Type: Trad, Alpine, Grade IV
FA: Winkelman and Davis 1993
Page Views: 6,039 total · 28/month
Shared By: slevin on Mar 31, 2001
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Seasonal Closures Details


Cowboys and Indians is the most popular, and perhaps finest, route on the NE Face of Chiefshead. At 11 or so pitches, it is one of the longest routes in RMNP.

On the right side of the wall, and just left of obvious terraces, find a thin finger crack (5.10d) leading to 3 bolts which protect 5.10 climbing. Belay on a ledge below an imposing, left trending roof.

Undercling the roof left (strenuous) to a stance out left (optional belay) and continue up an easier left facing corner. If you skip the optional belay take care you don't stick your rope in the left edge of the roof (probably better to belay at the intermediate stance - then you get to watch your second undercling the roof). Climb a short left facing 5.9 corner leading to easier (5.8) climbing and a ledge (short pitch). (Ten Little Indians crosses the route here.)

If you belayed at the optional belay below, it may be possible to combine this pitch with the following 5.10a pitch. Head up slightly left, then straight up past an overlap and 3 bolts, 5.10a or so, to a ledge with a 2 bolt anchor.

Now climb the pretty wall above (3 bolts, soft for 5.11a) to a right facing corner, 5.8, and belay above.

Now climb a (second) bolted section (rated 5.11c on one topo I have seen, but no way) which leads to a ledge- a long 165+ foot pitch, optional belay out left and lower at a fixed wire. Move up and left across a corner roof (5.10a) to a 5.8 crack and belay ledge above.

A 5.9 crack groove leads to the large ledge and cave area which is the most prominent feature on the upper wall. It is on these two previous pitches that routefinding gets fuzzy, and you may find yourself climbing something that bears no resemblance to my description.

Walk right 140 feet to below a steep corner with a couple of fixed pins and belay.

Climb the corner (a 5.11c boulder problem), with the fixed pins a bit lower than you would like and continue to a nice, if cramped, belay ledge.

Now either head right under a roof, then up a right facing corner (5.9), or go up and left from the belay on spicy 5.9 face, belay, then climb the "hanging gardens" 5.4 pitch to the top.


RPs, wired nuts, TCUs, to 3 inch cams. 10 QDs, 6 slings.


Is this route rated "R"? Aug 1, 2002
jason seaver
Estes Park, CO
jason seaver   Estes Park, CO
There is a runout 10- section starting the second pitch,and a short, runout 5.9 section on the left hand finish of the last pitch. The crux pitch is not runout if you trust the pins (they seemed decent) although the gear is a bit tricky in the corner above the pins. The first pitch felt really stout for mid-5.10. The initial thin crack seemed quite heady, and the moves up to and past the first bolt felt like 5.11. Numb fingers and "first-pitch-of-the-day-syndrome" probably contributed to the difficulty, but be ready for REAL climbing immediately off the glacier. Conversely, both 11a sections on the middle pitches of the route felt more like mid 5.10.

This is an excellent route on a wall bigger, and more remote, than the Diamond with good variety, good rock, spectacular views, and no other people. Highly recommended. Jul 16, 2005
Alan Doak
boulder, co
Alan Doak   boulder, co
I would agree with Jason's comments. The climbing (except for the first pitch) felt a bit softer than the ratings would imply (or maybe I was prime that day). There are plenty of .10aR and .9R sections, but the crux pitch is not R if you trust the pin that's at your knee. There was a lot of good gear in the corner past the pins. I feel like a lot of people get scared away from this excellent route because of the 11c R rating, which is unfortunate. But, it's still a serious route due to the runouts on more moderate terrain and the fact that you're going to burn through your entire rack if you have to bail.

I did it July 12th. The weather was great and the day was long. The last 5.4 pitch was dripping and oozing, but I was able to traverse right under the overlap (5.8) to easier ground to gain the ridge.

BTW, we linked pitch 3 and 4 with a 70m rope with 10m to spare. Jul 14, 2008
Cowboys and Indians mystery....

The first 6 pitches of this magnificent route are fairly straightforward as far as route finding goes, and both Gillett's and Rossiter's topos are consistent and accurate. However, once above Pitch 6 (which is the pitch through the overlaps with four bolts), many parties experience getting "lost at sea," and at this point the topos *appear* to part with reality. The 5.9 and 5.10a line suggested by the topos for Pitch 7 seems extremely improbably. So, where does Pitch 7 actually go? If you had an adventure on this part of the route and you have some recollection of what you did, please let us know. Greg and Eric, do you remember anything?

