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Empire of the Air

5.11a, Trad, Sport, 400 ft, 4 pitches,  Avg: 2.9 from 33 votes
FA: Joe Desimone, 1995
Colorado > Empire > Ra


The first two pitches can be linked with a 60m; it goes at 5.10a/b. The second/(third) pitch is 11a. The last pitch is trad and offers a few jagged cracks for pro. A full rack is worth lugging up there, or else you'll be stuck downclimbing, pulling and resetting your gear higher as I was. Medium to large cams are good, wires as well. The climb goes up left under a big roof. There are good placements to protect your exit above, though the rock is of questionable quality in places. This pitch probably goes at around 10b and was my favorite pitch of the route. One might see or hear bighorn up top, which is another good reason to bring your helmet. More importantly, the leader may inadvertantly send down shards and shrapnel on his buddy's head; it almost can't be helped.

The rock tends to be sharp and nasty in places; there's also the distinct possibility that you'll pull something larger off; be wary! Bolt placements for first pitches are sufficient.

Per doug haller: start atop or from the base of a very large boulder. Climb an unprotected slab for about 15 feet to gain the right of a short pillar set within the large corner. Climb the small pillar up and left into the corner proper. Follow bolts and green angle iron (homemade bolts) for 200 feet up the corner employing a combination of stemming, jams, and face holds through rock of varied quality with lose flakes and blocks. Two belays are optional, one with cold shuts but a poor stance in line with the next pitch or by moving right belay on a ledge

You can walk off to the northeast. Or, if you didn't bring a rack, you can rap off double bolts at the top of pitch 1, 2, or 3. A 60m rope is sufficient for the entire climb, or a 50m if you do it in 4 pitches instead of 3.


The hike up is 20-40 minutes, depending on what shape you're in. There's a faint trail and cairns, I think, in places. Look for the bolts to find the climb; some are a reddish hue.

Per doug haller: Empire of the Air (EOA) is currently the second bolted route encountered upon hiking up the talus. Locate the start by looking for a large, orange, right-facing corner with two very large boulders at the base of the wall.


16 quickdraws to link first two pitches and a regular rack for last pitch, especially wires and medium cams (extras if you have them, or bring some hexes).

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

On right is 3rd pitch of EOA, on left is Nearer to Thee.
[Hide Photo] On right is 3rd pitch of EOA, on left is Nearer to Thee.
[Hide Photo] untitled
Rapping down 1st pitch of EOA.
[Hide Photo] Rapping down 1st pitch of EOA.
Stef at the top of pitch 1. Empire of the Air.
[Hide Photo] Stef at the top of pitch 1. Empire of the Air.
Starting pitch 2.
[Hide Photo] Starting pitch 2.
P1 of Empire of the Air.
[Hide Photo] P1 of Empire of the Air.
P2 of Empire of the Air
[Hide Photo] P2 of Empire of the Air

