Climbers have been pumping Rifle Mountain Park, Colorado, for some 30 years, and while the area, with its tick marks, grid-bolts, perma-draws, crowds, and dogs would be unrecognizable to the original route developers, there is one sweet, beautiful constant: world-class, kick-ass climbing.
The optimal way to experience Rifle is to dig in—no, really dig in—and try to send one of the 400 routes. This may take you weeks, months, or longer. Whichever 100-foot chunk of limestone you choose, you will get sucked into hacking it down to size by discovering the most precise, finicky beta (new kneebars are still being discovered on 20-year-old routes), then practicing those moves over and over and over again until, one day, you slay the beast. For some climbers, the Rifle process becomes so consuming they sacrifice jobs and relationships, and the limestone gash in Western Colorado becomes the only place they climb, or want to climb. It’s that good.
Meanwhile, nights are spent back at camp around fragrant bowls of quinoa and potent microbrews with all the other wounded, gluten-free gladiators who nurse torn fingertips and a particular type of full-body ache that you can’t really get at any other crag.
This June, some 18 photographers, from pros to novice, rendezvoused at Rifle. The mission? Capture America’s Great Crag in all its glory with photos that 30 years from now generations of yet unborn climbers will gaze on and see not just their favorite crag, but a bit of their own fanaticism.
A special thanks to adidas and Five Ten for their generous support of the photo shoot.
Eighth Day (5.13a), the first route ever attempted in Rifle Mountain Park, and one of America’s greatest sport climbs. Photo: Christopher Beauchamp.
Nina Williams on Rehabilitator (5.11d), Project Wall. Photo: Philip Quade.
Belay glasses are now a common sight at sport crags, as climbers like Marcus Garcia, a longtime Rifle climber who doesn’t know the word quit, use these facial periscopes to give their necks a break. Photo: Zach Mahone.
Nina Williams balances her way up Rumor Has It (5.11b), the first route redpointed in Rifle, and still one of the best. According to Mark Tarrant, who with Richard Wright climbed the route in 1991, “Rumor Has It” was the name of a band playing in Rifle at the time, but it fit an area that was destined to be great. Photo: Tim Foote.
There aren’t many big, tall climbers who climb really hard, but local Simon Longacre defies those gravitational boundaries by dynoing his 6’3” self through the opening boulder problem of Simply Read (5.13d)—which, by the way, is pronounced as “red,” as in, that crux was read as simply as a children’s book. Assuredly, the cryptic beta on this route is anything but child’s play. Photo: Nick Zepeda.
Dave Pegg was a beloved friend, dog-parent and all-around character who did more for the Western Colorado climbing community than just about anyone else, from developing hundreds of excellent new routes, to building the strong relationship with the Rifle park officials that climbers today respect and enjoy, to writing and publishing the Rifle guidebook. Losing Dave to suicide was a blow to the community here, but his memory lives on. Nearly a hundred climbers attended the summer 2015 installation of this commemorative plaque beneath The Gayness (5.14a), Dave’s last hardest redpoint. Photo: Jeff Lewis.
Sasha DiGiulian shows off her natural strength on Steroid Power (5.11d), one of the few popular warm- ups on the Meat Wall that doesn’t have perma-draws. Fortunately, the clips are as easy to hang as the roadside crag is to approach. Rifle Creek feeds into one of Colorado’s largest trout hatcheries, situated at the mouth of the canyon. The hatchery, as well as the first two miles of cliff line, is owned and managed by the Colorado Department of Wildlife and Recreation. Alas, this stretch of prime limestone is closed to climbing. Photo: Corey Zukie.
Nina Williams tunes in to the celebrated 7 P.M. Show (5.14a), first climbed in 1996 by visiting French climber J.B. Tribout. (On the evening he sent, there was a big crowd with cameras; hence, the name). The route was originally 5.14b, but the discovery of kneebars and kneepads have brought it down to 5.14a. To date, only three women have climbed this route: Emily Harrington, Jen Bisharat and Aly Dorey. Photo: Steve Rokks.
Lee Sheftel started climbing at age 36, did his first 5.14 at age 59, and now, at 70, he continues to chuck laps on 5.13s, such as Pumporama (5.13a). Sheftel figures he’s done Pumporama (5.13a), shown here, at least 100 times. This June, a few dozen climbers gathered in the park to celebrate this leading senior’s 70th birthday, with chocolate cake and lots and lots of candles. Photo: Elizabeth Flournoy.
Libby Sauter gets major helmet points on Return to Sender (5.12a) in the Ruckman Cave. When she’s not clocking all-female speed records on the Nose of El Capitan, Sauter travels to war-torn or impoverished areas in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, where she works as a children’s cardiac nurse. Simply Rad. Photo: Steve Rokks.
Dietel on Return to Sender. Dietel and her mother have matching tattoos on their left shoulders that say “kekuatan,” the Indonesian word for “strength,” as a tribute to a harrowing ordeal Dietel’s mother endured in her early 20s when she became lost at sea for days in Indian Ocean after the motor of her fishing boat died during monsoon season. Ultimately, she and her friend, and the two hired Indonesian fishermen—having rationed peanuts and toothpaste—washed up on the shore of an island off the coast of Sumatra, mere days before their memorial service was to be held in California. Dietel says the tattoo is a daily reminder to always be strong like her mom. Photo: Alex Amundson.
Longacre continues up Simply Read (5.13d), a route recently extended by Chris Weidner to the top of the Project Wall, creating a meandering 250-foot journey dubbed Simply Redlined (5.14a). Photo: Byron Prinzmetal.
You may not have heard of Brandi Horn, but she is emblematic of the type of strong, driven adventurer you meet at crags around the world. Horn started climbing only five years ago, teaching herself to boulder. Since then, she’s changed her career path, from managing properties in the Vail valley to becoming a nurse. “I believe we should be learning and exploring our whole lives,” she says. “We have been given this one life, and this life should not become stagnant.” Here, she works out the beta on Bite The Bullet (5.13b/c). Photo: Heather Supinie.
Nathan Price on Slacker (5.12d), a 50-foot bouldery route in the Wasteland. This one might be the least pumpy upper-end 5.12 in Rifle. Photo: Irene Yee.
Sasha DiGiulian and Rumor Has It (5.11b). Photo: Jeremy Joseph.
Libby Sauter, Street Knowledge (5.12b), Ruckman Cave. Established by the duo Mike Pont and Pete Zoller, Street Knowledge, a 30-foot bouldery warm-up on juggy pockets, resides under a six-foot roof and therefore never sees a drop of rain. Incessant traffic has polished the holds into a mirror-like finish that many climbers have come to associate with Rifle. Photo: Adrienne Robinson.
Simon Longacre tries not to explode out of his knee scum on the 7 P.M. Show. Photo: Fred Berman.