Friday, December 21, 2012

AREA PROFILE: Glenwood Canyon


Glenwood Canyon is a major canyon along the Colorado River in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. It is a recreational hub for biking, hiking, riversports, spelunking and climbing as well as a major travel artery for Colorado and the west. The Cambrian and sedimentary rocks soar 2,000 feet above the river, providing dramatic scenery and unique geologic architecture. The canyon's limestone is home to many caves and other dramatic formations. Glenwood Canyon is an important travel corridor and during its history has been home to a railway, a bike path, a two-lane highway, and now a four-lane interstate which was completed in 1992. The Shoshone Dam and Powerplant, operated by Excel and located immediately downstream of the Hanging Lake recreation area, was completed in 1909 and utilizes hydroelectric energy to provide power to nearly 12,000 homes in the Glenwood Springs area.

From a climbing and hiking perspective, Glenwood Canyon is host to innumerable opportunities for recreation and exploration. Glenwood Canyon is in the White River National Forest and several of the trails can access, with a little proper preparation and know-how, the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Several of the canyon's walls have been developed with both sport and trad routes, the most popular being No Name for traditional climbing and the Puoux for sport. Other types of climbing exist, however, including grade IV routes on the International Buttress in the heart of the canyon and Grizzly Creek Canyon's Mudwall as well as ice climbing in various locations. Glenwood Canyon is not only popular with hikers and climbers but with rafters, bikers, kayakers, inner-tubers, I-70 truckers, roller-skaters, sun bathers, and folk of all other sort. Most seem to coexist peacefully despite a premium on parking.


Record high water in Glenwood Canyon- June 2011
Glenwood Canyon has a unique and storied history. In the late 19th century the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad completed its tracks through the canyon, providing the first travel route through the canyon corridor. These tracks are owned and operated today by Union Pacific and are frequently used for coal transportation and by Amtrak. In 1906 the Taylor State Road was completed through the canyon. This highway was eventually paved. In 1992 the construction of I-70 was completed through the canyon. This section of I-70 was one of the last pieces of I-70 to be completed and, at the time, was the most expensive section of road in the interstate-highway system. Great care was taken during the construction of the I-70 project to preserve the canyon’s natural beauty and minimize the environmental impact. The project included 40 bridges and viaducts, miles of retaining walls, and three major tunnels. The entire system also includes considerable technology for monitoring and controlling traffic, accidents, and rockfall along this section of the interstate.

Glenwood Canyon also is home to the Shoshone Dam and Powerplant. When this project was completed in 1909 it made Glenwood Springs one of the first fully-powered cities in the United States.

Glenwood Canyon is also home to several major hot springs, many of which can be enjoyed for free at river level during low water. The Yampah spring is the largest and is the source for the ultra-popular Hot Springs Pool in Glenwood Springs. Old West gunslinger Doc Holliday died in Glenwood Springs where he came to find some relief for his tuberculosis in the Yampah spring.

Teddy Roosevelt frequented the Hotel Colorado at the mouth of the canyon many times during his life. Supposedly, one day after a failed bear hunt Hotel Colorado maids presented him with a stuffed bear made of scrap material as a consolation for failing to bag the real thing. As legend would have it, Teddy Roosevelt presented the bear to his daughter, the idea caught on, and the toy now known as the teddy bear was born. Teddy Roosevelt, interestingly, wasn't the only celebrity who frequented the Hotel Colorado. It was a mountain retreat for many of America's elite of the time. President William Howard Taft, The "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, "Diamond" Jack Alterie, and even Al Capone made frequent trips to the hotel. The building has such a storied (and even violent) history that it is rumored to be haunted. Almost every Glenwood Springs local either has or knows someone who has a Hotel Colorado ghost story.


There are numerous quality hikes in Glenwood Canyon, many of which offer exciting potential for more in-depth exploration. The Glenwood Canyon Bike Path is a concrete trail that follows the river for the entire length of the canyon from near Dotsero to Glenwood Springs. This 18-mile trail is popular for joggers, bikers, and casual hikers.

Scenery along the Grizzly Creek Trail
The Grizzly Creek trail is an 8-mile trek (roundtrip) up a wide and rugged canyon along a perennial creek that provides the water supply for the City of Glenwood Springs. This popular trail is used by hikers of all abilities, from restless I-70 drivers shaking their legs after a long driving shift to casual hikers who rarely go past the first mile to full-on adventurers who continue well-past the seeming "end" of the trail, perhaps all the way into the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

The Jess Weaver trail follows No Name Canyon, the next drainage west of Grizzly Creek. No Name also offers miles of hiking in a beautiful canyon setting.

