Unaweep canyon is a place of pristine beauty and one of the most spectacular but least known rock climbing areas in the Western United States. There is a potential for a lot of rock climbing development, but unfortunately many cliffs are located on private land and not accessible. Still, there are more than 1000 routes to climb! When one drives through the canyon, you can see rock routes all over...
Unaweep is a Ute Indian name that translates into "canyon with two mouth". Unaweep is truly unique as it is the only canyon in the world with a divide in the middle and streams running out of both ends.
Unaweep Divide splits the canyon, with East Creek draining east to the Gunnison River and West Creek draining west to the Dolores River.
Cattle ranching and farming continue to be the main livelihood in Unaweep Canyon.
Almost the entire canyon bottom is privately owned by a combination of a few large ranching families and private residences on 10 to 40 acre parcels.
Nine-Mile Hill: A legendary wagon route once used for hauling supplies into and radium ore out of Gateway during the radium boom of early 1900s. During this time, Nine-Mile Hills' grueling 18% grade often exhausted the stock teams pulling wagonloads up and down. This route, that is now Colorado Highway 141, was once known as Uranium Road. It served as the only access between the ore-rich mines in Gateway, Uravan, Naturita and Nucla and the processing mills in Grand Junction. Today, Nine-Mile Hill is only five miles long and less steep than before. You have to drive it before descending into the main canyon.
Unaweep-Tabeguache Highway is a scenic highway going through Unaweep Canyon. The section of this highway played an integral role in World War II. The uranium used in the country's first atomic bombs was mined near Uravan.
Unaweep canyon is located in western Colorado, nearly on the border with Utah.
From Grand Junction drive south about 8 miles on US Highway 50 (or drive north from Montrose and Delta on US 50) to Whitewater. Turn west here on Colorado Highway 141 and continue up into the canyon. Highway 141 winds through the canyon for over 25 miles.
State Highway 141 follows Unaweep Canyon between Whitewater and Gateway, and is part of the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway
Rock ClimbingThough virtually unknown as a rock climbing area, Unaweep holds great potential for new routes. Sheer rock cliffs ranging from 150 to 1000 feet in height line both sides of Highway 141 for over 25 miles. The granite/gneiss rock is generally very good to excellent and offers exceptional crack climbing as high quality face routes. Unaweep Canyon has been primarily developed as a traditional climbing area, but the popularity of bolt protected face routes is increasing. There are over one thousand routes currently developed, and more to be discovered. Hidden Valley, Fortress, Quarry, and Juniper Walls along with the Mother Buttress provide the highest concentration of good crack climbing. Sunday Wall, Cave and Mother Buttress provide the highest concentration of bolted face routes.
Situated at en elevation of 7000 feet, Unaweep has a semi-arid climate with a typical climbing season lasting from March into December (although I found access trail full of snow in March). With the general east/west orientation of the canyon, walls on the north side of Highway 141 provide sunny climbing during cooler months, while walls on the south side of 141 provide shade during the hot summer months.
The potential for many first ascents is unlimited, but climbers must respect the rights of private property owners.
The best cliffs to climb on are those owned by the Access Fund or on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. The Access Fund owns the Hidden Valley, Fortress, and Sunday Walls on the north side of the canyon. The Quarry Wall, a long south-side cliff above the highway, is on BLM land and is easily approached from public land on Divide Road above the cliff or from several corners of BLM land below the cliff.
Rock climbing guide book Grand Junction Rock Rock Climbs of Unaweep Canyon I thought that the climbs in this rock climbing guide are underated, e.g. Bandito 5.8 route on Sunday Wall, has a really hard start. I found the routes in Unaweep hard, but the granite is excellent.
The new Rock Climbing guide Colorado by Stewart Green has a nice photography and route descriptions on Sunday Wall, and the Fortress. It could be sufficient for a quick introduction to Unaweep.
