The South Platte area is a giant granite playground located ~60 miles southwest of Denver. The adventure climbing is a highlight, and there are also many opportunities for hiking, fishing, and free camping. When the high Rockies [>10,000 feet] are still cold and snowed in this time of year, South Platte provides a fun shoulder-season escape!
As an aside, you can see from the following pictures that much of the area bears the scars of the worst wildfire in Colorado history. The Hayman Fire started in June 2002, and caused nearly $40 million in firefighting costs, burned 133 homes, 138,114 acres, and forced the evacuation of 5,340 people. The story behind it is absurd, which makes seeing it even more memorable.
A forestry technician with the U.S. Forest Service, Terry Barton, set the fire in a campfire ring during a total burn ban triggered by a National Weather Servicered flag warning. Barton’s claim that she was attempting to burn a letter from her estranged husband was disputed by one of her teenage daughters who testified that a psychology teacher had told Ms. Barton to write her feelings in a letter and burn it. Many locals believe she set the fire on purpose so she could stay home and fight a local Colorado fire instead of being called to fight fires in other states, such as Arizona or California. This would enable her to be with her kids that summer. According to radio talk show host Glenn Sacks, investigators also speculated that Barton started the fire so she could be a hero for putting it out and saving the forest… A federal grand jury indicted Barton on four felony counts of arson.
South Platte Climbing
This area of Pike National Forest has huge domes, buttresses and towers made of Pike’s Peak granite for your adventure climbing enjoyment. Dan and I have climbed Sheep Rock, the dominating feature of the Cheeseman Reservoir area. Here we are on our way to the dome, with our trail decorated with purple wildflowers along the way:
The first 200 feet of Sheep Rock is squeaky clean and the higher portions look like they took on some smoke from the fire…
The north face of Sheep Rock has steeper 600 to 800-ft multi-pitch climbs. This area is a little more remote and requires a 2.5 mile uphill approach. Dan lead Knossos (5.9+/5.10a), a fun slab-climbing route. It took four rappels to descend to the base. I remember a storm was blowing in and at the time I didn’t have much experience with rappeling, so I may have had some high pitched wailing happening in my head.
And back down among the wildflowers. For reference, this trip was mid-June 2013.
The next day we climbed on Helen’s Done, about a 45 minute hike from the car. Here I am towards the top of Fractured Fairytales (5.7), an easier six pitch adventure.
There are many large potholes at the top, and an easy hike off the backside.
Driving west on route 211 from Deckers, there are dozens of free established campsites. This picture also shows the tiny tent we had up until a few years ago….a glorified “two” person tent.
South Platte Camping
On another trip in mid-June 2015, we went car camping and hiking in the area.
My favorite season is late summer/early fall because we get to hike and camp and climb in the otherwise snowed-in Rockies. BUT even though we can’t do as many things in the late spring I almost savor that time more. It’s when my craving for summer is strongest and the promise of future adventures is most vivid in my mind.
In FEBRUARY 2017 we went to South Platte for some balmy summer weather. To the one reader out there: remember the tipi from our Alaskan adventures? It probably thought it would be forgotten in a dank basement corner, but here it is in all it’s glory!
Have I mentioned that the area is pretty great for shooting? It is wide open and you can see very very far. Other people know that this is a great place for shooting too, as evidenced by the frequent echoes of far away guns. I would say if listening to the occasional gunfire is displeasing to you, this may not be the best place for you to visit…
And while we didn’t climb Sheep Rock, we could still hike and be near it’s quiet, docile spirit.
In consideration of your time making it down here [unless you hastily scrolled down, then this isn’t for you], I’ll leave you with this trio: