West Side Story

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 38.71934°N / 109.30221°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing, Aid Climbing, Big Wall
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: A few days
Additional Information Difficulty: C3
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.9 (YDS)
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 10
Additional Information Grade: VI
Sign the Climber's Log


West Side Story provides perhaps the "easiest" way to the top of Cottontail Tower, at 5.9 C3. However, this route should not be underestimated by any means. Really fast parties might be able to do it in a long day, but if you are slow like us, plan on 3-4 days of climbing in order to complete this. West Side Story first begins in a corner system beneath the saddle that connects Cottontail to its neighbor, Echo Tower. After reaching said saddle, the route winds up, traversing ever more to the right, before ascending a chimney to the summit shoulder. First climbed in 1969 by a group of 6 including Harvey Carter, the route was truly visionary for its time. 

For the most part, the route ascends relatively clean rock, but there are some pitches that are junk shows in terms of choss. Wandering pitches up higher also add to the difficulties. Since the early 1990s, this route has largely gone on clean aid. Consider the softness and character of the rock before altering it with the hammer. There are two distinct aid cruxes, one on pitch 4 and one on pitch 7, both C3. The free climbing weighs in at well protected 5.9 on pitch 8 and runout 5.7 on pitch 9 (these pitches are usually combined). There are many sections on other pitches that require free climbing out of the aiders as well, unless you have lasso skills. 

Getting There

Hike along the trail from the parking lot for about a mile and find yourself at the base of of the massive west face of the tower. Leave the trail and head for a sloping ledge in the area directly beneath the left end of the saddle higher up that connects Echo and Cottontail. The route begins about 30 yards to the left of the route Trick of the Tail, which can be identified by a bolt about 20 feet off the ground. 

Route Description

Pitch 1: 5.9 C2 130 feet. Begin beneath a deep chimney. Climb a 5.8 crack to a bulge with 2 old studs. Climb into the deep chimney and climb the wide crack in the back to another ledge. Climb more wide cracks and traverse right onto the very large belay ledge. Watch for rope drag.

Pitch 2 5.7 C2+ 85 feet. Continue straight up from the belay through several bulges, past a fixed pin and a bolt. Climb the 5.7 squeeze chimney to the ledge and bolted belay anchor.

Pitch 3 5.8 C2 100 feet. Traverse left through "The Beach" into the corner and climb muddy, loose rock. Move right (do not go to drilled angle above), pass an old bolt and make some dicey free moves to the base of the offwidth and continue to the ledge and anchor to the right.

Pitch 4 5.9 C3 100 feet. Move left from the anchor and either free climb up a loose dihedral with no pro, or aid up an angling scarred crack on the left. Tri cams are useful here. Gain the bolt ladder and follow it to the saddle.

Pitch 5 5.9 C2/3 65 feet. Walk across the saddle and climb the manky bolt ladder with a very high first bolt (missing bolt). Belay at bolted anchors on a ledge.

Pitch 6 5.9 C2 90 feet. Traverse right and gain a crack system in a shallow corner. Belay at bolts in the notch.

Pitch 7 5.8 C3 130 feet. 5.8 stemming above the belay leads to a right-ward traverse. Climb a thin seam to a bolt ladder that gradually veers to the right. Belay at a spacious ledge with bolts.

Pitch 8. 5.9 60 feet. Climb the offwidth above the belay to a 5.8 squeeze chimney.

Pitch 9. 5.7 R 50 feet. Climb the chimney to the shoulder of the tower.

Pitches 8 and 9 can be combined, be sure to watch for rope drag.

Pitch 10. 5.8 C1+ 40 feet. Walk around to the south side of the summit block and climb a short, wide crack to a bolt beneath the final slab.

Descent (assuming you have two 60 meter ropes):

1. Single rope rap from the summit back to the shoulder atop P9.

2. Double rope rap to the top of P7.

3. Double rope rap to the top of P6. This rappel is traversing in nature and tricky to negotiate. Consider fixing a thin line between the anchors to help guide you.

4. Double rope rap to the top of pitch 5. Again, slightly traversing in nature.

5. Single rope rap to the saddle.

6. Double rope rap to the top of P2.

7. Single rope rap to the top of P1.

8. Double rope rap to the ground. 

Alternatively, you could do a rappel straight down the route Road Kill using fixed anchors. Be sure to scope these out from the ground with the binocs before trying this, and for goodness sakes, bring extra cord to reinforce old webbing!

Essential Gear

  • 1 set of TCUs
  • 1x BD Camalot .3-.5
  • 3x BD Camalot .75-3
  • 2x BD Camalot 4
  • Least one of each: BD 5, BD 6
  • 2x tri cams .5-2
  • 1x .25 tri cam and 2.5 tri cam
  • Few offset cams, offset nuts, and rivet hangers/tie-offs.
  • Many slings, draws, biners, and maybe some sawed off angles for hand placing
  • Whatever else the usual Fisher aid rack calls for (beer). 


Here is an excellent Topo of the route made by Derek. 

West Side Story Topo
Topo for West Side Story 5.9 C3, made by Derek, from his trip report.

More info

  • Trip report of our climb of West Side Story, written by Derek, with many more photos from the route. 
  • MountainProject route entry. 



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.