Type: Sport, 280 ft, 3 pitches
FA: Bernard Gillett and Mark Ronca, 2009
Page Views: 3,720 total · 31/month
Shared By: Bernard Gillett on Mar 22, 2009
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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The Devil's Backbone (or El Espinazo del Diablo if you like your route names with a little more flavor) follows the extreme right edge of the large buttress that sits immediately left of the main formation of Mary's Bust. It lies just across the gully from Violet Blue (which is on the west face of Mary's Bust), and to the right of Sparky's Cooler.

The route essentially follows the long extruded rib of rock (the backbone) that forms the right arete of the wall. The name is also a nod to the prominent landmark on the west end of Loveland and at the foot of Big Thompson Canyon (Devil's Backbone Open Space).

Take the standard approach to Mary's Bust (the steep trail leads to the middle of that wall in 5 minutes), head left along the base, and then turn right around the corner. At the corner, you'll pass beneath Proud Mary and Mary's Tricks, and will be looking up at Violet Blue on the west face. Scramble up the left side of the west gully for 100 feet, and then climb a 20-foot 4th class slab to reach a ledge at the base of the arete. This ledge sits atop a 60-foot wall, and continues left for 50 feet.

Pitch 1: 12 bolts, 5.11a, 100 feet; the bolts come in triplets on this lead. Climb on big holds through an intimidating bulge (3 bolts, 5.9+) and sling a horn. Follow the groove just left of the backbone (3 bolts) to a shelf, and then balance up a testy slab (3 bolts, 5.11a) to another shelf. Move right around the arete for the final 3 bolts (steep and very enjoyable buckets) and pull onto a ledge. Step up and clip the first bolt of the next lead for a directional, and then step back down and left to double chains and belay.

Pitch 2: 12 bolts, 5.11a, 90 feet. Tricky opening moves on a slab lead around the left edge of an overhang -- it's best to avoid the hollow flakes to the right. Traverse right at the 3rd bolt to the arete, clip the 4th, and then climb on the right side of the arete (the bolts are on the left side). As you near the roof looming overhead, switch back over to the left side of the arete (committing crux), and then pass the roof on the right with some amazing jugs. There's a block resting on a ledge just beneath the roof -- it appears to be solid, but it's easily avoided (and might go to the road if trundled, so leave it alone). Once the roof is cleared, a horn can be slung, and easier climbing leads up and left to belay chains at a good ledge. This pitch has some very fine positions on the arete, and will keep you thinking the entire way.

Pitch 3: 7 bolts, 5.11c, 60 feet. Work up a slab to the right, and overcome a bulging headwall with excellent knobs (crux). The 5th clip is tricky, and you have to punch it through the crux to get to the 6th. Belay at a stance with chains. Or, keep going 25 more feet (5.6 with one more bolt) to chains at the top of the wall.


The Devil's Backbone follows the right edge of the buttress immediately left of the main Mary's Bust cliff. It's the arete bordering the left side of the west face gully.

Descent: Rappel the route, 60 m rope required. From the very top, it's 85-90 feet to the belay atop the 2nd pitch. If you stop at the chains after the crux headwall, it's a 60-foot rappel. 90-95 feet from 2nd belay to the first, and 95-100 feet from 1st belay to the ground. Tie knots in your rope for the final two rappels.


15 QDs should do it, a shoulder-length sling for horns (skinny, sewn, modern sling is best), and a locking biner or two for the belays.
Bernard Gillett
Bernard Gillett  
Some extra information...
1. The belayer will not be able to see the leader on much of the 1st pitch and some of the 2nd. An attentive belay is essential.
2. Both the 2nd and 3rd pitch cruxes are committing. The bolts aren't far apart, but both cruxes are of the sort where you can't easily stop to clip a bolt: you've got to punch on through to reach the next clip. See item #1. Mar 23, 2009
Bernard, is the steep crack system the same as that mentioned in Sparky's Cooler comments? Sounds similar. Allen Mar 23, 2009
Bernard Gillett
Bernard Gillett  
Allen: I don't believe the crack we did is the one mentioned in Sparky's, though I've never done that route so I'm not certain where it lies (I have been at its base, and know where it starts). If the crack mentioned in Sparky's comments is the same as the crack shown in your topo and labeled "5.10 X," then, no, it is not the same. Our crack pitch is on the left side of the wall that rests behind the main face of Mary's Bust. It's got good protection most of its length, with a spooky section at the crux traverse (it goes up, then traverses right, then goes back left along an arching fist crack that looks like it may be difficult, but turns out to be easy because of the huge footholds everywhere).

I'll post a picture once I get the chance to take one from the other side of the river. Mar 23, 2009
Ok, sounds different. I wish someone would take a look at the crack on Sparky's, poor gear at hard 5.10. I have been reluctant to put bolts any where near it. I know that a better climber than I could do it. Thanks again. Mar 23, 2009
jason seaver
Estes Park, CO
jason seaver   Estes Park, CO
This route is every bit as good as Bernard suggests. I was skeptical of the 4-star rating, but not after doing the route. Nice work Bernard and Mark. And thanks to Richard and everyone else involved in developing this area; it's an excellent addition to the long list of craggin' options in the Estes area.
Despite the near-constant bombardment of falling ice, we had a great afternoon on this route last Sunday. All the pitches were great, but that final headwall IS spectacular. It reminded us of what a little piece of the Bachar-Yerian might be like (with more bolts luckily). 11c sounds perfect. I fell off it a few times before I had to have Belcer finish it off. It was a delicious slice of humble pie having the guy who's climbed 3 times in the past 2 years finish my pitch for me. He hiked it too. Wish I hadn't forgotten my camera. Apr 1, 2009
Scott Matz
Loveland, CO
Scott Matz   Loveland, CO
Thanks for the pics cale, This is a great route, the crux on the 2nd pitch is all there for 11a., I fell at the p3 crux but, this climb will get you thinking, great pro, tricky clippin, Have fun. Thanks M.R. and B.G. Aug 6, 2009
J. Albers
J. Albers   Colorado
Super fun route. Mostly bullet rock with great belay stances and protection. My partner and I didn't find the gully distracting at all and thought that the pitches maybe went at 11a, 10d, and 11b/c. Good stuff, thanks for another fine route, Bernard and Mark. Jan 26, 2015