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Richard M. Wright
Lakewood, CO
[Hide Comment] Are you sure you got this right? Joe Desimone put up this route and called it 5.12, and it is highly unlikely that Joe would miss anything by a full number grade. As I recall, the final dihedral pitch was the crux and certainly not a 5.10 pitch. Jul 11, 2002
tobias nitchka
[Hide Comment] Correction: the climb described above is most likely not "Empire of Air," but instead mmay be the other climb described on the rock--"Miner's Delight." Anyway, it's the first bolted climb you come to as you walk up the talus slope, and can be climbed in either three or four pitches to the top. (Bolted and trad pitches, as described above.) All the other beta is on, I think, although we're just unclear about the name... We heard it was 5.11a, though the b/c rating given is certainly possible, with the second pitch (if you tie the first two together as one long first one) containing the crux. Sorry for the confusion! Aug 11, 2002
[Hide Comment] Good route! Certainly not 5.12 by any stretch, so Mr. Wright and company have a different route in mind. The last pitch of this is not a dihedral at any rate, and I believe Tobias' grading assessment is reasonable. One could quibble (over the last pitch grade) whether it is easy 5.10 (i.e. 5.10a) versus 10 b, for example, but not a major point. The route, on the whole, is actually very well-protected. In my humble opinion, a bit too well protected. It would really be nice to see the routes up in this region not so heavily bolted; there were certainly viable gear options that were neglected on this route. Also, the bolt placements are good, but could be better in terms of where the clips are, and how one would fall onto these bolts. That is not meant to be too critical, however. The climbing on the route was excellent, tremendous fun, and the line was superb - overall, it's a great route, and I want to thank the original authors for their work!! Well done! A local climber from Winter Park...yes, there are a few of us...and we are a little territorial about that piece of rock in Empire, by the way, so please don't bolt the hell out of it. Thank you! Oct 24, 2002
Richard M. Wright
Lakewood, CO
[Hide Comment] This should not be so difficult. There are only two routes in this sector - unless something has been added. Miner's Delight (5.11) apparently can be continued beyond the first two pitches. Empire of the Air, which I did not yet do, follows up the huge dihedral in four pitches on a mix of bolts and trad gear. If you don't end up in the dihedral, you are not on Empire of the Air. If you are just clipping bolts, you are not on Empire of the Air. At least this is my understanding from climbing Miner's with Joe Desimone who put in both of these routes. I have not humped up the hill recently and as soon as weather permits I'll run up and try to sort out the confusion. Oct 24, 2002
Richard M. Wright
Lakewood, CO
[Hide Comment] Okay, I think I have this sorted out, and I'll get the site description fixed accordingly. The bottom line is that only Empire of the Air has been completed to the ground, while only the second pitch Miner's Delight has been completed. I usually try to keep my climbing notes as complete as I can, and my notes about the climbing on Miner's were accurate, however, we were evidently climbing P1 as a top rope (which I did not record) while we worked out the bolt placements - bolts that in the end were never placed. We did climb the first two pitches of EOA, but I never returned to finish the whole thing (Joe did), and at that time neither route had a name. EOA is four pitches long and catches double bolt cold shut anchors at the top of each pitch. The general line runs through a redish corner system in P1 and follows up through the huge dihedral at 200 ft, the most obvious feature on the wall. Joe gave it a rating of 12a, but certainly current opinion will have to overrule that rating. Miner's is 100 ft up hill, has not been completed to the ground, but it's second pitch that runs through the corner system is complete. Things got a little sketchy in my notes since the routes were still going in, but I hope this sets the current state of things correct by everyone's account. Oct 27, 2002
Richard M. Wright
Lakewood, CO
[Hide Comment] Well, this is getting more screwy. Joe indicated today (Monday) that MD was in fact bolted (so perhaps I'm not totally senile). My hike up on Sunday revealed no bolts on P1, while EOA was bolted exactly as was described. The best answer, unfortunately, is going to be to hump around, rap the line from the top of P2, and re-install any gear that may now be missing. Sounds very unpleasant at this point but since P1 of MD contains excellent climbing, it looks like it is the only thing to do. The snow could shut this project down immediately since the approach ramp would be deadly if it was iced up. If the opportunity arises before too long, I'll get the rope on it and find out just what did happen. In the mean time, beta for EOA seems to correct, and all that we really need to do is agree upon the grades for each pitch. Ugh.. this was not supposed to be so much like work. Oct 28, 2002
[Hide Comment] With so much discussion about these routes I thought I would throw in my two cents. I've climbed "Empire Of The Air", and found it very enjoyable. The beta in the description seems accurate with the hardest move warranting perhaps an 11b or c. The final trad pitch is well worth lugging a rack up, and I would guess is in the easy ten range. If Joe Desimone is responsible to putting this route in, I would like to thank him for an excellent job! As for the climber from Winter Park, I respect his opinion about only bolting what is necessary, but I honestly think that this route along with much of what is in this area needs climber traffic to attain a clean and relatively safe condition. I've done several trad lines in the vicinity and they are dirty choss-filled affairs which the Ra routes have already rose above with there limited traffic and cleaning. If bolting is necessary to attain a safe, and user friendly enough environment for these routes to see traffic, then bolting is a necessity. I would never suggest bolting a purely trad line, but clearly some bolts are necessary on this route. Very few people would climb E.O.A. if there were no bolted pitches, and in turn it would be loose and extremely dirty. If you are from Grand County you must recognize that your local climbing area, Hurd Creek, is very much the same way. No bolts would essentially equate to no climbing. Nov 5, 2002
tobias nitchka
[Hide Comment] regarding the first anonymous comment--I'd agree after a couple more years' experience that the last pitch is not necessarily 10b... I've been climbing more in the Platte lately, which influences me towards downgrading the pitch--9 or 9+, maybe. Part of the head challenge at the time was certainly the exposure, little (no) evidence as to prior passage of other climbers, and the resulting fleeting thoughts as to the quality of the rock as I moved up under the roof. Finally, all the number rating stuff is somewhat relative and whimsical at times and certainly doesn't always deserve the attention it gets! Richard, I look forward to sampling MD this spring/summer, since it appears that goes well from the ground... Feb 27, 2004
Joe Desimone
Ward, Colorado
[Hide Comment] I'm glad to hear many of you have enjoyed E.O.A. It sure was an adventure putting this line in and opening up the RA crag to others. Rapping off the main wall into the void doing exploratory investigations for route potential made for some butt puckering experiences. Brought back vivid memories of my Yosemite days. Yes, my initial assessment was this route was around 5.12, and a _soft_ 5.12 at that. This thinking came from the interesting stemming and thin fingers on pitch 3. On subsequent visits to this route, I began to feel that 5.11c to 5.12a would be a better rating range. If you're flexible as I am, then this pitch is a bit easier, if not well... Pitch 4 was never rated 5.12. I tagged it in at 5.10b As to the comments about bolting practices on this crag, my feeling and intent was to make this a more predominantly bolted crag than sticking with the mixed trad conventions. This came from my first adventures in climbing E.O.A from the ground up. Pitch 1 was a filthy choss strewn butt crack that made for some adventuresome leads, falls, and bruised body parts. Pitch 2 was even more so with all the loose rock and dirt. Hence bolts were decided to be the norm. For you purists pitch 1 and 2 were bolted on the lead, no meager feat with a 12lb gas powered drill. After that, rap, clean, and clean, and clean some more, and then plug in a bolt became the practice. Your best friend becomes the crowbar (the _Boss_ as I affectionally call mine). This crag will yield some pretty spectacular routes once you mine through the layers and layers of dirt and choss. Richard Wright should have named this crag Glass Onion instead of Ra. Bolts in my opinion are necessary for this to become a safe, and fun place to climb.But, there may be exceptions to leave things in a more traditional way, like pitch 4 of E.O.A. In all reality, the majority of the lines will need to be bolted. I have wrestled over the years on what to do about pitch 4, leave it trad, or plug in some bolts to make the whole route consistent. Climbing with a rope, draws, shoes, water bottle and a lunch are pretty appealing instead of lugging a rack for 3 pitches to do a single, but beautiful traditional pitch. I don't know, perhaps the climbing community will help me decide.On a different note, now that this crag is becoming more popular, bringing a helmet is a wise and safe thing to do. There are plenty of rock missiles waiting to fall off and brain someone below with more people on the wall and ledges. Be smart and don't leave home without one. Remember, this is a truly alpine crag, not benign Shelf Road.

