Video & photos by Jackie Hueftle
Chaos Canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park is aptly named—the jumble of multi-colored boulders that fill the broken valley create a talus field deceptive in distance and scope—and as the valley steps up from the lake at the bottom through the small meadow in the middle you feel you could continue climbing forever, weaving your way up and up through the scrub pine, year-round snow patches, and large balanced talus until finally you surmount the wide rock rim and find you’d climbed into the sky.
Of course, most climbers never bother to hike that far.
I did. My goal was Full Chaos, which has a stout grade, V10, and what has been described as a terrifying landing. It is overhanging, tall, and has one of the longest approaches in the park. Because of the landing, Full Chaos requires several pads, good spotters, and preferably a large pile of snow in the pit under the second half of the problem. It wasn’t a route I’d normally project. But, Chaos Canyon is a magical place.
Climbers from all over travel to test themselves against some of the most famous boulders in the world. On top of the existing classics, new boulders are constantly being developed, though the area has seen enough traffic that most would be first ascentionists are forced to walk a bit higher up or farther out and search the edges of the lower fields or climb up the giant valley steps towards the rim. The process is not without benefit—the Colorado alpine boulderer is oft possessed with an enviable (and hard won) level of fitness, the potential seems truly endless, and some of the new lines are as good or better than existing problems. There are disappointments too—a chunk of rock that, from afar, might look like a fantastic potential boulder problem will, once approached, yield a death-pit landing, have an overabundance or complete lack of holds, or will inexplicably turn out to be waist-high. There is also the case of the re-first-ascent, that is, a line that fell to some previous intrepid explorer and was later lost to history. In the case of Upper and Upper Upper Chaos, the lore is strong enough that the question of who first managed a boulder is usually quickly sorted through. A young man by the name of Paul Otis who used to live in Estes Park was one such intrepid explorer, and many of the most obscure, distant, and bold lines in Chaos Canyon can be attributed to him.
Full Chaos is perhaps Paul Otis’ crowning glory.