At 7,893’, Garfield County’s Red Mountain isn’t a very powerful peak, but it does have a name and a dramatic north face that towers 1,600’ above I-70 and West Glenwood Springs. It is the namesake for several business in Glenwood. This steep, broken face consists of loose, rotten cliff bands punctuated by several nasty gullies whose steepness exceeds 60 degrees. It seems like an unlikely place for a climb. Despite these drawbacks, there are two possible routes directly up the face: a large couloir just east of center (class 5) and a dirt buttress that forms this couloir’s west ridge (class 4). Both of these routes are extremely steep, loose and dangerous. They are also theoretical, and it is possible, if not likely, that they have never been climbed. The North Couloir has been skied, however, by at least two brave parties in banner snow years.
Red Mountain was ground zero for the Coal Seam Fire in 2002 and you will see the burnt carcasses of pine trees no matter which route you take. The scrub oak is starting to grow back, the pine trees are not.
[img:688270:aligncenter:medium:A wide view of Red Mountain's north face in early winter]
Glenwood Springs is located off I-70 at exit 116. There are two trailheads which can access Red Mountain:
Red Mountain trail:
This trail provides access to Red Mountain's east slopes. From downtown Glenwood Springs, find 7th Street (which goes under the Grand Avenue Bridge) and head west. Cross the Roaring Fork River and turn right at the T-intersection (and light) onto Midland Avenue. After .1 mile, turn left onto Red Mountain Dr. If you come to the Glenwood Springs Community Center you have gone too far. Follow Red Mountain Dr. for .15 mile through a quiet neighborhood and turn right on W. 9th St. The trailhead is just ahead.
Community Center Trailhead:
Follow the direction to the Red Mountain trailhead to Midland Avenue. DO NOT turn on Red Mountain Dr but continue on Midland for .4 miles to Wulfsohn Rd. Turn left. Turn into the Glenwood Springs Community Center parking lot and park next to the community garden. A small trail begins here and heads towards Red Mountain's (obvious) north face.
RoutesRed Mountain trail
The Red Mountain Trail is a popular route that follows a private road (non-motorized access is allowed) up the eastern slopes of Red Mountain. This is the easiest way to climb Red Mountain but it is long. Follow the road for 5.7 miles as it switchbacks its way up the mountain offering occasional views of Glenwood Springs. When the road levels out, a spur option takes you to a large cross that is usually illuminated at night. This is a popular destination. To reach the true summit you will have to depart from the road and scamper up a bushy ridge to the non-descript summit.
Singletrack variation: A singletrack trail follows the road and offers a shorter, steeper and more direct way to reach the summit. Still only class 1.
This alternative to the crowded and pedestrian Red Mtn Trail offers a steep class 2 ascent up the east side of Red Mtn’s north face. From the Red Mountain TH hike up the road until you reach the base of the NE ridge. When convenient begin a grueling scramble up to the ridge itself. It is steep and strenuous but not dangerous. Once on the ridge ascend towards the top of Red Mountain’s North Face enjoying the astounding views. This route used to be more difficult due to thick oak brush but the Coal Seam Fire of 2002 significantly cleaned out the underbrush. Hike through the charred carcasses of what once was a thick pine forest up the final pitches to the top and peer down the North Couloir. Look appealing?
This ridge is similar in character to the northeast ridge. The two ridges, in fact, converge 2/3rds of the way up the mtn. This route is probably best used as a descent route after summiting from one of the north face direct routes. It will take you back to your car. Start at the Glenwood Springs Community Center and follow the Wulfsohn Ranch trail towards the mountain. When you are at the bottom of this ridge, leave it at your convenience and begin the steep ascent. After 1000’ of climbing you will join the northeast ridge for the final jaunt to the top of the face. Though this isn’t the summit, this location has the best views. Purists will hike the half mile out and back to the true summit to complete the day’s adventure.
North Couloir Direct
This route is probably heinous, but it is doable. This is Red Mountain’s most difficult climbing route. It is steep, loose, committing and dangerous. Approach this dangerous couloir with the utmost caution. Luckily, you will not encounter any other climbing parties, so you need only worry about your climbing partners for knocking rocks onto each other. Climb in a small group and move with deliberation.
I have never climbed this route, but I have been scouting it for several years. The route, therefore, is somewhat theoretical. I have climbed to its base and looked up it from the bottom and peered down it from the top. It is the real deal. Expect rock similar to what you might encounter on Pyramid Peak or the Maroon Bells only worse. It is also steeper than the standard routes on either of those peaks.
The bottom half of the route is a steep, loose couloir broken by an occasional cliff band. It shouldn’t exceed class 4. As you climb the gradient increases steadily until you reach the crux not far below the top. Here, there is an extended cliffband with several options. You will probably want to carefully pick the line with the most solid rock. Doubtless there is unavoidable class 5 here. After surmounting the crux cliffband there is still some loose and dangerous scree to reach the top of the face. A fall anywhere near this section would almost certainly be the end. Take the time to reach Red Mountain’s true summit, no matter how mundane and anticlimactic it might seem. Descend a different route, probably the North ridge.
[img:688269:aligncenter:medium:A closer view of Red Mountain's north face in early winter]
[img:688272:aligncenter:medium:Same photo of Red Mountain's North Face with routes drawn in]
This Buttress offers a slightly easier way to climb the North face. It is not quite as steep as the North Couloir and the shrubs and trees make the terrain a little more stable. Still, it is very steep and you can expect some class 4 sections.
There are several areas to camp nearby including National Forest camping up Four Mile Rd. and developed campgrounds at the Glenwood Canyon Resort in No Name two miles east of Glenwood Springs and at Amy's Acres just west of town. Check with the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce
for more information.
External LinksGlenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce
- local beta and camping info