(SHORT REPORTS)
Category:  Colorado
Elev: ~5,500 ft
Rock Type: Wingate & Entrada sandstone
 
2019
 

COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT Climbing


Colorado National Monument is a 32-square-mile parkland protecting a spectacular slice of the Colorado Plateau just outside Grand Junction, Colorado near the Utah border. Here, on the northern edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau lie deep canyons carved into the sandstone layers. Excellent Wingate and Entrada sandstone, superb crack systems, and numerous spires of Colorado National Monument offer desert climbing more akin to Utah than anything else in Colorado. The main attractions are 400-foot Independence Monument and the spectacular finger-like tower that makes up Sentinel Spire, although there are several other routes in the area too.


The stunning desert tower landscape at Colorado National Monument

The following page features some "short reports" from some climbs I've done at Colorado National Monument. So far I've only climbed a single day there (a link-up of two awesome tower routes) but I hope to climb more, since Colorado National Monument it is a great fall and spring destination when temperatures are too cool for the alpine. The reports on this page do not give as much written detail as most of the trip reports on my website, but they do provide some great photos and a bit of route beta and usually a nice route overlay. 



ON THIS PAGE:

ROUTE/LINK DIFFICULTY DATE CLIMBED

Color-coded: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
Sentinel Spire
Medicine Man 5.12a, 4p
OCT
5
2019

  TR #: 371
Independence Monument
Otto's Route 5.8+, 4p
OCT
5
2019

  TR #: 372
Other....



Sentinel Spire

Route: Medicine Man (5.12a, 4 pitches)  Sentinel Spire

Date: October 5, 2019       Partner: Natalie Huey

Neither Natalie nor I had been to Colorado National Monument before, so we were eager to check it out and willing to make the 4.5 hour drive from Boulder just for one day of climbing (two days would have been better, but I have to split my weekends between climbing and math these days). Climbing in a cool area is always worth the drive though, and even more so if we could squeeze in two tower routes in a day. Our primary objective was Medicine Man on Sentinel Spire. This route ascends a crack system up the center of the east face of Sentinel Spire. This route is one of the best in the area, featuring exposed and steep desert crack climbing climbing, one of the best splitters in the desert, and a cool summit. We were on the top before noon, with plenty of time to rap down and hike across the valley floor to Independence Monument to climb Otto's Route....

Gear beta: This is the type of route where a standard double rack is not going to suffice. Our rack was 1 #0.2, 2 #0.3, 2 #0.4, 2 #0.5, 5 #0.75, 6 #1, 2 #2, 1 #3, and 1 #4. This seemed like the perfect rack for us, but it would have been fine to have just 1 big cam (I'd probably opt for the #4, since it was nice to have at a cruxy bulge near the top  of Pitch 2, whereas the #3 seemed pretty optional at the one place we used it). Also, 6 draws and 4 shoulder-length slings seemed plenty sufficient as a lot of the gear-heavy sections are fairly straight up and splitter and we clipped cams directly. All belays are bolted on tis route. A single 70 m rope gets you down in 2 rappels. Because you rap the opposite side of the formation, you'll probably want to leave extra stuff at the base of Fast Draw and then scramble over to base of route from there. The scramble is far enough to warrant approach shoes.
Route Overlay:
Photos:
Photo descriptions:
Approach
There are two main approach options: (1) From the viewpoint building right above the spire (on the loop road near the Saddlehorn campground), head to the rim. Fix a rope from a tree and rap down to slabs. Leave the rope as you will need to jug back up to the canyon rim after the climb. Scramble down and around to base of the east face of Sentinel Spire. About an hour. (2) Hike in from the Monument Canyon trailhead (1-2 hours?).
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1. There are lots of reasons to get an early start for a day of climbing, and one of them is to experience how the desert glows in the morning sun. (Photo by Natalie.)
2. A view of Sentinel Spire from the rim above. 
3. View taken later in the day from the top of Sentinel Spire, showing the exact location of the rappel from the canyon rim.
4. Rapping down from the canyon rim. You  can see the location of the viewpoint building behind. My car is parked along the road just beside that.
5. Rapping down from the canyon rim. We fixed the rope and rapped the entire 60m length down the slabs as well.
6. Another beta photo: the tree we rappelled from.
7. Our rap setup. You can back it up with a nut or cam. This photo gives away the fact that I am rusty with the bowline and had to default to a figure 8....
8. A view up the slabs back towards where we rappelled. It was nice to be able to rap these slabs, something you can do with a single rope if you just fix it.
9. Glowing walls.
10. Scrambling around the base of Sentinel Spire to the base of the route.
11. East Face of Sentinel Spire. Lots of good looking rock to the left too. I went down and out a bit to get this nice photo, but you can stay closer to the base on the actual approach.
12. Natalie gearing up at the base. Lots of 0.75's and 1s's - this is going to be a fun climb for small hands!