Safe climbing to you allJoe Desimone - Spring 2004 Mar 26, 2004
Matt Chan
[Hide Comment] Empire of the Air is probably the most prominant line on Ra, (I like Joe's suggestion to rename the rock "Glass Onion"). The climbing was really a lot of fun and with very few chossy areas. P1 can be distinguished by a short slab to a RF dihedral with a large detached block and weighs in at a solid 10. P2 continues up the dihedral with some fun stemming moves to a flake lieback. Move slightly left and back right to a hanging belay (10-). The difficulties on P3 begin right after clipping the 1st bolt. Thin moves up an awkward corner mark the crux (well protected 11-) then move through a bit of choss to a nice hand crack to a belay. P4 is pretty unique for this area (read: a continuous crack) and certainly worth hauling a rack in order to complete - great moves on insecure feet under the roof (10-). Jul 5, 2004
Ross Keller
Parker, CO
[Hide Comment] A ggod route with only a couple of loose sections. Pitches 1 & 2 and then 3 & 4 can be linked to produce a two-pitch climb with satisfying pitch lengths. I think 11a is a pretty good rating, with a 10d spot anf an 11a spot. The last section is 9+/10- and requires a selection of cams from 1" to 3" Sep 13, 2004
[Hide Comment] Spectacular route, steep, and chossy enough to keep you on your toes. weird rock up there, it really is like a glass onion. 5.9 crack pitch up high was very cool. Interesting, windy, scenic, out of the way climb.