The most popular trail, however, is the Hanging Lake trail which climbs 1,200 strenuous feet to a verdant oasis of waterfalls and lakes. Surely this is one of the most popular hiking trails in this part of the state and for good reason. While Hanging Lake can be very busy during the summer, especially on weekends, solitude can still be found in the off-season. Fall is one of the best times to visit the canyon. The combination of colors in the beautiful lake setting is breathtaking. Wintertime can be treacherous, as dangerous ice can form in the canyon. For those with knowledge of ice travel and ice climbing the trip can be very rewarding.


Glenwood Canyon has several quality climbing areas that offer a variety of climbing adventures. The rock in Glenwood Canyon is a mixture of limestone, quartzite, and granite of mixed quality. In the 1960's and 70's, legendary Colorado climber and occasional Glenwood local Layton Kor spent much time training on the rock in Glenwood Canyon for more heralded first ascents across the Southwest, such as mega-classics the Naked Edge (III 5.9 A3) in Eldorado Canyon, The Yellow Wall (V 5.8 A4) on the Diamond on Longs Peak, the West Buttress (VI 5.10 A3) on El Cap, and the Kor-Ingalls (III 5.9+) route on Castleton Tower just to name a few. Relics of Kor's extensive exploration of the walls of Glenwood Canyon can be found in surprising places, from random pitons on the Puoux to established routes on the Mudwall to unknown random gear on many of the canyon's most obscure walls. It has been a common experience of modern Glenwood Canyon climbing pioneers to be climbing up dirty towers and faces, thinking they were establishing a brand new route only to find pitons and anchors likely placed there by Kor.
Ironing Board Direct (5.10b) in No Name Canyon

Despite this history and the immense wealth of large walls in the Canyon, it is a relatively untapped and under-appreciated climbing destination. There are several contributing factors to the obscurity of Glenwood Canyon's climbing. One is the presence of I-70. At crags like the Airy Block and the Puoux, the noise of numerous semis, cars, and SUVs is certainly enough to damper your experience. I-70 also takes up alot of space and limits the portals of access, making the approach to many walls quite a task, particularly those that are located on the opposite side of the river. The other deterring factor is the large band of loose, blocky quartzite that dominates much of the canyon terrain. While this large layer has yielded some interesting climbs and crags such as the Mudwall and the Deadhorse wall, its gnarly character eliminate all but hardened adventure climbers. Still, there are at least half a dozen established crags of both traditional and sport climbing, and there is amazing potential for expansion if you are willing to put in a little work. Here is a list of the most-popular Glenwood Canyon climbing destinations:

The Puoux- a limestone sport crag near the No Name exit. The Puoux (pronounced “Pukes”) offers easily accessible sport climbing immediately off of I-70 with difficulty ranging from 5.7 to 5.14. This fairly popular spot keeps the locals in shape. Some of the established sport lines include:

No Name 1 (aka Graybeard)Sport15.8This excellent pitch is one of the better moderate routes at the wall
Pass the DitchieSport15.9Scramble up to a ledge and climb an arcing dihedral past a piton to the anchors. Fun!
No Name 5 (Roadside Attraction)Sport15.10aPolished and popular. This is probably the most frequently climbed pitch in the canyon
No Name 4 (aka Moral Decay)Sport15.10aAnother good moderate route on solid rock. 60 ft up a slab then onto a flake
Youth Warm UpSport15.11cOn the left side of the Main Wall at the Puoux. Challenging and popular route.
No Name 18 (aka Kors Korner)Sport15.11dA challenging route in the middle of the main wall.
Urban CowboySport15.12aOne of the best 5.12s around. Steep, perfectly bolted. Does have some manufactured holds.
The BirdmanSport15.13aA 55 ft route on the left side of the main wall. Part of recent development at the upper grades
Fault LineSport15.13dA local test piece! A photo of Joe Kinder on this difficult route accelerated the popularity of the Puoux

No Name Canyon- located just off the Jess Weaver trail, this area has several single-pitch trad climbing routes from 5.4 to 5.12. Here are some of the No Name favorites:

Second Dihedraltrad15.6A high-quality corner, just to the right of the Pink Face. Perfect first lead.
Jungle Booktrad15.7An open corner just to the right of Unnamed aka "The Ironing Board" (5.9)
Electric Butterflytrad15.8A fun, moderate climb next to the power shack just before the footbridge over No Name Creek. Can be done as TR
The Ironing Boardtrad15.9A right-trending splitter with challenging gear placements and a 5.10b direct variation
The Pink Facetrad15.10+A long (110') splitter just left of Second Dihedral.
Lone Pine Directtrad15.10Down and left from the Pink Face heading towards a pine tree. Thin splitter with finger to hand sized moves
Lightning Bolt Cracktrad15.10West side of creek on the Poison Ivy Wall.
Lost Dogtrad15.12-A recently posted route that comes right out of the creek. Three bolts in addition to finger sized gear. Possible #3 Camalot sized piece