Pitch 
1
5.10. Climb up through a chunky bottom later into a nice crack in a left-facing corner.
13.    13. Natalie getting us started. We swung leads on this route.


Pitch 
2
5.11. Climb the 0.75-sized crack in the corner (4-5 0.75 cams protect this section well) to a roof. Exit left (2 bolts), make an awkward move, and continue up a steep handcrack to the bolted belay. Some parties break this pitch into two pitches with an intermediate belay about 40 feet below the chains, since the route takes an abrupt turn up here, and there is some unavoidable rope drag if you continue up. However, there is a strategically-located bolt that helps minimize this ropedrag. I preferred a bit of rope drag and bolted anchors to stopping short and having to belay on sandstone blocks.
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14. Looking up the awesome corner of Pitch 2. This thing eats up #0.75's. It's tight 0.75's so ends up being kind of strenuous laybacking and stemming. Great climbing.
15. Me starting up the corner. (Photo by Natalie.)
16. Looking down the awesome corner.
17. I took this photo at the roof exit at the top of the pitch. There is a nice chimney-style rest here. Plus there is a nice bolt to protect this section, which makes the climbing feel pretty casual here. Looking at this photo, a better location for the revolver carabiner would have been on the cam below.
18. Another bolt! This one is just above the one in the previous photo. You could place a good cam to the right, but the bolt is there for a reason: it will help keep the rope from pinching as you continue upwards to the belay. 
19. Natalie cruising up the steep hand crack at the top of the pitch.


Pitch 
3
5.12a. This is the pitch you brought all the #1's for! What an awesome pitch of climbing! Vertical splitter up the face, with a crux pulling through the roof area near the top of the pitch. This pitch is rated anything from 12a-12c depending on guidebook/source. Both Natalie and I have thin hands and found nothing we thought was harder than 5.10-5.11. So if you have thin hands, do this route and feel good that you climbed a 5.12. =)
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20. The pitch 3 splitter. This is the money pitch among a route of great pitches.
21. Natalie getting psyched to lead the splitter.
22. Natalie launching upward. #1's for days. Natalie cruised up this lead. A crack like this is very hand-sized dependent, so both Natalie and I found it to be pretty cruiser, more 5.10-5.11 than 5.12. Either way, its the kind of lead you have to just keep gunning up, and Natlaie did an excellent job!



Pitch 
4
5.10. Climb up the corner and through the roof, and continue up a hand crack to the summit. 
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23. Steph at the crux roof exit on Pitch 4. (Photo by Natalie.)
24. Natalie climbing the final flaring slot/crack to the  top. 


Top!
Yay! Summiting towers is always fun.
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25. On top of Sentinel Spire!
26. View out towards Fruita.
27. View of the walls to the west of Sentinel Spire. Lots of good looking rock.


Descent
Two raps with a single 70 down the Fast Draw anchors on the north side. Scramble back up to the fixed line and jug back up to the rim. Or if you have time, go hike to another tower, climb that, and then come back and  and jug back up to the rim.....
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28. Rap anchor on Fast Draw. The "bolts" on the raps are drilled pitons.
29. Rope pull marks on the soft sandstone.
30. Looking up Fast Draw from the base of the north side of the spire. This is what we rapped to get down. We had left our extra stuff at the base of this side on the descent.
31. One of the  unique parts of this "descent" is jugging back up to the canyon rim. Got to  but out the ascenders and easy aiders again, which I hadn't used since climbing The Nose a couple of years  previous.
32. Natalie beginning the jug up.
33. Enjoying afternoon light from the canyon rim. (We had hiked over to Independence Monument and climbed Ott's Route before actually jugging up to the rim, so it was later afternoon by the time we got back up to the rim.) Next: Drive back to Boulder and start studying for midterms!




