Climbing and Mountaineering in Colorado
Climbing has been a popular activity in and around the area known today as Rocky Mountain National Park since the 1800's. The wide variety of peaks and granite rock formations
in the Park provide excellent opportunities for a wide spectrum of climbing including rock, big wall, snow and ice, bouldering and mountaineering. It is a mecca for local climbers, as well as those from around the world. Opportunities for climbing exist in many areas of the park including Lumpy Ridge and Longs Peak. Whichever activity you select, it is your responsibility to respect the areas you visit, minimize your impacts, and know and obey all park regulations.
With the advent of sport climbing in the United States, this recreational pursuit has increased significantly in recent years
. As the attractiveness of the sport continues to grow, it becomes necessary to balance this recreational activity with responsible management of the Park's resources. In balancing preservation versus use, the objective is to allow climbing to continue as freely as possible, while minimizing impacts on environmental resources and other park visitors. Respect for the environment and a commitment to Leave No Trace climbing techniques are required of the climbing community to maintain a mutually beneficial partnership.
With its long history of climbing activity, RMNP and the surrounding area has long been known for a strong traditional climbing ethic and concern for the resource by its users. The local climbing community does not accept practices such as placing bolts on existing routes or establishing new bolt-intensive routes and chipping or gluing new holds. Clean-climbing techniques are generally the norm. It is incumbent on the local climbing community, along with the Park, to inform and educate climbers new to the area of this fact for the ultimate protection and maintained access to climbing areas.Climbing opportunities
range from bouldering for a few hours to multi-day big wall experiences. Day use in the park requires no special registration or permit. For those climbers planning multi-day climbs, 3.5 or more miles from a trailhead, consisting of 4 or more technical pitches, a bivouac permit is required. Contact the Backcountry Office for information on permit procedures, backcountry conditions, and climbing regulations.
If you are interested in learning climbing, advancing your knowledge or would like a guide, the Colorado Mountain School is authorized to lead trips in Rocky Mountain National Park. See the RMNP concessionaire activities
page for information.
For safety considerations, climbers are encouraged to notify family or friends on route selections and contact them at the completion of any climb. Hazards in the form of violent weather (lightning, wind, snow, and rainstorms), snowfields, avalanches (even in summer), waterfalls, rivers, and the dangers associated with climbing, cause injuries every year and can ruin a climb. Be responsible. Always let a friend know your plans. You are responsible for notifying someone when you return. National Park Service rangers will not start a search until after a climber is reported overdue. Call 911 or the Dispatch office at (970) 586-1399.Minimum Impacts
- Natural resources… Chipping and drilling holds destroys the rock face. Avoid changing the rock to make the route easier. Accept nature on its terms.
- Anchors… Use removable protection and natural anchors whenever practical. Bolts and pitons permanently change the rock and placing them is a serious endeavor. Motorized drills are prohibited.
- Other users… Be courteous to other park users. Help educate non-climbers about your activity to reduce social impacts. Inform other climbers of Leave No Trace techniques.
- Human waste… Privies are not provided. Carry out all toilet paper and human waste or dig a 6-8 inch cathole at least 200 feet from water.
- Water… Purify any water by filtering, boiling, or chemical treatment even if it looks pristine. Wash water should be discarded at least 200 feet from any water source.
- Trash… All trash and garbage must be packed out. Leave the area cleaner than you found it.
- Fires… Fires are prohibited. Only stoves are allowed.
- Trails… There are approximately 350 miles of maintained trails, but most bivouac sites will require crosscountry travel. Know and use minimum impact hiking and camping techniques.
The Bivouac Permit
A bivouac is a temporary, open-air encampment established between dusk and dawn and is issued only to technical climbers. The permit also provides technical climbers with an advanced position on long, one-day climbs and/or climbs that require an overnight stay on the rock face. All bivouacs require permits. Permits must be in your possession while in the backcountry.
You must be within a designated bivouac area. Your bivouac should on a durable surface such as rock or snow as close to the base of the climb as possible or on the face. Reservations may be made for the restricted areas on or after March 1st, by mail, in person, and by phone (through May 15th).
A total of 7 nights may be used in the SUMMER. Stay no more than 3 nights at any spot, then move. An additional 14 nights are allowed in WINTER. In Winter, you may use a tent.
A vehicle/parking permit will be issued for all vehicles parked at the trailhead. Have the vehicle license number(s) available when you get your bivouac permit. The parking permit must be displayed on the vehicle dashboard.
- A climbing party is limited to a maximum of 4 people; all must climb.
- A site must be 3-1/2 miles or more from the trailhead.
- A climb must be 4 or more pitches, roped, technical climbing.
- A site must be off all vegetation. You must sleep on rock or snow.
- No tents are allowed. You may use a ground cloth.
- Pets, weapons, & vehicles are not allowed.
Raptor Protections Closures:
Since the 1960's, populations of raptors, or birds of prey, have declined dramatically nationwide. Loss of habitat, increases in pesticide use, and hunting have taken a great toll on their numbers. Recent restoration efforts, combined with stricter laws and key habitat protection, have stimulated a recovery of raptor populations across the country.
Rocky Mountain National Park contains excellent habitat for girds of prey. Golden eagles, kestrels, turkey vultures, peregrine and prairie falcons, and re-tailed and Cooper's hawks are especially suited to the park's craggy rock outcroppings.
Unfortunately, the same cliffs that lure raptors also attract rock climbers. The presence of climbers is likely to affect the nesting success of raptors.
