ApproachDrive Highway 40, either north of Fraser, or south of Berthoud Pass, to just north of the main Winter Park Ski resort. Between mile markers 231 and 232, turn east on to the road marked for Corona/Rollins Pass (14 miles from Highway 40). This is County Road 80. Follow the main road to the trailhead at Rollins Pass. The road becomes Forest Road 149 after reaching the forest boundary. The road is rough in places, but cars can make it all the way to the trailhead when driven slowly and with great care.
Route DescriptionRoute Rollins Pass to Devils Thumb Pass
The Rollins Pass Route makes perhaps the easiest route to the area around Devils Thumb, but can be windy and exposed to the elements since the route is always above the timberline. Make sure to read the message board at the trailhead about the interesting history of Corona and Rollins Pass.
From Rollins Pass (elevation 11,660 feet); follow the obvious and well used trail north. It descends a bit and begins climbing. The trail is marked as the Corona Trail on the topo map, but be aware that the map does not always show the route correctly. The trail climbs over a small hill and to a nice viewpoint of King Lake located north of the trail. Continue on the main trail and along the ridge. The trail is an up and down trail and stays west of the ridge and Continental Divide and there are some nice views along the way.
There is also an alternate and less used variation of the trail with even better views that follows the ridge more or less right along the continental divide. This route has cairns, but the trail is not that well defined.
Keep your eyes open in the morning as we saw a huge elk heard along the way. The steepest part of the main trail is just west of point 12,123. Here the trail climbs over the steep hill via several switchbacks before dropping abruptly to Devils Thumb Pass (11,747 feet elevation). The pass is 3.5 miles from the trailhead.
Technical Route up Devils Thumb: Devils Spiral-Direct Route to Notch Variation
From Devils Thumb Pass, head north along the ridge up a steep trail. Follow the trail to a cairn which is located to the west and just above the level of the notch between Devils Thumb and the main ridgeline.
Scramble down a grassy chute and then traverse a loose rubble covered slope to the area just west of and at the same elevation as the notch. You will notice a ledge that heads east towards the notch. You will also notice a grassy chute ascending north and up to a ridge. This grassy chute is the route described in Roach’s book, but we chose a more direct and more exciting route to the notch.
Next, follow the exposed ledge east to where it ends. Continue traversing east along the wall. You will notice an old piton pounded into the wall at the beginning of the traverse. There are several other places along the traverse where you can place protection. After traversing horizontally, you will downclimb a wall to another ledge and traverse. The downclimb (20’) is 5.6 in difficulty. Continue traversing directly to the notch which will be in view after the downclimb. There are several places to place protection if you search for them.
From the notch, angle up the left side of the tower to the east by following a steeply rising and sloping ramp. An old piton marks the beginning of the route. Spiral around and up the tower to the east side.
You will now climb up the tower as the exposure increases dramatically. Contour around to the left and up to the final summit block located on the south face. There are several moves of 5.2-5.3 along the way, and several more difficult variations are available by altering the route slightly. There are several places to place protection, so please leave the bolt kit and nailing equipment at home. The summit is incredible. There is enough room on top for a few climbers to sit down and enjoy the spectacular views and exposure. The highest summit block actually moves, so don’t stand on it!
Devils Thumb Lake is located directly below and 1000 feet down. There are great views of the peaks in all directions, including a nice view to the north and to a spectacular vertical alpine wall. If the weather is clear, plan on spending some time to kick back and enjoy the exposed views. If the weather is bad, or if there is a chance of it becoming bad, don’t even think of climbing the tower as it is a virtual lightning rod!
Note: Roach’s book says that a secure anchor can be difficult to find to rap off for the descent, but this is certainly not the case. There are several bomber anchors in the summit area. From the summit, the easiest descent route is to do a two-pitch rappel back to the notch. When tossing the rope off the summit, it appears that it will be very tricky to rappel and land on the notch, but this is not really the case. Rap off the summit from a block located on the “notch side” of the summit. Not far below the summit, there is a chockstone which can be used to set up the second rappel down to the notch. By using this chockstone, the rap can be done is two stages using one 60-meter rope (a 50 meter rope will be just short, but you can use two 50 meter ropes if you don’t have a 60). If you have two 60 meter ropes, you can rap to the notch from the summit block, but it is probably better just to take one rope and do the rap in two stages. Note that the rope can be very difficult to pull from below from either the chockstone or the summit block, so make sure to set the rap stations as carefully as possible.
The total round trip distance is about 8 miles with 1400 feet elevation gain. With the technical climbing, plan on a long day. Make sure to get a very early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.