|Juniper Wall||Located on Private Property, 1.1 miles east of Divide Road on the south side of Highway 141. Be as inconspicuous as possible when approaching this wall. Approach: 10 minutes. The guide boook describes at least 7 routes ranging from 5.8 to 5.11+. Not very climbers due to private land crossing.|
|Quarry Wall||The majority of climbing is on BLM land, a few climbs on private land. Quarry Wall offers some of the best rock and crack climbing in the area. Turn on the Divide Road, 13.6 miles southwest of Whitewater on Highway 141. Drive about 1.1 miles on Divide Road to the top of the last switchback. The road flattens and after another 0.8 miles look for a cairn on the right side of the road, and red flagging near the top of a small pine tree. Park and walk north approximately 125 feet to the edge of the wall, then down climb onto a ledge with a rappel chain secured around a tree. Rappel 75 feet to a 2 bolt chain anchor, then 150 feet to the ground and the start of "Sidewinder". There are more than 20 routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.11.|
|Divide Wall||This wall is located on the south side of the canyon, 0.8 miles past the turn-off for the Divide Road. The book describes 6 routes, 5.10s and 5.11s.|
|Chalcopyrite Wall||This wall is located 1.3 miles west of the Divide Road on the south side of Highway 141, again the approach is through private property. Be as inconspicuous as possible when approaching. Approach time about 10 minutes. The book describes only routes: 5.10c and 5.9+|
|Mighty Mouse Wall||Located on BLM land, 1.8 miles west of Divide Road, again on the south side of Highway 141, with a direct approach crossing the private property. The book describes only one route, 5.10+, 2 pitches.|
|Hidden Valley||Owned by Access Fund and located 2.0 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of Highway 141. It is adjacent to Fortress Wall. To avoid a private property approach, climbers must use the Access Fund trail, located 2.4 miles west of Divide Road directly below the western flank of Sunday Wall. Park at a pullout on the north side with a wooden stile crossing the fence, and Access Sign marking the trail. The trail climbs directly up to the west end of Sunday Wall, then heads east along the base and continues on to Hidden Valley and Fortress Walls. Great crack climbing. Approach time: 20 minutes. Hidden Valley Wall has at least 20 routes ranging from 5.8+ to 5.11.|
|Fortress Wall||The approach is the same as for Hidden Valley Wall. Both walls are adjacent to each other, Hidden Valley faces wet and Fortress Wall faces south. Approach time: 20 minutes. Excellent crack climbing. The book describes at least 8 routes, mostly 5.10s.|
|Sunday Wall||Located 2.2 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of the Highway 141. This is the 3rd wall owned by Access Fund with an adjacent corridor containing an access trail to all three Access Fund owned walls (Sunday, Fortress, and Hidden Valley). The trail is located 2.4 miles west of Divide Road, directly below the western flank of Sunday Wall. Park at a spacious pullout on the north side with a wooden stile crossing the fence, and Access Fund sign marking the trail head. The trail climbs directly up to the western portion of Sunday Wall and meets the rock near the start of Don Juan climb. This is the most popular wall in Unaweep! Most routes are trad, but there are some bolted routes as well. Approach time: 10 minutes. The book describes more than 31 routes, range: 5.6 to 5.12+. The most popular and classic is 3 pitch climb "Sweet Sunday Serenade". Sunday Wall on SP.|
|Raindrop Prow||Located on BLM land, 2.4 miles west of Divide Road on the south side of Highway 141, with a private property approach. The prow is 300 feet high, and offers excellent climbing and rock quality. Approach time: 15 minutes. The book describes 2 routes, 5.10+ and 5.11.|
|Television Wall||Located on private property, 2.5 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of Highway 141. Best approached by using the Access Fund trail up to Sunday Wall, then walking west along the base for approximately 0.25 miles (little bush wacking). This 400 to 450 foot cliff has high quality rock with a good selection of climbs. Approach time: 20 minutes. The book describes more than 13 routes ranging 5.6 to 5.11.|
|Jungle Book||BLM land, 2.5 miles west of Divide Road on the south side of Highway 141, with a private property approach. Be as inconspicuous as possible. Approach time: 30 minutes through thick, unrelenting scrub oak. The book describes 2 climbs: 5.9 and 5.10+.|
|Wall of Plenty||BLM land, 2.65 miles west of Divide Road on the south side of Highway 141, again private property approach. Approach time: 30 minutes again through scrub oak. The book describes 6 climbs mostly 5.9 and 5.10s.|
|Rube Buttress||BLM land, 2.85 miles west of Divide Road on the south side of Highway 141, with a private property approach. Approach time: about 15 minutes. The book describes only one route rated as 5.10a.|
|Cave Buttress||Private property, 3.0 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of Highway 141. This 300 feet cliff forms the east shoulder of the Mothers Buttress and has a large cave on its western flank, about 200 feet off the ground. Access is open at this time, but please respect the property owner by Leave-No-Trace ethic. Use the same approach as for Mothers Buttress. Approach time: 20 minutes. The book describes 3 routes, no rating.|
