Ethan Chase, on Alpine Bouldering for Beginners

Ethan is 19 and has been bouldering for 11 years. According to our calculations, this means he’s been bouldering for over half his life. He works at EVO LOU as a part-time Setter, Front Desk Overlord, and Youth Programs Coach.

In honor of Beat the Heat this month, we asked Ethan for local beta on his favorite areas for alpine bouldering, specifically for beginners.

We focused mainly on Guanella Pass’s 7-Mile Boulders (where he recently dispatched his hardest send, “Mind Matters,”(V12) ). We also asked him about Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP): what to bring, what to climb, and what to expect.

Ethan's Send of "Mind Matters" (V12) at Guanella Pass

"Mind Matters" (V12) Photo: Emmett Cookson(Not recommended for beginners)

GUANELLA PASS'S 7-MILE BOULDERS

ABOUT: 

Guanella is relatively low as far as alpine bouldering goes. It’s one of the first areas to thaw out, and the last one to be snowed in—so it’s popular in the early season and the late season. However, that means in July and August there are bugs—bring your bug spray.

GETTING THERE:  

Get off I-70 at Georgetown and follow signs for Guanella Pass. It will take you through ‘downtown,’ which is historic and small. Once you hit the road at the end of Georgetown, head up the mountain and drive for 7 miles, (hence the name ‘7-Mile Boulders’). The river passes from the left side to the right side of the road. You’ll come to a little bridge the road goes over. Park just past the bridge, and then the trail is just before the bridge on the left.

The Traverse to the Cars

EVO Homies walking BACK to the cars; you'd want to be walking the other direction to reach the trailhead, but on the same side of the road.
EVO Homies walking BACK to the cars; you'd want to be walking the other direction to reach the trailhead, but on the same side of the road.Photo: Emmett Cookson

APPROACH: 

Five minutes, and almost flip-flop-able.

BOULDERS FOR BEGINNERS: 

Guanella is the best option for beginners. The rock is high quality, the approach is easy, and there are plenty of V0 – V4’s. However, many are unnamed. We took pictures and had graphic-savvy Kris Ugarizza indicate the start and finish of several problems on the first two boulders you’ll come to. Protection: One or two pads and a spotter.

BOULDER # 1 FOR BEGINNERS

This is the first boulder you'll come to on the trail.
This is the first boulder you'll come to on the trail.

BOULDER # 1 FOR BEGINNERS

This is the 'front' of boulder # 1
This is the 'front' of boulder # 1

BOULDER # 2 FOR BEGINNERS

This is the second boulder you will come to along the trial.
This is the second boulder you will come to along the trial.

BOULDER # 2 FOR BEGINNERS

This is the other side of boulder # 2
This is the other side of boulder # 2

After the first two boulders, continue down the trail, and you’ll pass ‘Bessie’ (V10, also not recommended for beginners), which is totally sandbagged.

BESSIE - NOT FOR BEGINNERS

After Bessie, carry on down the trail. You will find two more boulders in the same clearing that are good for beginners. The first one has a V6 called ‘Crap Traverse’ and it’s called ‘Crap’ for a reason. (If you’re bouldering V6, don’t bother with this one. There are better things.) The second boulder in the clearing has a great V3 on the ‘front.’ Protection: One or two pads and a spotter.

BOULDER # 3 FOR BEGINNERS

"Yeah, up there." Photo: Kim Shelton

You’ll see a short path through the woods to the final boulder that’s good for beginners.  It’s a V4 and involves some super fun heel-hooks and jumping.

BOULDER # 4 FOR BEGINNERS

Try hard face 101
Try hard face 101 Photo: Emmett Cookson // Climber: Leah

After passing this V4, the boulders get progressively harder, going all the way up to V13. Beta on the more difficult problems can be found on 27-Crags.

DON’T GO TO GUANELLA PASS WITHOUT: 

  • Bug spray
  • A rain jacket
  • The weather forecast

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

ABOUT: 

Cost: It’s $20 for a day pass and $80 for an annual pass, therefore totally worth the annual pass. Plus, the money supports Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and who doesn’t want to do that?

Areas: There are two main alpine areas for bouldering in Rocky: Emerald Lake and Chaos Canyon. Chaos Canyon is comprised of Lower Chaos, Upper Chaos, Upper-upper Chaos, and Way-the-hell-up-there Chaos.

Emerald Lake has notably fewer boulders than Chaos Canyon, but they’re all very high quality. And the setting, like most alpine bouldering, is beautiful. Chaos Canyon goes from very developed in Lower Chaos, to scarcely developed the higher up you venture, (into Way-the-hell-up-there Chaos). Always be thinking about what your hike out will look like. For example, are you going to be hiking out in the dark?

GETTING THERE: 

Parking is the crux of RMNP.  If you’re leaving from Louisville, you’ll want to depart at 6 am to get a parking spot, or earlier if you’re going on the weekend.

If the parking lot is full, you can take the shuttle, but being on a bus with a crash pad is really not ideal. I usually just do loops in the parking lot until a ranger makes me stop.

To get to Emerald Lake, you’ll go up Bear Lake Trail, until you’re at the bottom of Dream Lake.  The trail will split. Head to the right and you’re on your way to Emerald Lake. Head to the left (sign towards Lake Haiyaha) and you’re on your way to Chaos Canyon.

APPROACH: 

45-minutes to two hours, depending on what area you’re headed to. The good news? The hike out is all downhill.

BOULDERS FOR BEGINNERS:

There are no ‘destination-worthy’ boulders for beginners at Rocky Mountain National Park. But, there are some really classic V5’s that beginners can project.

“The Kind” (V5) at Emerald Lake is arguably one of the best boulders in the Park, and a classic. Protection: Could be done with 2 and a spotter, but best to have 3-5 pads and always a spotter.

“Autobot” (V5) in Lower Chaos Canyon, above Lake Haiyaha is another great problem for a beginner. It has a big, juggy finish, and the crux is easily protected. It’s also got an easy bail (you can just step back) and therefore low commitment. And, Autobot overlooks the Lake and is freaking beautiful. Protection: 3-5 pads and a spotter.

“The Cube” (V6-) has several power moves, but it has a flat landing which is good for beginners. Protection: Can be done with one pad and a spotter.

Emmett Cookson on The Cube

DON’T GO TO RMNP WITHOUT:

  • A mission. Example:
    • I’m going to RMNP to work on _______.
  • A headlamp
  • Tension Climbing flashboard 
  • Lies about what your crash pad is, for when the tourists ask. Example:
    • This is an elk saddle
    • I work for NASA, and collect high-altitude debris.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

27 Crags 

Mountain Project 

Jamie Emerson’s Bouldering Rocky Mountain National Park and Mount Evans (sold in EVO LOU retail).

Ethan Chase is also an excellent resource. He works at EVO LOU a good amount, so just ask the front desk how to find him…it won’t be hard.

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