|Approaching Independence Monument
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, 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)
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)
|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).
|Otto's Route follows the crack system right of center
then the top via the right skyline
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.
Check out this helmet cam video guide for Otto's Route
Otto's Route on Mountainproject.com
Otto's Route on Summitpost.org
Monument Canyon- more info on climbing/hiking in Monument Canyon