The Golden Age of Colorado Bouldering

Posted on 09. Jul, 2008 by in News

In the year 1999, Colorado stood at the edge of a major change. A giant bouldering wave was about to come crashing down on the Front Range. Up to that point, the hardest problems were the Big Three (Trice, Slapshot, and Meathook) established by Jim Holloway. For various reasons, these problems seemed unattainable to the typical boulderer. The accessible big ticks of the day were problems like Center Route V10 at Morrison, Fleshfest V10 (with the original beta), and Right Angry Man V10 at Lumpy Ridge. Climbers like Herm Feissner, Peter Beal, Charley Bentley, Matt Samet and Pete Zoller led the way. Most of the bouldering in Colorado took place in easy to access areas, like Flagstaff and Morrison. Hiking any more than 20 minutes probably seemed a little ridiculous to go “practice climbing”, although a small group of dedicated boulderers including Jim Belcer, Ian Glas, Dean Potter and Tommy Caldwell were hiking up to Emerald Lake and, with a hint of things to come, establishing problems like The Kind Traverse (which was originally graded V10 and then uprated).

In the fall of 1999, Tommy Caldwell, on a tip from his father who had been trout fishing at Lake Haiyaha, took Brian Capps and Nick Sagar up to Chaos Canyon and established Tommy’s Arete and Handicapps (originally suggested by Brian to be V8). This was the beginning of the swell and the following summer was really the first year the wave began to crash in earnest.

Dave Graham was a young climber from Maine who displayed tremendous raw talent from the beginning. He had been traveling out west, working his way through some of the hardest sport routes in Rifle, and was still quite an up and comer. He and Brian Capps had met in Rifle and Brian took Dave to Chaos Canyon to check out some new bouldering. Brian says that Dave didn’t do too much in the first few days but after warming up to the elevation, the hike, and the bad landings, he began to leave a permanent mark on some of the best stone in the West.

That year (2000) Dave established most of the problems in Lower Chaos. On one of his more impressive days he climbed the first ascent of Freshly Squeezed and Bushpilot, calling the former V10 or V11 and the latter V9. He also did The Automator, the Centaur, The Gobot, The Fat Lady, Deep Puddle Dynamics and Gang Bang Arete. This frenzy culminated in Nuthin but Sunshine, which Dave graded V14, even though he had never repeated a problem V13 or harder. The next year was more of the same as Dave and his good buddy Chad Greedy marched up the hill and put up classics like Left El Jorge, Eternia, Skipper Roof and Golden Rows of Flows and countless other problems that may go unrecorded. Dave seemed unstoppable and climbed nearly every line he put chalk on. His efforts put Rocky Mountain National Park on the map and even today, 8 years later, people line up to repeat these great boulders.

At the same time, a strong group of motivated climbers from Ft. Collins had dedicated themselves to putting up hundreds of new problems throughout Northern Colorado. These efforts were led by Ben Scott, although Tom Blackford, Jeremy Bisher, Ryan Anglemeyer, Will Lemaire, Mike Mangino and many others were heavily involved. In particular, Will Lemaire and Ben Scott have both made incredible contributions that will not be forgotten. They made areas out of Arthur’s Rock, The Poudre Canyon, Red Feather Lakes and countless smaller clusters. Chris Sharma and Dave made their way up to the Poudre Canyon, but it was really this group that paved the way. Of course Dave did establish several hard and classic problems in the Canyon, including one of the best and hardest in Colorado, Circadian Rhythm.

Things continued closer to Boulder as well, with Tommy Caldwell’s ascent of the incredible Turn that Frown Upside Down at the now closed Damnation Boulders.
As a youngster living in Michigan pouring over the climbing magazines I could take no more and decided to move out, feeling like I had probably missed out on the wave of development.

About 8 months after I moved out I got a call from Ben Scott, who had taken to looking into other parts of the Front Range. He, Ken Kenny and Rob Pizm had stumbled upon Mt. Evans. Ben managed to keep Evans a secret for the better part of three years and established many classics like The Dali, Bierstadt, Cerat and Timeline. Cameron Cross also has left his mark on Mt. Evans with great problems like Slander, Gorillas in the Mist and City Walls of Dying Dreams. Around that same time Dave returned from Switzerland to hike even farther up Tyndall Gorge in the Park. There, above Emerald Lake at the Hallet Boulder, he established several hard problems including Fireball and Stranger in a Strange Land. Interestingly enough I invited Dave to get a tour of Mt. Evans and he declined. Problems like No More Greener Grass, Silverback, Super Gui and Ode to the Modern Man had yet to be climbed.

