Ouray Colorado Rock Climbing Overview
Ouray’s climbing history is really not that colorful. There was no Camp 4 here, and there’s not many, if any, classic historical routes. Route development sometimes takes more of a mining approach than a climbing one, and thus, not many routes where put in until recently.
Native Americans of course were the first residents of this area after the cavemen and dinosaurs. In some cases they traveled to the high peaks. It’s unlikely they were doing much climbing as free soloing would have been the game of the day, and free soloing a San Juan first ascent is not such a good idea in most cases. The white settlers eventually succeeded in kicking out the Indians they didn't kill. Those settlers consisted of miners, ranchers, and prostitutes. For some unfortunate reason, the prostitutes were the next to go, leaving the miners, ranchers, and livestock to fend for themselves. The miners and ranchers didn't like each other much and still don't to this day. I don't know what the cause of this was, but it likely had something to do with lack of prostitutes.
The 1930’s were an active time for the San Juans. The Hayden Survey climbed many of the areas peaks, and the San Juan Mountaineers climbed the remaining summits.
The majority of the lower rocks in the valley have seemed to not receive any attention from those not wielding dynamite until ice climbers started venturing to the area in the 70’s. Royal Robbins had a climbing school in Telluride for awhile, and even John Long and Lynn Hill visited, leaving behind some first ascents. It doesn’t seem that they made it to this side of the hill to climb however.
Lyle Dean, Bill Whitt, Bill McTiernan, Dave Bangert, Mike O’Donnell and Michael Covington were likely the modern day pioneers of Ouray Rock. These guys mostly developed traditional routes like the ones on the Pool Wall, some on the Sandias, and the Roadside Attraction crack. Not a whole lot of routes went in on rock as previous ethics and approaches to rock climbing limited what could be done.
Michael Gilbert took a modern approach to route development at the Pool Wall around 2000 and others followed suit. A lot of great climbing routes were created once the loose rock was removed. Now, many of the routes in Ouray have some or all bolts for protection. New routes often require much cleaning or removing of loose rock and dirt prior to being climbed.
Today, Ouray has a well rounded selection of climbing routes for almost all abilities. The approaches are often short and most of the routes are very close to town. This makes for a convenient atmosphere to sample the many rock types Ouray has to offer.
Rock Climbing Areas Near Ouray
Rotary Park - Family-style climbing at its finest. Safe, easily accessed one pitch climbs. It is far enough off the road so the family dog won't get run over in traffic but steps away from public facilities including BBQ grills and picnic tables.
The Pool Wall - Just north of the Ouray hot springs pool. Approach times range from five to fifteen minutes.
The Sandias - Just west of Ouray. Head up the Old Twin Peaks Trail at the intersection of Queen and Pinecrest. Approach times range from five to fifteen minutes.
Many other climbing areas exist near Ouray including Jimmy Cliff, Ice Park, The Overlook, Red Mountain Pass, Camp Bird Road and others. In fact, there are so many routes that I wrote a guide book with pictures and details entitled "Ouray Rock Climbing Guide" and it is available in town or online at the mountain shop, Ouray Mountain Sports. It is 82 pages long and includes details and photos on the routes and I last updated it in the fall of 2010.
If you are new to rock climbing and or looking for lessons or instruction on rock climbing, the local experts are San Juan Mountain Guides and offer year round training and instruction in both rock and ice climbing near Ouray and all over Southwest Colorado.
About the Author: Jason Nelson is a professional rock and ice climber that currently splits his time between Ouray Colorado and Flagstaff Arizona and travels around the world conquering rock and ice challenges whereever he can. He also owns and operates his professional web design company, Visual Adventures.