Article & Photos byField Editor Ryan Michelle Scavo
Looking for new climbing routes and bouldering problems during your visit to the San Luis Valley? Thanks to the unique geology of the valley, an abundance of climbing opportunities are available for beginners and experts alike.
The world-renowned crown jewel of the valley is Penitente Canyon Special Recreation Area, offering over 300 bolted climbing routes ranging from 5.2 to 5.13c (Yosemite Decimal System), with dozens of sport and trad climbing opportunities rated at 5.10 and above within the Canyon. There are also several other sites available across the 4,552-acre Recreation Area for climbers looking for a less crowded experience.
Close to Penitente Canyon, but offering a more secluded experience, Rock Garden hosts multiple sport climbing routes for climbers looking to get off the beaten path. For those seeking a starter route, consider the 5.9 rated Ligneous Ebracer. Featuring a steep slab, the 1 anchor/8 bolts route is visible almost immediately upon entering the area.
For those looking to challenge themselves further on more technical routes, consider the internationally known, Copacetic (5.11b) or Rude Mood (5.12a).
To access the Rock Garden climbing area from the Penitente Canyon access road, turn north toward La Garita and head west (left) at the intersection on County Road 41G. Parking is available at the trailhead. Penitente Map
ELEPHANT ROCKS / STONE QUARRY
For individuals seeking bouldering problems around the valley, consider a hike into Elephant Rocks and Stone Quarry. These two sites are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and provide for multi-use recreation opportunities including hiking, mountain biking, and climbing.
The boulders strewn across these areas date back to the largest pyroclastic eruption in the world and are part of the La Garita caldera. Though no official routes exist in either of the sites, climbers looking for less challenging (but fun!) bouldering problems can explore both of these areas on foot or bike with climbing shoes, chalk bag, and a crash pad in tow.
To access Elephant Rocks, travel north on 112 from the town of Del Norte for 3.2 miles to turn west onto CR33. Travel this road for 3 miles and Elephant Rocks is on the left (west) side of the road. This paved road will turn to maintained gravel road and transition to CR38A before arriving.
To access Stone Quarry, travel east on Highway 160 from the town of Del Norte. The access road is on the south side of the highway after CR5.
Wherever you decide to climb in the San Luis Valley, please remember a few important things:
• Wildlife – Rattlesnakes call this place home. Keep your eyes and ears open when choosing a route and look before placing hands in holds or holes in rocks. Respect wildlife & maintain a safe distance.
• Plants – Yucca and many species of cacti are scattered across the valley. Watch your step!
• Elements – Bring water and sunblock when climbing. Located at over 7,000 feet, your trip to sites within the valley will be more enjoyable when you are hydrated and protected from the sun.