If all this wasn’t enough, young Daniel Woods was just toping out on Turning Point, a V8 in the Flatirons. In one year, he went from V8 to V12 and proceeded to crush every hard problem in Colorado. More and more climbers were turning their attention to bouldering and the talent pool was big and deep. Other lines quickly filled in. James Litz established Freaks of the Industry V13 at RMNP, Luke Parady put up No More Greener Grass V12 at Mt. Evans, Dave Graham’s incredible Suspension of Disbelief in Eldorado Canyon and Harry Robertson with Clear Blue Skies and Mental Pollution Low V12 and Randy Puro with Silverback V10. Angie Payne made first female ascent of Bushpilot, The Kind Traverse, Castaway, Black Ice and many others. The pace was feverish and with the rise of www.8a.nu, competition was fierce. Daniel grew into a dominant force in American bouldering. He put his amazing power to work at Mt. Evans, and established Ode to the Modern Man V14. The next year, his friend Paul Robinson moved out from New Jersey and quickly Paul was on Daniel’s heels. Ty Landman joined the race. In the last two years, these three have simply dominated the climbing scene in Boulder. And what better way to display their dominance than to climb the hardest problem in America.

Years ago, Dave had found a massive boulder in Chaos Canyon and on it’s north face lies an impressive overhang. It was known for years as “the Green 45” and it held the one thing that shut Dave down. He was the only one to do “the move” but no one else was even close. Fast forward 6 years. Three climbers bred on all of Dave’s hardest problems stood ready to push things into the future. It was only appropriate that local Daniel Woods would make the first ascent of Jade, not only the crown jewel of the Park, but the crowning achievement of what I call “The Golden Age of Colorado Bouldering”. Tyler and Paul both made impressive repeats and it was hard to pick up a national magazine or click on a website and not read about what was happening in Colorado.

Of course this couldn’t last forever. Soon after the season ended in the Park, Daniel left for Europe. Ty and Paul hung around for the winter, only to head out of the country at the first signs of spring. Harry Robertson, Rob D’anistasio, Mike Feinberg, Johnny Goichechea, Ryan Olson, Seth Allred and Sander Pick will all most likely have moved away by the fall and all are extremely talented boulders. Although climbers like Ben Scott, Olson, Lee Payne and myself continue to search, it seems unlikely that another big area is left to be found in the Front Range, north of Denver. Most of Chaos Canyon has been picked over and it seems like new problems are either going to be a long hike or of mediocre quality. That’s not to say that development won’t continue, and that great new problems won’t stlll be established. It’s just that the pace will slow a little as we all feel the after shock of this massive wave.

Although this may seem disheartening to those that are left behind, it presents a new challenge. The slate has been wiped clean and the future is undecided. This new chapter will force us into creative thinking. I am fortunate enough to have one foot in the past, the last 8 years of my life bouldering in Colorado, and one foot stepping towards the future.

45 Responses to “The Golden Age of Colorado Bouldering”

  1. peter

    09. Jul, 2008

    Great work Jamie! Excellent summary of what’s been going on. Dave’s problems almost deserve the status of legend by now.

  2. Crafty

    09. Jul, 2008

    Very insightful Jamie.

    I have no doubt new areas and classic problems will continue to be found and climbed. However, I believe you’re correct in that the pace will slow as far as the FAing of cutting edge problems is concerned.

  3. DaveH

    09. Jul, 2008

    Wow. Very interesting. Thanks for putting it all down.

  4. DT

    09. Jul, 2008

    Would you liken Woods’ ascent of Jade / Green 45 to the 4-minute mile? When he sent that, he seemed to break an invisible barrier, making it “possible” for others to quickly make an ascent of a problem that couldn’t be touched for years.

  5. jamie

    09. Jul, 2008

    DT, any running questions should be directed towards JB. also about digging holes. sitdown.

  6. climbingnarc

    09. Jul, 2008

    Very, very nice Jamie. 9 years doesn’t seem like a long time until you think of everything that has happened in that span of time. Thanks for all the insights.

  7. Doogie

    09. Jul, 2008

    Good post Jamie. I suggest that everyone who likes to climb at Mt. Evan’s check out Ben Scott’s new area outside Limon this weekend. It’s sick.

