Hot Routes

Our current featured routes. Provides a close look at three alpine mountaineering routes (easy, moderate, and technical) on Colorado mountains, including photos, information, directions, guide description, and more.
Mount Sopris (Thomas Lakes)
Length: 12 miles
elevation gain: 4,500 feet
difficulty: class 2

Mount Sopris from the north
Mount Sopris seen from the north
Mount Sopris is probably one of the most picturesque and most frequently climbed 12,000-foot peaks in the state, certainly in the west slope. Despite clocking in at only 12,953 feet, Sopris is a powerful mountain. When viewed from the north it has astonishing prominence, towering more than 6,000 feet above the valley floor below. Another unique feature of Mount Sopris is that each of its twin summits measure in at exactly the same elevation, creating a sort of conundrum for peak baggers. Many choose to just stand on the east summit, which is logical when climbing the standard Thomas Lakes route, as it is the first summit you come to. I would strongly suggest, however, making the out-and-back to the west summit, which provides a better view of Glenwood and allows you the confidence knowing that you truly toured this magnificent peak's amazing top.

From the intersection of Highway 133 and Main Street in Carbondale, follow Hwy 133 south for about 1.6 miles and turn left (east) on Prince Creek Rd. After cruising through some small open ranch properties, continue along the road as it veers east. Veer right at a confusing, triangle-shaped intersection about 7.8 miles after the 133/Main Street intersection. Continue along the narrowing dirt road for a little less than two more miles to a large parking lot with a bathroom on the left. It should be passable in the summer for most passenger cars though some clearance might be recommended. Can be tough in the winter.

Thomas Lakes
Mount Sopris in the Elk Range of Colorado
Storm over Sopris from the meadow at 9,500 feet
This is the standard route and though there are several more rugged possibilities on the peak's south and west aspects, 99.9% of summer ascents on Mount Sopris are done this way. It can be done in one day though a night at the beautiful Thomas Lakes makes hauling a light backpack well worth it. Start up the wide trail up a mild incline for .6 miles to the first major switchback. At mile 1 the trail turns south and emerges from the trees shortly after. At mile 1.4 you reach a common "shortcut" that climbs directly south up a steeper slopes. This shortcut cuts off a large switchback. Taking the shortcut will save you almost half a mile and both have a well-beaten trail. Taking the old road, however, you will wind around a hill, and climb up a short steep section to reach a meadow at mile 2. There is a beautiful view of the mountain from here at 9,500 feet. Ahead you re-enter the trees and wind though a beautiful aspen-pine area with a trickling stream. At mile 3.4 you reach the first pond, and at mile 3.7 you reach the first lake. There are several number campsites in this area.

Mount Sopris from Thomas Lakes
Mount Sopris from Thomas Lakes
Hike between and around Thomas Lakes and follow the well-defined trail as it switchbacks up a hill and reaches the northeast ridge proper at 10,600 feet. The trees are noticeably thinning here and you will get the feeling you are nearing treeline. The trail levels out briefly before starting up the meat of the climb. Pick your way through the talus along the beaten path as the route steepens. Some amazing views of capitol open to the southeast. Pass the hardest steepest section (class 2) at mile 5.7 (~12,000 feet), veer westerly, still following the beaten climber's trail and the ridge. Bypass a false summit on the left (south) to reach a spot we always called "the Grassy Knoll," a peaceful patch of flat grass at 12,400 feet. There isn't much left so we always took advantage of a good rest here.

Follow the ramp up mostly stable talus as it makes the final climb to a bump at 12,900 feet. You are very close. Hike another .15  of a mile (6.6 miles total) gradually up to the east summit. Enjoy the view.

The final ramp to the East summit
For those that want to get the full twin-summit Sopris experience, be prepared to add 1.5 miles and 560 feet of total elevation gain onto your already lengthy day. From the east summit, hike .3 miles to the 12,660-foot saddle between the two summits (making it just shy of qualifying as two separate "ranked" peaks), and back up 280 feet and .35 miles to the west summit. Pat yourself on the back. Though you may feel tired, take heart knowing you got the full Sopris experience.

Part of the route lies in the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness Area and special wilderness regulations apply. Please only camp in the designated and numbered spots around the lakes. There are some very good sites here and if you are climbing the peak on a weekend or any day when there is a chance that all of these sites might be full, get there early or consider doing just the single day method.

Snowmass Mountain's East Slopes (class 3)
Length: 22 miles
Total Elevation gain: 5,700'
Difficulty: class 3

Snowmass Peak and Snowmass Lake
The East Slopes (standard) route on Snowmass Mountain is one of Colorado's most spectacular 14er adventures. At 22 miles, it is a very long hike, and I recommend 2 days. Though the hike in and out will be more difficult with the extra gear, the extra time will allow you to take your time and enjoy this beautiful place. Although Snowmass Lake is very likely one of the busiest lakes in the Colorado's backcountry, it is quite beautiful and offers numerous opportunities for places to camp.

