When the snow’s not flying in Chaffee County you don’t always have to ride crusty snow. Or sit around worrying what’s happening to the climate. The surrounding high desert, granite rock make year-round climbing an option within a short drive.
The most accessible climbing is found at the Buena Vista Crags northeast of town. Elephant Rock, Bob’s Rock, Turkey Rock, Tunnel Crags and Pump Station Rock are all located off of County Road 371 and offer mostly south and west facing aspects, ideal for maximizing winter sunlight.
A little further drive, up 375 and into the Four Mile Area opens options significantly. Transmitter Tower and Land of Crank are winter sport climbing paradise. The two sites are only 10-20 minutes hike from the road and hold 15 routes between 5.8 and 5.11b, plus a few additional traditional routes.
Continuing up 375, turning at 375E and hiking 20 minutes will land you at Pleasure Dome. Here you’ll find another 15 mixed and sport routes with mostly higher difficulty.
Perhaps the most epic climb in the Arkansas River Valley is the Davis Face. The Carter Classic is a 5-pitch 5.9 trad route directly up the center of the face. It’s rated 5.9 for one pitch, mostly one move, and the rest of the climb is 5.4 to 5.8. There’s a few other shorter trad climbs on the Davis Face, and one sport, 6-pitch 5.10a called D4.
Moving a bit further from Buena Vista, climbers can find climbs at Highway 91 Crags and Cecil Ville Slab, both north of Leadville. These will be more challenging in winter because of higher elevations, but could be possible with the right conditions. The Rock Garden, near the town of Granite, holds a handful of upper 5.10 and 5.11 single pitch. Up Cottonwood Pass, accessed through the Denny Creek Trailhead, is a south facing pitch called Holy Water Wall with four sport routes between 5.10a and 5.11a.
A more reliable location for climbing in the winter is Cottonwood Rock south of Coaldale. Here there are seven 5.10/11 sport routes with a 5.7 warm up, and an additional nine mixed routes.
Arkansas Valley Climbing by Tom Perkins and 40 Minutes from Leadville by Justin Talbott are resources for directions and beta. The Trailhead in Buena Vista, Salida Mountain Sports, and Leadville Outdoors (only Talbott’s) carry the guidebook as well as as climbing essentials, however they do not carry trad gear. You can also find information on climbs at mountainproject.com by searching, “Buena Vista, CO,” “Chaffee County,” or a specific crag or route name.
Only an hour to 90 minutes away are two winter climbing meccas, Shelf Road and Penitente Canyon. Beta for those areas are found on Mountain Project, or Shelf Road Climbing (available as an app) and Rock Climbing the San Luis Valley both by Bob D’Antonio.