Aspen climbers get playground back
July 9, 2013
Climbers of all abilities likely will be able to return by September to a favorite old stomping ground where Aspenites used to flock 25 years ago.
Gold Butte, just downstream from Stein Park along McLain Flats Road, was acquired in January by Pitkin County with the intent of getting climbers back on the Entrada Sandstone slopes by fall. The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees will review a management plan for the area at its meeting Thursday. If it is approved, interested climbers and volunteers from a Boulder-based organization called Access Fund will have a green light to undertake the work necessary to reopen the long-abandoned area, said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of the open space program.
"The basic goal of this is to get climbing back open to the public," Tennenbaum said. "It's not the next El Dorado Canyon, but it's nice climbing right next to Aspen."
El Dorado Canyon is prime climbing ground outside Boulder. Gold Butte is a unique acquisition for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.
"It's our first foray into rock climbing," Tennenbaum said. "It's going to be one of those little gems that people find right in Aspen."
Getting Gold Butte open has been a longtime goal of Bob Wade, a climber and owner of Ute Mountaineer in Aspen.
"We really haven't been able to climb there for 25 years," he said.
Henry Stein and his family owned Gold Butte. After Stein's death, it became off-limits to climbers because of potential liability for accidents. But in the 1970s and early '80s, it was popular with climbers such as Wade, Harvey Carter, Michael Kennedy and Lou Dawson. They and others pioneered more than 40 routes that climb 40 to 80 feet up the soft rock.
There are routes for climbers of all abilities, Wade said. Some routes are perfect for beginners making the transition from climbing walls to the outdoors. Some pitches challenge even accomplished climbers.
"With its big, southwest-facing cirque, it can be climbable during the winter at certain times," Wade said.
The pitches are "pretty modest" compared with many climbing areas in Colorado, he said, but what it lacks in pitch it makes up for in proximity to Aspen and world-class views. The top of Gold Butte provides a unique view of Aspen, the big peaks that surround the town and the Slaughterhouse area of the Roaring Fork River. The playground, less than a mile from Aspen's boundary, is easily accessible by bicycle from the Rio Grande Trail.
"It's been a long time coming," Wade said. "For the climbing community, it's going to see a lot of use.
"I hope people like it as much as I do."
Assuming the management plan is approved, it will be up to Access Fund and the climbers to create access slopes, clear the climbing routes of loose and dangerous debris and place anchor bolts at the top of the routes. If Aspen-area climbers are up to the challenge, climbing could commence by September, according to Tennenbaum.
Wade is starting to rally climbers for the required volunteer work.
The open space board will review the Gold Butte management plan at 9 a.m. at the Plaza 1 meeting room.