You’ve been practicing at the gym and you think you’re finally ready. You’ve fallen, learned to belay safely and you’re all geared up to take your climbing game outside. Here in Colorado, we are spoiled with sport climbing routes. Clear Creek Canyon climbing offers some of the best crags around. With such awesome rock climbing near Denver, there’s plenty of crag to explore. With over 1,000 climbs in Clear Creek, there’s plenty of terrain for beginners and pros alike. Let’s focus in on some of the best beginner climbing areas in Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado.
The Best Climbing Area in Clear Creek for First-Time Lead Climbers
Looking to score your first outdoor lead? Look no further than East Colfax crag near Tunnel 6. I joined the countless people who have climbed my first outdoor sport route at East Colfax. With easy, over-protected slab, you’ll feel confident climbing up the 5.6 to 5.8 terrain here. There are even low bolted anchors, so you can practice cleaning without being high on the wall.
If that’s still too intimidating for you, swing over to the Play Pen, a crag right next door that offers 5.4s-5.6s that are perfect for younger kids or those who are a bit more hesitant. Oh, and if you’re cragging with seasoned vets, there are a couple of 11s to keep your more experienced climber friends happy while you learn.
Pro Tip: East Colfax gets packed on weekends. Opt to either head out during the week or get there early to beat the crowds.
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Long Beginner Climbing in Clear Creek Canyon
Once you’ve gotten your feet wet and you’ve sent a few sport routes, head towards Catslab near Tunnel 5 for some long outdoor rock climbing routes right near Denver. Catslab offers 90 to 100-plus foot climbs. Take your 70m rope and enjoy Skimbalshanks a 105-foot, three-star 5.8- that is just plain fun. Fans of moderates will love the varied rock and movement on this airy climb. The wall also boasts several 5.9s and a few routes in the ten minus range (all are a great time). This area is perfect for those who are getting cozy with moderates.
Too much? Check out the Other Critters wall right across the highway. There are a bit more options at Other Critters for those looking to climb in the 5.7 and 5.8 range. Furthermore, these routes are less committing and shorter in length. Just be sure to take a few extra alpine draws to avoid pesky rope drag.
Pro Tip: Catslab is a south facing wall. Avoid it at all costs in the middle of summer, but the sun-kissed wall makes a perfect post-work send spot in the cooler months.
The Best Multi-Pitch Routes for Beginners
You can’t get into multi-pitch sport routes in Colorado without putting Playin’ Hooky on your resume. Arguably one of the best routes in Clear Creek Canyon, this moderate multi-pitch is perfect for anyone who loves a well-designed moderate or is looking to get into multi-pitch. Head just past Tunnel 5 to reach this four-pitch climb. Playin Hooky starts off with the first two pitches of Solid Gold (12.a), don’t let the grade fool you, the first two pitches are moderate. The first pitch is a 5.9+ with plenty of slabby moves and a good pucker factor.
If you have walkie-talkies and a 70m rope, you can combine the first two pitches for one 200-foot mega send. Otherwise, you’re looking at a hanging belay at the second pitch. The second pitch of Solid Gold is a great 5.8 climb with plenty of air and flowy climbing. Reach the gynormous belay ledge for the start of Playin’ Hooky.
Now that you’re several hundred feet from the canyon floor, start up the two solid 5.8 pitches of Playin Hooky. There are anchors abound and the first pitch stops at a belay ledge where several other multi-pitch routes collide. It can be a bit of a fuster cluck when it’s crowded, so be sure to communicate with other climbing groups. Finish off with an airy, exposed pitch that wraps up with a cruxy boulder problem. Keep right to reach the bolts, even though the holds will beckon you to the left side.
Too difficult? Check out Yellow Dog Dingo (5.6/5.7) at nearby Other Critters for your first multi-pitch.
This is one of the most popular areas in the canyon, for good reason, it’s a fantastic climb! Be sure to communicate with other climbing parties and be prepared to wait at belay ledges and allow for plenty of extra time if you get stuck behind another group (we rappeled by headlamp the first time I climbed this one!). There are tons of anchors, so it’s important to do your homework and review topos prior to heading out. There are no walk-offs and several routes share the rap stations. If you send the first pitch in one go, you’ll still need to rappel to the hanging belay.
Best Place to Break Into Moderates
Got some experience and looking to expand? Check out High Wire. High Wire crag near Tunnel 2 offers some of the best moderate climbing in Clear Creek Canyon. The 5.8s on the far left side of the wall offers some spicy starts with committing bouldering moves on juggy holds. High Wire also has some of the best 5.9 routes in Clear Creek Canyon. Definitely make it a point to try 5th of July (stick clip the first bolt if you’re nervous) or give Everything Rhymes with Orange a spin. The slabby start is great for crimp lovers and the cruxy roof section is well-protected.
Pro Tip: This area is well-known. Arrive early or climb during the week. The shaded crag makes this spot ah-mazing afer a long day in the office.
Exposed Hot Spots
Once you’re cozy in the moderate range, check out Little Eiger. The tall walls, committing moves and challenging routes will give your head game a run for its money. The near-vertical rock is somewhat of a rarity in Clear Creek making Little Eiger worth a looksie. Located 3.3 miles past Tunnel 1 there are 40 fantastical routes to choose from. Most routes are in the upper tens, but there are plenty of fantastic moderates like First Impressions (a four-star 5.9 that is just bolted to perfection, Herbal Essence (5.9+) and Footloose (5.10a).
The left-most route, Is Our Children Learning is a 5.9 slab to bench climb that will use up all the rope. Our 70m was down to the knot when we climbed this route.
Pro Tip: The walls here are TALL. Bring a 70m rope and ALWAYS (always, always, always) tie a stopper knot at the end of your rope when belaying or rappelling.
This post only scratches the surface of Clear Creek Canyon climbing. If you really want to dive into it, pick up the Clear Creek Canyon climbing guide and get your climb on. Clear Creek Canyon is the top-notch spot for outdoor climbing near Denver. These spots are perfect for a full-day of craggin’ or a quick getaway for some after-work sends.