In order for wildlife managers to gather information and ensure that raptors can nest undisturbed, specific areas within the park are closed temporarily to public use during nesting season. With you support and cooperation, birds of prey - superb indicators of an ecosystem's health - can thrive in Rocky Mountain National Park.
When and where:
Initial closures occur in March and April, when raptors return to the region and scout for nesting sites. Areas containing general habitat preferred by raptors are closed during this time. Once raptors have selected nesting spots, the initial closures are lifted or adjusted. The specific areas which raptors choose for nesting sites are closed.
Conscious Climbing, Ethics To Live By
"Renew your commitment to Leaving No Trace..."
Climbing has been a popular activity in the Front Range of Colorado since the turn of the century. The variety of rock formations, from sandstone to granite, provide excellent opportunities for a wide spectrum of climbing. As the popularity of the sport grows, it is important that climbers are aware of the increasing impacts to a fragile resource. Parks and open spaces are visited by millions of people, all intent on the pursuit of their own special interests. Balancing these recreational needs with the responsibility of protecting and preserving the natural resources of the area can be complex and controversial.
Respect for the environment and a commitment to low impact climbing techniques will enable climbers to work together with resource managers in a mutually beneficial partnership. A quality climbing experience in a wilderness or backcountry setting is a unique outdoor opportunity to challenge your climbing and your low impact skills.
Soaring the Winds:
Raptors, or birds of prey, are a symbol of freedom, grace, and power for many backcountry users. Climbers in particular seem to feel a special kinship with these magnificent predators, and enjoy the rare chance of looking down upon a bird of prey from above as it soars past a climb. Actually, climbers and birds of prey are often attracted to the same cliff environment. While climbers attempt the heights for pleasure, the birds are drawn to them because of the protection they offer to their nests and young. Raptors, while fierce predators as adults, have a fairly low reproductive rate and a high-risk lifestyle.
Golden eagles are highly sensitive to disturbance during their courtship and nesting cycle. Courtship and nest selection begins in February, and the eagles often rotate between several established nest sites in an area. Once the nest has been established, the eagles become committed to the nest and eggs, and disturbance is not as critical as during courtship. However, climbers near the nest site will cause the incubating eagle to leave the nest, exposing the eggs and the young to stress. Disturbance prior to fledging may cause the young birds to fall from the nest to their deaths.
Prairie falcons, peregrine falcons, and various owl species are also commonly encountered near climbing areas. Although some birds of prey vigorously defend their nests, raptors in general are very vulnerable to human impacts. In fact, their future and our enjoyment of them may well be dependent on our ability to respect their requirements for life. Closures may be put in place to protect raptors and other wildlife.
All Around You:
Climbing in parks and open spaces is a special experience. The sounds and beauty of nature surround the climber and create an environment which cannot be duplicated on urban climbing walls. The mosaic of rock formations, vegetation and water which give us so much pleasure are critical ingredients of life for the wildlife which inhabits these areas. Bats and packrats are fascinating inhabitants of cliff crevices, and can easily be located by the guano surrounding their roosts and nests. To avoid interactions with humans, black bears, mountain lions and bighorn sheep often haunt the rocky terrain sought by climbers. Canyon wrens, rock wrens and other birds are dependent on certain types of cliff habitat. Wildlife species which are disturbed from their specialized habitat requirements often have no place to go. Competition for available habitat is intense because many areas have already been disturbed by human activities.
Beneath Your Feet:
The approach to your climb can be considered an experience that must be endured, or an enjoyable part of the whole outdoor challenge. Whatever your attitude, it is critical that climbers understand the impact that human feet have on the ground and on the rock. Because many climbing areas are remote from established trails and different routes on a rock may start anywhere along the base, climbers can have enormous effects on vegetation. A direct access route straight up or down a hillside may uproot plants which have taken centuries to become established. Once erosion has begun in remote areas, it is very difficult to control. Streamside vegetation is an extremely important and limited habitat type in many western states, and is particularly vulnerable.
The access trails which we use to approach climbs, even if no formal trail exists, can be carefully chosen to avoid the heavy impact of the human foot. Rocky slopes will withstand foot traffic far better than delicate canyon bottoms, and will not present erosion problems as quickly. Where rock is not available, thoughtfully traversing slopes with minimum impact in mind can help protect natural areas. Often climbers can work with the local resource managers to develop access which is not damaging to the environment.
Wilderness and backcountry climbing areas often have an aura of primitive mystery and serenity, or a feeling that humans have rarely visited a particular area. As we have quietly enjoyed a rocky precipice or a shadowed canyon, we may have been rudely interrupted by the loud or annoying behavior of another park visitor. As more people flock to these special places, the only way to avoid conflict with one another is to respect others as we respect the environment. For climbers, this may mean dressing in earthtone colors, using voice signals only as needed for safe climbing, and recognizing that our human presence alone may impact other users and the environment.
A Climbing Ethic...
We are appealing to all climbers to take personal responsibility for the care of our fragile resources. To accomplish this goal, please adopt this code of ethics for low impact climbing:
- Accept responsibility for yourself and others.
- Pack out all litter. Bury human waste away from water and high use areas or pack it out.
- Use existing access trails to approach climbs. Avoid short-cutting trails.
- Know and respect historic and environmentally sensitive areas.
- Be considerate of wildlife and other users.
- Leave the rock and its environs in its natural condition. Avoid placing permanent protection.
- Renew your commitment to leaving no trace.
- Know and abide by local regulations.
Only by following a low-impact climbing ethic can we protect our outstanding natural features and their biological diversity for future generations!