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Routes in The Painted Wall

Dragon, The T 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a A4 R
Forrest-Walker T 5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b A4 R
Journey Through Mirkwood T 5.11b/c 6c+ 23 VIII- 24 E4 6a
Southern Arete T 5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b R
Terrible Tadpole, The T 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a V0 4 WI3 M4 R
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GPS: 38.579, -107.703 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
Page Views: 23,401 total · 101/month
Shared By: slevin on Nov 29, 1999
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac
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Access Issue: Seasonal Raptor Closures Details


The Painted Wall is the tallest cliff in Colorado, and the third tallest in the lower 48 after El Cap and Notch Peak. The complex and visually stunning wall has a well-deserved reputation for loose rock and committing climbing.

Before climbing on it, and to acquaint yourself with the general downstream layout, I suggest a hike to the top of the Painted Wall along the North Rim. From the ranger station follow the North Vista trail past Exclamation Point (near here one catches a good view of the Escape Artist buttress) and towards Green Mountain. Well past here, as the trail turns noticeably uphill it is necessary to head overland toward the rim, crossing a large meadow before reaching the trees, and with routefinding difficulties, the top of the cliff. The last part of the hike should give you some respect for the inevitable late-night trudge back to the campground after climbing on the Painted Wall. (From rim to meadow was cairned as of October 2012.) About 3+ hours round trip with good beta.

Another excellent prep session is to descend SOB Draw en route to another objective, drop gear and hike downriver to the Painted Wall, then return and climb your route, knowing it will be shorter than a Painted Wall objective. Depending on season and water levels, the hike along the river can be an enjoyable romp, or a brush with Death by Poison Ivy. You will pass all the Arete climbs, from Lauren's and the Russian Arete all the way to the Porcelain Arete, the last and most elegant of formations holding these adventure climbs.

As you approach the Painted Wall from below, several features come into view. You first pass the Northern (sometimes called Eastern) Arete of the Painted Wall, a climb with good 5.10+ down low and the worst bush thrashing in the Black up high. Just left of this is a sloping talus field perched several hundred feet of lower 5th class climbing off the deck. From this platform the Dragon, Serpent and several other routes begin. Left of the terrace is a massive rib of rock descending to the river and forming a large R-facing corner. This is the start of the Forrest-Walker, Stratosphere and the Southern Arete, the climb done by the vast majority of climbers who venture here. If approaching for these climbs, try to stay low near the river below the wall, or you may get stuck too high on really loose talus. Approach is roughly 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on your objective.

Climbing on the Painted Wall involves either a very long day with lots of climbing, or a big-wall approach. If you plan on campground-to-campground in-a-day, climb fast and bring a headlamp. Best for the Southern and Northern Aretes and Journey Through Mirkwood (although many parties intentionally bivy on this), and (hopefully) for Stratosfear. In general, consider an unplanned bivy a possibility. Ascents of the aid routes, and for many, the spectacular Serpent (which has been done in an 13.5 hours by Mike Pennings and Josh Wharton) will require portaledges and haul bags. The climbing season is short due to bird nesting closures from April 1 to July 31, effectively eliminating May, the prime time to climb (with long days and lower temperatures). August and early September can be very hot; the winter can be frigid.

The nature of the rock on the Painted Wall is troubling. The rock is often shattered, plated, sharp, and loose, formed into blocky passages without distinct lines. This results in a climbing experience at once challenging, but also quite nebulous and fuzzy. This is not the place to climb on your slinky 9.0 rope; indeed, some climbers lead on double 10mm (or thicker) ropes on routes like The Serpent/Dragon and Stratosfear. Remember to interpret any route description with caution. Treat any climb on the Painted Wall as a major undertaking demanding experience and commitment from the climber.

Getting There

From the North Rim campground, head down the SOB Draw to the river, then downstream to the Painted Wall.


A. Southern Arete, V 10 R, 15-20p, gear.

B. Journey Through Mirkwood, V 11, 2000', gear & bolts.
C. Forrest-Walker, VI 10+ A4 R, 22p, 2200', gear.
D. The Dragon, VI 9 A4 R, 16p, 2000', gear.

5 Total Climbs

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Classic Climbing Routes at The Painted Wall

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b R
Southern Arete
5.11b/c 6c+ 23 VIII- 24 E4 6a
Journey Through Mirkwood
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
Southern Arete
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b R Trad
Journey Through Mirkwood
5.11b/c 6c+ 23 VIII- 24 E4 6a Trad
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anybody have any info on the DRAGON ROUTE?rack etc.. Sep 30, 2004
My college advisor, David Lovejoy, was on the FA of the Dragon route. He told me that he was the most scared he had ever been the whole time (several days on the wall, not sure exactly). He said there were times when he thought the whole party might rip from the wall. Rusty Baillie was the major force behind completing the climb; many people at Prescott College think he is totally crazy. I personally think he is made of bigger and better stuff than the rest of us. I have never climbed in the Black Canyon, but judging from the above description, David's comments to me, and my own experiences with Rusty when he was in his sixties (still way harder than anybody), I might suggest you take a long hard look at why you climb before taking on a project like the Dragon.

But what do I know? Oct 1, 2004
The Dragon is a very serious route, the real deal! This is NOT a free climb, though you will do free moves on every pitch. If you go be competent on inobvious obscure aid placements. Though this is not as seriously rated as many modern air routes it is NOT a route for beginning aid climbers. Note... Rusty did some extremely crazy stuff but he was in no way crazy. He was certainly made of sterner stuff than most and a tremendously talented climber. Oct 2, 2004
Keegan Dimmick
Winchester, VA
Keegan Dimmick   Winchester, VA
There was an excellent story in Climbing about this route I believe. Very epic FA. Apr 2, 2008
Listen to Steve when he suggests to check out the hike from the rim back to camp before you climb. We wandered around lost for hours in the dark. Sep 27, 2008
Patrick Vernon
Estes Park, CO
Patrick Vernon   Estes Park, CO
Just found this incredible ultra high res image of The Painted Wall, very fun to look at, you can zoom in to minute detail. Feb 21, 2018
jason seaver
Estes Park, CO
jason seaver   Estes Park, CO
Wow! That image is amazing. Feb 25, 2018
Patrick Vernon
Estes Park, CO
Patrick Vernon   Estes Park, CO
I think the coolest thing I have found on the Gigapan image is the fixed rope on the crux Stratosfear traverse. Feb 28, 2018

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