Thanks! May 18, 2005
[Hide Comment] Since I only did the first 2 pitches I can't comment on the quality or rating overall. The first 2 pitches seemed OK in the 5.10 range through. The sideways TV between bolts #1 & #2 needs to take a trip to the talus though. Sep 28, 2005
Tony B
Around Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] I only did the first two pitches (as a single 180' pitch) and then split off to 'Nearer To Thee'. But from what I did, I got a positive impression and really enjoyed the pitch. Longer slings are needed though- probably a product of going bottom up instead of top down. Jun 17, 2007
[Hide Comment] Climbed this yesterday with Joe Chorny. Thought is was a very nice route perhaps worthy of a little more than 2 stars. Did the first two pitches as one and did haul up the rack for the 4th pitch which Joe led. The 4th pitch is still a little loose and dirty in spots - must not get that much traffic. We'd tend to agree with the consensus on grades - first two pitches somewhere in low to mid 10, 3rd pitch crux somewhere in hard 10 to easy 11 range and the trad pitch at 9-9+. The extra rack weight made the steep first pitch a little pumpy. It was great weather about 70 with shade early and clouds later while it was close to 100 in Denver. Only 1 other party all day. Very nice crag - thanks to everyone who put in the work to develop it. The trail is pretty good though the the talus and scree is a bit of a pain but probably can't be helped. Jun 25, 2007
Garrett Bales
Lake City, CO
[Hide Comment] P1 - 10b/c great dihedral
P2 - 10
P3 - 11b-stemmy feet on the slab
P4 - (bolted arete out right)-11a-great exposure. Jul 24, 2010
Rich Farnham
[Hide Comment] What's up with the homemade hangers on this route? The first pitch (and the rest of the crag) is shiny Fixe gear. But pitch 2 and 3 of this route is steel angle-stock that has been chopped into hangers. Also, all of the anchors are open cold-shuts. WTF? They are the biggest cold-shuts I've ever seen (1/2"), so I'm sure they're strong enough, but they don't work well for anchors. Luckily, the bolts for the shuts and the homemade hangers are wedge bolts, so we can upgrade these to better hardware.

I'll add another vote for doing the 11- bolted arete right of the last pitch. We were in bolt-clipping mode and didn't feel like dragging a rack up there. The crack looks OK, but I'm not sure it's worth the effort of bringing a rack up there just for that pitch when the arete is as good as it is. From the last belay, traverse right ~10' and join the last pitch of W.O.W. above the crux. 11- felt right for this pitch. It has a few thin spots, a pumpy finish, and incredible position!

Pitch 3 (the 11- stem corner) is fantastic! Aug 27, 2011
Jonathan S
Golden, CO
[Hide Comment] I'm not sure what others considered to be necessary for the "full rack", but here is what I found. Doubles #1 & 2, singles other cams through #3. A few nuts. The #3 fit nicely at the apex of the roof.

For budding 5.10 climbers, you can make the lead safer on the first two pitches by placing small cams and nuts between the bolts. Might as well if you are hauling a rack up anyway. The 5.11 pitch was mostly careful footwork and stemming. Not too pumpy. Fun route! Jul 9, 2016
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] Top of 3rd pitch cold shut anchors are not so good. One of them (out of two) wiggles, and I would not recommend rapping off them. Aug 2, 2018