|Mothers Buttress||Private property, 3.1 miles west of Divide Road on north side of Highway 141. Fortunately, two local climbers own the portion of the cliff containing nearly all of the established routes, and they are graciously allowing access time at this time. They desire to maintain open access as long as climbers respect their property and leave no trace. Approach time: 10 minutes. This 500 to 650 feet cliff contains the highest concentration of routes in Unaweep with several classic lines, both crack and face. One of the first crags developed in the canyon, should not be missed. The book describes more than 50 routes from 5.7 to 5.10s. Mothers Buttress on SP|
|Twin Owls||4.4 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of Highway 141, on private property. Bob and Lisa, both experienced climbers, own a log cabin directly below this formation and have pioneered all the routes in the area. They are the envy of every climber who has ever dreamed of having their own private cliffs in their backyard. They have developed an approach trail through their property and ask the climbers use the designated pullout and stay on the trail. Park at the pullout located 0.25 miles east of mile marker 135 on the north side of the Highway 141. Twin Owls is a small formation 100 yards east of The Beehive on BLM land. A large horizontal white dike crosses the formation at 2/3 height. The book describes a 2 pitch climb to its top.|
|The Beehive||The parking is the same as for Twin Owls, the approach trail is well marked, and there are signs for The Beehive. Thanks to the owners of the private property, please respect them by keeping the area clean. The book describes only one established route - Daffy Duck Pinnacle 5.9, 2 pitch climb.|
|Lower Sun Tower||Located on private property, directly above mile marker 135 on the north side of Highway 141. A large notch separates lower and upper Sun Tower. The best approach is the same as for The Beehive. The owners=climbers of the log cabin by the parking area developed a beautiful approach trail. There are 4 established routes there: 5.6 to 5.9, and one of my favorites: Dovencourt.|
|Upper Sun Tower||Approach from the pullout by the log cabin, 0.25 miles east of mile marker 135. The approach trail is well marked, please respect the land owners. The book describes 2 lovely multi-pitch climbs to the top of the formation: 5.6 Betty and Ray's Adventure, and 5.7 Claret Cup Crack.|
|The Haunted House||BLM land, 2.3 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of Highway 141, with a private property approach. The book describes 4 routes: 5.8 x 2, 5.9, and 5.10+.|
|Thimble Rock||Private property located 13.0 miles west of Divide Road on the south side of Highway 141. The Craig ranching family owns the largest portion of private bottom land in the canyon, and so far they have allowed access to the cliffs on their property. Situated in one of the most beautiful and picturesque spots in Unaweep Canyon, this 900 foot monolith stands guard over the historic Driggs Mansion and surrounding valley. Approach the wall by first driving a short distance west (about 0.25 mile) to Driggs Mansion, a stone ruin below Thimble Rock with a large pullout and interpretive sign. At the east side of the pullout is a dirt road which angles off to the east at 45 degrees. Take this road and drive a short distance along the fence to a gate and park, then make a direct 10 to 15 minute approach to the base by foot. The book describes 2 routes: Trail of the Serpent 5.10+, 7 pitches, and Tail of the Serpent 5.10-, variation of the previous one.|
|Castle Rock||Private property 13.3 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of Highway 141. Basically, across from Thimble Rock. Park at the Driggs Mansion pullout on Highway 141, carefully cross the barb wire fence and make a 30 minute direct line-of-sight approach. This 215 feet pinnacle offers only two routes, but "Crown Jewel 5.10-" is worth the walk.|
|Adventure Wall||BLM land, 13.5 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of Highway 141, with a private property approach. Park again at Driggs Mansion pullout, cross the barb wire fence and make a 50 minute direct line-of-sight approach. At 500 feet in height, the main wall offers some exciting climbing and a significant amount of unexplored rock. The book describes only 3 multi-pitch 5.10s routes.|
|Unaweep Wall||Situated near the wester extent of Unaweep Canyon, this beautiful wall is located approximately 23.5 miles west of Divide Road on the north side of Highway 141. It is also located about 9.0 miles east of Gateway, and 10.5 miles west of Thimble Rock. It lies within BLM boundaries. At 1300 feet in height, Unaweep Wall is the largest rock face outcropping in the canyon. The book describes only one route: "Ancient Wisdom", rated as 5.11- A3+, 10 pitches.|
|Location: Sunday Wall.Very close to the Access trail. It is located just about 5-6 meters left of the point where the Access Fund trail meets the wall. Look for a vertical hand crack leading to a small ledge. The photo shows the ledge, and only the lower portion of the hand crack. I enjoyed practicing on this little section of the crack. Once on the first smaller ledge, just follow the crack to a bigger ledge, and the anchors will be very obvious. I thought that the climb got much easier higher up. Did place one medium size nut, and one medium size camalot. Descent: rappel with a single rope from the anchors. 1 pitch, 55-60 feet long. The guide book writes about a walk off, which I did not see, but rappel works great. Mountain Project Description|
|Location:Lower Sun TowerCrack of Don is located 25 feet uphill from "Sunup", obviously bolted route. Climb a broken hand crack up and slightly left for 80 feet to the same 2 bolt rappel anchor as for "Sunup". Descent: Rappel the route, there is also a walk off, which I did not try. This is a very enjoyable and easy lead, great for first time leaders! Mountain Project description|
