| Independence Monument - Otto`s Route
Distinctions (lists): LoJ Mesa county ranked summit; LoJ Class 5 Peaks List
Route: Otto's Route, after legendary pioneer John Otto, Father of Colorado National Monument
Route description: Otto's Route on Independence Monument at Colorado National Monument
Team: Stewart Green, Doug Hatfield, Dennis Jump, Susan Paul, Darrin Reay & Brian Shelton
Just back from Ecuador, and without a job, I had some free time. A friend asked me to help out with a rappel class in Moab: I help wrangle a bunch of teenagers from the East coast – get them in harnesses and helmets, unrope them at the bottom of the cliff, collect slings and carabiners – and I get free room and board for a few days, and a lead up Elephant Butte in Arches National Park, which is on my National Park Highpoints list – in return. Well, I had to consider it for a long time – at least 3 seconds – before responding, "YES!"
After the rappel class, I ended up at a barbeque, talking to climbing guide, writer and photographer Stewart Green, and climbing great and all-around adventurer Steph Davis. Stewart had been selling signed photos of his old climbing buddy Layton Kor to help out with Kor's medical bills, and now he and Steph were getting ready to launch Layton Kor Climbing, a fundraiser to help out with Kor's dialysis, and eventual kidney transplant. I have to admit, I was a little star-struck by Steph Davis. I had my helmet in the car, and wanted so badly to go get it, and ask her to sign it, but my nerves got the best of me and I left the small gathering without an autograph!
I did do Elephant Butte the next day, though. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
On the drive back to Colorado Springs, I drove through Colorado National Monument and got my first views of the 450' tower, Independence Monument. I'm not a good climber. My first thought was: "Holy mother of monuments!" My second thought was, "In my next life, I'm not going to wait till I'm 46 years old to start climbing!"
My peak-bagging buddy Doug and I drove out west to do Mount Whitney, Boundary Peak and White Mountain Peak. On the way home, we drove through Colorado National Monument. I stopped at a pullout, pointed at Independence Monument – "Indy" – and told Doug, "People climb that thing." He didn't say anything, but he stood there a long time, even after I returned to the car.
Doug gets a closer look at Independence Monument. Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Doug and I drove south to do a bunch of ultra-prominence peaks, plus the state highpoints in Texas and AZ. We noticed a lot of pretty rock towers down there, but we didn't climb any of them.
I followed Layton Kor Climbing and noticed that Steph and other climbers were donating leads on classic climbs, for generous contributions to the fundraiser. A good friend of mine, who prefers to remain anonymous, had made a sizable donation, and Brian Shelton at Front Range Climbing had donated a trip for two to Independence Monument in return. We would have to cover our expenses, but we would enjoy the company of two guides and all the necessary gear to climb it. Holy mother of monuments… was I really going to climb that thing?
We all drove out to the Monument – me and Doug in my car, Front Range Climbing guides Brian Shelton and Stewart Green, and English caver Dennis Jump in the other. Dennis is a gifted climber, and was on the original team of cavers that discovered Britain's largest cave, "Titan." He'd climbed Independence Monument a year earlier, Stewart had climbed it 8 times, and Brian had climbed it 87 times – once, with another guy, in 17 minutes! Another climber, Darrin Reay, was meeting us the next morning. He had done it for the first time just a few days prior, and wanted to come back and take a turn at leading it. It seemed that everyone wanted to get in on the climb, and the six of us made for a good balance, with three each on two ropes.
Brian drove his truck down to the Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead so we could do a car shuttle; we were rapping in from the rim and didn't want to climb back out. I drove him back up to camp, then we all met up with Darrin at the parking lot. We rappelled in and followed a gully down to the canyon floor, then picked up a trail out to the base of the monument.
Me rappelling in from the rim.
Brian and Darrin hiking out to the Monument.
There was a small group ahead of us, so we sat down and gave them some "room," both space- and time-wise. There's nothing worse than being rushed on a route, especially one with such great climbing, and magnificent views, as those in store for anyone climbing this beautiful tower.
Dennis, Doug and Brian went up on the first rope, with Dennis and Brian taking turns on lead; Darrin, me and Stewart followed on the second rope. Darrin led the first pitch, then the second, and was doing quite well so Stewart ended up letting him lead the whole route for our team! This worked out well for me, with Darrin in front as my belayer, and Stewart behind offering verbal instruction and words of encouragement. Like I said, I'm not a good climber, so the support was extremely helpful.
Here are some photos of the climb, courtesy of Doug and Stewart:
Darrin leads the 1st pitch, with Dennis on belay. Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Brian seconds the first pitch. Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Doug makes his way up the first pitch. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
The first two pitches. You can see a climber entering the off-width crack at the bottom of the second pitch. Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Dennis exits the crack of the second pitch, as Brian looks on. Photo by Doug Hatfield
The off-width, over-hanging crack was my first crux. I tried to fight my way up it, but soon discovered that small moves, and careful foot camming were much more effective. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
Dennis and Brian enter the "Time Tunnel" connecting the top of the second pitch and bottom of the 3rd. Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Yo, ho ho… Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Dennis leads the third pitch – an easy face with lots of holds, but plenty of exposure. Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Don't look down, Doug – it's a long way to the bottom! Photo by Brian Shelton.
