Chaos Canyon, situated in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, has gained international status and become a household name in the world bouldering scene. Located at 10,000 feet, in a spectacular alpine setting, "Chaos" as it is typically known, has something to offer every kind of boulderer. With an abundance of highly featured, steep walls and overhangs, the boulders of both Upper and Lower Chaos have produced quality problems from V0 to V15. Little wonder that boulderers willingly brave the 45 minute hike to Lake Haiyaha or the hour plus to Upper Chaos
However this bouldering paradise has not been without problems. This is a fragile area, where plant and animal life struggles to maintain a toehold in a severe and barren environment. User impact has been hard to avoid noticing over the past six or seven years. Some climbers have been too ready to disregard the wilderness ethic in favor of a group mentality that emphasizes doing the problem at any price. Offenses include stashing pads overnight, landscaping landings, destruction of vegetation, and so on. The rangers at RMNP are watching the situation and it is up to every single visitor, regardless of climbing ability, to act as a good steward of a vital living natural resource. Otherwise painful and restrictive regulations could change forever the freedom that many have taken for granted in the mountains.
A final point has to do with conditions. The season for Chaos runs from approximately June to October, depending on snow. Visitors to RMNP should be prepared for any kind of weather. This includes baking sun, cold drenching downpours, hail, and potentially lethal lightning strikes. The hike back down can be complicated by maneuvering across slippery talus which can lead to a twisted or broken ankle or worse. Make sure you have brought a warm waterproof jacket and plenty to eat and drink. Watch out for altitude sickness if you are coming from lower elevations.
Finally remember that the landing for 95% of the boulders is jagged talus, making a crashpad, preferably several, virtually mandatory. If you seriously injure yourself, you are 2.2 miles and 800' elevation from assistance. Bouldering alone here therefore can be a serious matter. Be very careful. It is worth noting that cellphone reception is generally good in Upper Chaos and spotty in Lower.
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If you want to add any problems in RMNP check to make sure there is not an area or boulder already set up that it can be added to. Do not add individual problems to this site unless there is an area and boulder description in place. If there aren't any, feel free to add them but make sure the descriptions are detailed and accurate for all three, area, boulder, and problem.
To get to Lower Chaos Canyon, you must enter Rocky Mountain National Park, just west of Estes Park on US 36. This requires buying a $20 week pass or $40 yearly pass. Nation-wide National Parks passes work here as well. Shortly after leaving the park entrance, you must turn left on Bear Lake Road to get to Bear Lake, following this road for approximately 10 miles to Bear Lake. Be advised that the Bear Lake parking lot is very full on summer weekends and you may have to turn around, park at the shuttle parking (prominently signed) and catch the free shuttle that runs along the upper Bear Lake Road. You can even catch a shuttle from Estes Park itself. Carpooling is highly recommended. Watch your speed. Rangers will ticket you.
From the parking lot, you can head up the trail for Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Lake Haiyaha. However, since you will likely be carrying a pad or two, sharing the trail with other hikers can be difficult. The trail is narrow and often filled with families and other groups. Please remember to be courteous and friendly to other hikers. If they ask what you are carrying, explain clearly and nicely and move on.
At Nymph Lake, head up another steep section for another 10-15 minutes to the junction for Dream and Emerald Lakes. For problems such as the Kine Traverse, head right to Emerald Lake. This is also the approach for Hallett Peak. For Chaos Canyon, head left and tackle a steep pair of switchbacks that lead up to beautiful views of Long's Peak before a short dip and the stream that leads to Lake Haiyaha. From the parking lot, you can expect to take between 30 and 40 minutes to get here, depending on fitness.
From where the short descent ends, look on the right for an obvious trail heading right into the trees. Follow this, which can be wet in spring (stay on it, don't add social trails) to a spot where you can either rock-hop close to the edge of the lake, heading southwest, or stay more in the woods, eventually heading up and right along the talus. For the Warm-up Boulder, heading left is best. You will see the boulder on the left after about 5 minutes. The right option is best for boulders such as the Centaur Boulder, the Automator, or Deep Puddle Dynamics. The very tall boulder that is very prominent is the Skyscraper. From the main trail, expect to take about 5-10 minutes to find your way to the bouldering proper.
It is worth remembering that finding specific boulders in Chaos Canyon can be difficult (It is named Chaos for a reason!). The general drift of the canyon is east-west so as you look up the canyon you are looking west. To your right is north and left is south. This will be helpful on a number of descriptions.
Weather station 9.5 miles from here
42 Total Routes
['4 Stars',7],['3 Stars',17],['2 Stars',12],['1 Star',6],['Bomb',0]
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By Joshua Merriam
From: Boulder, CO
Dec 8, 2008
Could an admin move my entries to the new area?
By Eli Helmuth
From: Estes Park, CO
Aug 23, 2009
The Bear Lk. trailhead is at 9450' and Lake Haiyaha sits at approx. 10,200'- much of the bouldering is above the lake.
It is amazing that pebble pinchers 'willingly brave' this 45 minute uphill hike.
By Peter Beal
From: Boulder Colorado
Aug 24, 2009
800 feet is not much rise, especially given how mellow the trail is. The hike to the Satellites in Boulder is the same elevation gain a but much steeper hike to get to bouldering that is not nearly as good.
From: Boulder, CO
Oct 1, 2010
People really need to have more respect for this place, it's already been trashed by overuse.