|Location:Lower Sun TowerDovencourt is located on the north face of the tower, 15 feet below the notch. The photos show the route well. The climb follows the thin cracks. It looks pretty hard, but the small holds really hold. There is one bolt, otherwise many options for small to medium size gear placement. There are fixed anchors at the top. The descent is to rappel down. This is one of my favorite climbs. I did once 5 laps back to back on Dovencourt! Length: 70 feet, 1 pitch Mountain Project DescriptionIt is a popular route.|
|Location: Sunday Wall Beginner's Luck is numbered 1 on Sunday Wall in Baum's rock climbing guide. It is located on the left side from the Access Trail. You follow a small climber's path uphill. Baum's is writing about climbing an obvious right leaning hand crack, which is actually hard to spot. So we headed straight up on the smooth face towards the 1st bolt and anchors high above that. The climb was located behind a tree. There were 2 bolts on this route, and it was definitively harder than 5.7, especially the climb to the first bolt, which was about 6-7 meters high. I realized later that I climbed a more difficult routes, and "Beginner's Luck" was just a few meters to the west. The bolts were confusing on this climb. Descent: rappel Mountain Project Description and hopefully more helpful information.|
|Location: Lower Mother Buttress Starts as below mentioned No Name Route. Climb fingers into good hands up to a good ledge below a small alcove with offwidth above. Use sideways body stem to pass the offwidth (crux!) and gain a big sloping ledge. Finish straight up an open book corner with big chockstones and climb into big alcove and belay (85 feet). Descent: Walk to east end of ledge and downclimb class 3 and class 4 to the ground. Or you can rappel the route. Pro: small to large nuts, stoppers and cams, #4 camalot for the crux. Fixed anchors at the top. Mountain Project Description I loved the comment "It would probably be called 5.10 in Boulder Canyon and have a few bolts on it".|
|Location: Sunday Wall Baum's guide describes the same start as Beginner's Luck, so that is what we did. We followed the bolted route up to the anchors, 4 bolts, 70 feet route. I thought that this route was more difficult than 5.8, but again not sure if we were on the right route. Baum's guide is also describing 2 pitons, which we did not encounter. The first section was exactly same as Beginner's right, and then we moved to the right. We ended up at the same anchors. Descent: rappel. I realized later that we climbed some unknown bolted route, and Fearless First was what I was thinking is Beginner's Luck. So, please don't pay too much attention to too many bolts on this wall. Mountain Project Description|
|Location: Lower Mother ButtressStarts in a vertical hand crack next to a pine tree. Climb crack and chimney straight up for 120 feet to a big open corner with off width crack. Move right onto face and climb finger crack up through hands and fists to a big ledge. There are anchors at the top, or you can walk off to the east. (we got above the anchors and down climb to some other climbers on 4th class terrain). We also did the 5.9 variation to the left that follows a finger crack. Mountain Project Description|
|Location: Lower Sun TowerThis climb is easy to find if you follow the access trail towards Lower Sun Tower. The path is well marked, and brings you to the bottom of Lower Sun Tower Cliff, bolts are easy to spot. The climb is located on the lower east face of the tower, just a little uphill. Climb the face past 7 bolts to a 2 bolt anchor (sharing anchors with Crack of Don). I though that one move close to the bolt #4 required a 5.9 move. Length: 80 feet. Descent: Rappel the route. Mountain Project Description||Location: Lower Mothers Buttress Start in vertical crack (just west of Welcoming Party). Climb fingers and hands for 10 feet, then move left into off width section. Climb trough the offwidth onto a sloping ledge at the base of a beautiful hand crack. Climb slightly overhanging hands into loose fingers (crux) up to a sloping ledge, then finish straight up a 5.7 open book corner with big hands (I thought very large hands - it was OW for me) to a large ledge and belay (90 feet). Descent: Walk to east end of a ledge and down climb class 3 and class 4 to the ground. Or you can rap from fixed anchors. Pro: small to large cams recommended up 3.0. Mountain Project Description||Location:Sunday Wall Likely most the most popular 3 pitch route in Unaweep Canyon. Begin at a left facing dihedral with a right leaning hand crack. Pitch 1: The crux comes right off the ground with a wide stem and long reach for a hand crack (5.8). Climb fingers, hands and short off width up to a big sloping ledge with a 2 bolt rappel anchor at the east end (135 feet). Pitch 2: Climb 5.9 fingers/face in the corner for 20 feet. At this point the route leaves the main crack and angles left into a thin crack, then continues straight up to a good ledge in dike rock (75 feet). Pitch 3: Scramble 10 feet up to Sun Deck Ledge. Walk toward the west end of the ledge and climb the crack that splits the face and leans right. Climb the right angling crack up to a ledge at the base of a detached flake. Climb the flake and gain a nice finger crack and climb straight up through 5.9 fingers/hands. Near the top of cliff, a face traverse right will lead directly to the rappel station at the top of "Sun Dancer". (155 feet). SP DescriptionMountain Project Description|
When driving to Unaweep Canyon, bouldering possibilities are unlimited from the head of Lower East Creek Canyon to the top of Nine Mile Hill. Especially good is Pump House Traverse (30 to 40 foot traverse) located 7.2 miles west of the intersection at Highway 50 and 141, and right at mile marker 147. Turn Right onto a single track dirt road for 50 yards and park. Walk a short distance downhill towards the creek to the first big boulder which overhangs the creek side.
