just one bolt.
When you go into an anchor never clean the climb just hanging on one bolt. Back yourself up to the second bolt as equalized as possible. Another old school climbing phrase that will keep you safe is “SRENE.” It stands for Solid, Redundant, Equalized and No Extension.
14. Double check your knot, your harness, your partner’s harness and your partners belay set up.
15. Always rap with a backup system or fireman belay.
There are lots of different techniques out there. The auto block is pretty slick. One benefit is it acts as a third hand and holds the rope loose for you when you thread your belay device making it less likely you drop it. Take some time and learn a munter hitch as well just in case you do drop you device. The mutner is not a good hitch to do for the first time in the field, mastering it take practice.
16. Learn how to clean an overhang.
Cleaning steep Western Slope climbs can be as difficult as climbing them. Sometimes cleaning them requires going in direct here and there.
17. Tie a knot in the end of your rope.
Some Western Slope climbs are 40 meters or more and 80 m ropes are not exactly the norm. Be sure to tie a knot in the end of your rope or at least tie the end of the rope onto the rope bag.
18. Embrace the Stick Clip.
I was mentored by a couple ex-Yosemite climbers who described themselves as “purist.” A few things that were not allowed in their devote religion was hang dogging and working project sequences. You climbed up, fell and then you were lowered all the way to the ground to start the climb over from the bottom. There was absolutely no stick clipping or pre placing gear. I will admit I use to see stick clipping as a cheater stick. I have come a long way since those early 90’s east coast outings. It took a while but I completely embrace stick clipping the first bolt or two. Especially if it is my first time on a route. Not to mention most Western Slope climbs are chossy as heck in the first 10-20 feet of climbing. Hitting the ground or breaking an ankle doesn’t get one much street credit around here.
19. Don’t push your grades in the backcountry.
A backcountry crag and hour from the car, up a dirt road and 6 hours from medical care may not be the wisest place to try a 5.13 if you typically climb 5.11. When we push grads we are more likely to fall and expose ourselves to injury. We are also more likely to grab and try and use suspect holds. If you fall and twist your ankle or worse…rescue becomes difficult. If you live in Colorado it’s not a bad idea to get a fishing license with search and rescue benefits or carry a Garmin inReach.Type your paragraph here.
20. Carry a small lightweight wrench just in case a bolt has loosened.
Bolts can loosen over time for a variety of reasons, even when tightened properly to start. If you are going to tighten a bolt know how to do so properly. Please do not overtighten.
21. Dissolve attachment to your gear. Gear is replaceable. You are not.
Don’t get me wrong I do not think we should be leaving ratty gear on cliffs left and right. Back in the day leaving gear on a route or getting it stuck was a sign of weakness. Many climbers covet their gears as sacred, extremely valuable and unreplaceable. Often to save 10 bucks we rap off of suspect biners and tat. Replacing a worn biner or backing up a rappel with some new webbing is way cheaper than a trip to the ER, night in the hospital or your life. Climb with bail biners or quick links handy. Worse case you leave a bright and shiny new biner. Don’t fret it’s only 10 bucks! If you bail at a crux and leave a biner or two find happiness that you will likely make someone’s days later on.
22. Never lowering off a single bolt if bailing, unless of course it’s the first one.
A single bolt is not very redundant. Luckily it is not very often but bolts fail, rock fractures and hangers break. A safer back up’ed way to bail is to leave two biners, one on the bolt getting lowered off of and a second on the next bolt down.
23. Get Health Insurance, even if it is a disaster plan.
Climbing without health insurance is about as foolish as driving without a seatbelt on.
24. Don’t lay around at the bottom of cliffs.
Pay attentions to what’s going on around you. Look for objective hazards. Keep in mind those climbing above and to the side of you. Laying down at the bottom of a Western Slope crag is like painting a big bull’s eye on you. If you are laying down it is hard to get out of the way or falling rock. More surface area exposed to falling objects equal more potential trauma.
25. Climb with a partner that pays attention when your climb!
Anyone that doesn’t have the respect to pay attention when you climb should not get another invite with you to the crag. You can still be their friend but maybe going to the movies with him or her is a safer idea.
Rock Climbing is an inherently dangerous sport and unfortunately accidents happen even when everything is done right. When climbing outside it is possible for rocks, even on well-climbed routes, to break without warning. It is the responsibility of every climber to climb in a safe manner and take responsibility for themselves and their well-being.
Climbers climb at their own risk and must assume all inherent risks of rock climbing including but not limited to approach danger, equipment malfunction, hardware failure, rock failure and all other risks.
Climbers are independently responsible for the decisions they make when climbing and ultimately responsible for their own safety. Belayers and climbers should wear helmets at all times without exception. Rock climbing is a high risk activity and you should always climb within your ability after carefully judging the routes’ safety.
The climber ultimately choices to climb any given route and expressly and voluntarily assumes the risks of serious physical injury, disability and/or death whether or not caused by the neglect of themselves or fault of others. If customers can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. Clearly list and describe the services you offer. Also, be sure to showcase a premium service.