by Mark Anderson
In mid-November I learned some unfortunate news–the agency that manages my county’s open space lands had decided to begin regulating bolts on county land (among other climbing restrictions). A permit would be required to install any bolts or other fixed hardware, and development of new crags would require extensive environmental impact and trail building assessments. When they explained the intended permit evaluation process, it became clear that this would make it extremely difficult to develop new crags on Jefferson County Open Space land (though I’m optimistic it will still be feasible, albeit time-consuming, to add new routes to existing crags). The most significant area affected would be Clear Creek Canyon, where I’ve spent the vast majority of my climbing and route development energy over the past three years. Other affected areas include North Table Mountain, Cathedral Spires, and Three Sisters, but Jefferson County is peppered with rock outcroppings, some of which may hold substantial potential.
I spent quite a bit of time over the last two months attending meetings, coordinating with The Access Fund, The Boulder Climbing Community and interfacing directly with Open Space managers. Based on everything I was hearing, I wasn’t very optimistic, but open space officials did provide a temporary grace period, declaring at the public meeting on November 19th that it would remain a “free-for-all until January 1st”. That’s all I needed to hear.
In the next three days I bolted four routes in Clear Creek. The first two were lines I had been eying for years, but figured I wasn’t quite good enough to climb yet. Well, there was no longer time to wait for my abilities to catch up to my imagination! While approaching the cliff to install those first two lines, my eye caught a well-hidden alcove along the highway, and the next day I returned to have a closer look. It never ceases to amaze me how you can pass by something literally a thousand times and not notice a line staring you right in the face. The next day I returned to bolt two radically steep lines shooting out the clandestine cave. It may be a few years before I’m able to climb the harder of these, but it’s tough to judge a line’s difficulty from rappel, so who knows?
Over the next two weeks I continued working my way through the canyon. Last spring I conducted a fairly comprehensive “survey” of Clear Creek, bushwhacking around the canyon in search of hidden gems. I have a “black book” spreadsheet detailing the potential, so I had a good idea how to prioritize my time. Depending on your aesthetic standards, there could be a lifetime of new routes remaining in the canyon. I didn’t have a lifetime, so I focused on the best rock and the lines most appealing to me personally (in other words, the hardest lines). By early December I had bolted 16 new lines in the canyon, including breaking ground on three new crags. But, I was starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality, so I turned my attention elsewhere.
For the past several years I had been curious about a nearby area. From a distance it was obvious there was a great deal of rock, but a complicated approach had deterred me from exploring more closely. Realizing it was now or never, I dusted off my gaiters and snow kit and set out for some recon. I’m glad I did.
Over the month of December I returned eight times, adding 25 more new lines in the process (for a total of 41 routes between November 20 and December 24th!). We’ve had way above average snowfall so far this winter, and so, many of those outings were fairly intense. I was routinely crawling on all-fours through 2-3-foot snow drifts, up steep, loose, and heavily vegetated slopes. On the worst days it would take me close to 30 minutes to get only a hundred yards from the car. At various points, trudging through the powder-coated talus, I sunk chest-deep into the pits between boulders. I can’t count the number of times I face-planted when a foot got tangled in the underbrush, but the worst incident resulted in an Urgent Care visit to flush out a corneal abrasion I received when a tree branch snapped back suddenly, whacking me in the eyeball! Thanks to the marvelous invention of steroid eye drops I was back in action three days later 🙂
The cold was harsh on my batteries and on some days I got as few as 18 holes drilled (compared to 30 on a good summer day), but in the end I think I got around to all of the very best lines. There are now lines on five distinct cliffs, and room for easily another 25 lines if someone is willing to do the work (and paperwork) in the future. The rock is magnificent, and this is hands down the best new crag I’ve discovered. I can’t wait till the summer thaw so I can return to climb some of these.
Now that January is here, the county has released the final Climbing Management Plan. Unfortunately they didn’t concede a single point on the new bolting regulations (including opting not to eliminate the clearly un-safe permit requirement for one-for-one bolt replacement), so I’m glad I got some routes in before the end of the year. However, they did compromise on a number of other items that affect the average climber much more directly than route development. Specifically, they significantly reduced the size of proposed seasonal raptor closure areas and eliminated a proposed ban on temporary project draws. Watching the Access Fund and the BCC in action I can say they did a tremendous job fighting for our interests. I can assure you that your donations are very well spent. Without a team of experienced advocates that could respond at a moment’s notice, the outcome would have been far worse. In particular, Tony Bubb of the BCC was a marvel to behold. He got everybody together and kept pressing for the best possible outcome when others were ready to give up. Without him I’m certain the seasonal raptor closure would have been much worse. Thanks to everyone who attended meetings, sent in comments or donated money in the past. Please consider making a contribution to the Access Fund or becoming a member if you aren’t already.
In other news, if you are a Forge user and you have not already done so, please consider taking the Rock Prodigy Forge Survey for a chance to win something awesome. The information from the survey will be used in a new research paper. More details on the survey can be found here.
Finally, below is a mini-guide to a new Clear Creek crag I developed a while back called “The Banana Stand.” I was waiting to share this information until construction on the Peaks-To-Plains bike trail was completed (since the construction traffic makes the approach much more difficult), but with the new bolting rules I think it’s best to publish it now. Some Banana Stand action shots can be found here.