Like most climbs in the Elk Range, the East Slopes of Snowmass Mountain is steep, loose and dangerous. It has proven fatal for several mountaineers over the years. Almost the entire route once you have passed the Snowmass Lake is one slippery scree and once you have pass around 13,500' the route becomes particularly dangerous. Wear a helmet, use caution, and be careful not to climb directly underneath another party.

Snowmass Lake at sunrise
The long approach to the East Slopes of Snowmass Mountain is one of the longest for any standard route on a 14er in Colorado. The approach alone is over 8 miles and gains over 2,500' in elevation. The hike is long an provides some beautiful views. After 6.5 miles you must cross the creek. This can be a challenge at high spring runoff levels. Depending on the flow level/wood conditions people usually tiptoe across a log jam. If the water is low you can sometimes cross the creek directly below the jam. Not far after negotiating this obstacle, you reach the lake itself. There are many good campsites here. Beware, however, of rules against camping too close to the lake and against fire in general.

the East Slopes of Snowmass Mountain
Hike along the east and south sides of the lake and find a climber's trail that starts up the loose rock on the lake's west end. The approach is over. Climb up the steepening slope along a vague climber's trail into the huge basin on Snowmass Peak's east slopes. Depending on the time of year and conditions there may be some snow to climb at the top of this basin. The usual route veers a bit south as you approach the ridge and finds a notch through the cliffs to reach the summit ridge. In dry, late-summer conditions, or if the snow covering is complete, you can hike more directly towards the summit, finding a breach in the cliffs and reaching the summit ridge near 13,900'. From here you traverse slightly onto the west side of the mountain and pick your way through some class 3 boulders to the summit.

From the summit of Snowmass Mountain looking towards Capitol Peak
 Looking across to Capitol Peak from Snowmass's summit
From Highway 82 28 miles south of Glenwood Springs (or 13 miles north of the roundabout in Aspen) turn west at the town of Old Snowmass (not to be confused with Snowmass Village, the ski area) onto Snowmass Creek Road. Turn left at a T-junction after a mile and a half (right will take you to Capitol). You hit the dirt road seven miles after turning off Hwy 82 and cross the creek at mile 10.5. Take a right at another intersection a half mile later and the trailhead is only about a quarter-mile beyond that.

Geneva Lake, Snowmass Mountain, and the Four Pass Loop- A seven day backpack trip following the Four Pass Loop but also with extensions to Geneva Lake and an ascent of the East Slopes (standard) route of Snowmass Mountain.

The main page for Snowmass Mountain- Includes directions, descriptions, other routes, photos and more.
Otto's Route (III 5.9)
Independence Monument in Western Colorado
Approaching Independence Monument
Trailhead: Lower Monument Canyon
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
Difficulty: 4 pitches, 5.9

Independence Tower is not a mountain, nor is it alpine. It is a desert tower, which makes it somewhat rare for Colorado. And this is Otto's Route, a classic of Colorado climbing established in an age before climbing was set in its course towards what we know today.

Some people are against this route because it follows of line of chipped pipe holds the entire way. In a sense, I see their point. By modern standards this route would be an abomination. But John Otto, the man who drilled the holes in 1911 so he could insert pipe handholds, was considered a steward of nature and the forefront figure for establishing protection for the Colorado National Monument. He was an adventurer who loved these desert formations. If while climbing this route you are upset by the unnatural jugs throughout, consider a couple of things first: John Otto led this climb with a hemp rope in cowboy boots, without the chipped holds this route would probably go in the 5.11 range, and the chipping occurred over 100 years ago.

I encourage people, and I feel like most climbers who have climbed this route agree, to view Otto's as a historical route and not be bothered by its manufactured feel. It is still a great climb and the climbing itself despite everything is still fun. The positions are spectacular and the exposure is invigorating. Each pitch, not just the legendary pitch 4, has sections that are runout and hard to protect.

Approach: From the Lower Monument Trail in Monument Canyon, hike 2.5 miles (gaining 800 feet) to the base of Independence Monument. The route is on the northwest side of the tower following an obvious crack system. You will have to climb a small talus cone to get to the bottom.

