Skunk Canyon - Stairway to Heaven (5.4)

Skunk Canyon - Stairway to Heaven (5.4)

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 39.97819°N / 105.28897°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Half a day
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.4 (YDS)
Additional Information Difficulty: 5.4
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 6
Additional Information Grade: II
Sign the Climber's Log


Stairway to Heaven is, inexplicably, one of the elite Roach Top Ten Flatiron routes. Why this is is anyone's guess! I found the route to be interesting in the one or two technical sections but otherwise irritating and grungy. Stairway to Heaven is shown in the topos in Richard Rossiter's Flatirons Guidebook (#17 on page 150), but is not described in the text. There are two or three bone-fide technical pitches at about 5.4, but the remainder of the route is 3rd and 4th class scrambling.

On the plus side, you are treated to fantastic views the whole way of the north face of Dinosaur Mountain and the many other flatirons on either side of Skunk Canyon. While the rest of Skunk Canyon is closed seasonally for raptor nesting, Ridge One is typically open year round.

Skunk Canyon and the adjacent Dinosaur Mountain are composed of four strata of tilted rock. These are named Ridge One (farthest east) through Ridge Four (farthest west). Stairway to Heaven runs up the entire length of Ridge One from the bottom of Skunk Canyon to the eastern slopes of Green Mountain.

Approach the route from NCAR, heading west to the Mesa Trail. Turn right (north) on the Mesa Trail and descend quickly into Skunk Canyon. As the trail ascends through a series of switchbacks, look left for a rough use trail headed into the depths of the canyon. From here you're on your own! There are segments of a rough trail from here on, but fallen trees and masses of poison ivy (in season) may block your path. You may find that the easiest route follows the creekbed itself.

Skunk Canyon from the Mesa Trail. Stairway to Heaven follows the red line up Ridge One.

Route Description

Depending how comfortable you are with 4th-class scrambling, this route can be climbed as roughly six roped pitches or several roped pitches interspersed with unroped scrambling.

  • The route starts at an obvious slab just right of a small roof with bolts (The Guardian, 5.12d, also not in Rossiter). Climb this slab (5.4, crux pitch) and bypass a large roof on the left. Belay in the boulder-choked gully above.

  • Follow easy terrain for a while through some trees on a ledge then break out onto the low-angle ridge itself (4th class).

  • At the top of the ridge, take to the trees again for a short pitch (3rd class) coming up to the base of the Like Heaven block half way up the ridge.

  • Climb the east face of the ridge below Like Heaven belaying at the up-ridge joint between Like Heaven and the upper part of the ridge (5.4). Alternatively, continue to the top of Like Heaven where there is a two-bolt anchor.

  • From above Like Heaven, continue traversing low-angle ridgeline similar in feel to the last few pitches of the First Flatiron (5.0?). Beware rope drag!

  • At the end of the ridge, you will be in a boulder-choked area where the gully east of Ridge One comes up to within a few meters of the ridge top. This is a convenient escape point.

  • The summit of the route itself is one more long pitch up the final Heaven Pinnacle farther on (5.4?).

  • Descend by downclimbing the last pitch or by rapping from a tree high on the final tower. From the base of the Heaven tower, scramble down nasty, loose scree to the east of Ridge One to the canyon floor. It looks like you can also rap west to the gully between Ridges One and Two, but I have no data on this route.

    Essential Gear

    This is typical grungy Flatiron climbing. Err in favor of long ropes and light racks. Protection is scant on much of the climb. Good shoes for the descent are a good idea as well.

    Miscellaneous Info

    If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.

    Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

    Viewing: 1-2 of 2

    brenta - Jan 19, 2006 12:14 pm - Hasn't voted

    Route Comment

    Rossiter's older guidebook (Boulder Climbs North) gives a description of Stairway to Heaven. The route gets the "quality star" and is made to seem enticing. Rossiter, in particular, praises the "exquisite ridge" leading to the summit of Like Heaven. The Guardian is also described in the older book.

    If you look at the index of the newer Rock Climbing the Flatirons, you'll find that both Stairway to Heaven and The Guardian should be found on Page 153, where the list of routes, however, stops at number 15. Maybe a late editorial decision, not well implemented, or just a composition problem that led to an unplanned omission.


    CharlesD - Jan 19, 2006 1:17 pm - Hasn't voted

    Route Comment

    There are several editorial problems in the Rossiter Flatiron book, including a number of mis-spelled rock names ("Tow-Move Rock").

    I really wonder how Stairway ended up as a classic while the Seal didn't. The Seal is much more aesthetic.

    Viewing: 1-2 of 2

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