Simply put, Rifle Mountain Park offers the best limestone sport climbing in North America, especially at the 5.12 and up grades. This riparian mountain canyon 200 miles west of Boulder has undergone numerous evolutionary phases over the last decade, yet it still maintains its allure and is fairly crowded on most weekends from May through September.
The climbing at Rifle varies from slightly overhanging to very overhanging, and the routes are generally long, complex endurance-fests on large, flat holds, pockets, crimps and funky pinches. Constant traffic on some of the older routes, especially at the Ruckman Cave and the Wasteland, has turned the footholds black with shoe rubber. Many of the older routes have surely gained a letter grade or two from the grease factor alone.
Rifle hosts one of, if not the largest concentration of 5.13-5.14 sport routes in America, most of them natural, most of them quality. The rock itself, limestone of the Leadville formation, varies both in quality and aspect from wall to wall. The Wasteland, for example, offers short (50 foot) power routes on pocket and tufa-riddled stone similar to the good stuff in Europe; the towering Anti-Phil Wall, with its perfect crimpers and smooth pockets reminds one of the Blasphemy Wall at the VRG; and the looming steepness of The Arsenal offers blocky cave climbing on "pile" rock reminiscent of the good stuff at American Fork. But these are just a few of the walls.
Rifle is somewhat lacking in "moderate" routes, which can be frustrating for novice & mid-level sport climbers. This has more to do with the nature of the rock than the prejudice of route developers. The lower-angled rock tends to be covered in silt, moss, or both. Attempts to clean are somewhat futile as regular rains re-deposit a fresh layer of munge on a near-weekly basis. There are enough high quality 5.11s & below to keep most climbers busy for at least a week.
It's important to remember that access to Rifle Mountain Park has been an issue in the past. The park is owned by the city of Rifle, and locals from town were going up there to camp, barbecue, fish and picnic long before we climbers ever showed up. The Canyon is open to new route development on a permit system only, and any rock owned by fish hatchery at the west end of the Canyon is strictly off-limits.
Pay your entrance fee, don't park where you're not supposed to, and keep a low, friendly profile. The climbing here is excellent, and there's more than enough routes to go around.
While Rifle does offer a handful of moderate routes, they're generally quite polished and uninspiring. The steep stone doesn't suffer from constant run-off like the slabbier stuff, hence the "good" climbing seems to start around 11a or so. Currently the hardest route at Rifle is 5.14c.
As well as world famous sport climbing, Rifle hosts some fabulous ice climbing. Ice climbers frequented the area long before it was a twinkle in a sport climber's eye. Several quality climbs form every year, however, due to temperatures and precipitation, conditions can be variable. Some routes do not form consistantly.
Difficulty ranges from WI 3 to WI 5+ depending on conditions. The canyon is a beautiful location and often sees less climbing traffic than other quality ice climbing areas in the state. Overall, when conditions are good, Rifle offers some of the best naturally forming, easily accessible ice in Colorado.
There is a $4 dollar parking fee in the park. The town of Rifle offers some fairly inexpensive accomodations and even a decent restaurant or two.
Drive west to Glenwood Springs on I-70. Ten miles further west take the Newcastle exit. Turn right off the freeway and come to a stop sign. Continue straight (north) on a four-lane road that then bends west through Castle Valley, a housing development just outside of town. After a couple of miles this road dead ends at Grass Valley Road.
Follow Grass Valley Road west, passing the turn-offs for East Elk Canyon, Main Elk Canyon (home of the Fortress of Solitude), West Elk Canyon, and Harvey Gap. After about 6-8 miles Grass Valley Road comes to a T-intersection. Turn right and follow this paved road up up up past the fish hatchery, where it turns to dirt. You're now in Rifle Mountain Park.
Feline is a line thats hard to miss. It's just upstream a ways from Merry Maids, the huge, left-facing dihedral. If you're on the Ice Caves side of the stream, follow the path upstream from Merry Maids for about 60 yards (past the tiny cave) and you will see a dim fork in the trail, take it up left and there you are. You can also wade across the stream at a pullout just up the road from the bridge, or you can walk downstream from the Bauhaus. Either way, the route i...[more]Browse More Classics in CO
Visited Rifle this a.m. and turned back, since what little was in existence this year was sopping, detached, decaying, rotten sludge today. 40 & 50 degree temps have nearly eliminated any decent ice for now. Dreaming of Red Rocks now....forecast calls for 70's all week!
