Twenty-one years ago, my family made a move that would change the course of my life. In this new home, surrounded by mountains, with hiking trails in every direction leading to world class cliffs, I found my place of belonging at the local climbing gym. I’m one of those lucky kids who grew up in Estes Park.
Hiking to the top of Flattop or Deer Mountain was a standard weekend activity for my family. My parents loved the outdoors and wanted desperately for my brother and I to share the same admiration for the peaks around us. Little did they know, an afternoon trip to the Estes Park Mountain Shop would cement my love for rock climbing and pave the way for a life spent scrambling up cliffs.
I call climbing my “fake job” – I get to play outside every day, searching for the next objective and dedicating myself to climbing from bottom to top without falling or weighting the rope. Sure, it’s a bit of an arbitrary goal, but I love it. Hanging in the middle of a rock face, searching for foot placements and hand sequences is my happy place. It’s like working the 3,000-piece puzzle over Christmas and trying to find Santa’s ear. It’ll drive you crazy with frustration, but when you realize it was right under your nose the entire time, everything just clicks into place. The satisfaction of stringing little bits of knowledge together in order to hoist yourself up a big rock…well, you’re just going to have to try it yourself.
The best part is, some of my favorite places in the world to climb are right here at home. While I grew up climbing in the gym, the outdoor crags around Estes Park are what keep me coming back. I can climb high above town, look out over the valley, and spot my house from a route at The Crags, above Highway 7. I can watch sunrise from above tree line on the Longs Peak trail, exhaust myself on a few technical granite pitches, dip my toes in Chasm Lake, snap a photo of The Diamond, and get a proper high-altitude sunburn, all before lunch. Or if a friend only has a few hours after work, we can run up to Jurassic Park and climb some of the most scenic routes our small town has to offer. Weekends at the Monastery are another favorite, with incredible views of Longs Peak, and some of the most exciting sport climbing in the world, all a 30-minute hike from the most relaxing camping you can imagine.
From hidden gems to classic test pieces, it’s not only the places in Estes Park that make it special, but the people. Our little town is full of big personalities and loads of talented athletes. Whether your climbing hero is establishing a new route at a backyard crag, your fifth grade teacher is setting personal records on a favorite trail run, your childhood climbing coach is going on a full moon hike to Gem Lake, or your 70 year old neighbor is logging his 200th lap up to Bridal Veil Falls, this town is bustling with action.
But don’t be fooled. Each of these motivated folks is down to earth and eager to give you a few local tips on a hike, climb, or trail run over a cold beer downtown. Convenient access to trails and stunning mountain views may have been what drew my family to Estes all those years ago, but the people who call this town home are the reason they stayed.
I'm sure glad they did!