The first time I found out about the Waldo Canyon fire, I was climbing a multi-pitch rock climb near the top of Pikes Peak. I was climbing up the last pitch and looked behind me at the beautiful view of the Springs and Ute pass to see a plume of black smoke that looked like a mushroom cloud sprouting from the forests in the canyon just over the ridge.
By the time I had finished the climb and was coming down, the tower of smoke had filled the entire canyon. I remember looking at it and not being able to make out a single tree, but being able to see plumes of flame rising high above the trees. The flames must have been 200 feet tall.
What was the worst part of the fire for me, though, was when I realized how much the Waldo Canyon fire would affect the climbing in the Colorado Springs area.
My entire college career, I have been dreaming of bolting a new sport route and contributing to the climbing community that I cared so much about. This summer, I had not just found a route, but an entire wall, 45 minutes away from Colorado College. It was in a place called William’s Canyon, which was a quiet local climbing spot that already had some good routes in it.
I had been there in the past, but over the summer I went to a new area and stumbled across a 60-ft-long 20-degree overhanging wall that had never been climbed on. At first, the rock looked fragile (which is why it was never bolted), but after a three-hour solo session of crowbaring and violently hitting with a hammer, one vertical line took on its final form – an awesome, hard, overhanging sport pitch, just outside of town. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. The wall probably had six or seven more lines just like that one, and I had claim to it.
I was planning on bolting the climb a day before the Waldo Canyon fire, and William’s Canyon got hit hard because it is one canyon over from Waldo. I was devastated that I could not bolt that week, but I figured that the canyon would open up by the time school started.
A few weeks ago, Jack Fields was hiking in William’s Canyon and received a $2,500 fine for being there. He also found out that the canyon was not opening back up for another six years. This means that my wall will not be bolted until after I am long gone from Colorado Springs, and I will probably never climb the wall that I had been dreaming about for so long.
Along with William’s Canyon, the Waldo Canyon fire also closed down all of Rampart Range Road, which has been an access way for climbers since the 70s. Some of the best areas on the road are Parachute Rock, Devil’s Head, Scorpio Crack, Jackson Creek, Split Rock, The Taj Mahal and Cabin Ridge Rock. I know many people who were excited to get on the famous Scorpio crack or the super classic overhanging hand crack at Parachute rock, and now they have to wait for six years before they even have the chance.
What makes six years a particularly long time is that it is longer than a college degree, and for a climbing community that has a tradition of passing on knowledge about local climbing areas, this can be truly detrimental for the Colorado College climbing community farther into the future than just six years.