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Otto's Route at Colorado National Monument

How to Climb Otto's Route on Independence Monument


Independence Monument is the easiest big tower in the canyon country.

A topo of Otto's Route on the northwest face of Independence Monument.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Otto's Route ascends the broad northwest face of Independence Monument, a 450-foot-high sandstone tower in the heart of Colorado National Monument in western Colorado. The classic route, climbing Indy in four pitches, offers lots of varied climbing on mostly solid rock in a wild and beautiful desert environment. Otto's Route up the tower's northwest face and south ridge is one of Colorado's great classic routes and the easiest of the major towers on the Colorado Plateau.

This is not, however, a route for novice climbers to consider leading. Some dangerous and tricky parts are to be found. The route requires experience at leading, placing gear, routefinding, multi-pitch climbing, and rappelling.

Guide Climbs Up Indy

If you want to climb the route but lack the experience, consider a guided trip with Front Range Climbing Company, Colorado Alpine and Desert Adventures, and Apex Mountain School.

Guidebooks for Otto's Route

For more information on climbing Independence Monument and the other monument spires, consult Rock Climbing Colorado by Stewart M. Green and Rock Climbing Desert Rock III by Eric Bjørnstad.

John Otto's Pipe Ladder

The route is also of historic significance. John Otto, an early proponent of the monument and its first superintendent, made the daring first ascent in 1911 by laboriously drilling holes by hand and then pounding pipes into them to create a ladder to the summit. The Grand Junction Daily News called it "a perilous piece of work." Atop the tower Otto hoisted an American flag to celebrate both Flag Day and Independence Day.

About Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument, forming the southwest skyline of Grand Junction, is a spectacular 32-square-mile parkland that preserves several deep sandstone canyons on the northern edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau. The monument, administered by the National Park Service, was established in 1911. Besides its abrupt canyons, Colorado National Monument also offers an assortment of sheer spires including Independence Monument and Sentinel Spire as well as lots of great hiking and sightseeing. The free-standing towers and the vertical canyon walls are composed of Wingate sandstone, a fine-grained formation originally deposited as immense sand dunes during the Triassic Period some 210 million years ago. Their tops are protected by a harder sandstone, the erosion-resistant Kayenta sandstone.

Finding Independence Monument

Indy is best approached by hiking up the lower Monument Canyon Trail. To find the trailhead, drive south from Interstate 70 and Fruita on CO 340 to Colorado National Monument's west entrance. Continue east on CO 340 for 2 more miles to the trailhead on the south (right) side of the highway. The trail begins on the south end of the parking area. Hike up the trail for almost 2 miles to a saddle north of Independence Monument, an obvious freestanding tower. Scramble up a climber's trail to the base of the Monument's northwest face and the start of the route. Download a map to the monument here.

Otto's Route (II 5.9- R)

  • Number of pitches: 4
  • Height of route: 450 feet
  • Climbing time: 1 to 4 hours (depending on size and experience of your party)
  • Approach hiking time: 1 hour from Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead
  • Descent time: 30 to 45 minutes

This classic route climbs the northwest face and upper south ridge of Independence Monument. It can be crowded on weekends. The route offers mostly easy climbing with only 2 hard crux sections. Watch for other parties, rock fall, and use double ropes to rappel off quickly. Begin below an obvious ramp on the northwest side of the formation.

Pitch 1: Climb an easy crack (5.2) on the left side of the ramp to a ledge. Then work up an awkward chimney (5.7) to another ledge. Finish by jamming a well-protected crack (5.5) past chopped holds and an old piton to a narrow ledge with a 3 bolt/piton belay/rappel anchor. 150 feet.

Pitch 2: Move the belay right to a large gravel-covered ledge and use a #3 Camalot in a crack on the left for a belay anchor. Climb an easy slab to the base of an overhanging off-width crack. Thrutch up the awkward crack (5.8+) using Otto's pipe holes for handholds to a stance. Climb another wide crack (5.6) to a big ledge with a 2-bolt/1-piton anchor. 80 feet. A couple big cams (#3 and #4 Camalots) protect the cracks.

From the ledge, scramble over boulders and squeeze through a body-width slot-The Time Tunnel-to spacious Lunch Box Ledge high on the tower's northwest face.

Pitch 3: Above the belay ledge, face climb up a groove (5.7) protected by 3 pitons to a final mantle (5.7+). Belay at a 3-piton anchor on Sundeck Ledge on the tower's south ridge. Lots of drilled pockets and steps are found. 80 feet.

Pitch 4: An exposed finale to finish. Cruise up Otto's chopped steps on the run-out, airy south ridge (5.3 R). Grab sandy pipe holes on the final overhanging caprock (5.9) to a 3-piton anchor on a nice belay shelf above the overhang and just below the actual summit. A #1.5 or #2 Tri-cam can be placed in a drilled hole on the lower ridge if you need some pro. Drilled pitons (3) protect the caprock.

Above the final belay, the final 10 feet to the summit can be bouldered (5.8) or aided by standing on a vertical pipe (an old flag pole base), stepping onto the chains, and mantling on top. 80 feet.

Descent: 3 or 4 double-rope rappels.

  • Rappel 1: Make an 80-foot rappel from anchors on the summit ledge to Sundeck Ledge.
  • Rappel 2: Make an 80-foot to Lunchbox Ledge.
  • Down-climb (3rd Class) through the "Time Tunnel" to the top of pitch 2.
  • Rappel 3: Make a 190-foot rappel with 2 ropes from a 2-bolt/1 piton chain anchor to the ground. Alternatively, make 2 rappels from anchors down the climbing route. First rappel 60 feet to a big ledge. Scramble left to anchors on a shelf, then rappel 140 feet from a 3-bolt chain anchor to the ground.

Rack: Large Stoppers; Camalots #.5 to #4; and 2 ropes (200 foot or 60 meter are best). Helmets are advised because of loose rock; especially if another party is climbing above you.

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