A Visual Guide to Climbing Boulder, Colorado's Fall Classics
Exploring trad and sport routes on Animal World and the Flatirons, captured on 35mm film
Hiking through a storied canyon on a rainy day with a bunch of climbers is like taking a meeting of sex addicts to an adult film convention: there’s ogling, audible frustration, and a general sense that this is an unhealthy, unproductive day. We were at Eldorado Canyon, south of Boulder, a nexus of early free-climbing in the 1970s. Look! There! It’s Your Mother, the route from the cover of Time, the one where Colin Lantz hangs leisurely in neon pink.
After a little futzing around on the Gill Boulder, we called it a day, and made plans to hit the Third Flatiron in the morning. Just a few miles from the University of Colorado Boulder, the iconic Flatiron formation spikes up at a 50-degree angle from the city.
With a first ascent in 1906, they’re the gorgeous leftovers of the Ancestral Rockies, which pre-date the Rockies of Colorado fame by some 200 million years. But after another cool October drizzle, the Third was a no-go. Our crew, decked in La Sportiva and led by the Colorado Mountain School, wasn’t going to crank anything on the wet lichen that painted the sandstone. Now, the East Face of the Third Flatiron was the move, and after a quick relocation, we began to scramble up the breezy 5.4 terrain.
As a climber stuck mostly in the gyms of New York City, the experience of tackling 1,000 feet of trad, however easy, is a game-changer. When everything indoors is about getting better, faster, and more technical, it felt like a meditation to take it slow up a huge slab of wet, red rock. Fog rolled in about halfway up the face, emphasizing the Flatiron’s gray hues. At the top, we enjoyed an obscured view, set up a rig, and repelled off the back.
For a final day of climbing, my brother and I got up early for a morning of sport in Boulder Canyon. Fog again, though it had burned off by the time we pulled up to Animal World. Appropriately, it was a zoo on a Saturday.
I hung in there with him, matching 5.10’s and 11.a’s route for route before taking on the first pitch of Global Gorilla, a long, hang-tougher toward the far end of the crag. About three-quarters up, there’s a funky, featureless arête that geeked me out when I took a couple big swings. I was ready to bail. Conveniently, it was about to rain again.