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Rock Climbing Colorado by Stewart M. Green

Review by Ed Quillen

Climbing – February 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Rock Climbing Colorado – Your introduction to 1,500 routes
by Stewart M. Green
Published in 1995 by Falcon Press
ISBN 1-56044-334-0

Generally, when Colorado Central receives a book about fish or fishing, we give it to a writer who also fishes for review. The same holds for mountain-biking, hiking, history, rock-collecting, etc. — we look for a reviewer who’s familiar with the topic.

However, none of the writers I know has ever expressed any special knowledge of rock-climbing, and yet this book deserves a review. So it falls on me; be advised that I cannot tell you whether Stewart Green’s route descriptions are in any way valid.

I would need a translator to understand how to climb Elephant Rock, just north of Buena Vista, from this route description: “For Boars Only (5.11) Thrash up the right-leaning, body-sized crack to an overhanging hand crack crux. Rack: Bring Friends.”

The book is aimed at people who know how to use pitons and slings, and who are looking for new places to climb in Colorado. It is organized geographically, with sections ranging from Northern Front Range (including Rocky Mountain National Park) to Western Colorado, Durango Area. Each area has route descriptions, climbing history, climate information, camping particulars, legal restrictions, and a guide to resources like climbing shops, land-management offices, and hospitals.

Around here (he sensibly calls this region Central Colorado), there are technical climbs at Bob’s Rock and Elephant Rock near Buena Vista, along the west side of Independence Pass, at Crestone Needle in the Sangres, and Penitente Canyon south of Saguache. Other nearby climbing zones include the Shelf Road north of CaƱon City and Elevenmile Canyon in South Park.

Although the route descriptions were over my head, I still found this book quite informative. I had always wondered how rock-climbers came up with ratings like “5.12,” and there’s a coherent explanation. At one time, the hardest climbs were rated 5.1 to 5.9, but as technique and technology improved, more grades were added. In normal math, 5.5 is greater than 5.14, but not in rock-climbing.

I was surprised by how new the sport is in most of Colorado. At Rifle Mountain Park, “it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the first routes went in after a few climbers checked out rumors of a spectacular limestone canyon north of Rifle.” Penitente Canyon dates only to the early 1980s as a climbing area, and those dates are typical of many sites.

One pleasure was the names of the climbing routes, offbeat and enchanting additions to Colorado geography. Elephant Rock alone gives us In Fear of Fear, Trunk Line, and Three Ring Circus. Around the state, you find gems like Lactic Acid Overload, Kill for a Thrill, I’m Not Worthy, Low Charge of the Stealth Heeled Boys, and Three-Eyed Toad, as well as dozens that I’d rather not print here. The exuberance of the Colorado pioneers who gave us names like Oh-Be-Joyful Creek and Ragged Ass Mine seems to live on among rock-climbers.

Green also provides some insight into problems and disputes inside the rock-climbing fraternity. Some folks will chisel out footholds, and others carry cordless electric drills. Others hog routes or leave too much hardware behind them, and to his credit, Green addresses these controversies.

As for actually using this book, well, to me, rock-climbing is a spectator sport. I like cliffs and canyons anyway, and I enjoy watching people scale cliff walls with grace and precision.

But I wonder whether spectators make climbers nervous, or perhaps too willing to take risks so they can show off. Alas, Green didn’t address that question, so I guess I’ll continue to watch, and use this book as a guide for good spectator places. When the weather gets good, I plan to visit Penitente Canyon and other sites I hadn’t known about before, with the hope that the climbers will be out and I can enjoy watching them.