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433 The Crags 2011-07-08

The Crags climbing area

For years I have been going to Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park to rock climb, scramble, and hike. Mainly, I rock climbed at Lumpy Ridge and alpine climbed among the Park's major peaks; but I had never set foot on the Crags. The cliff band sits high above Lily Lake on Twin Sisters Mountain. Various guidebook authors warned of a sweat filled hike, bushwhacking, and terrible rock to climb. I heeded the guidebooks warnings and never visited the area. If it was such a difficult area, why would I want to visit there?

This year while visiting the Park, my good friend Mark and I planned to go rock climbing. Mark, who lives in Boulder, likes visiting out of the way cliffs. The looser and the nastier the rock, the more he likes the climbing. Discussing where to climb, we decided on Cedar Rock, a cliff down from Estes Park toward Loveland.

When Mark arrived at the Olive Ridge Campground, near Estes Park, we discussed our plans. Eventually, we shied away from our original plans and started to discuss going to the Crags. Sure, it was a hard approach hike with bushwhacking; but it also was an obscure cliff with really bad rock - Mark's eyes lit up.

We packed our gear and went to the Twin Sisters Trailhead. After following the Twin Sister's trail through a few switchbacks, we left the trail and followed footprints up the hill toward the Crags. Sweat poured from both of us as we followed the small path. A couple of times we had to look for the path; but all and all it was easy to follow. When we arrived at the talus field (large rocks but not quite as big as boulders) cairns (stacked rocks) led us to the cliff.

I actually thought the approach was rumored to be worse than it was. We did sweat; but the hike was mostly in the morning shade. The trail deposited us at the base of the climb we wanted to do.

Just as we arrived, a couple of climbers walked by. One said to us after he heard what we were going to climb, "you know, that is a trad route." (A trad or traditional route is one that you place running belays yourself, instead of using bolted anchors.) Mark and I just smiled.

Mark took off up the cliff as I doled rope out to him. Soon he was a rope length up the rock. I followed him. There was loose rock; but there were no scary sections. (A scary section would be where all of the rock was very loose to the touch.)

When I arrived at Mark's location, he said, "it reminds me of alpine rock." He was right. all the way up the first rope length, I tried to decide where I had climbed similar rock. It was similar to the rocks we found in the mountains.

The next three or so rope lengths were really fun. Soon we were on the top and looking around at the rock playground. Rock was everywhere. We just smiled.

We walked off the top of the six hundred foot cliff and followed loose stacked rocks back to our packs. It was truly just like being in the mountains.

We both really liked the area and said we would return. It was alpine rock climbing; but without the long approach. We thought the climb was a lot of fun.

A few the Crags trail notes ...

At Lily Lake (near the trailhead) there are restrooms. I did not see water.

Park along the road to the Twin Lake Trailhead.

The Trailhead is on National Park land; but the cliffs are on National Forest land.

The approach trail to the south side of the cliffs begins at the third switchback of the Twin Sisters Trail.

The path was easy to follow. If you lose your way, return to the last known point and look for the path or cairns.

I did not find the trail to be difficult.

The rock was loose on the route we did, not unusually so. We did not dislodge a single stone but it's probably a good idea to wear a helmet!

If you are ever in the area, the Crags is an interesting place to climb with great views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker.

Happy Crags - Lower Great Face, Central Buttress trails



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