Thursday, October 14, 2010



How to preserve the future of Colo-RADNESS

Here in Colorado, and across the West, hard sport routes are as common as crag dogs at Indian Creek. You can go crank, crimp, jug-haul, dyno, spray, and clip bolts to your hearts content at crags like Boulder Canyon, the Flatirons, Industrial Wall, Shelf Road, Clear Creek, Devil's Head, the Monastery, the Fortress, Rifle...

Hard traditional route are definitely a rarer breed. This is partially because more climbers are attracted to the convenience and low cost-of-entry of sport climbing, and also due to the nature of the routes themselves.
Most difficult bolt-less lines tend to be either scary run-out face climbs or burly (often painful) crack climbs, either way rarely traveled.
Do YOU bolt cracks?
Garrett Grove Photo
There are, however, a few stellar, steep traditional pitches around the Front Range, that protect well, and feature a more face-climbing style. These offer an amazing creative experience combining the gymnastic movement of sport climbing and the mental challenge of placing protection. The ultimate preparation for trying to free futuristic big routes around the world...

It is a shame, then, that one route with potential to be a mega-classic, 5.12 trad pitch was fully bolted.

Thunder Ridge, an amazingly unique granite crag in Colorado's South Platte region, is supposedly a trad bastion, with mixed routes, sometimes run-out face climbs, and ground-up FAs. One of the most compelling walls at T-Ridge is the "Wild Overhang" or "Gaston Rebuffat" wall. (Rebuffat was a badass French alpinist, climbing innovator, and author of "Starlight and Storm").

Garrett Grove Photo

This sweep of overhanging rock would dominate any climbers dreams, with it's gorgeous, plated face. Right up the middle, there's a line of discontinuous cracks and jugs, culminating with a blank section. Luckily, a mysteriously solid flake levitates in the middle of the blank stretch, linking you to another juggy overhang. Starlight is an improbable and challenging line, and one that miraculously has bomber gear placements the entire way! Unfortunately, a little over ten years ago, it was entirely bolted, with bolts sometimes inches from textbook stopper placements. 

Garrett Grove Photo
The good thing about bolts, though, is that they're easy to avoid. 

I wasn't the first one to notice the trad potential of the route, but even still, when I first tried it I clipped the bolts. Once I saw first-hand how solid the protection would be, though, I started working it on gear. Multiple whippers tested various placements, as I hung from the relentless overhang and tried to find the correct stoppers to slot in the bottle-neck placements. Once in, though, every placement is indestructible! 

Going for the ride after pumping out, trying to place, and then clip, the next stopper.
Garrett Grove Photo

Once I placed everything, the pre-crux "Life Station" was better than many belays I've built!

This past Monday, on my first burn of the day, fifth attempt overall, I sent the route, clipping no bolts (including the anchors). I climbed to the top of the dome (still with great pro: slung chicken-heads!), and then down-climbed to the huge sling anchor atop the steep section.

The crux sequence:
Establish on tiny footholds, Lunge for the "Manta-Ray" flake, and then move past to some giant jugs (and a rock-solid cam!).
Garrett Grove Photos.

Now someone needs to improve on my style and establish a real "traditional" route by entirely shunning the bolts and working it ground up on gear.

Dreaming of the Send.
Garrett Grove Photo

The rack.

In order to preserve our limited rock resources here in Colorado, and elsewhere in the heavily climbed West, I think we need to appreciate potential future trad climbs. Regardless of difficulty, we need to recognize that if the gear is there, someone strong and motivated enough will eventually find the route and send it in good style. There is no need to bolt a line simply because the would-be first ascentionists think that they need to hang-dog up it and want the convenience of low-commitment sport climbing. By doing so, they are denying themselves and others the mental and physical challenge of a gear-protected masterpiece.

Thunder Ridge Beta:
Thunder is a fantastic and unique collection of granite crags in Colorado's South Platte region. While you won't find massive vertical relief (nothing over a single pitch), you will find amazing features, including chicken-heads, "gator-skin", jugs, cracks, overhangs, roofs, slabs, and much more!