My turn on the 3rd pitch. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
Brian leads the 4th pitch. Photo by Doug Hatfield.
This was fun, right up until this point on the 4th pitch: an over-hanging roof. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
Although the "pros" – Stewart, Dennis and Brian – all told me the trick to this move is all in the feet, I couldn't get my foot to stick to anything up there. I struggled for a few minutes here, grabbed onto anything I could find – a piton, a sling, the ROPE – to keep myself from losing precious inches. In the end, I summoned every ounce of strength I had left, swore quite loudly, and did a pull-up onto that rock. Once you latch a finger into that hole, you're home-free! Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Success! Photo by Doug Hatfield.
Brian, Doug, Darrin, me and Stewart – summit. Phew. Photo by Dennis Jump.
After some well-earned summit-time, we all rapped down to the bottom of the 3rd pitch, scrambled through the Time Tunnel and down a small boulder problem, then did another rappel. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
Doug on the final rappel, 200 feet down to the canyon floor. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
A look back. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
Darrin headed home, while the rest of us piled into Brian's pickup and drove into town for charcoal and lighter fluid, steaks and loaded mashed potatoes, barbeque chicken and potato chips, and… beverages. Back at camp, I had one of the best meals of my life! Somewhere in there Doug and Brian did an unranked summit just a short walk from camp, "Saddlehorn."
…and a bottle'o rum. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
Not to be one-upped, Stewart and I got up early the next day and did Saddlehorn too. It was a slabby scramble with fine views – well worth the early morning wake-up! Then we all packed up camp and headed out to Rabbit Valley for some more climbing on Castle Rock North. There's a bolted 5.7 sport route on this bulbous, slippery summit – aptly dubbed "The Nipple" – but Dennis chose to lead us up a more exciting 5.8 trad route that Stewart and Brian had done the first ascent on, several years earlier. Doug and I are not good face climbers, so this was a challenge, but we got up it. Stewart led the top pitch. He grew up climbing on this stuff, at Red Rocks and Garden of the Gods, so I'm sure he got a good chuckle watching Doug and me struggling with the smooth slabby surface – and no handholds!
Dennis leads The Nipple, I second it. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
Me, Doug and Stewart, happily a-summit. Photo by Dennis Jump.
In January, Stewart was preparing to take a trip south, to see Layton Kor and take care of the fundraiser details, and also do a bit of climbing. He invited me, Doug and Brian along, but Doug had to work, and some unexpected business kept Brian from accompanying us. Stewart and I went ahead, and hit another national park highpoint on the way, the Petrified Forest's Pilot Rock. This was a long hike – 14 miles roundtrip – and one that apparently doesn't get a lot of traffic. The register had been placed at the summit two years earlier, and had just four signatures. I recognized two of them: John Mitchler, co-author of Hiking Colorado's Summits, and Charlie Winger, co-author of Highpoint Adventures: The Complete Guide to the 50 State Highpoints. Both books are staples in the library of any Colorado highpointer!
Pilot Rock, the highpoint of Petrified Forest National Park. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
It's a long hike! Photo by Stewart M. Green.
The next day, Layton was due for dialysis, so Stewart and I went for a hike and snagged a couple more summits, class 2 Point 4128 and class 3 Point 4097. Later, we met up with climbing great Scott Baxter, and big wall climber Albert Newman. Scott is best known for his many first ascents on Arizona's desert towers. In 1970 he graced the cover of Climbing magazine, on the FA of the Grand Canyon's Marble Tower. Albert – a relative novice in comparison to Layton, Stewart, and Scott – isn't exactly a slouch either. I found an article about him in Alpinist magazine, leading the first free ascent of Tooth Rock. Did I mention I'm not a very good climber?
So the next day we headed out to Layton's favorite climbing spot, and we climbed. It was as good as you can imagine. Layton the Great'n did his thing on the rock, and we all tried our best to keep up. At the end of the day, I went back to the truck and started boiling water on my little Pocket Rocket, for tea. As the guys ambled back into camp, one by one, sweaty, dirty, stinky, and happy as hell, I was pleased and honored to serve them each a hot cup of black tea, with cream and sugar – just the way Layton likes it – off the tailgate of Stewart's old Ford Ranger.
Albert Newman, Layton Kor, me and Scott Baxter relax after a great day of climbing – and some hot tea, too. Photo by Stewart M. Green.
We had another good day of hiking and bouldering, and I got to know all the guys a little better. Back at Layton's that evening, we said our good-byes. That was hard. These weren't just some of the best climbers I had ever met, they were some of the best men I had ever known. I didn't know if I would ever see them again, but I knew I'd never forget them.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):