Type: Trad, 3 pitches, Grade II
FA: Layton Kor; FFA: Chris Fredericks and Jim Logan, early 1960s
Page Views: 20,039 total · 90/month
Shared By: Charles Vernon on Dec 31, 2000
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Season raptor closures Details


This is the hardest climb I have ever done. I can offer a first-hand account of the first two pitches only (we rapped due to the onset of darkness). However, the third pitch could not be more obvious, and if you can do the crux second pitch you should have no problems with it, according to my partner who had done the route previously.

Hike up the Gem Lake trail past a huge boulder, and take the left-hand approach path for Bowls of the Owls and Hen and Chickens Rock. The crack is an obvious wide affair, in a nebulous corner, which runs the entire height of the East Owl (shortly right of a prominent, deep chimney which also reaches the top). It is further recognized by a 30 foot pillar (the Rat's Tooth) which must be ascended to reach the crack's base.

P1. Ascend the hand crack on the left side of the pillar (5.9), or take either of two 5.10 finger cracks to the right. Go up the off-width for about 30 feet, then step left onto the face (to avoid too much punishment!) and climb to a belay ledge with bolts (5.9, 80 feet).

P2. Struggle up past a bulging body jam section (crux, old bolts and a #5 Camalot) and then make a difficult undercling to the left. Fight into a 5.10 chimney and belay at bolts soon after its rear (70 feet).

P3. Continue up the crack with more 5.10 OW, though not as hard. Belay or stretch to the summit, then go west to find the descent.


Bring all the wide gear you and all your friends own! Seriously, most will want at least two #5 Camalots and 2 #4s, and possibly a couple of Big Bros for the 3rd pitch.
I'm too fat to do this! The crux would be easier for skinnier folks, who can keep their hips in the crack as they are easing up towards the beckoning (but still tiny) face holds. This is a masochistic struggle. The climb has unrelenting offwidths/flares/chimneys, and is very sustained. The 5.10d rating is traditional. This sandbagging can backfire. The route was soloed on sight by Derek Hersey, who, after reading the guidebook's "5.10+ 3-star crack" but not knowing anyone who had climbed it, was expecting a real 5.10+ crack, with fist jams etc, kinda like Diving Board. Anyway, he nearly popped his clogs at the crux and could barely walk for several days after, due to grinding a deep puncture wound into his knee. Feb 19, 2002
I did this route with Dr. Offwidth and I've seen him onsight 5.11 offwidth before. I led the first and third pitches and he led the crux, second pitch. He fell his first time up, lowered back to the belay and tried again. He fell again and decided to just continue up. He's a big guy (6'3", 200 pounds) and for his size there is no way this is 5.10. He is a VERY good offwidth climber.

I found this pitch to be easiest if climbed right side in for halfways up it, then switch to left side in. This does make it more difficult to start the undercling, but it works. The crux would be making this switch. I did it by hanging on the rope! :-)

Three hundred feet of offwidth...This route will seem a lot longer than a normal three pitch route. I took a fall leading the third pitch, but got wedged in the crack further down and didn't weight the rope. The third pitch is much easier than the second pitch and harder than the first, but has some good rests on it and more protection opportunities. May 6, 2002
Dan St. John
Castle Rock
Dan St. John   Castle Rock
Climbed the first and half of the second pitch, then bailed. The first pitch is the hardest 5.9 I have ever done. I have climbed my fair share of 5.10 OW and never wanted to puck like I did on Crack of Fear. The first pitch is honest 5.10 in my book. The second pitch shut me down. I fell out of the crack about the first bolt a couple of times. The old rusted 1/4 inch bolts gives me the willies. Would be a problem if some one replaced the old quarter inch bolts with nice new ones? Aug 26, 2002
My vote for the hardest 5.9 route in the Boulder area is By Gully on Castle Rock. Especially if you have a big chest (I don't, but my partner did). An equal sandbag is Coffin Crack just to the left. If you don't have huge hands, this route just can't be 5.10! Aug 26, 2002
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
My only "attempt" at this route was in 1983, when I was visting the area and a buddy who lived in Boulder suggested we "check it out". Knowing nothing of the route, I foolishly agreed, figuring my friend probably wanted to lead it anyway. We got to the base, and there was a party ahead of us. I thought nothing of this at the time, but it must be rather rare on this route. In this case, it turned out to be a good thing. Some guy was following the first pitch, and man it looked horrendous! He struggled mightily but ended up dangling on the rope, and after he noticed us racking up he asked how many tube chocks we had bought, perhaps hoping to combine forces on the crux pitch.

