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Local Color

To find paradise, look no further than your own backyard. A photo expose on Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley and the climbers who are making it happen.

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Armed with a janitor’s push-broom and an aluminum shovel, his feet shod in felt-insulated boots, Chris Goplerud plowed through the powder snow as he threaded the aspens behind the Victorian village of Redstone, Colorado (population 92). He swept away the snow piled nipple-high on his project, an unclimbed 22-foot butt-smooth arête up a leaning sandstone block.

Goplerud could winter in Joshua Tree or Red Rock or Hueco, or kick back on the white sands of anywhere island. But after travelling the globe he discovered that to find paradise you often need not look any farther than your own backyard.

After he swept, Goplerud shoveled the landing. He then brushed, chalked and rebrushed the grips. He yarded out a four-foot-long pipe of steel conduit and blasted any trace magnesium from each hold.

“G-Money,” 50, a professional drummer with cropped blond hair, sharp blue eyes and a winter beard that smacks of van Gogh before he went totally ape-nuts, gigs with various bands but mostly plays jazz up in nearby Aspen. Sometimes his listeners are muckity-mucks like the Clintons and Saudi princes and Enron crooks. Sometimes they are kids who stop by his digs and beg him to bang out “Sympathy For The Devil” on his bongo. But this afternoon he buffed the boulder until it was as clean as a Marine’s rifle then went home. He would not put boot rubber to the project just yet. That would wait a day, maybe two, for the sulking winter sun to dry the rock.

Sometimes while Goplerud was drinking coffee by the apple-wood fire in his century-old cottage it would dump snow like shit through a goose and he’d have to start over. Once, a retired neighbor with a coop of layin’ hens in his yard saw Goplerud, broom in hand, walking down the town’s only street then later heard him grunting in the forest and thought the absolute worst.

Goplerud boulders in the winter in the mountains and that seems nuts but he likes it and he’s particular if not excessive. The year before he’d kept the area’s centerpiece block, the Stein, as clean as a Grandma’s porch and if you got a mid-winter hankering to pull on actual stone instead of plastic you could do just that, although Goplerud was the only one there and that didn’t change a thing for him. Dubbed the Mayor of the Redstone Boulders, he once gave toothbrushes to the local boarding-school kids after he noticed them gumming up the grips with their mud-caked shoes.

Sometimes the crisp winter conditions on the arete were prime and Goplerud’s hands would stick to the sandstone like a tongue on a frosty flagpole. But this did not make it simple. Gripping the non-holds was like palming watermelons and when a foot blew he would come wheeling off tail over teakettle and land without a spot and with a heavy whumph on an array of pads quilting the landing pit now four or five-feet deep in the snow and getting deeper. Once, near the exit, he exploded off and landed with just half his body in the trench and snapped his back across the pit’s ice-hard curb. Mental note, he thought while washing down a palmfull of ibuprofen, get stronger.


Goplerud tromped back to his boulder in the snow so often he lost track of the days and as the longest winter in memory ticked by and with spring thaw just around the corner he was determined to send before the holds got warm and felt even smaller. He slapped generous handfuls of chalk onto the problem then scrubbed it all off and puffed. Because all the warm-ups were buried under snow and because at 50 he didn’t like to spend his body on warm-ups that didn’t count, he got the juices going by working up the arête itself.

In April, without any fanfare or even anyone present he was suddenly on top. Goplerud whooped in the woods, his celebration stifled by the snow that smothered everything like a goose-down comforter. Except the dug-out arête. Which was fine by him.

In 1991, Goplerud had moved with his Nordic girlfriend to the Roaring Fork area of Colorado that loosely includes the Aspen to Glenwood Springs valley and the forked arm of the Crystal valley and Redstone. He sank roots because of the climbing. Above the fur leggings and tight faces of Aspen, at Independence Pass, the roadside cragging has 500 routes and potential is just a short bushwack away. In the surrounding Rocky Mountains, peaks over 14 grand rip the sky like a cross-cut saw and include the 2,000-foot alpine wall of Capitol Peak, a real business outing by any means. In outlying canyons from Redstone to Glenwood Springs, an abundance of seeps and plunging waterfalls freeze into silver by Christmas making the area a full-value, year-round destination.

For Goplerud, area diversity and quantity was tough to beat. He stayed and others did too, but early on you could count the local climbers on your fingers and toes and visitors were treated to potluck dinners and sofa bivies and begged for slideshows. They still are. Folks like Goplerud sought undiscovered stone and discovered it. Today, new finds still pop up like black-eyed Susans in spring and if someone tells you they can count all of the new routes they are either guessing or full of hookum. Best to come see for yourself.