  8. […] you haven’t already seen it, Jamie Emerson has an excellent recap of what he calls “The Golden Age Of Colorado Bouldering”.  It is a must read if you are at all interested in the recent history of hard bouldering […]

  9. climbidaho

    09. Jul, 2008

    wow! That was the most interesting climbing related lit I have read in a while. Nice job Jamie.

  10. zonk

    09. Jul, 2008

    jamie, nice article of the history of climbing in CO. i wish more people would do the same.

  11. GD

    09. Jul, 2008

    Nice article! thank you!

  12. Herman

    09. Jul, 2008

    Jamie,

    Nick Sagar was not along on the first trip to Chaos Canyon when Tommy’s Arete was established. Not that I rememeber. Tommy invited me, Brian Capps, Curtis Gardner, and another who’s name I don’t recall to come check out a new bouldering area. The area was Chaos Canyon. That day we climbed a couple lines on the first boulder you approach just before the Pototo Chip. We also climbed what is now known as the Potato Chip on that day. Late in the day Tommy’s Arete was established as well as a few other lines. Handi Capps was established druing a separate trip that same year. Double Check but I think this history is correct for that first day. Claiming to be the first though is akin to Columbus claiming to have discovered America.

  13. Herman

    10. Jul, 2008

    BTW-A nice piece Jamie. Thank you for keeping track of the recent bouldering history in the Front Range. Some great moments. I am sure the next generation will see that which we missed and conribute in an unimaginable way. A great task. I am sure they are up to it.

  14. chuffer

    10. Jul, 2008

    Not to beat a dead horse, but Fing awesome job Jamie. Although I love what you’ve written, you should delete this blog entry and propose an article to Climbing or R&I. Better yet, they should contact YOU.

    Not to nitpick, but to call it the Golden Age doesn’t workfor me. The Golden Age in Colorado bouldering began in the 1960’s and extended through Holloway’s reign as one of the world’s best boulderers in the 1970’s. During this time, the bouldering game and lifestyle was essentially conceived as areas like Horsetooth, Flagstaff Mountain, Morrison and Eldorado Canyon were being explored and developed by a laundry list of climbers we can all name. In addition, both Climbing and Rock & Ice were founded and began to tell inspiring tales to a nationwide climbing audience about Colorado’s bouldering and boulderers.

    The Silver Age seems to me occured after Hueco opened the eyes of more and more climbers to the fun and freedom that can found in bouldering with a group of friends for the sake of bouldering. This coincides with the development of the first crashpads and the initial development of literally hundreds of small to medium-sized bouldering locales all over Colorado.

    I’m not sure what to call the last 9 years (maybe The Bronze Age), but it seems to me that the period you’ve described is the third and possibly the last distinguished time period for Colorado bouldering. There has been tremendous energy and buzz in Colorado these past 9 years.

    Development will continue as there are still undeveloped places left. In addition, motivated climbers will keep coming here for school, to visit or stay. I look forward to seeing where it all goes from here, but I’m hestitant to believe there will be another period of time like this one.

    Time will tell …

  15. tissue

    10. Jul, 2008

    very nice. thanks.

  16. […] Jamie Emerson (B3Bouldering.com) has done an amazing little article regarding hard Colorado bouldering history – check it out here. […]

  17. ange

    10. Jul, 2008

    told you they’d eat it up. you’ve outdone yourself this time. but i know the quality posts won’t stop…cause you’re just that good.

  18. jamie

    10. Jul, 2008

    Herm, thanks for your contribution. I would love to hear any other stories anyone has.

  19. matt

    10. Jul, 2008

    there’s no mention of anyone being brave or humble here???

  20. climbingnarc

    10. Jul, 2008

    This is somewhat off topic but perhaps you could adderss at some point you could discuss the distinct lack of quality guidebooks for much of Colorado’s bouldering areas. Is it just the areas are too new, people are always busying climbing, insiders vs. outsiders???

    Also, agreed with Chuffer. This is better reading than many articles in the mags. Only thing that could make it better is some photos from the beginning of the time period discussed.

  21. jamie

    10. Jul, 2008

    Thanks for the positive feedback. It’s nice to know there are like minded individuals out there. To address the Narc, I think there are alot of access issues still to be figured out and that is why no guidebook has been written.