By the way, like other parties, we improvised at this point and found a way to do the pitch. Because some people don't want unsolicited beta, I won't describe it here. If you want information, contact me offline (before I forget what we did). Aug 23, 2009
Hi Bill, good post...indeed, "Lost at Sea" on pitch 7, as the guidebook descriptions don't help much and the topos seem super improbable -- ya look up and wonder how in the heck the two discontinuous, angling corners shown in the topos could possibly connect? Looks like blank face climbing between them.

We climbed the route yesterday, had a great time, and it's fresh in my mind. (BTW, saw some fresh chalk...maybe yours?) I trust I'm not killing anyone's adventure here, or else they wouldn't be reading this route info page. If people object, I'll delete this comment.

Pitch 7 -- indeed it more/less goes as the topos show. The shallow, angling corners are linked by a great little hidden crack-ish thing (from below it looks like a blank face). The description in Gillett's book threw us off, since it says not to end pitch 6 at the big ledge of the route Risky Business (and so we didn't, even though it's right there). But after starting up the lower angling crack at the start of pitch 7, then traversing right out of the mossy wide part (which further makes ya think you're going the wrong way), I could almost step down to that big ledge. So, sure seems like it'd be reasonable to end p6 on that big ledge (as it seems Steve suggests in his description above), and start p7 by climbing off the left end of the ledge. At any rate, it worked out as the topos show, as the blank-looking face connecting the corners does go, and is excellent. Aug 25, 2009
Kelly, thanks for the quick reply. Amazing that three parties did that route in two days. That's probably never happened before. How hard was pitch 7 as you did it? It looked to me like it was going to be run-out 5.11, so I found an alternative way to the left. You did a much harder pitch. But here's what's interesting....

Eric Winkelman sent a remarkably detailed message about the pitch and it appears that on the first ascent he and Greg belayed on the big Risky Business ledge and then moved up and left, placing some gear in the right-slanting arch, then stepping out of the arch and continuing up and left to a hidden crack. So, it seems that the topos in the two guidebooks do not reflect the first ascent line. Furthermore, I suspect the guidebook ratings for that pitch as you did it (5.9 to 5.10a) are much too low. Aug 28, 2009
Sorry for the delay, Bill -- actually, I'd say the given 5.9/10a rating for pitch 7 is about right. No harder than 5.10, anyway, and not really runout -- though, indeed, it *looks* much worse. That's the cool thing about it, it's a pleasant surprise! Sep 4, 2009
I was up there the same day as Bill and John and we went a different way on p7 than they did. It seems we did what Eric W. did on the first ascent. From the Risky Business ledge, we went up and left to the "hidden crack". The climbing was good, well protected and no harder than 9/10-. This route is amazing. I concur Bill, very strange that 3 parties climbed it within a few days and 2 parties chose the same day. Nov 4, 2009
Rob Kepley
Rob Kepley   Westminster,CO
Major props to the FA party for finding this gem. Expect a full day to climb and get off this thing as the descent is long. It was hard to get the usual alpine start, because it takes longer for the sun to hit the base of the route being so tucked back in the gorge. All the 5.11 sections seemed a bit soft, but in the end you'll feel like you've climbed something. Route finding was a bit tricky in sections but no big deal. Also, expect lots of run-out on 9+/10- climbing with little crack climbing but more face. Coupled with the solitude/remoteness and shear beauty of upper Glacier Gorge, this is one magnificent route. Aug 23, 2010
justin dubois
Estes Park
justin dubois   Estes Park
Easiest way off this wall is to traverse the summit of Chiefshead, and climb down to the Birds of Fire raps. 6 or 7 easy raps and you're done. Just stash your kit down below Spearhead.. Aug 23, 2010
Steven Lucarelli
Moab, UT
  5.11 R
Steven Lucarelli   Moab, UT
  5.11 R
A faster descent is to top out on the ridge above the route and then walk east to the big scree gully. This gully isn't to bad and it will put you back near the base of the wall where you started. Aug 24, 2010
Guy H.
Fort Collins CO
Guy H.   Fort Collins CO
There was a massive rock fall event near the start this weekend. The base may be unstable at the moment, so be careful. The descent to climber's left is straightforward and fast. Trend right in the gully and you can stay out of most of the loose stuff. Aug 18, 2012
Nicola Masciandaro
Brooklyn, NY
Nicola Masciandaro   Brooklyn, NY
A beautiful adventurous route.

