400-foot Yellow Spur climb a lot of work - and tons of fun

By: JOHN SCHROYER john.shroyer@gazette.com
May 1, 2014 Updated: May 1, 2014 at 8:08 am
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photo - Helen Davis and John Schroyer meet at the end of a pitch while climbing Yellow Spur Friday, April 18, 2014, in Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder, Colo.,  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Helen Davis and John Schroyer meet at the end of a pitch while climbing Yellow Spur Friday, April 18, 2014, in Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder, Colo., (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

I've climbed The Yellow Spur - which rises about 400 feet up the biggest piece of stone in Eldorado Canyon near Boulder - three times. Each time was an absolute joy.

There are roofs to pull through on huge holds, tiny crimps you need to pull on just big enough for fingertips, stemming moves that require precise technique and footwork, and heady runouts from time to time where, if you slip, you're looking at a long and probably bloody fall. In other words, it's tons of fun.

As any given Eldorado climbing guidebook will tell you, "The Spur" is one of Colorado's most sought-after climbs. It's aesthetic, not too sustained or difficult, has amazing exposures and protects well at all the crucial points. And on the summit, it's not too hard to feel like you're on top of the world: You can look west, and see Longs Peak rising even higher, or you can turn southeast, and see Denver in the distance. From that height, the Mile High City looks like an anthill.

The Spur generally takes most climbers a few hours to finish, depending on their skill level. So you can either race up the route or take all day and enjoy the scenery. Either way, it's fantastically rewarding.

I've been rock climbing in "Eldo," as it's known in climbing circles, for about 12 years, tackling not only The Yellow Spur, but also other classics like Ruper, Gambit, The Bastille Crack and Rewritten. I would never try to paint myself as an expert on Eldo, but it's an enclave of adventure for anyone willing to tie into a climbing rope.

Climbers have been exploring Eldo for more than half a century. The Spur was first climbed in 1959 by Dave Dornan and climbing legend Layton Kor, and multiple other current-day classic climbing routes were established decades ago as well.

Brown pitons and pins and all sorts of homemade gear can be found rusting in cracks on dozens of routes, left there God-knows-when by God-knows-who, from a time when hammering pitons into scars and standing on them was the only way to get up a rock face.

The Spur is no different: The very first piece you can clip when leaving the ground is an ancient, traitorous-looking pin underneath a roof. Whether it would hold a fall is anyone's guess, but the traditional attitude is generally, "If it's there, clip it." So I did. Along with three more fixed pieces on the first pitch, including an aluminum wired nut that had just been left right at the roof I had to pull over.

I was climbing with Helen Davis, a photographer friend who had never led traditional climbing (aka "trad") before. She was plenty strong, though, so I wasn't worried about her making it up the route.

The only problem of the day was we were below two climbers on the same route who were bent on taking their time. So Helen and I got stuck at the top of the first pitch and then at the top of the third pitch, waiting for the duo in front of us to get moving. (The general trad climbing ethic I try to adhere to for multipitch routes is one party at a belay ledge at a time.)

But eventually, we got to the final two pitches, which are always the icing on the cake for The Spur. The belay at the top of the fourth pitch is on an exposed knife-blade edge of sandstone, with barely enough space for two people. Straight up from the belay lies an aged series of pitons, one pounded into the rock after another, each just a few feet apart. This continues for about 20 feet, before a couple of modern bolts dot the final face. Pull through on delicate, slippery feet, with insecure, balancy handholds, crank up to the jugs of the sixth pitch and you're home free.

The final pitch is an airy traverse to the final pointed summit of Eldo's Tower One. There are very few cracks in the final 50 feet or so, and consequently almost nowhere to place cams or nuts. But it's easy climbing, as long as you keep your head about you. And yet it still can be a heart-pounding way to finish the day.

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