OverviewThe north side of Skunk Canyon features four rock ridges that are numbered from east to west and are also commonly named by the most popular route on them. So, the First Ridge is known as Stairway to Heaven, the Second Ridge as Satan's Slab, the Third Ridge as Angel's Way, and the Fourth Ridge as Mohling Arête.
For being so close to Boulder, Skunk Canyon is a remarkably wild place. There is a faint trail along the stream that cut the canyon, but many trailless slopes are easier to navigate. While very hard routes can be found, especially on the Second Ridge (up to 5.14), for Angel's Way, the approach and the descent are at least as challenging as the climb itself.
Of course, the inconvenience of the approach keeps the crowds away, and the looming Second Ridge screens Angel's Way from civilized world. Several pitches of easy climbing on solid rock, just a few miles from home, and all for yourself. Seems unlikely, but it's quite possible on Angel's Way.
All routes in Skunk Canyon west of the First Ridge, are subject to seasonal closures. Access is usually forbidden from February 1st to July 31st. Check here and here for up-to-date information.
Getting ThereFrom the NCAR parking lot, follow the Walter Orr Roberts trail to the intersection with the Mesa Trail and take the Mesa Trail north. After crossing Skunk Canyon, the Mesa Trail climbs up its north side. At a switchback with a big wooden fence/barrier, cross over the barrier and follow the initially comfortable and very visible trail that heads towards Skunk Canyon. Once you get in the thick bushes, watch out for poison ivy! The first tongue of rock that comes down to the stream (from the north) is Stairway to Heaven. Not losing the trail becomes increasingly difficult, but up until Stairway to Heaven, it's no big deal.
After that, the "trail" gets much more bushwacky, and soon presents one with the technical crux of the day: a high stepping/stemming move on slippery rock with wet soles. Skunk Canyon narrows down quite a bit in correspondence of the Second Ridge (north) and the Achean Pronouncement (south). Roach aptly calls that spot a portal. After that the canyon opens up again. The Second Ridge dwarfs the others--especially the third. If you overshoot your goal you'll reach the base of Mohling Arête. The Third Ridge is almost abutting the Second and the gully that separates them is very narrow. At the beginning of Angel's Way you almost feel you are climbing under the Second Ridge.
Route DescriptionAngel's Way follows the crest of the Third Ridge. With a 70 m rope, we climbed 7 pitches. We did a couple of short leads to avail ourselves of good belay stances, but the last pitch--which climbs the detached summit--was a rope stretcher. Though the Second Ridge is much more imposing than the Third Ridge, the latter attains a higher point.
The route is fun, and a bit stiff for Roach's 5.0 rating. Protection is abundant where you don't need it. The summit has no fixed anchors and nowhere to place decent pro.
From the summit, reverse the final moves, downclimbing the summit block to the east for about 15 feet. On skier's left there's a horizontal crack that takes you to broken terrain to the north of the summit. From there, traverse to a small tree with a rappel sling and ring. It should also be possible to downclimb. (The tree is not that sturdy, so that downclimbing has its attractions.) From the base of the rappel, continue to the north on rocks with the occasional exposed move until you get to the saddle between the Third Ridge and the Fist/Hippo's Head.
We descended in a roughly eastward direction. We stayed south of the Hourglass and after an adequate amount of bushwhacking, we hit the Mesa Trail where one leaves it to climb the Regency. It is also possible to go down between the Third and Second Ridge, but the thought of redoing that stretch of Skunk Canyon kept us away from that descent.