My buddy was already trying to sucker me into leading the first pitch, and I looked down at the rack to see our largest pro is a #4 Friend and #12 Hex. I shouted this information up and the climber above started laughing hysterically. At this point I started getting worried that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Needless to say we never left the ground. I don't know what my friend was thinking. Oct 24, 2002
The hardest 5.10 in the universe...hopefully, anyway. I've climbed 5.10 and 5.11 offwidths in Moab, Indian Creek, Vedauwoo, etc., and COF felt considerably harder than any of them. I didn't think the first or third pitches were too sandbaggy, but the crux section on the 2nd pitch is insanely tough to stick to, much less get past. My guidebook shows a 10c move at the undercling just above the 10d crux. That undercling is in fact a thank-god hold, and the 10c move is a complete piece o' cake compared to the crux thrash-fest. In fact, I felt really solid on the whole climb, except for the 8 feet or so that is the crux, which worked me SILLY. Didn't get me too psyched to jump on Peaches and Cream!

Anyway, Crack of Fear is a mega classic, and most definitely a MUST-DO climb. Yes, the crux section is real stiff, but definitely worth it. With modern offwidth pro this is a very safe climb, so you have no excuse! Give it a whirl. All in all, one of the very most satisfying climbs I've ever done (ok, maybe not including Diamond routes), despite my getting swatted around all over the place at the crux. May 18, 2003
I onsight hard double digit and can't even climb the 5.9 first pitch clean? Thats not good. can someone say sandbag? Aug 1, 2003
Ivan Rezucha
Fort Collins, CO
Ivan Rezucha   Fort Collins, CO
First pitch left side in? On TR, I got half way up the smooth section with right side in before I ran out of motivation. I then hung, turned around, and put left side in. That felt a full grade easier. There are occasional good knobs for the right foot, and frequent good knobs for the right hand. Chicken winging and heel-toe seemed much easier than with right side in. Perhaps because the low angle wall is at your back? It was pretty strange getting to the flake left of the crack while facing out. Bring same small wires to back up the pin at the flake. There is a very good nut below the pin--about 1/4". Aug 10, 2003
I'm sure its hard for the grade, but didn't Layton free all but the undercling move, first go, no modern gear, etc, etc. I think it tells about this in Climb! Sep 22, 2003
The grade of this route was never an attempt to sandbag anyone. When we did the first free ascent in 1966 5.10 was the hardest grade there was. T2 was 5.9 and the Grand Giraffe was 5.8. It would be fine with me if someone wanted to give this climb a modern grade ( I have done it a number of times, but never since big cams were around and would rate it hard 11 or maybe 12A). The bolts date from 1963 or so and are not very long. Layton used them to aid the dificult section to the roof which we used to protect with an angle driven straight up. Placing and removing this pin was the crux at that time. I would not trust the bolts. Jul 17, 2004
L. Hamilton
L. Hamilton  
On one hand, it would be fun if Jim's suggestion were followed and the route upgraded to 5.12a -- making me a 5.12 climber back in '73 (and Jim in '66). But honestly, I don't think it's that hard. As Jim mentioned, Grand Giraffe was 5.8 at the time, as was Hollow Flake crack in the Valley; climbs like By Gully, Coffin Crack and the Umph Slot were all 5.9, and many of us just expected to thrash on 5.10 offwidth. Let's keep the old grade, for a sense of perspective on how far modern ratings have drifted. Jul 17, 2004
Hi Jim and Larry - perhaps you guys can help clear up a bit of the confused history on this climb. Jim, you say you did Crack of Fear in 1966. Pat Ament puts the date at 1967 in his History of Free Climbing book, and I recall a discussion with him where he was pretty convinced 1967 was the correct year. Do you remember which year it was? Larry - do you remember our discussion about Twister, right next to Crack of Fear? You said the Fricke guide listed the route as having a free ascent in 1966, and you proceeded to free climb it in the early 1970s. But Twister was freed after Crack of Fear (yes, Jim?), so Fricke must have that wrong. Jim, do you know the year you freed Twister? Is it possible Larry beat you to it by accident?

Regarding the rating of Crack of Fear: I can't see it at hard 5.11 or 5.12a. I freed it on my first try (following my brother's lead), and led it all free a week later, and this was back when I had no more than a handful of 5.11 leads under my belt. Maybe 5.11a, but I think 5.10d is fair. It's impossible to compare it to the ratings on bolted climbs... OWs always require more caloric output than your typical 5.12a bolt climb (though I don't think that makes it more difficult). Perhaps if we went back to the day where all you did was a steady diet of crack climbing, Crack of Fear wouldn't seem so bad. Agreed that it feels god-awful desperate after a month of bolt clipping.