The free camping at the "dirt pile" appears to be no more. There are new No Trespassing signs there. This was a popular spot for climbers looking for a free spot to camp but now they'll need to look for other spots.
WARNING - there are at least 2 bears roaming the campgrounds at Rifle. The park people have done very little to post any signs warning campers of this. I have heard of tents getting slashed open for the last 2 weekends. Use all neccessary precautions.
I'm not a Rifle local, though I do make many weekend trips each summer from SLC, and I would like to continue to do this, so I thought some of you "locs" might be interested in a outsider's perspective:
This last weekend was only my 5th trip of the summer, but (just like every year) I've noticed that the Project Wall and the Arsenal seem to suffer severely from an infestation of leashless dogs. Dogs running unrestrained, doing there doggy things, all over the road while their masters blithely pose up some route that they have done 5 million times...never thinking that perhaps this is annoying to other climbers who are belaying, climbers who are smart enough to put their dogs on a leash and most importantly to the "local color" (remember they were there first) driving their enormous trucks at break neck speeds through the canyon on Labor Day Weekend.
Before you dismiss me as a dog hater, don't...I like dogs a lot and that is part of the problem for me...and I suspect some other people. I do not want to be subjected to witnessing the terrible scene of somebody's dog being run over right in front of me, and I cringe inwardly every time there is a near miss, which is often.
Unfortunately, it seems (why is this always the case) that it is the true hard core locals (you/we know who you are), the ones who should be the stewards of the area, who are by and large the worst offenders.
You peeps need to get it together, and set a better example to all the visiting fools who show up and think its just a big dog park!
I'll quit spraying now, and let the flaming begin...if anyone actually reads this...but even worse than watching a dog get killed would be to have a wall like the Project Wall get closed.Unlike most of you, I still have some routes to do there...and as we climbers are essentially a selfish and narcissistic lot, that really is the bottom line. I don't want my favorite climbing area closed down.
I'm not much of a climber anymore, but I am a Rifle local. Even theough I went to school (and learned to climb) in Southern California, we came to Rifle every year for summers, and now I live there.Rifle Mountain Park is just about the BEST way to get up to the high country north of New Castle once the snow melts off, so if you're climbing there after the melt, expect lots of traffic headed up and down the canyon to get up to spectacular spots like Cliff Lake and Meadow Lake (heck of a fishing spot-- you can watch bald eagles steal your fish-- not to be missed). Also upcanyon from the fish hatchery are some nice camping spots (where there's no climbing) and excellent spots to stop, eat a picnic, and gather watercress (yes, watercress -- Rifle creek doesn't freeze over in winter, so there's always watercress to be gathered).Generally (and having lived in Los Angeles, I feel that I can say this with a bit of authority) the people from the area around Rifle are a heck of a lot nicer than your average city-dweller. A smile and a wave goes a HELL of a lot further than a finger and a threat of a lawsuit.The businesses in Rifle really like the idea of climbers coming through and buying water and food and beer and other stuff.The people who enjoy the Park for whatever reason would probably sorta like the people there (for climbing) to be nice.Just nice.Try to remember that for the most part, the people of this area don't lock their doors at night, don't fear crime (there basically isn't any), and wave to complete strangers.
Now, personally, I've NEVER had any evil contacts with climbers up Rifle Creek (as we locals refer to RMP).
Quite a few of my friends and colleagues climb there regularly, and are nice sorts.
If you're nice, you won't have any problems with the "locals."
If you bring a big-city (L.A., New York) attitude, you'll be dismissed as an a-hole. Just a couple of cents from a local.
Rifle is pretty good now. There were a lot of people over the Memorial Day weekend. Seems like 75% of the stuff is dry, with the occasional seeping hold. It rained a lot Sunday and Monday which was a bit of a stinker.
