This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 223 (January 2015).
Rap bolting isn’t usually dangerous, but when Tod Anderson sighted
the rotating, eerie green wall of clouds above Devil’s Head, an extensive collection of several-hundred-foot red granite peaks and spires only an hour
southwest of Denver, he knew he was in a fix. Anderson and his partner Todd Leeson watched from the top of The Jungle, a 300-foot granite plug, as
lightning lit up the storm. Then the spinning clouds coalesced, dropped into a funnel and turned into an actual tornado.
“Holy crap, Toto, are we going to get blown all the way to Kansas?” Anderson asked, trying not to freak out.
The two hurriedly rigged the rope, took one last look at the approaching funnel cloud, and dropped down the face. Rain and hail pummeled them as they packed their gear. The storm turned into a full-blown gulley washer by the time they ran the half-mile trail back to their car.
About an hour later the two were drying out at their usual hang, the Sedalia Grill in Denver, when they saw on the news that a rare mountain tornado had formed over Westcreek that day.
“After the customary few rounds of inspiration, we decided to call the route The Green Tornado,” Anderson said.
The Green Tornado (5.10b) is just one of many sport climbs that have gone up at Devil’s Head in Pike National Forest since 1993, when Anderson
bolted his first line, Private Idaho (5.11a), on the Headstone formation. Since then a dedicated crew of route developers—including Anderson and his son Gordon, Scott Sills, Todd Leeson, Derek Lawrence, Paul Heyliger, Tom Rossbach, Dan Godshall and Mike Carrington—has been combing the six-square-mile area and finding numerous gems. Today, Devil’s Head has more than 800 routes, most of them fully bolted moderates up to seven pitches long, on dozens of crags, with new lines going in almost every weekend.
From Denver, take U.S. Highway 85, South Santa Fe Drive, south from C470 (the Denver beltway) 10 miles to CO Highway 67 in Sedalia. Turn right on 67 and continue for 10 miles up into the foothills, turning left on Rampart Range Road (Forest Road #300). Continue nine miles south on Rampart Range Road and park at the main Devil’s Head fire-tower trailhead, or continue down Rampart Range Road to mile marker #10 for the Lower West Side or even further to about mile marker #13. Go north along Jackson Creek Road for the southeastern access point.
Despite being less than an hour’s drive from downtown Denver, Devil’s Head has all of the benefits of a more remote crag, including pay and free camping. The pay campground is at the Devil’s Head fire-tower trail parking, and there are numbered and marked free sites all along Rampart Range Road. The best campsites for climbers are past the turnoff to the Devil’s Head trail parking, as these are generally less frequented by other users. It is possible to hike straight from some of the campsites to the crags, and all of the roads are navigable in a regular passenger car. There is no water in the area. Be advised that some of the best campsites fill up fast on summer weekends.
Around April, when the Rampart Range Road gate opens, until the first weekend in December, when the Forest Service closes the gate for the season.
The size of the climbing area has expanded far to the east and west, and now comprises about six square miles. Over 100 separate crags contain well over 800 routes, most facing either east or west, affording shade or sun. Most of the new crags are easy to access, although some of the trailheads are new. All crags are within 30 to 45 minutes of the main parking lot.
New route potential is staggering. For example, the Devil’s Head crew recently found the original trail from Jackson Creek to the fire tower, which just happened to lead straight to a new crag called Devil’s Gate. Gently overhanging and covered with a fine granite patina, Devil’s Gate has a set of four-star routes from 5.11 to 5.13, all with a comfortable staging area that stays in the shade almost all day.
Conveniently located right next to Devil’s Gate on the west side of the corridor is a big chicken-head-covered slab, known as the Slabulous, with a slew of four-star moderates from 5.7 to easy 5.10.
The Slabulous (5.7) It’s hard to beat climbing on stone this good, with great views of the whole Rampart Range for two enjoyable pitches.
Yah Lives (5.10d) An exposed two-pitch line on the popular Recovery Wall. Yah Lives is covered in patina edges and chicken heads. Don’t miss the two-pitch variation Yah’s Wanderings (5.11b) to the right, which has a stellar first pitch and challenging second-pitch roof.
Modern Art (5.11a) This two-pitch counterpart to the popular Moab-area route goes up a slender spire to a summit looking straight down on metro Denver.
Dances With Hummingbirds (5.11b) A relentless Dan Godshall masterpiece that runs straight up the left side of the beautiful Technicouloir Wall.
Revelation (5.11) This route goes up the left side of Devil’s Head Rock for five pitches and includes two pitches of 5.11 face and a 5.10 chimney. The final overhanging and exposed 5.11 pitch can be followed by two more optional easy pitches along the ridgeline to a walk-off descent.
Megalodon (5.11d) Tucked back in the woods, this cool summer route tackles the overhanging side of the Shark’s Fin on steep fingery features.
The Devil’s Own Stone (5.11d) Sitting amid a whole collection of four-star routes at Devil’s Gate, this climb chases patina and sculpted features on the finest rock in the area for a continuous pump.
The Chucking (5.12b) Located on the Chuck Norris Wall (where else?), this fine line pulls past knobs and patina plates that lead to a final challenging roof.
Blade Runner (5.13a) A 24-bolt rope stretcher that overhangs the entire way. This stunning line features a big roof crux followed by an endurance crux on diminishing holds. Gordon Anderson snagged the FA just after his 15th birthday.
PRINT: Rampart Range Rocks by Tod Anderson.
DIGITAL: The new areas are only available in the smart phone apps through Rakkup.com.
At Rakkup, a free 60-day trial of the digital Devil’s Head Guidebook is also available.
Tod Anderson has been climbing and putting up new routes for 40 years.