Independence Monument

Route: Otto's Route (5.8+, 4 pitches)  Independence Monument

Date: October 5, 2019       Partner: Natalie Huey

Natalie and I climbed this as the second of a two-tower link-up. We had climbed Medicine Man on Sentinel Spire that morning, and finished with plenty  of time to hike across the valley floor and climb the popular Otto's Route on Independence Monument. The route is climbed in four short pitches that finishes with the last steep and exposed prow to the awesome summit. This is a historic climb, first climbed in 1911. The FA, Otto, drilled and chopped many holds in the soft sandstone to aid up this route with pipes in the holes, but now just the holes remain, making the route quite unique, fun, and moderate. The climb is also on the north side of the tower, so is in the shade.

Gear beta: I set one cam the entire climb: the #4, on the wide crack on the second pitch. This was partly due to the fact that there was a party of 10 (!) that arrived at the base just before us, so I was in the mode of passing them quickly, and placing gear just took time and tangled ropes. But it was mostly due to the fact that the climb has drilled holes and chopped steps at all of the cruxes, so it was quite moderate climbing. Plus the upper pitches had several bolts for protection, since there's not an abundance of gear opportunities up there. I would recommend just bringing a few cams (the #4 was nice to have) and about 10 draws/slings. Fast and light is the way to go! We were ground to summit in just over an hour. A single 70 m rope got us back to the base of the route in three raps, so you can even leave your approach shoes at the base. A 60m rope would be a bit short for a couple of the raps.
Route Overlay:
Photos:
Photo descriptions:
Approach
Most climbers just climbing Independence Monument for the day approach via the Monument Trail. But we were linking this climb with a climb on Sentinel Spire, so we approached via a cross-country hike across the desert landscape between Sentinel Spire and Independence Monument. This hike takes 30-40 minutes over pleasant desert terrain.
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1-3. Cross-country through the open desert terrain between Sentinel Spire and Independence Monument. We didn't have any beta for this, so we were pleasantly surprised at how quickly it went and how pleasant the terrain was.


Pitch 
1
5.5. Follow an angling ramp, climb past a chockstone, and then climb up chopped steps to a large ledge.
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4. Pitch 1. There was another party who had just started up, and eight more people (!) waiting at the base. Fortunately, they let us cut in line and pass them. We quickly had the route to ourselves after this. 
5. Chopped steps make this pretty easy. It's a unique route to think of how Otto chopped steps and holes in the rock over 100 years previous to summit the tower.


Pitch 
2
5.8. Climb up widening crack through a squeeze/slot. Drilled 1-inch holes from Otto's pipe ladder make the climbing 5.8 rather than 5.10. Continue up through the 3rd class Time Tunnel.
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6. Steph in the crux wide section on Pitch 2. This was one of two places on the route I placed a cam (and both times it was the #4). But look for the drilled holes, which keep the grade at 5.8. (Photo by Natalie.)
7. Looking down from the top of the wide section. Note the drilled holds...
8. The Time Tunnel.


Pitch 
3
5.8. Fun pitch. Climb up the face on drilled pockets and chopped steps to Lunch Box Ledge.
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9. Pitch 3. The route actually goes right of the crack and exits in the upper right of the photo to Lunch Box Ledge.
10. Some of the holes still have sections of pipe in them. I think Otto used the pipe for footholds. Most of the holes no longer have pipe but still make for great hand holds.
11. A piton in one of Otto's holds. This route has some history.
12. Bolted anchor at the top of Pitch 3.


Pitch 
4
5.8+. Follow chopped steps up the runnout airy prow and finish with a steep headwall below the caprock. There are bolts for protection on the upper headwall section. Belay on a ledge just below the summit. 
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13. Starting up Pitch 4.
14. Another photo on Pitch 4 showing the staircase cut into the slab.
15. The steep headwall at the top of Pitch 4. This is the crux of the route. But there are a few bolts here.
16. Looking down at Natalie on the sandstone staircase.


Top!
From the belay, make a single 5.8 boulder move to get onto the summit. Enjoy  the spectacular view!
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17. Enjoying our second tower summit of the day.
18. Formations to the east.
19. A view of Sentinel Spire from the top of Independence Monument. We had climbed Medicine Man on Sentinel Spire that morning.


Descent
Three raps down route with single 70. A 60 would be a bit short.
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20. Rapping.
21. Rope pull marks on the soft sandstone.

22. Pipe Organ Spire and Organ Pipe Spire. More stuff to come back to climb....