Blake climbing "Is This For Real!?!"
Garrett Grove Photo

Here's how to get there from Boulder, including a key shortcut not listed elsewhere:

Head south out of Boulder on Broadway (93)
Follow 93 through Golden, and then follow signs for 470 South (towards Colorado Springs)
Take 470 South to 285 South (towards Fairplay)

(the shortcut):
~14 miles after joining 285, find Foxton rd. You exit on the right hand side, and then turn left (going under 285) to follow Foxton Rd. South.

When Foxton Rd. reached the South Platte, turn right to follow the river upstream. The road here turns to gravel, but it's well-maintained and easy, and it cuts off a bunch of mileage and a huge hill from the alternative (following 285 to Pine Junction)

Follow the gravel road along the river through the tiny town of Foxton, and under the beautiful Cathedral Spires. The road eventually spits you out at Buffalo Creek, on CO Rd 126 aka Deckers Rd. Take a Left (South) and head towards Deckers.

After passing through Deckers, the road winds uphill. Keep your eye out on the right for signs to WestCreek. You'll first pass Westcreek Rd, you don't want that. Very soon, though, take a right onto Abbey Rd. (there's a sign for Westcreek).

Abbey Rd. winds quickly down into Westcreek, take a left on the main road. Follow it for a few hundred yards, and then take a right on Stump Rd (just before the Fire House).

Follow Stump road past a large dome on your right (the Sheep's Nose). Shortly after passing the Nose, take a right on Road 9J.

There are a few minor roads that branch off of 9J, but stay straight on the main road all the way to it's end (at the arch that says "Rancho Cisneros"). It ends at a gate (that may or may not be closed) clearly marked as private. DO NOT DRIVE PAST THIS GATE. Park here, making sure not to block the gate.

This is where you park. Hike through the (sometimes closed) gate on the left. The crags are visible on the right.
Hike past the gate (not Rancho Cisneros, but the one on the left). From here, the crags are visible on the hillside ahead and to your right. Follow the dirt road until it makes a 90 degree right turn, and then continue straight on a trail. After a few hundred yards, keep your eye out on the right for a stump with a bleached cow skull. This marks the trail.

Now you're actually heading towards the crags, and the trail is easy to follow. It drops down and crosses a small drainage, and then enters an aspen forest shortly before reaching the first crag.

The first rock you encounter will be some SW facing slabs, this is the Quarry wall. Around on the SE aspect of the same rock, you'll find the "For Real" Wall. Continuing East past the entrance to For Real canyon brings you to Wasp Canyon. Heading up Wasp Canyon brings you to the South Facing Brown Wall.

From Boulder, the drive takes ~1.5 hours, and the hike ~30 minutes. The crag is well worth it!

More Thunder Ridge Beta:

Season: Anytime, although mid-summer can be scorching hot, and mid-winter can be snowy (duh). Spring and Fall are perfect. The crags face all different directions, and it's easy to chase the sun or shade depending on what you need. The Wild Overhang Wall (with Starlight) faces East, and gets brief morning sun.

Camping: not totally sure. I don't recommend camping at the trailhead, as there's a big sign telling you not to, and the land-owners drive by fairly often. I do think it's fine to camp at the crags, but I'm not clear on the land management there. Anyone know?

There's also good camping back towards Turkey Rocks. To get there, drive back down Road 9J to Stump rd, and then take a right. Where Stump trends left, continue on another dirt road (FR 51/360). On the way to Turkey Rocks, you'll pass camping on your left, and eventually reach some great spots near the trailhead.

Water: There's a pretty tasty spring up Wasp Canyon, just below the climb "Powder Monkey"

Rack: Bring your full trad arsenal, as well as 12-16 quickdraws. Cams up to 4" and extra passive pro (all sizes, RPs to small hexes) will be essential. A single 60m rope seems to have worked on all of the climbs I've done.

Guidebooks: None currently out. MountainProject is a pretty good source, though. Many of the FAs and developers have posted their routes.