  22. peter

    11. Jul, 2008

    Perhaps the most apt term for the 1999-2008 era would be a Colorado Bouldering Renaissance. I agree with Chip that the Golden Age was from the late 50s through the mid 70s. Then there was a focus on roped climbing and bouldering became a relatively obscure obscure pursuit. With the arrival of the crashpad and a new attitude towards what was possible, things changed drastically. Instead of convoluted contrivances at Morrison, boulderers like Dave saw clean independent impressive lines and were able to realize them. The ascent of Jade definitely closed the era and possibly Chaos Canyon as it marked both the last great line and the hardest line in the region.

    Regarding access, I would suggest the issue is not access per se to areas like Chaos or Evans but instead the behavior of boulderers who appear to view beautiful boulders in an incredible environment as just a piece of workout apparatus and/or social club. Obviously there are other places where public access is simply not officially permitted but the two main gems are wholly publicly owned and accessible.

  23. jamie

    11. Jul, 2008

    The reason that I stand by my idea that this the Golden Age of Colorado Bouldering follows. In Gill’s time he was bouldering mostly by himself or with a small group of close friends. He established a few problems that are, in the end, more about history and Gill himself, not so much about Colorado. These problems are mostly classic because of their historical nature, and sometimes because of the problem itself. From Gill’s time up until the time Dave showed up, very little was done (that’s not to say none, but by todays standards) in the way of exploration and development. Mostly people still climbed at the same areas they always had (Flagstaff, Morrison, Horsetooth). In the last 9 years bouldering in the Front Range has simply exploded, and the number of new areas and new problems has risen at an exponential rate. I would argue that never has there been a time in the history of Colorado bouldering that such developement has taken place. This isn’t to say that Gills contribution wasn’t amazing or that there haven’t been others who have made great strides. Its just that such an explosion in terms of everything having to do with bouldering has never happened, nor will ever happen, at the same level, again in the Front Range. This is why I feel this time period is deserving of such a worthy moniker.

  24. wade

    11. Jul, 2008

    You’re g d right The Kine Traverse is V10, Nice history JE. Next time mention me in it or i’ll snap your fingers and Burn something off.

  25. Kevin

    12. Jul, 2008

    Nice Wade.

  26. ScottyG

    12. Jul, 2008

    Great post Jamie!

  27. MF

    12. Jul, 2008

    Great post hommie…. you should send something to the mags

  28. campusmang

    13. Jul, 2008

    & DUBS D IS LIKE THE DIAMOND AGE OF COLORADO
    THE DARK CRYSTAL CANT EVER BE REPEATED!!!1111111

    YALL DONT EVEN KNOW!!!!11

    V14 OR DIE!!!!!111111111

    SWISSCO OR BUST!!!!!111111111

  29. wade

    14. Jul, 2008

    Jamie you should mix your bouldering up with some hard trad and sport.

  30. das bpc

    14. Jul, 2008

    re: ‘golden age’ discussion:

    the ‘golden hour’ occurs at the beginning and end of a day… perhaps this is also true with the bouldering era and this recent ‘golden age’ marks the end of times… the omega to gill’s alpha.

    re: herm’s comment: I DISCOVERED AMERICA…. or perhaps it was wade?

    muhahahahahaahaaa

  31. ktmt

    14. Jul, 2008

    I don’t live in CO and I don’t even boulder much and I still really enjoyed this piece. I agree with others, this deserves to be an article. And if R&I or Climbing won’t pick it up, you should pitch it to Gripped. It’s right in line with pieces on Dreamtime and La Rambla they’ve published in the past. It’s a great legacy you all have, from Gill right up to the present!

  32. das bpc

    14. Jul, 2008

    or…

    2003 – present: the GOLDEN AGE of LOWER STARTS, ALTERNATE EXITS, AND TRAVERSES IN !!!!!!!!!!

    the year: 2003. the mission: post a new “send” on 8a.nu by recycling moves to a problem already done. the visionary: sock hands. the template: reproduced and applied at stratospheric levels to create ‘epoch’, ‘riddles in the park’, ‘ode to the modern man’, ‘mental masturbation’, ‘chrome’, ‘veritas left sds’, ‘aslan’, ‘formula 500’, ‘muddy waters’, ‘sit on it far left sds’, ‘don’t get too greedy stand and sit’, and other instantly classic testpieces/padding in the bouldering and roped world [‘kuru’, ‘prime time to shine’…].

    but wait! what about all the “reverse” sequences on flagstaff mountain? what about morrison [in its entirety]?

    this is not the golden age of alternate starts, exits, and traverses in after all!?

