The San Juan Mountains of Colorado rising to over 14,000’ are probably the prettiest in the state. A variety of exposed colorful rock layers contrast with the pines and aspens that grace their lower ramparts. Far from any major metropolitan areas, the air is fresh, and you can take a moment to take in your surroundings. Glacier carved valleys and cascading waterfalls surround you. Rock outcroppings protrude from the trees in almost every direction exciting the climber’s mind.
The geologic variety is as wide as the colors of rock in the San Juan Mountains. 1,400’ walls of quartzite and slate dating back 1.7 billion years have been uplifted and exposed in the mountain canyons and eroded calderas. Crags such as The Trough, Techno Crag, The RV Wall, and the Wicked Crag line the precipitous sides of Highway 550. You may see them, but the windy and exposed highway devoid of guard rails will keep your eyes from staring too long. The San Juans host some 20 calderas and some of the most significant volcanic events on the history of the planet. Like icing on a cake, the San Juan formation has left giant walls of volcanic ash at the tops of most of the peaks. While most of this layer is fractured to the point of being unappealing to climb on when it’s not froze in place, there are some dramatic exceptions to this rule. Most notably, the Hall of Justice is one of the more memorable sport crags you’ll find in the country. With routes up to six pitches in length, the dramatic exposure just walking the upper ledge will have your full attention. A host of long 35-meter pitches of steep pocked rock rise above and below this ledge.
Located between the upper volcanic ash and quartzite basement layers are a series of sandstone, limestone, conglomerate, shale and mudstone layers interspersed with igneous intrusions. You may be climbing on several different rock types throughout the course of a pitch at some crags.
For the more faint of heart, there are some of the most friendly and convenient options imaginable. Ouray’s Rotary Park crag hosts a bathroom with running water, barbeque grills, and over 50 bolted climbs between 5.2 and 5.12d rising just a few feet from your car. The Stripe Crag in Silverton lacks the amenities of Rotary Park, but also hosts a variety of grades with a short approach just outside of town.
When the high peaks unleash their fury, fair weather can often be found on the high desert Dakota Sandstone escarpments west of Montrose. A series of long east to west canyons offer mountain biking, off-roading, rock climbing and bouldering. The most notable is Dry Creek which features about 70 climbs between 5.7 and 5.13 overlooking a vast dry western landscape sloping down to the fertile farmlands of Montrose.
With Moab and Indian Creek only a 3-3.5 hour drive and the big walls of the Black Canyon sitting on the hill above Montrose there is no lack of full value year round climbing in the immediate vicinity. Locals don’t really take rest days here; we just change sports. You can river surf, ski, mountain bike, run, 4×4, run one of several via-ferratas, hike, paddle lakes and rivers, and soak in hot springs if climbing doesn’t suit your fancy.