Note about a few of the new "moderate" routes at Rifle:
Canine Wall: According to SplitterChoss.com, these were bolted by people from Climbing magazine. There are several climbs at 11a and below. While the sentiment is good, the execution is less so. Not enough cleaning was done, so there is alot of lichen and stuff, but more troubling is that there is a "a lot" of loose rock on these climbs.
For example, on Stem-o-Rama, the bottom two bolts are through a dirty garden-like area, with the only places aggressively cleaned are the bolt locations. In the upper dihedral, the crack and the left side of it are very loose: Several big blocks located directly on-route were pulled off accidentally (by experienced climbers), and several other on-route blocks are scarily loose and hollow.
My concern is that inexperienced climbers (who will be more likely to climb these) will likely pull stuff off onto inexperienced belayers. I can't recommend this area to newer climbers until some serious crowbar/cleaning goes into these routes.
Hey Robbie, Valid concerns, thanks for the input. Some of the routes at the Canine Wall are pretty damn dirty. I guess that's what you get on a shady, north-facing wall sometimes. Believe it or not, several folks have put a lot of time into cleaning these lines, including at last year's Rifle Cleanup. You wouldn't believe how dirty they were in the beginning.
I don't remember much in the way of loose rock, and can tell you from first hand experience the routes WERE picked over with a pry bar. Maybe some stuff came loose over the winter?
The mag is no longer in Carbondale, and with all the recent turnover there, it'll probably be impossible to get anyone out to finish up, so to speak. Maybe some civic minded folks will take up the task at this year's clean up.
I'll make a note of it in the info on splitter choss, thanks.
Wondering about the conditions at Rifle. Well, look no further than the new, updated, conditions page at wolverinepublishing.com/rifle_beta.html. I will be updating the page periodically as conditions change.
Also, the 2008 edition guidebook is out! However, the Demons of Bosch are hard at work, putting up routes at a furious pace. Check out wolverinepublishing.com/rifle_new_routes.html for info on new routes and corrections, since the release of the guide.
Wow what a place!!! I spent my first weekend at Rifle and it was fantastic. It's definitely not for the weak of heart or the weak in body. If you want to be a stronger sport climber this is a great place to visit.
The other great thing about Rifle is the people. I love the climbing community but the dedicated climbers at Rifle are top notch. I felt so welcome and everyone was so friendly. Thanks to everyone for making my first (and not my last) Rifle experience awesome.
Depends. Some people will climb in Rifle all winter, albeit very limited. In mid-March it can still be quite chilly and route selection is probably dependent on sun. Also, there's a lot of seeping rock so some of the walls/routes will be wet. A lot of it, IMO, depends on how bad you want to climb at Rifle.
I've only climbed in Rifle in January. Then again, I mean ice climbing. There is some pretty good ice climbing during mid-winter. What is its elevation? This can help in estimating how warm it is going to be in March. I'd guess 6-7000 ft?
I have climbed 3 times in Rifle in the past few weeks. Each time I have been in a t-shirt in the sun. With that said I wouldn't venture up here unless you live close by. One cloud right now could ruin your day. March is a tricky time. The weather is usually fine but a lot of the routes seep this time of year. If you aren't picky with your routes you should be fine in March as long as it is sunny.
FYI - wallet and iPod stolen out of vehicle while we were not that far away from it. It might have helped if we had locked the car...but thought I'd at least post so others weren't wooed into lethargy by the idyllic beauty of Rifle Canyon....
I'm going to be in the area for a few weeks in August - is it easy to find partners there (like Camp 4), or do I really need to find partners ahead of time. Really excited to climb here but no idea how to find a partner....
There's no bus service from Glenwood to Rifle Mountain Park. There is bus service from Glenwood to the city of Rifle, but that leaves you many miles (10+) from the Mountain Park. People without a car usually hitchhike between town and the Mountain Park, and there is a steady flow of climbers in and out of the park every day, including climbers at the campground. So you can make it work, albeit not super easily.
Concerning new routes, there has been a lot of new route development since the '08 book, and a new book should be out soon. A lot of the new route stuff is on this site already.