    …beat to the puch by the geezers again… oh wellz!

    at least THE RISING WAVE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS to create stand starts from sit start problems is relatively new.

    invalidity never tasted so fresh!

  33. das bpc

    15. Jul, 2008

    wadeface: what’s the deal wit this, mang?

    http://wadedavid.com/Videos/newarea.mov

    finishing developing it and working out the access issues already. GET ON IT!

  34. adam s

    15. Jul, 2008

    i personally am against this new trend to use the word “assis”, good old american sit start, bonjour!!!! i think i’ll have me some apple pie now

  35. trad

    15. Jul, 2008

    that is stupid, and Im not Daves good friend… the UTC is the only good problem in Co…

  36. Ryan

    16. Jul, 2008

    Awesome post Jamie. I knew a lot about the bouldering in Colorado, but that was incredible thanks for all the information.

  37. cardboarddawg

    15. Aug, 2008

    Just a comment on the “it seems unlikely that a new area in the front range will be discovered” comment. Now, I know that I am writing this to some of the most prolific FAists in Colorado so it can be taken with a grain of sugar and salt fer sure but, I’ve heard of a boulder feild near Mt. Sneffels, HUGE boulders on the approach to Mt. Princeton, and a Couloir FILLED and i stress filled with huge boulders around the 3 mile mark of a 13er between Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans. I never got to check the last one out and the quality of rock on Mt. Princeton could be questionable considering the quality of rock in the area, but .. maybe some new possibilties.

  38. […] – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by andyk on 2009-01-08 The Golden Age of Colorado Bouldering http://www.b3bouldering.com/2008/07/09/the-golden-age-of-colorado-bouldering/ – bookmarked by 1 […]

  39. slabdyno

    14. Mar, 2009

    not to nitpick, but emo music and dyno’s don’t go together…

  40. Jeff Hurst

    19. Mar, 2009

    btw, one of the strongest of the fort collins crew was a guy named Francis. He did a ton of hard fa’s at arthurs and other northern areas, most of the hard stuff. I don’t know his last name, but I always hear about him and other exploits.

  41. B3

    10. May, 2009

    Francis Sanzarro definitely made some great contributions in the Ft. Collins area.

  42. Kyle Benson

    13. May, 2009

    This was one hell of a blog but I must argue something.The Northern front range may be getting to the point where its tapped out. But there is no way that the golden age of colorado bouldering is anywhere close to being over. Some newer southern areas like Newlin creek are just getting warmed up, with some of the most classic problems I have ever seen. The Arkansas river valley is pretty much a virgin just waiting to be plucked, especially around Mt. Princeton. I have heard stories absolutely mind blowing boulders in the lost creak/goose creek area. My point is. That maybe they heyday for boulder’s boulders is over. Maybe it is time for a shift in geographic focus away from the front range and more towards the south and deeper into the mountains and wildernesses to find them. In your blog you talk about the assent of jade, undoubtedly one of the, if not the, most amazing problems in colorado. I along with the rest of the climbing community was left in awe of the photographs in the mags and Chuck Frybergers amazing footage of the send. But I would argue that their are so many problems that would/could/will outshine jade in colorado. But they may take some time to get to. I would say that that the era of finding new boulders, with easy approaches, close to suburbia is over, and I say good riddens. Maybe it is time for a new breed of boulderers to emerge, ones who will slog 10 miles and god for bid, sleep in a tent next to the rock, for the next perfect line. I think Its time for a new type bouldering to take stage, one that will put more of an adventure aspect into the sport, remove it from being seen as an urban trend, and put some new excitement into the bouldering scene. Maybe this end of the front range bouldering era means Its time to see more boulderers push themeless further into the unknown, I mean isn’t that what the root of climbing is about in the first place?

  43. Nietzsche

    12. Apr, 2011

    I was just re-reading this post and can’t help but read the last comments with the privilege of another two years. After the summer of Lincoln Lake I think our eyes were opened yet again to the potential of Colorado’s alpine scene. Golden Age Part Deux?

  44. B3

    12. Apr, 2011

    I agree. In my summary post on Lincoln Lake, I linked to this post to demonstrate that I was wrong about that! Who knows what else is out there….

  45. B3

    12. Apr, 2011

    not to mention the FA of The Game, Hypnotized Minds etc..

Leave a Reply