From bomber cracks in Precambrian granite, to gritty sandstone lines bolted to perfection, the Uncompahgre Valley features a variety of climbing challenges for all. But first, climbers will need to narrow down a climate zone, as weather throughout the valley can vary greatly in different seasons. When summer is in full swing, the higher elevation climbing near Ouray is in prime time. When old man winter has his grasp on the valley, other areas like Dry Creek crag are a sure bet to make year-round climbing a reality.
Fortunately, climbing in the valley has less use than many of the very popular crags of Colorado, especially areas that are within a couple hours of the Denver metro area. This can lead to “sending” more routes per day and a laid back atmosphere, as well as ample free camping options nearby. However, in no way does this mean the climbing is sub-par. It’s truly a blessing that the Uncompahgre Valley contains some of the most technical climbing in all of Colorado!
At 2,722 feet deep, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an awe-inspiring wonder that contains 145 established routes of traditional (commonly just called trad) climbs ranging from grades 5.7 to 5.13. It’s otherworldly to climb this behemoth of a canyon, featuring the tallest cliff in all of Colorado, “The Painted Wall.” The Black Canyon is a full-on proving ground, accessed only by rappelling in from the top to battle your way back out, unlike other popular climbing areas where you can lower to the ground.
Dry Creek Crag offers year-round climbing options in its south facing, gritty Dakota Sandstone walls. This crag is in a desert locale, boasting a modest approach from Montrose with the right vehicle. Climbs are mostly single pitched, sport bolted routes, although some traditionally protected routes are sprinkled in for good measure. The versatility of accessing this crag from above or below, opens up potential for projecting hard climbs, top rope soloing, in addition to lead climbing via a “descent fissure.”
Ouray area climbs have a high concentration of extremely stout routes that range from 5.4 to 5.13d. Rad individuals will find igneous stone, metamorphic rock, as well as sedimentary climbing options. And while this area is known for many harder grade climbs, you can find the easiest and most accessible climbs in the valley at the Rotary Park wall. This crag has kid-friendly climbs such as “Sesame Street” (5.4), all the way up to crusher grades of (5.12c) on “Leaping Boy.” Ouray also has “via ferrata”options, for those just getting into climbing or want an incredible experience inside an ultra-scenic gorge.
Meanwhile, littered throughout the valley are bouldering problems galore. Some popular options for this style of climbing include Ridgway State Park, Dry Creek Crag, Electric Hills and Log Hill Village. The development of new bouldering areas is nearly endless in the immediate area, due to ample sandstone deposits combined with low traffic from first ascent seekers.
From trad and sport climbing, to bouldering and via ferrata routes, the Uncompahgre Valley has adventure seeking climbers covered.
Written by James (J.T.) Pulfer
A Colorado native having spent a few years in SW Montana. An extreme snowboarder who thoroughly enjoys rock climbing, fly fishing and mountain biking among other things. Lift Operations veteran of 9 winters at resorts such as Big Sky, Crested Butte, Telluride and Powderhorn.