Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ten Class 3 Colorado Classics

There is something fun about class 3. The thrill of climbing meets the freedom of not (usually) needing a rope. I have always enjoyed this grade. I feel mostly comfortable but it occupies my mind more than the long, grunt climbs of the easier class 2 peaks. This article is a toast to the great class 3 scrambles of Colorado.

The Sawtooth
The Sawtooth Ridge between Evans and Bierstadt
Mt. Bierstadt/Mt. Evans- The Sawtooth
The Sawtooth is a classic alpine ridge that connects two popular 14ers, Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans. After ascending to the top of Bierstadt, this amazing ridge is immediately apparent, and nearly impossible looking. The long, engaging scramble is what makes this route a classic, ending in an exposed ledge that provides reasonable access to the west face of Mt. Evans.

Longs Peak- The Keyhole
No mountain deserves the designation of "classic" more than Longs Peak and no route in Colorado is climbed more often than the Keyhole. Although the approach hike is long, the effort to climb the Keyhole is well worth the trouble. Once you have passed through the Keyhole, the rest of the route is beautiful, exposed and classic. This climb's main detraction, however, is the sheer number of people who attempt this climb. However, if you can get past the crowds, this is truly one of Colorado's best scrambles.

Crestone Peak- The South Face
The South Face of Crestone Peak perhaps the best route on one of Colorado's best mountains. Crestone Peak is a dramatic mountain. The South Face is astounding route with great exposure, fantastic position and a plethora of high-quality class 3 scrambling.

Crestone Needle- The South Face
Crestone Needle along with its companion Crestone Needle form two of Colorado's most rugged and dramatic peaks. The South Face of Crestone Needle is a mega classic, with great sscrambling, engaging route-finding and some tremendous exposure. It is highly recommended by the writers of Colorado Mountaineering to do both the South Face of the Peak and the South Face of the Needle on a single trip, perhaps with a backpack basecamp at Cottonwood or South Colony Lakes.

Snowmass Lake and Peak
Snowmass Peak & Snowmass Lake

Snowmass Mountain- East Slopes
Snowmass Mountain is one of my favorite Colorado 14ers and this route takes you through an amazing place. A long alpine approach leads to Snowmass Lake, one of the most dramatic and breathtaking lakes of its size you will find anywhere. From here the route is thrilling. You ascend a long slope of class 2+ before finding a notch through a sharp ridge. The last few hundred feet is loose but engaging class 3.

Mt. Meeker- The Loft
Mt. Meeker (13,911') shares a ridgeline and a dramatic alpine cirque with Longs Peak. The Loft Route on Mt. Meeker takes you through this famous and classic alpine destination via a moderate class 3 scramble. The final ridge after climbing to the Loft is exposed a dramatic, finishing in an astonishing move to the summit block.

Mt. Sneffels Southwest Ridge
Mt. Sneffels is one of the San Juan's most popular mountains and for good reason. It is beautiful and well featured. Even the class 2 standard southeast ridge route is excellent and lively. The Southwest Ridge, however, is a classic route with long section of stout class 3, beautiful scenery, and excellent exposed positions. This route is one of my favorite class 3 scrambles. If weather moves in or time becomes an issue, you can descend the easier and faster standard route.

The south face of Mt. Sneffels
Relaxing on Sneffels Southwest Ridge route
Torreys Peak- Kelso Ridge
This Front Range classic is a great way to get a little solitude and make a little more of a mountain that is known for being easy. In general, Kelso is a mellow scramble but with a few cruxes that will get your attention. The knife-edge of Kelso, at the very end, is not the most difficult section, but often gets the most press. This exposed section is short lived but will get your attention. It is a good place to warm-up for more exposed and difficult climbing on other Colorado peaks.

Wetterhorn- Southeast Ridge
This standard route on Wetterhorn in Colorado's San Juan Range ranks as one of the best and most exciting class 3 scrambles. This route up Wetterhorn is relatively short, fun, and ends with an exciting scramble to an excellent summit. This excellent climb on this excellent is certainly worthy of this list.

La Plata Peak- Ellingwood Ridge
La Plata was my first 14er, and therefore will always have a special place in my heart. The Ellingwood Ridge route, however, is quite likely the best, and most complicated class 3 route on all of Colorado's 14ers. This route will challenge all but the most hardened of mountaineers with its long, snakelike ridge and devious up and down scrambling. This ridgeline is famous, and time consuming, so don't take it lightly. There are almost infinite variations which allow you to customize the difficulty of your climb. The easiest route is class 3 but you can easily make it class 5 with a more direct line.
Colorado's Ellingwood Ridge
The Ellingwood Ridge from La Plata's summit 
Ten Class 5 Colorado Mountaineering Classics- is this list too tame for you? Check out or list of ten classic technical (class 5) routes on Colorado's high peaks.
Five Hardest 14er Cruxes- Five of the hardest cruxes on the standard routes of any 14er. Included: the Knife Edge on Capitol, the Leap of Faith on Sunlight, the Hourglass on Little Bear and others.

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