Classics (that I've done, I'm sure there are many more!):
Is This For Real?!, 5.10, trad
Reptile Tears, 5.10, trad
Powder Monkey, 5.11-, trad
Everything on the "Gaston Rebuffat" wall (The steep wall in Wasp Canyon)
  -Scorpions, 12a, Sport
  -Storm, 12b, Sport
  -The G Route, 12, Sport
  -Starlight, 12, TRAD!

Blake (I think?) on "The G-Route". "Powder Monkey" is the Twin Crack system on the left side of the cliff across the canyon.
Garrett Grove Photo

Climb Safe!


  1. Wow Scott. I had thought previous to this blog that you were really an up and coming trad climber. Now I see your true colors. Please tell us of the proud ground up trad lines you have established on the Front Range. It seems your resume is sorely lacking on this front. You seem content to attempt to "improve" the style of ascent of others yet have no experience actually putting up lines of your own. Curious that you choose to ignore the direct traditional start to Starlight, an obvious trad project, and instead clip Starlights bolts to headpoint an existing route then downplay the efforts of the FA party.

    BTW Kevin McLaughlin and Glen Schueller are more hardcore than you can ever hope to be. Have you on-sighted Bachar-Yarian like Kevin has, or established 5.13 trad pitches like Glen? These guys were setting the bar in Colorado while you were still suckin on your moma's tit. If you would like to see what they are all about, go try Shock Treatment on Big Rock. Better bring a rope gun if you hope to even get up the route.

    Kevin and Glen were establishing T-Ridge basically on their on out in the woods before any cell phones or any hope for rescue. It is easy to climb a well traveled route and say "Why did they bolt this". Different story when you are going up into the unknown. While you projected the route (clipping bolts)to discover your protection, these guys walked up with some gear and a drill and put the route up. While 90% of the Front Range FA community were rap bolting and grid bolting these guys were going ground up and having an adventure. Consider how Thunder Ridge would look if Bob D, Alan Nelson, or Todd Anderson had discovered the place. I can guarantee there would be twice as many bolts as there are currently.

    So before you go acting like some bad ass trad climber and downplaying the efforts of the guys who made Thunder an awesome playground, try to walk a mile in their shoes. Go establish some real test pieces ground up without inspection on gear at Thunder then we can talk. Until then you are just a trash-talkin wanna be in my book.

    Kevin Stricker

  2. Thanks Rob, I'm heading to the desert next week, any chance you'll be out there? We should have a ragin' Halloween party!

    Kevin- Thanks for posting. I also sent you an email, so I'll keep it short here.

    I mean no disrespect to Glenn Schuler or Kevin McLaughlin (the FAs of Starlight). Though I've never met them, everything I've heard gives me the impression they're badass folks. Huge thanks to them for all the exploration and hard work that went into establishing Thunder Ridge.

    I think, though, that in the case of Starlight they added bolts unnecessarily. In my post, I tried to use Starlight as an example to illustrate my general point:

    -Climbs that can be done safely on removable gear should not be bolted, regardless of difficulty-

    Anyways, I think Internet debating is pretty lame (especially about climbing!). So let's head out to the crag sometime, or just grab a beer. I'd definitely love to hear some of your stories about adventures in the Platte!


    ps- for all that don't know, Kevin is himself a mega-badass, having climbed and put up many gnarly routes. His time and effort spent replacing old bolts (read: death-traps) has certainly made the Platte a much safer and more enjoyable place to visit. Thanks!

  3. Hey Kevin,

    Thanks for all the bolt replacement in the South Platte. Your first paragraph implies that one cannot be opposed to the existence of bolts on a route like Starlight unless he or she has done a lot of ground-up new trad pitches. Why would/should that be the case? Can't a broad spectrum of climbers identify opportunities for clean pro vs sections that only bolts would protect?

    I don't think this is about who is "badass" who is "up and coming" and who has established 5.13 pitches. If a pitch protects this easily and continuously on natural, removable, commonplace trad pro, don't bolt it. While belaying and cleaning the route of stoppers, cams, etc, I was actually wondering "Weren't the bolters, (going ground-up) hanging and drilling from all these C1-quality placements? and if so, I wonder if they thought twice about drilling next to them?"