Pitch 1: climb a 5.easy step to a junky 5.6 corner. Pass this to a nice finger crack with chopped steps. Climb up and left and gain a large ledge with a bolted belay. 130 feet (5.6)
Bighorn in the Colorado National Monument
You might have an audience...
Otto's Route (5.9) in Monument Canyon
Starting pitch 1
Pitch 2: move the belay to the right and scale a funky, over-hanging off-width. This would be a tricky pitch without the chopped holds. Here you will probably want a #4 and possibly a #5 too, though you can get away with less if you have good technique and a go-for-it attitude. There is some ledgefall potential pulling through the OW without big pieces. Pull, claw, thrutch through the OW and gain another huge belay ledge. Once you have belayed everyone up, most people with de-rope to pass through the next section. 70 feet (5.8+).

The OW P2 on Otto's Route
Climbing the overhanging OW on Pitch 2
The Time Tunnel on Otto's Route
The Time Tunnel between pitches 2 & 3

Scramble: Squeeze through the Time Tunnel, a tight gap between a the main tower and a detached spire. It is a little scrambly in one spot, maybe some minor, non-exposed class 3. At the other side is another massive belay ledge called the Lunch Box Ledge. Here you can leave most of your gear behind for the rest of the climb. All you need to get through the last 2 pitches are draws, maybe a few slings, optional tri-cams and gear to tie into the chain anchors at every belay.

Pitch 3: Pitch three is not hard or exposed, but it is runout between pitons. Tricams can be used in several spots but just trust those slightly sandy chopped buckets and the pitch will be over in no time. Climb up a seam and move up and right following the pipe holds through spaced pitons. Mantle a ledge and arrive at a bolted belay on Sundeck Ledge, where you might see get direct sunlight for the first time. Here the exposure might hit you for the first time. While this belay ledge is also large and comfortable, pitch 4 looms above you, and for some it can look pretty intimidating. 80 feet (5.7)

P3 of the classic Colorado climbing route Otto's Route (5.9)
Pitch 3 follows this seam then goes up and
right (the chopped holds can be seen
in the center). Pitch 4 can be seen top left
Pitches 3 ad 4
Pitches 3 & 4 seen from the Lunch Box Ledge
Pitch 4: This is the classic money pitch and a great lead for the grade. The position is spectacular and the exposure is tremendous. Leave the belay on the right-ish side of the fin and climb fifty feet of unprotected but easy climbing (5.3 R/X). Pay attention to your footwork and your hands on this sandy, dangerous section and keep your mind focused on careful movement. The climbing is easy and it's over in no time. There is potential to use a few tricams to moderate the danger somewhat. Clip a couple of solid pitons and arrive at the route's excellent crux: a fun overhang on massive, bucket holds. This section is well protected by pitons and there is potential for a couple cams to back them up if you want. It may be useful to extend a draw or two at the crux to reduce drag while top-belaying your follower. 90 feet (5.9)

Climber of the Pitch 4 crux of Otto's Route
Pulling the crux on P4 of Otto's Route
The top of Indy Tower
Looking down from the top of 
Independence Tower

Pitch 5: This "pitch" is really just a couple of moves from the big belay ledge at the top of P4. There is no protection, and the climbing is probably about 5.8. Some people "aid" through the botto by standing on the old flagpole base and/or the chains. What makes it a bit scary is that you are fully exposed at the top of the tower with air all around and no protection. Some choose to do this on belay. The top is spacious. On Independence Day you will find many people up here. You also have to downclimb P5, it is hard not to use the flagpole now.... Some people will want to be on belay for the downclimb too.

summit panorama from Independence tower
Panorama from the summit of Independence Tower
Descent: Double-rope rap from the summit to the Lunch Box Ledge (the bottom of P3). Scramble back through the Time Tunnel. From the bolted anchor you can do a double rope rap (180') from these anchors straight to the ground or rap the route to the anchors of P1 (70 feet), then from these anchors to the ground (110 feet).

The first rappel
The first rappel to the Lunch Box Ledge

The last rappel

Rack: This could be debated and depends largely on your comfort. If you wanted to protect it as well as it can be, bring a full rack of cams to BD #4 Camalot (and possibly even a #5) with extras in the small to mid size, a set of tricams, slings, possible stoppers (though we didn't use any), 6-8 slings and 6-8 quickdraws.

A video of the climb:

Follow Grand Avenue from downtown Grand Junction west where it turns into Broadway and crosses the Colorado River. Continue on this road 8 miles through a neighbrhood and past many intersections (the road becomes Highway 340) until you reach a small dirt road marked with a sign for Lower Monument Canyon. This turnoff is notoriously easy to miss so be alert. There is a small parking lot here at this popular trailhead.

What does Independence Mean to You? Four days climbing in western Colorado including Unaweep Canyon, Monument Canyon, bouldering, and an ascent of Otto's Route on Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument.

Video Guide to Otto's Route

Otto's Route on

Otto's Route on

Monument Canyon- more info on climbing/hiking in Monument Canyon

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