The Neighborhood- a sport crag near the canyon mouth just east of Glenwood Springs on the south side of the river. This little spot is easily accessible for Glenwood locals as an afterwork/school climb. The lines rate from 5.9 to 5.12b

Planet Janetsport15.9+On the far right side of the Zipper Buttress. Short climb that follows a unique "groove".
California Dreamingsport15.9+Right-facing dihedral 20 feet left of where trail meets crag.
Git 'Er Donesport15.10cRight side of Zipper Buttress starting in a chimney.
Zippersport15.11cA 7-bolt climb sometimes called the best 5.11 in Glenwood Canyon
Enter the Dragonsport15.12aThe feature route on the Dragon Cave wall and one of the best 5.12's in the canyon.
Bitch Slapsport15.12bShares first bolts with The Tube but veers left.

Big (or almost big) Wall:

The Internationaltrad185.10+, Grade IVA massive Grad IV climb in-between the Shoshone and Hanging Lake exits on south bank of river
Mudflap Girltrad105.10, Grade IVA monster, chossy wall about a mile up Grizzly creek on the west side of canyon. Can be seen from I-70

A non-exhaustive list of some of the other, less-traveled climbing crags in Glenwood Canyon:

The Airy Block- an interesting fin of granite with several good moderate trad climbs. The only catch is it's right next to the freeway...

Dead Horse Crag- this quartzite crag is accessed off the trail to Hanging Lake. There are several climbs of surprising quality from 5.9 to hard 5.11. Most require some gear to supplement bolts.

Fountain Buttress- Some of the best rock in the canyon, but difficult to access due to a river crossing. A tyrolean is sometimes set-up here, otherwise you will have to use a boat, swim or wait until very low water and walk across. Despite the excellent rock, classic routes, and massive potential, this rock sees surprisingly little use.

The Grey Slabs- Slabby, limestone climbing on the canyon's western end. Access by parking near the Hot Springs or Vapor Caves and hiking upstream along the bike path. Good moderate sport routes.

The Surgery Buttress- This limestone crag on the canyon's eastern end is also under-appreciated. There are about 15 climbs here from 5.9 to 5.12a.

Biking- The Glenwood Canyon Bike Path offers 18 miles of uninterrupted concrete pathway through a beautiful canyon setting. This trail is mellow and popular and provides a nice opportunity for a good workout/escape.

Rafters in Glenwood Canyon
Spelunking-The limestone of Glenwood Canyon has formed many caves, some of which have been explored and some of which have not. The Glenwood Caverns, high on the northern side of the canyon near Glenwood, offers established cave tours in a family-oriented amusement park setting. Undeveloped caves such as Cave of the Clouds offer something for those with a sense of adventure looking for something off-the-beaten-path.

River Sports- River sports are one of the most popular recreational activities in Glenwood Canyon. There are many options for kayaking and rafting within the canyon ranging from beginner to expert only. Local commercial outfitters run half & full day raft trips down the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon. This is also an excellent place to learn and hone your kayaking skills. The runs include (from top to bottom):

SectionPut-inTake-outLength <2,000cfs (low) 2,000-5,000 cfs (medium)5,000-10,000 cfs (high)>10,000 cfs (cranking)
Dotsero-Bair Ranch Bike Path east trailhead Bair Ranch3 milesclass I+class I+class I +class II
Barrel SpringsHanging LakeShoshone Power Plant2 milesclass IV+ (P)class V (P)class V (P)class V+ (P)
ShoshoneShoshone Power PlantGrizzly Creek2 milesclass IIIclass IIIclass IVclass IV+
GrizzlyGrizzly CreekTwo Rivers Park6 milesclass IIclass II+class IIIclass III

Recreation is available in Glenwood Canyon year round. In the summer the canyon is busy with people pursuing adventures of all sorts. In the winter, however, the narrow canyon is mostly shaded and cold but you can still hike and climb. There is, in fact, a long-running tradition amongst kayakers to float the Shoshone section of the Colorado River on New Year’s Day.

Glenwood Canyon is accessible from I-70 just east of Glenwood Springs. There are several exits from the freeway from which to launch your adventure, the most popular are No Name (exit 119), Grizzly Creek (exit 121), and Hanging Lake (exit 125).

The only legal place to camp inside Glenwood Canyon is at the developed Glenwood Canyon Resort at the No Name exit. The resort offers cabins, showers, rec rooms, and tent sites.

Mountain Project climbing pages:

No Name Canyon
The Neighborhood

Glenwood Hot Springs- The World's Largest Hot Springs Pool.

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1 comment:

  1. Great Article! Thanks for highlighting camping at the Glenwood Canyon Resort!