Another good bouldering spot is located just east of mile marker 149 with several campsites. The obvious large boulder just off the highway (easily identified with chalk marks) has several fragile dinosaur bone imprints on its east face.
There are really thousands of boulders scattered around. A bouldering paradise!
Bouldering Area Description on SP
Climbing is free, as well as parking. Please avoid walking on private property on the bottom of the canyon.
In 1990s, the Access Fund responded to the concerns of local climbers by donating money to buy 56 acres containing two most popular cliffs, Hidden Valley and Sunday Walls. The Access Fund later purchased Fortress Wall and constructed an access trail across private property.
The Access Fund is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open and conserving the climbing environment. You can support this organization.
Access Fund Link
CampingPlease don't camp on the private bottom land in Unaweep Canyon.
From the intersection of Highway 50 and 141 at Whitewater, drive 1.4 miles southwest on 141 to the head of Lower East Creek Canyon. BLM public land starts here and continues for 6.3 miles to the top of Nine Mile Hill. Many good camping sites (as well as great bouldering) are available between these two points.
The nicest and most available camping in Unaweep Canyon is located off Divide Road on BLM land, and in the adjacent Uncompahgre National Forest. From the intersection of 141 and 50, drive southwest towards Gateway for approximately 13.6 miles. Just past a ranch house, look for a sign "National Forest Access, Divide Road - Uncompahgre Plateau". Turn left (east) and drive about 2.1 miles to a cattle guard and BLM sign. Several nice camping sites are available along the road.
GeologyThe Precambrian metamorphic rock that forms the cliffs in Unaweep Canyon are some of the oldest in Colorado, dated at 1.4 to 1.7 billion years old. Most of the rock is a low grade metamorphic granite/gneiss, although a few areas of younger granitic intrusive rock is present. This is especially evident at Juniper, Quarry, and Divide Walls, where the rock is of exceptionally high quality and would be generally classified as a quartz monzonite.
The canyon began forming some 300 million years ago during the Uncompahgre Uplift and now displays a great unconformity, with Triasic red rocks lying directly on top of the Precambrian granite and metamorphic rocks. Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone forms the walls of Lower East Creek Canyon and provides excellent climbing and bouldering in these areas.
Unaweep canyon cut across the Uncompahgre Plateau in western Colorado: two creeks flow out of the canyon, East Canyon Creek and West Canyon Creek, separated by Unaweep Divide nearer the east end of the canyon.
There are multiple explanations for one canyon have two outflow creeks. One explanation holds that in ancient times, the Dolores River flowed through Unaweep and into the Gunnison River south Grand Junction. A second explanation is that the Gunnison River itself once flowed through the canyon. The uplift of the Uncompahgre Plateau between 5 and 15 million years ago resulted in the course change of the river involved and left the canyon without a river.
A little history...
One of the most historic sites along the Scenic Byway in Unaweep is the Driggs Mansion, a stone ruin located just west of majestic Thimble Rock. The mansion was built around 1915 by Lawrence K. Driggs., a wealthy New York lawyer. The structure was considered lavish for its time and was reportedly built for his future bride to be, who apparently refused to live in such wild and desolate isolation. The abandoned structure later became the Chateau Thimble Rock, a hunting lodge, and eventually met its demise through vandalism.