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The Yellow Spur, Eldorado Canyon, Colorado

July 16, 2004

Author: Larry Earley

Trip Participants: Larry Earley and Steve Johnson

We arrived at Eldorado Canyon around 8AM to a perfect day. Clear and cool but the forecast is for hot weather and thunder storms. Steve and I will climb the Yellow Spur (10a). Steve is a guide for the Bob Culp Climbing School. I wanted to climb this classic but couldn’t get a partner so I got a local guide to take me up. Steve is a strong looking guy who leads 12 trad. He is not sure of my ability so he wants to check me out before we jump on a seven pitch classic climb that is pretty tough. We walk up to the climb on the Lower West Face of the Redgarden Wall. We stop at a short climb called Mr. Natural (8+). Steve leads this pitch and lowers off. I try it so he can see if I know how to climb. He has been told by many clients in the past that they can climb 5.10 and really can’t. Mr. Natural is a nice crack climb that I cruise. We pack up and walk up to the start of Yellow Spur. It is a complicated route that is hard at first to see. Later it makes sense.

The Rossiter guide book calls Yellow Spur “the highest rating in the Best of Boulder Climbs survey”. I have read the route description, seen photos on the web and read the history of this classic. First ascent by Layton Kor and Dave Dornan in 1959. FFA by Royal Robbins and Pat Ament in 1964. Today we are the only people on the route. Very unusual.

Steve climbs up the right (5.9) start and moves left to the overhang. A hard 5.10 start is also available directly under the overhang. Chalk is everywhere. There is an old piton at the crux. The weather has changed to clouds and the air feels damp. Steve leads the first two pitches as one. He places little pro and quickly is setting up a belay. I am not really warmed up but pull the overhang. It is only one pumpy move and then eases off. Easy climbing for 50 feet gets you to a cool dihedral. Its 5.8 with two tricky moves and two old pitons. It would be hard to combine both pitches if you protect the 5.6 sections since the route wanders and rope drag would be bad at the 5.8 section. Since Steve placed no pro, rope drag was no problem. The weather is holding so we move on. Steve leads quickly combining pitches 3 and 4. There is an awkward spot on pitch three near a piton. Steve places pro just above piton so it must be harder than it looks or piton not too good. Pitch 3 is mixed 5.7-8. Steve places no gear on the pitch 4 section. Its only 5.4. Steve now plans to lead pitches 5 and 6 together. This will be harder climbing. Pitch 5 is very cool. It starts with an ascending hand traverse and disappears around a corner. The pitch is solid 5.8 most of the way. I turn the corner and the move is so cool. Smear the feet with good hands and step up and around to a good stance. Now you can see where you are going. Now it looks like a classic climb. But wait. There is a rope going way up but no pieces in the crack. Steve is running it out 50 feet past many great gear placements. This pitch could protect very well. I guess he didn’t need any pro. I am climbing well up through the steady 5.8 section and get to the pitch 6 area where the climbing gets steeper and thinner. This is the 5.9 pitch. Many old pitons in the crack now. Steve puts in a couple of pieces. He skips the pitons. Most look ok. All look old. As I approach the crux I see several old pitons bent, broken and falling out of cracks. There are two nice bolts. The climbing gets super thin with feet and hands. The arete is now steep. You can still keep most of your weight on your feet. There is an escape to the left called the Robbins Traverse (5.8). Looks thin too but much easier. Steve has taken the hard way so I must follow the rope. I wanted a classic adventure and I got one. I struggle through each move. Tricky smears and matching hands and feet. Bad side pulls and thin little ledges. There is one bent and mangled piton that screams out “someone took a good fall here in the past”. The crux is marked 10a in Rossiter guide but called a spot of 10b in Stewart Green’ s Rock Climbing Colorado. It feels like 10b/c for ten feet. Steve clipped the two bolts but again skips the old pitons. Pulling the crux move on two thin hands I smear two steps and reach a nice quarter inch foot hold. Didn’t think I would make it! I make a little traverse right and up to the belay. Wow. The exposure was world class. That didn’t bother me since it took all my concentration to stay on the rock. The final pitch is an awesome 5.6 right along the knife edge arete to the top of the rock. Two pieces at the start and then a 50 foot runout to the last piece. Views are great. Thunder cracks. Clouds are steady but no rain yet. Traverse right along top of rock and then down a little to a tree with slings. Easy down climb or rap half rope. Downclimb some more. Easy to get lost. Find another rap. Downclimb and look for another rap sling. One final rap and we are down. Very tricky route finding. Great climb. A real classic. Now it starts to rain. Only a light rain.

We hike up to the Redgarden Wall-Upper West Face area. Steve knows a great climb that can be done in the rain. Darkness ‘til Dawn (9+) is a 100 foot single pitch climb that is protected by a large overhang 200 feet above. The climb is a dihedral with a thin crack in the corner and a larger crack running up the side wall. There was a lot of chalk so someone has been climbing this route. The rain is now coming down harder but the climb and belay stays dry. Amazing. The pitch is sustained and steep. The crux is in the middle of the climb where the feet turn from edges to smears. There are great hand jams on the side wall all the way except where the feet get thin. I am tired and have to rest at the crux. Above the climbing gets a little easier. Its been raining over a half hour pretty hard too. The climb is still dry. Remember this climb for a rainy day.

The rain finally stops and we walk out. Great day in Eldorado. Not too busy on a Friday. As we near the car some new groups head up to climb. The weather is clearing. Its only 4PM. As we approach the Bastille we see parties on several routes starting up.

Steve Johnson is available as a climbing guide (303) 417-9887 home or (720) 635-6068. Steve is very safe, leads hard climbs, leads fast and knows Eldorado Canyon. The Bob Culp Climbing School has a web page www.bobculp.com. Bob still guides himself regularly and has many first ascents of classic Eldorado Canyon climbs including the Naked Edge (11b) with Layton Kor in 1962.


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