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Climbing in the 1970s: Winter Days at the Garden of the Gods

I was thinking this morning about climbing in the 1970s.

A couple days ago I was talking with my friend and climbing partner Brian Shelton about today's scene. He had just returned from a few days climbing at Red Rocks near Las Vegas and remarked at the crowds at the crags. There were queues at the base of popular routes and on one popular 5.7 2-pitch routes the conga line was 7 deep and a couple parties were leading and stickclipping almost every bolt.

I told Brian, that's why it's good here in the's easy to get away and have a wilderness experience and see no one. It's still like climbing in the seventies.

Back then the world was our oyster. There were first ascents everywhere and new crags and climbing areas wanting to be discovered. Shelf Road, Wall Street, Rifle, Wild Iris, and any other sport climbing area didn't exist.

And there were few climbers around. I knew everyone local who climbed and the outer network was broad. If we went over to the desert around Moab and ran into another group of climbers, chances were good that we either knew each other or had heard about each other.

I was also thinking this morning about how few climbers I see at the Garden of the Gods now in the winter. Back then there would be at least 4 or 5 parties on a warm winter day, cranking classics or doing new routes. Now when I go out there on a sunny 55-degree day I might see a single party on Montezuma Tower or West Point Crack or no one. I figure they're all in the rock gym training.

Here's a 1970s shot of Mack Johnson belaying Steve Hong on Dust to Dust on a winter's day in early 1977. Mack and Steve both attended Colorado College at that time, along with Ed Webster. Dust to Dust, a runout 5.10 route on the upper Finger Face, is rarely done now. In fact, I don't think I've seen a party on it since I last climbed it in 2001.

Mack Johnson belays Steve Hong at the Garden of the Gods in 1977. Photograph @ Stewart M. Green

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