I experienced some route-finding confusion on the last pitch with respect to the Rossiter topo, which indicates to finish by traversing right under a roof. As that seemed improbable and drag-inducing, I went as follows: up and right from the belay traversing underneath the large, protruding V-flake, up the dihedral to where the crack peters out, right on the face then back up to the dihedral where it becomes a right-leaning hand crack with mungy face underneath, up the crack to a vertical dihedral and then straight up to the top, passing a smallish roof, for what it's worth! Aug 24, 2015
Noah McKelvin
Colorado Springs
  5.11b/c R
Noah McKelvin   Colorado Springs
  5.11b/c R
Nicola, I think we saw some chalk from you guys on route. Funny!

On P7, we experienced confusion even after prior knowledge. For what it's worth, we went up that wet, mossy, right-slanting crack. Right when it got wide, we made a committing couple moves left to a small dihedral with not really a ton of gear, but the moves are easy in the dihedral. I felt the traverse to be 5.11a, but I think I grabbed the wrong holds. We found no hidden crack. So this perhaps adds even more confusion on this pitch.

That being said, best route I've done in The Park. Felt much bigger than The Diamond. Committing, remote, no crowds, and am absolutely brilliant route. What more could you want? Aug 30, 2015
Maxito   CO
Another viable option for pitch 7 is to belay on the ramp atop pitch 6 and move the belay [right] to below a left-facing arcing hand and fist crack (see attached photo), effectively climbing the feature between Cowboys and Indians and Risky Business on Rossiter's topo. You end up on the same big ledge but closer to the upper pitches. The crack goes at about 5.11, and while the rest of the route does not require much large gear, two #2, and #3 Camalots would be useful for this pitch.

Sep 26, 2015
Golden, Co
WadeM   Golden, Co
Great route!

P1 - first bolt is out of view. Climb up the seam to a good foot ledge where you'll find the bolt.

P7 - the dihedral variation shown above looked fun, but we took the pitch described by Mr. Cordes. Take the arching crack on the far left side of the ledge, plug a gray Alien and a 0.5, and climb about 10 feet to good but small gear. I angled up and left, would have liked to place a bomber 0.5 and then go to anchors.

The last pitch is wet and exciting for both leader and follower.

Double rack to 1, singles 2 & 3, RPs.
The guidebook mentioned bringing 12 draws, but no single pitch required that many.

Get on it!

We chose to summit and head over to do Birds of Fire. Rather than rapping BOF, there's a 3rd class ledge system that deposits you right at the base. Jul 21, 2016
George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
Depending on conditions, getting to the start of the climb could be problematic without crampons, spikes, axe, or something to deal with the steep snowslope when it's still icy at dawn (significantly sketchier than getting to the N. Chimney on The Diamond in our combined memories). Because we're New Mexicans, Josh S. and I didn't have that stuff, and it wasn't going to happen for us in sneakers. So we started on "10 Little Indians" instead; this worked out nicely and makes the overall climb a pitch shorter and probably slightly easier. If you do the "10 Indians" start, note that the seam start of P2 is missing a fixed pin and looks unprotectable. A better alternative on P2 is to move left on the ledge, then go up a left-angling finger crack that rejoins "10 Indians" and "Cowboys" near the end of this pitch (approx 5.9 or 10-).

We didn't see the fixed wire at the belay at the top of P6 noted in the description above; we belayed at the left end of the long ledge that extends over to the base of the prominent, L-facing corner on Risky Business. Pitch 7 looks unlikely but is very cool climbing on the hidden, diagonal finger crack.

The last pitch caused us some confusion, and I deviated somewhat from Rossiter's topo. I passed the down-pointed V-roof to the right, moved up until the crack pinched down, then traversed right on flakes a long ways, crossing Risky Business's last dirt-filled crack pitch, to the clean hero crack finish of Blue Electra Glide, rather than climbing up to the square roof as the topo showed. This seemed cleanest and was dry (I'd give the path I took 5.9 or 5.10-). I hadn't read the posts above and didn't know about a finish through the hanging gardens up and left. Sep 5, 2017