  4. Blake,
    I do not feel it is necessary to establish routes to have an opinion, just that until you are putting up a route you really have no reference for what it entails. It is easy to be in the peanut gallery, but things are different when it is your life on the line. Just because someone who is as fearless as Scott is willing to risk it to lead the route does not mean that everyone feels the same. Scott obviously has great trust in dinner-plates, I have seen them blow and do not. As you know we are not talking about a crack climb, rather a face that has features that take protection. Kevin and Glen having established the majority of routes at Thunder and have a pretty good take on this I think.

    Anyways, thanks for the email Scott. Sorry if I came off as a jerk, I just felt your personal attack was unwarranted. Props for your proud lead. I hope you will take my comments as a challenge to take your climbing to the next level. It is easy to be courageous when there is a bolt 3 feet away you can clip if things are not going so well. Different when you are in uncharted territory and pretty much know all the gear below you is crap. I hope you can move on from your quest to purify the Front Range of evil bolts and focus your passion on creating your own visions. I guarantee you that the rewards will be much greater.

    Climb On.

  5. Kevin,

    Interesting point about the plates and chicken heads, and your lack of trust in them after climbing on them much more than I have.

    Would you then consider pro on unbolted routes like Reptile Tears and Lounge Lizard to be suspect as well? The rock features and stopper placements seem similar to Starlight, but the difference being that these climbs simply aren't as overhung/difficult.

  6. Thanks again to everyone thats commented. I appreciate Kevin's positive message and challenge. In fact, Blake and I are headed down to Patagonia this winter, I'm very excited to see what kind of adventures we can find there!

    As for the quality of the protection on Starlight, I really don't want to have an internet debate. Any climber can go out and evaluate the gear on his or her own. The only reason I will reiterate my thoughts on this is so that climbers won't get the wrong impression from Kevin's post and be scared off from trying the route ground-up on gear.

    I consider Starlight to be a G-rated Trad lead. I understand Kevin's concerns about the quality of pro/rock in "dinner-plate" style placements. I've climbed a bit at Thunder, and more at Cochise Stronghold, AZ, and I realize that these patina face features can sometimes be friable.

    This is not the case on Starlight! Most of the placements are in deep, solid granite cracks. The crux pro is three different large stoppers (I used BD #8, 10, and 12) in three different cracks! Redundant and bomber, better than most belays.

    Furthermore, to echo Blake's point, the protection on Starlight is of the same nature, and in my opinion much better, than on many of the 5.10 trad routes at Thunder. These routes were established by the same crew. This leads back to my point about relative ethics on easier vs harder climbs. But I'm just repeating myself...

    Anyways, thanks for the lively debate. Again, I do not mean any of this as a personal attack on Kevin or Glen, who I'm sure are fine people. I just disagree with their decision to bolt what is a fantastic, safe, and unique gear protected climb.


  7. Anyone that knows Scott well knows he is not a "trash talkin' wannabe". I've climbed with Scott quite a bit in the last year and a half and think he is one of the most humble guys around considering his accomplishments. It's hard not to be psyched when out climbing with him.

  8. The fact is Glenn and Kevin (M) made a mistake by bolting a naturally protectable route. I noticed this, posted on the Mountain Project about it, and told Scott about it. I have no idea why Kevin Stricker is so pissed off about this. He attacked me on, then learned of the ease with which I sent Starlight and backpedaled by challenging me to climb it on gear. Scott beat me too it, and Kevin attacks Scott. Calling him a coward because there are "escape hatches" (bolts) nearby and singing the praises of the FA party's bravery up there (hanging off gear with drills in hand). That makes no sense at all. If Scott had been born in an earlier decade (instead of "sucking on his moma's tit") and found this route, I'm sure as hell he wouldn't have considered placing bolts. And THAT is what Glenn and Kevin should have done. They should have risen to the challenge, or walked away. Instead they were greedy or lazy (if there's a better explanation then I'd love to hear it, but onsighting the Bachar-Yerian and climbing 5.13 trad doesn't explain the bolting of this route - in my opinion it makes it worse because it means they should have known better!) And the argument that the route is unsafe (friable patina) is evidence that Kevin Stricker is completely out of touch with the nature of the rock (and pro) on this route.