If anyone replaces those bolts (see Dan St John's comments) at the crux, I would vote for moving the higher one to the wall on the left. As it is, clipping that old piece of junk on the right wall serves only to tangle the rope up beyond reason. Might have been the right place for a bolt while aiding, but a bolt on the left would make more sense fo Jul 25, 2004
L. Hamilton
L. Hamilton  
I doubt that Ray & I got the Twister FFA, but I'll let Jim address the 'when' question. In the meantime, this photo I posted on Rockclimbing.com adds another little-known but amazing historical note about Twister:rockclimbing.com/photos.php… Jul 26, 2004
Steve Annecone
Steve Annecone   boulder
Having done many offwidths in Yosemite and Vedauwoo in this grade range, I'd rate it as 5.11a, as it is harder than any 10d offwidth I can think of around here or elsewhere. The route Cream in Yosemite is rated as 11a, and I think Crack of Fear is harder. But 10d is a classic, very hard rating for offwidths so I guess I wouldn't argue that rating too much, it's close. I strongly agree with Bernard's assessment above... if those bolts are ever replaced, they [belong] on the left side.... it was very difficult clipping those bolts behind your head with your right side in the crack. Jul 26, 2004
Henry Lester
Boulder, CO
Henry Lester   Boulder, CO
I agree with Steve A. and other similar comments and having followed the route a couple of times but having failed at leading a couple of times, I feel that the insecurity combined with the normal exertion associated with OW is being confused by some with technical difficulty. What exactly is the situation for replacing bolts on this route? Although it is clearly well protected with a 5 Camalot, I, for one, would enjoy and appreciate new bolts. Jul 26, 2004
I am positive that we climbed the Crack of Fear in the summer of 1966, probably in July. I led the FFA of Twister in August of 1966. I remember climbing into the first crux with no protection and thinking I couldn't climb back down so I climbed up into the crack where I placed a bolt. I was supposed to be at a CU PE class in rock climbing (summer school) and got a C in the class for missing class to climb Twister. Jul 31, 2004
L. Hamilton
L. Hamilton  
That's a great story about the PE class, Jim! Glad to see the record settled regarding Twister -- and that Fricke had it right, as we assumed in 1972 when Ray Jardine and I hiked up there. Twister was my first 5.10 lead, a two-pitch epic that I still remember well. Aug 1, 2004
Ich will ihn Oct 17, 2005
Wade Griffith  
Thought the first pitch was definitely 5.9, good edges outside of the crack. I agree with the traditional ratings, just need to be a solid 5.10 OW leader. The crux that I fell on was the undercling after the OW on the second pitch due to the pump factor. Compared to Vedauwoo ratings it is on. Don't think rebolting would be appropriate on this one since cams are so bomber, keep the adventure! May 7, 2006
Mark Hammond
Eldorado Springs, CO
Mark Hammond   Eldorado Springs, CO
I placed a #4 Bigbro on the 2nd and 3rd pitches, it was nice to have.
Not sure if a #3 would work. Also, the new #6 Camalot was soooopa!
Seemed like a better size for this than the old #5. I had 1 of each.
I agree with the 5.10d rating. You have to want it, but it is not technically that difficult.
PS- I vote for removing the old bolts. Or at least the 1st one on the crux pitch with that old ?? hanger. It appears ready to slice a falling climber to ribbons as you slide past it. Aug 20, 2007
Jason Haas
G1 Climbing + Fitness
Jason Haas   G1 Climbing + Fitness
I climbed this route for the second time today, leading all three pitches. For gear both times, I placed a light rack up to #2 Camalot and then 2 new #5 Camalots, 1 old #5 Camalot, and 1 new #6 Camalot. I second my alias' comments about the new #6 Camalot being essential. If I could of had ideal gear, I would of had an another #6 Friend or #6 Camalot instead of the old #5 Camalot and I would of taken a #4 Big Bro, because no cams fit for a long way on pitch three. Absolutely classic route, a must do for any offwidth afficionado!

