Colorado is known for its jagged landscape and thousands of peaks, but not all of them require technical climbing skills. Scrambling is the art of traversing terrain that’s too steep to hike but not steep enough to require climbing equipment. It’s a hybrid of the two. Some of the classic Colorado scrambling routes fall into a Class 3 and Class 4 ranking, indicating that they are safe without a rope or a full rack of rock protection.
Mt. Alice, Rocky Mountain National Park
When the masses head to Rocky Mountain National Park, they head for Longs Peak. Unfortunately, it is often dangerously overcrowded.
But at the heart of the Continental Divide is Mt. Alice, a fine yet overlooked 13er, which features exciting exposed Class 3 climbing between Alice and Neighboring Chiefs Head. Set deep in the western reaches of the park, climbers start in Wild Basin and make their way up to Alice’s dramatic pyramidal face. Start from Lion Lakes, working up Hourglass Ridge for a thrilling traverse to a lesser-known summit offering solitude and vistas.
The Flatirons, Boulder
One of the Front Range’s classic climbing spots, these angled sandstone formations are textured enough for excellent grip and fun-sustained climbing.
Located just minutes from residential Boulder, the Flatirons offer an easy approach with just enough length to make it a local favorite for after-work climbs. The Second Flatiron, the lowest angle of the three, features one Class 5 move with a high Class 4 the rest of the way up. Its most notorious move involves a section known as the “Leap of Faith.”
From the top of the Second, which overlooks Boulder and Denver, it’s a short trail hike down to the base. The First and Third Flatirons are steeper, with more sustained low Class 5 climbing. With run-out protection and great grip, they make for fun rope-free ascents with the option of free-rappels from the summit.
Kelso Ridge, Torreys Peak
Grays and Torreys peaks are two of the most popular 14ers in the Front Range, with proximity to Denver and Boulder, plus a relatively easy yet crowded hike to their summits.
Torreys Peak is rife with hikers, but it offers a less traveled and thrilling line to the summit. The Kelso Ridge traverses sections of Class 3 and 4 scramblings, with a short, stout exposed knife edge. Start by following the main hiking trail then turning about a mile in onto a side trail that passes a historic mining cabin. From here, the lower sections are fraught with boulders and rocky towers as climbers steadily ascend the rudimentary path.
The ridge requires route-finding skills, as some sections can be deceivingly challenging but can be bypassed. The exciting crux of the route is known as the “Knife Edge,” a short, thin and blocky traverse right before the summit. From here, climbers take a short scramble to summit Torreys Peak. Those wanting a longer adventure can cross over and summit Grays Peak then come down the standard route, or detour via Kelso Mountain.
Sawtooth Ridge, Mt. Bierstadt / Mt. Evans
The Sawtooth Ridge is a Front Range Classic, connecting two 14ers, Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans, via a thrilling low Class 3 scramble for half a mile. While the ridge may be scrambled, either way, the most common route starts by summiting Mt. Bierstadt (14,065 feet) and dropping down on to the ridge directly from the summit.
The trail starts by traversing a sprawling talus field and regaining the ridge via a series of gendarmes and boulders. This is where the real fun starts as climbers follow trails on thin ledges and climbing short walls while bouncing back and forth to either side of the ridge. Following the cairns marking the trail, the route alternates between Class 1, 2 and before ending on a grassy tundra accessing Mt. Evans (14,265 feet).
With a total elevation change of 4,675 feet, the route is short and steep, but it makes for a spectacular introduction to ridge scrambling in Colorado.
Lone Eagle Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Lone Eagle Peak is one of Colorado’s most breathtaking mountains thanks to its pointed summit rising dramatically above the Indian Peaks landscape. And it alternates between Class 3 and 4. Route finding skills are essential, as it is easy to take a wrong turn into Class 5 territory.
Starting from Crater Lake, the cairn-marked route ascends ramps of up to Class 3 climbing. It then follows a series of ridges and notches while keeping the summit in sight. This leads to an extremely exposed, Class 4 traverse across the summit ridge to a magnificent pointed pinnacle. Lone Eagle Peak is truly Colorado scrambling at its best.
While scrambles may not be technical climbs, remember to use extreme caution and wear a protective helmet and sturdy boots. Don’t go it alone, and always be aware of hazards including adverse weather and rockfall. Be safe out there!