    I completely agree with what Stricker is saying, by the way, about going out there and establishing your own routes. I enjoy doing that. But it is a red herring when it comes to the question at hand, which is not "how to spend one's time". The question at hand is Starlight. And the fact of the matter is that Glenn and Kevin (M) made a mistake. It seems they won't admit it, but they're relatively quiet and civil about the matter which is fine.

    What I don't get is why Kevin Stricker feels the need to totally pander to them when he's not even the one under scrutiny here. And why does he feel the need to insult Scott and I for our respectable accomplishments? I have no idea. He doesn't know me or Scott, but feels a need to belittle our accomplishments. Both Scott and I have been clear that we appreciate Glenn, Kevin (M), and Kevin Stricker's contributions to Colorado climbing. We just both think that...


    No exceptions. After all doing so is small minded and lacking vision. And as Scott so eloquently put it, doing so denies yourself and others [of vital experience].

  9. For starters, Rob you are right....Scott is not a wanna-be. I spoke in anger and regret my words. Josh, you are right too. Cracks should not be bolted. Fortunately Starlight is not a crack route. The only real crack is the manta-ray but hey maybe we are splitting hairs and it seems we will never agree on this issue. As for my experience with the rock at Thunder...I have only established 5 new routes and spent about 40 or 50 days there so you are right, I don't know that much. As for attacking and backpeddaling...well I guess you must be a sensitive guy. Did you actually send on natural gear?

    Considering you both used the bolts to climb the route I think this conversation is pretty lame. You have your opinion, I have mine. Very few people would choose to lead Starlight on gear. I do know it goes, and for guys like us who can onsight at this level it would not be that far out there to do it but let's face it, we are the minority. I know of three trad projects at Thunder that are waiting for a bold guy like one of you to go claim the FA, lets focus on improving the area by adding new routes not bashing on the guys who put this route up.

    Finally, I have defended Kevin and Glen because I know what kind of extreme bad-asses they are. Go climb Shock Treatment..I can tell you I was humbled. They are also modest and nice individuals. I take it personally when someone attacks one of my friends, as I am sure you all do too. So once again I apologize if I hurt either (Scott or Josh) of your feelings. This is my final comment on this blog, so if anyone wants to discuss this further send me an email. Like Scott said, internet debating is pretty lame, and I regret I got involved in this discussion. Much better to have these discussions over a few beers in person.

  10. Kevin, I appreciate your apology. Yes, I'm a sensitive guy. I won't speak for Scott - he seems pretty tough. It wasn't my intent to attack Glenn or Kevin personally (I tried to be extremely polite and positive - as I believe my posts on the Starlight page reflect). However, I am critical of some of the choices they made on this particular route, obviously.

    The thing is, when I went to do this climb, I found out about it from and that info told me it was a sport route. So I brought along my draws (operating under the assumption that the bolts were there for a reason). It was only in launching up on the thing that I saw that, actually, the bolts were completely unnecessary - but it was too late at this point - I only had draws and I had started climbing, so I blew my chance to climb it ground up on gear. I guess that affects my credibility on this subject?

    The thing is, if this debate had taken place before I had gone out to Starlight, and I had read about it, I would have tried to lead it ground up on gear. And it would have been safe. This is not an X rated route on gear/headpoint. It is totally viable to lead, onsight, ground up, and that's the style that I would recommend to anyone going out there for the first time.

    I'm not going to remove the bolts without permission. Nobody should worry about that. My vested interest in seeing them removed is that I might go back there some day and have a new challenge - leading that route (effectively ground-up since I don't remember the gear placements at all) on gear. But it's just not the same when the bolts are still there and you have to pretend they aren't... As it stands, if I do go back to Thunder Ridge, maybe I'll seek out one of those undone trad projects... Although I must admit the direct start to Starlight that has been recommended looks kinda contrived.

    Anyway, Kevin (M)'s last post on is dead on. The route is a four star classic. But I think that's in spite of the bolts, not because of them.