I didn’t move to Boulder for rock climbing, but Boulder turned me into a rock climber.
More than four years ago, I joined a local climbing gym mainly for its fitness classes, proximity to my apartment at the time and view of the Flatirons. But It didn’t take long for me to tie into a rope, take a course and assimilate to climbing culture.
After a few months of pulling on plastic holds, I ventured outside for real rock. Many weekends thereafter included breakfast at Moe’s Bagels before driving up to a crag in Boulder Canyon, where I’d spend most of the day with friends dangling on ropes and saying “send it” as much as possible. My clothes became marked with chalk and my fingers developed rough calluses. And now, like many other climbers, I live in a converted van with my husband.
In those four years, I didn’t even touch a fraction of the rock climbs in Boulder and the greater Front Range. The area is known for its granite and sandstone rock formations, each lined with hundreds of climbing routes of various difficulties.
I’m lucky to have friends to teach me the jargon, lend me gear, and help me practice my knots and moves. But without help, rock climbing can be an intimidating sport to start. It also requires technical skills like rope tying, safety commands and route-reading to stay safe.
I’m still no expert, but if you’re just starting out, here are a few things to know.
More than one way to climb a rock
- Bouldering: requires no rope or harness or belayer; Routes aren’t usually higher than 20 feet and are rated in North America on a V-scale (V0 to V16).
- Top-roping: popular style of climbing indoors, where a rope feeds through an anchor at the top of the wall.
- Sport or lead climbing: requires climbers to clip their rope into quickdraws and bolts as they ascend the wall. In the event of a fall, the climber will fall to the last place they clipped the rope. Sport climbs are rated by difficulty on the Yosemite Decimal System, a Class 5 system ranging from 5.0 to 5.15.
Those are the three most popular styles for beginners and are accessible indoors and outdoors. There are other types of climbing like aiding, traditional climbing, ice climbing and free soloing, accessible outdoors.
A few terms to know when starting out including belaying, the method of controlling the rope that prevents the climber from falling to the ground. Approach is the trail leading to a rock wall in the outdoors. Crag is an outdoor climbing area or cliff. To project means to get better at the moves on a route, which usually involves climbing it over and over again. And send means to finish a route from top to bottom without falling.
Consider borrowing gear or renting from gyms before spending a fortune on buying it. For bouldering indoors, you’ll want rock shoes and a chalk bag full of chalk to keep your hands from sweating and slipping. For top-roping and leading indoors, you’ll also want a harness and a belay device. If you’re climbing outdoors, you’ll want to add a backpack, helmet, rope, carabiners and quickdraws to your list.
Mind your manners
Whether you’re at the gym or at an outside crag, remember to bring your best etiquette to the sport, where you’ll likely be surrounded by more experienced climbers trying to send their projects. A few tips include: Don’t cross somebody else’s routes, wait in line for a route, don’t leave your garbage behind, only bring your dog if it is well behaved, keep track of your equipment and lend your guidebook if someone asks.
Know before you go
Before you head to an area, pick up a guidebook at the Boulder Bookstore, Neptune Mountaineering, or Rock and Resole. It’s worth the investment if you plan to return and check out other areas. The site Mountain Project at mountainproject.com also has an extensive database of routes across the U.S. And as you get more involved in the sport, consider donating to The Access Fund, the Boulder-based national advocacy group for climbing areas.
Just west of downtown, enter the mouth of the Boulder Canyon by taking the highway that leads to Nederland, where you’ll be surrounded by rock walls and a plethora of crags for about 15 miles. There’s hundreds of multi-pitch lines, short sport routes, ice routes and bouldering problems. Check out The Bihedral for a 100-foot single pitch up Dan’s Line, rated 5.8, or a shorter, but more challenging 60-foot single pitch up Bosch Blanket Bingo, rated 5.9.
North Table Mountain
After a steep and breathless approach up to the rock columns, you’ll be perched with a full view of Golden and the rooftops of Coors Brewing Co.’s buildings. Prepare for almost a full day of sun. You can set up a top route easily on most routes that range between a 5.2 and 5.12, and are generally 60-feet tall. Check out the three-star 45-foot single pitch up Old Roof Route, aka Lemons, Limes and Tangerines, rated 5.8+.
Clear Creek Canyon
About 45 minutes south of Boulder, along Colorado 93 in Golden, tap into the great granite sport climbing along the creek. Parking along the road can be tricky, so be careful crossing and hopping guardrails. Check out the East Colfax crag for climbs ranging in grade from a 5.4 to higher than 5.10s and a view and sounds of the rushing water.
Eldorado Canyon State Park
South of Boulder, find more than 500 climbing routes on conglomerate sandstone walls in one of the world’s most famous areas, often called “Eldo.” Some walls tower at 700 feet, graced by climbing legends, but the area boasts something for every level. Check out Wind Tower for the classic Calypso, rated 5.6, and Wind Ridge, rated 5.7, routes.
Many gyms are limiting occupancy and requiring reservations due to COVID. Check before you go.
Boulder Rock Club (BRC)
Where: 2829 Mapleton Ave.
Cost: Day pass, $21 ($17 students); recurring monthly pass, $72 (student rate available)
Info: boulderrockclub.com, 303-447-2804
CU Climbing Gym
Where: Rec Center at CU Boulder, 1835 Pleasant St.
Cost: semester pass $25, shoe rental pass $20, must be a Rec Center member
The Spot Bouldering Gym
Where: 3240 Prairie Ave.
Cost: Day pass, $25; recurring monthly pass, $82 ($72 for students)
Info: thespotgym.com, 303-379-8806
Movement Climbing and Fitness
Where: 2845 Valmont Road
Cost: Day pass, $22 ($18 students); recurring monthly pass, $82 ($72 students)
Info: movementgyms.com, 303-443-1505
The Ice Coop
Where: 2500 47th St., Unit 2
Cost: Day pass $12; monthly pass $60
Info: theicecoop.com, 303-440-0414
Longmont Climbing Collective
Where: 33 S. Pratt Parkway, #300, Longmont
Cost: Day pass $18 ($15 students); monthly pass $72 ($62 students)
Info: longmontclimbingcollective.com, 720-650-0339
Evo Rock + Fitness
Where: 1754 Dogwood St., Louisville
Cost: Day pass, $25 ($21 students); monthly passes $75 ($71 students)
Info: evorock.com, 303-317-3770