I'm not necessarily in favor of replacing the old bolts on Pitch 2, but I wouldn't mind the old ones staying, since I did like them for helping to keep the rope out of the crack while leading. Just my two sense on the matter. The ancient bolt anchor atop pitch 2 could stand to be replaced though. Sep 9, 2007
Just to weigh in on the bolt question. The old bolts have been there too long... I think it would be a great service if someone would replace them so they are reliable protection. Otherwise, they might as well not be there.... It does not make sense to me to remove them just because there is larger protection available today. Although, I can understand why some might lobby for that. Not everyone has big bros or double/ triple #5 & 6 cams. Not only were the bolts used for the FFA it also makes the climb doable without having to necessarily borrow protection or climb with a rack of big cams & big bros. Which is kind of nice. They were there for the first ascent & first free ascent, chopping them would be ugly & the holes & bolts are there now.... They should be made trustworthy.

On the rating subject. I would agree with some of the above posts. This climb is pretty accurately rated within a couple of letter grades as it is. Climbing an OW is totally different from 5.12 sport & requires totally different skills. If you think you should be able to cruise a 10 or 11 OW because you can climb 12 face or crack you've got some learning to do. Get on some OWs, and I think you will be school'd on this subject.

Amazing & righteous FFA for the era. There were some very "Bad Ass" climbers back then and Chris & Jim are certainly in that category!! Sep 16, 2007
Mike D
Fort Collins, CO
Mike D   Fort Collins, CO
My opinion would be to remove the old bolts at the crux but not replace them as solid cams now protect this section, if you can climb it you probably own the rack required. Hard for OW 10d I thought Nov 8, 2007
John Korfmacher
Fort Collins, CO
John Korfmacher   Fort Collins, CO
Derek Hersey, when asked about the climb, is supposed to have simply replied, "Horrifying." I'll take his word for it. Feb 11, 2008
It's good to get some consensus opinions when talking about bolt removals and altering a route in some way that has existed for many years. And no offense meant to anyone on this post because I don't know who has or has not done this. However, I think there should be a caveat for posts on a route bolt removal request, moving a bolt is a different issue. But to have a "fair" assessment only folks that have actually lead the route without using the bolts should/would have the merit & reference to suggest the bolts should be removed. If someone hasn't done that, I don't think they should be posting a suggestion to remove the bolts. Point being, without having done that you might not have enough of a "true" perspective to suggest the bolts should be removed.

To have fair assessment. If you have done it without using the bolts, I think you should say so. But if you clipped/used the existing bolts or have only followed it you probably shouldn't be suggesting removal of bolts that were used for your ascent. Jul 16, 2009
Lenore Sparks
Dolores, CO
Lenore Sparks   Dolores, CO
This climb is sweet because you don't have to wait in line for it. Aug 14, 2009

That's pretty funny because both times I have done the route there were 2 other parties on it. Actually, the first time I did it, there were 2 ahead of us, and then 2 or 3 parties showed up after us, but decided to get on something else. Aug 14, 2009
Steve Kentz and I did it in '72 or '73. We had custom tube chocks. Great route! A confidence builder which took us to the next level. Apr 27, 2012
Just did this again yesterday after more then 20 years. I think the rating is spot-on. Maybe one of the problems is that all of the pictures here show right-side-in. It's much easier if you're left-side-in. In fact, you should be left-side-in for all but the last 10 feet or so of the first pitch and the first 10 or 15 feet of the second (up to the bolt). With modern gear, 2 No. 5 and two No. 6 Camalots are sufficient, and you will not need to clip into the crummy bolts. You'll need to walk the cams for sections, of course.

By the way, after Turnkorner on Sundance, this is the best route at Lumpy IMO. Aug 4, 2013
topher donahue
Nederland, CO
topher donahue   Nederland, CO
Please don't replace the old bolts at the crux. They are a monument to Layton's first ascent, and it's great to look up there and see how rad it was that he was somehow able to place them, free climbing most of the route in between the occasional bong, a couple of bolts and pins. With modern gear, clipping the bolts is not only unnecessary but probably INCREASES the length of any fall because you'd fall out of the crack onto the bolt. Big cams slide right up the crack, giving a perfect top rope all the way so if you fall you only sag onto the rope. The rope runs fine in the crack (remember the crack is 8 inches wide and the rope is only 10mm wide), and cams provide overhead gear all the way through the section with the bolts. Look at them as an in-situ museum on climbing in the old days, not actual protection. The climb is hard, but with big cams, leading the crux section is a top rope experience. Please don't replace the old bolts at the crux. Aug 14, 2016
Boulder, CO
MauryB   Boulder, CO
Gnarly. Jesse Huey got the onsight, proud.

We went to the top, which I wouldn't recommend. Unremarkable climbing at the expense of a full walk off as opposed to nice ring bolts to rap from the top of P1 and P2. Sep 22, 2016