Independence Pass Bouldering

Aspen, Colorado, is home to one of America’s most famous ski resorts and today a playground for the jet-set. Quite literally — the Saturday market includes information booths for private jet charter companies. Restaurant prices are equivalent to those in Zürich, which among other things is famous for being the world’s most expensive city. Aspen also makes an appearance in the opening lyrics of the classic Can’t Believe It by T-Pain. With this in mind, it is incredible that Aspen is also a place with its own Center for Physics, which has been host to roughly 60 physicists at a time throughout the summer season since the mid 60’s. The Center is partially funded by the National Science Foundation and provides a place where scientists of diverse backgrounds can come together and discuss science without restraint, whether it be on the lush (aspen-covered) grounds of the Center itself or on the nearby hills, rivers, mountains… or in the case of Nick and I, boulders.

The road to Independence Pass from Aspen is littered with high-quality granite boulders of all shapes and sizes. Only scarce information exists, though the classic easily-accessible areas are fairly well-described in the relatively new Independence Pass Rock Climbing guide. Some of the newly-developed areas not mentioned in the guide are described on the excellent Independence Pass Bouldering web site, and info about the hot new testpieces can be found over at the excellent Mountain Project. A printed guide book is in the works by the fine locals responsible for the Independence Pass Bouldering site.

The Indy pass is really a climbers dream — beautiful surroundings, pristine forests and streams, perfect weather, incredible rock quality and solitude… in our two weeks of here, we only ran into one other group of climbers… until our last day when Rock & Ice magazine happened to be doing their photo camp right where we wanted to climb. The pros looked on as we crushed the warm up boulder… apparently one of the fall issues of the magazine will have a feature about the new bouldering at Independence Pass so check it out then!

On the first day we headed to the Upper Boulderfield, which is trivial to find because the boulders are literally in the parking lot. The landings are perfectly flat for the most part and the scenery is beautiful…

Posers hanging out at the Upper Boulderfield

On the SDS of Dependent Arete (V3) at Upper Boulderfield

Molly on Dependent Arete

The final moves of the really fun Dependency (V4) traverse

Nick on Dependency

On the tricky Demon Dog (V4)

The next day we headed to Camp 5 boulders along Lincoln Creek road. The centerpiece of this area is the amazing boulder that the guidebook calls simply “The Boulder”. One of the faces is a huge overhang and most of the problems pull through the lip onto the slab above.

Nick on a really fun steep and juggy V2 warmup

Me on the Camp 5 — the topout was scary with one pad so we dropped from the lip…  still fun moves

trying the topout

Along Lincoln Creek road is also a curious boulder called the Treasure chest. It’s steep and tall and hosts a handful of problems from V3-V6. It’s also just around the corner from a beautiful swimming hole. We climbed the beautiful dihedral problem Black Beard (V3) but our finger pads and muscles didn’t allow for anything harder.

Nick on the amazing Black Beard (V3)

Dihedral hand-foot match on Black Beard

On the weekend, we headed out with Daryl and Henri to the Wildrock area, where I was really excited to get on the classic V4 “Hot Pants”, which both Nick and I managed to send. We don’t have any photos of those problems, but I did get some snaps of Henri doing his first real bouldering!

Henri’s first boulder

Henri showing Nick proper mantling technique

Chalk must be applied to the entire arm for superior performance
At the end of the week, we finally managed to go check out a fantastic problem called Ice Cream Blow Job (ICBJ) that goes at V5. We warmed up on some awesome easier problems near the Whirlpool Arete.

Nick using the winning beta on a tough little V2

ICBJ is a stunning problem — the only line on a huge overhanging face. The problem starts deep in the hole at the base of the boulder and climbs out in a series of powerful, fun moves. The crux is definitely the second move, where you need to dyno from a crimp and a sloper to a decent jug. When your feet cut, the swing takes them straight into another boulder so the crux is actually keeping your feet up as you launch. After that you just have to keep it together through the tension moves and try not to think about the landing (and in our case, the fact that we only had one pad). 


We didn’t send it in our first session, but had to come back for round 2. We both quickly stuck the first hard move but then managed to botch the rest… but after a rest and some bananas we finally sent it!

Me staring down ICBJ

Nick on the final hard move of ICBJ

 With ICBJ out of the way and spirits high, we headed uphill to check out another beautiful boulder, the “Felix” that goes at V6. It’s a lovely low-ball right next to the road at the popular Grotto Wall. 

Nick on the start of Felix (V6)

The problem traverses around the entire arete on slopers and awesome heel hooks. Definitely easier if you are tall.

Nick doing the crux hand-foot match

Sticking the crux match on Felix — roadside attraction!

Final move before the topout

We both managed to send Felix pretty quickly on our second visit for an awesome conclusion to our two weeks of intermittent climbing at the pass. Looking forward to the next round…