Rock climbing around Aspen is a popular sport to practice with friends

Erica Robbie | The Aspen Times
Jim Sellers, from Basalt, often takes five months out of the year to travel to climb throughout the world. Sellers said South Africa is one of the coolest places he's visited to climb.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Climbing Glossary

A few terms to help get you started.

-Pitch: the length of a climb between two belay points

-Crag: a cliff-face with many routes

-Jug: a large or great hold

-Crimper: a tiny hold (opposite of “jug”)

-Sloper: a hold with no edge

-Whipper: a big fall

-Chausey/chossy: loose rock

-Whipper: a big fall

-Pumped: the feeling of sore or overworked muscles

-Dihedral: an inside corner

-Jam: a ‘jammed’ body part; i.e. a hand jam, finger jam, knee jam, etc.

Source: Local climbers Colter Hinchliffe, Jim Sellers, Katrina DeVore, Bridget Boyle, and Joseph King

On high mountain passes or river valleys near Aspen, it’s common to look up and see rock climbers clinging to the side of a cliff, executing hair-raising moves as they work their way up the rocks.

Aspen native Katrina DeVore said there’s a distinction between rock climbing and other sports that makes it stand out.

“A lot of sports are super-agro,” said DeVore, who just returned home from a climbing trip in Thailand. “Climbing is awesome because everyone’s just stoked. Your friends are at the bottom cheering you on, and you want to see your friends make it.”

Colter Hinchliffe, who also is a passionate climber from Aspen, agreed with DeVore and added that with climbing, “there’s something for everyone.”

“You can climb at your edge,” Hinchliffe said. “Mostly it’s just a great time to spend with friends in the mountains.”

This sense of camaraderie and support, combined with Aspen’s access to hundreds of routes off Independence Pass and throughout the valley, make it easy to understand why climbing is one of the more popular summer sports in the area.

During these seasonably warmer months — when ice climbing is not an option — there are two general types of climbing with ropes — “trad,” or traditional climbing, and sport climbing.

In trad climbing, climbers must place the necessary protection, such as nuts and cams (see fact box above), into the rock during their ascent, whereas in sport climbing, protection is already bolted onto the surface of the rock.

With its scenic views and plethora of routes, Independence Pass is one of the most common destinations for climbers locally.

Basalt-born climbing enthusiast Jim Sellers pointed to Rifle Mountain Park as one of the best climbing spots locally and internationally.

“People come from all over the world to stay there for the summer and rock climb,” said Sellers, who in the past several years has devoted five months out of each year to travel and climb throughout the world.

Sellers said Rifle Mountain Park also boasts some of the most challenging rock terrain in the country.

Other local climbing routes can be found in Redstone, Glenwood Canyon and New Castle, Hinchliffe said, adding that there are also some routes up the Fryingpan Valley.

At this time of year, the best time of day to go climbing is either early in the morning or later in the evening in an effort to avoid the heat.

Aside from the discomfort of those beaming, midday sun rays, more heat means more sweat, which makes climbing and holding onto small holes especially difficult, Sellers said.

Most routes in the area, whether they are trad or sport routes, have a two-bolt anchor at the top of the route, which allows climbers to descend without leaving any gear behind, Hinchliffe said.

Hinchliffe said he and his friends have noticed that many 20- to 30-year-old anchors have been replaced recently with new ones, which he said is “a great and selfless service.”

He also noted the work of climbing legends Bob Wade, Tom Perkins and Neal Beidleman, who bolted many of the local routes that climbers continue to take advantage of today.

“Those same routes now serve as our playground, and I am so thankful,” Hinchliffe said.

To learn more about the origins of the routes up the pass, Hinchliffe said one of his go-to resources is Perkins’ “Independence Pass Rock Climbing II,” which also offers descriptions and ratings of specific routes.

Many climbers also often refer to, an online rock-climbing guide that has information on more than 144,000 routes across the world.