Climbing the elusive Big Rock Candy Mountain - South Platte, Colorado.
Fields of Dreams Growing Wild is a route whose name floats about the lore of North American climbing. Wanting to get on the route, I spent some serious time looking for information but found time had shrouded the route in mystery. After spending an entire Saturday attempting to approach Big Rock Candy Mountain, sometimes referred to as the BRCM, and then finally climbing it after taking work off last Tuesday, I think it is time to unveil this Colorado gem to a new age of climbers.
Big Rock Candy Mountain – South Platte, CO
The shortest hike for most will be from the West. Expect about a little over a mile down a closed forest road and then a combination of social trails and cross country down to the river. Crossing the river will be the crux, probably only safely crossed in Fall and Winter. Late Summer (25 July 2015) the river still reached well above my waist with a current you could not stand in. It was a wet year and they were notably releasing water from dams up stream so flow was near 900 cubic feet per second on that day. I think you could cross the river if flow was below 500 but it would be sketchy, typically in fall the flow rate is well below 300. I learned from some fly fisherman you can check the water level of the South Platte above Cheesman Lake here: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/co/nwis/current/?type=flow.
From Lake George (the West; 2WD, Fall or Winter)
- Turn right onto Tarryall Rd (77) (go 7.0 miles)
- Turn right onto Matukat Rd (211) (go 9.1 miles)
- There will be an unnumbered forest road cutting back to your right with a gate (probably locked), park here and walk down the road a little over a mile or drive as far as you can. Where the road curves sharply to the right and a barbed wire fence appears on your left with a trail on its other side cut through the barb wire and take the easiest path towards BRCM (park here if the road is open). We followed the trail along the ridge to the top of a dome overlooking the river then cut North down the slopes to a cattle trail on an adjacent ridge which took us down to the Platte. Cross where easiest. There are rapids almost directly below the route you could probably rock hop across at lower water levels. Before the first rapid/mini waterfall (also down river) there looked like a feasible place to ford. Alternatively hike upstream, the direction in which the cattle trail heads and there are supposedly numerous crossings.
From Florissant (the East; 4WD, 2WD with a bit more walking, almost all year)
- Turn right onto CR 31 if coming from the West (go 0.4 miles)
- Turn right onto CR 3 (go 6.3 miles, the road quickly turns to dirt washer board)
- Turn left onto Cedar Mtn Road, well signed (go 7.7 miles, pot holed and rougher but manageable in most 2WD vehicles)
- Turn left onto Forest Service Road 205 (its 3.5 miles from the gate to the parking behind BRCM). It took less than an hour from the gate for us to approach the route moving fast via the road as its all downhill. 4WD on this road a true must. Our trusty Subaru, which has done the white rim and several other 4WD trails of repute, lacked the clearance to handle the water rutting and is now getting some medical attention and seeking psychiatric attention. I am sure conditions change based on road maintenance of the moment. Only dirt bikers, ATVs and a dune buggy were on the road the two days I was there. So, drive as far as you feel comfortable and find a good pull off, plenty of options existed.
- From behind BRCM take the road down to the river (it is faster than going cross country and almost as direct). There is a nice fisherman’s trail on the East bank of the river you can follow most of the way to the base of the route where the road ends.
Once you gain the Platte’s East bank, continue downstream along the fisherman’s trail as it becomes more faint. You are aiming for the lowest point of BRCM. You will eventually see an unmistakable giant boulder against the base. Hike up to this. You can walk/tunnel behind the boulder and you will be right at the start of Field of Dreams. The start of Childhoods End is just before you duck behind the boulder.
Fields of Dreams Growing Wild (5.11+R, 11 pitches)
Topo courtesy of FA Pete Williams on MountainProject.com –> download here.
P1 (60m, 5.8): Head up the right angling crack towards double roofs. There is a medium sized tree growing in the crack about 30 feet up. Before the first roof anchors appear out to your right (I believe these are for Childhoods End). Take the crack that cuts left. Where this crack ends you pull the pitches’ crux gaining a large ramp. Setup your gear belay.
P2-3 (90m, 5.8): Follow the crack that leads up towards the second roof which you pass around on its right. Head up the giant right facing corner using the crack for pro while climbing the easy slab face. There are bolt anchors off to the right if you want to break this pitch up (looked uncomfortable). As things get steeper a bolt appears. I recommend clipping a tibloc to your rope at the bolt and continuing up with a bit of simul-climbing to the large ledge below the off-width pitch. After the first bolt you can either continue to follow the crack or you can head left on the face to another bolt. There is a nice thick tree to build an anchor off of.
P4 (55m, 5.10+): This pitch is longer than it looks. It is also not an off-width. It is awkward Vedauwoo style perfect man hands through a flared slanting ramp. Get ready to throw down and be physical because after fighting your partner for the pitch (you want this one) you then have to battle the crack itself. Smaller gear tended to walk back so go with large nuts or 0.5-2 cams and a 3. Larger cams are not necessary. Belay at bolts.
P5 (30M, 5.11): Cruise up the petering out crack as the rock quality noticeably deteriorates. A couple options for good small cam placements will prevent factor falling the anchor if a hand or foothold disappears before you clip the first bolt. (You could aid the 5.11 climbing at A0). The crux is pulling the small roof onto the slab where the crack ends. The rock here is the worst on route, unfortunately making things a bit difficult to figure out, as I had two handholds just disintegrate. When the sequence of 4 or 5 tight bolts all of a sudden disappear, head left and you will find the next about 20 feet out. From here you can see the anchors 30 feet up. The last move to the anchors is hard. Somewhat up and right from the second to last bolt is an old bolt I missed. It is the only bolt on the route that was not replaced in 2005. I recommend looking for it as it would make the fall if you blow the 5.10 move to the anchors substantially smaller. I missed it and it definitely made things sporty.
P6 (25M, 5.11): Dance up and right towards a small roof. Tight bolts again protect the hard climbing and the rock here is much better. When it looks like you are going to have to run a long way to the anchors go right and you will find more bolts. Below the small roof is a bolt to clip (extend!) and then move around the roof on its left to anchors.
P7 (40M, 5.10): Head up and right towards the crescent crack, 2 bolts. Place gear in this crack and extend it (0.5 BD and smaller cams). From here swing way right to the next bolt. Head up towards the roof with a bolt right below and just above the lip before shooting up to clip the anchors.
P8 (40M, 5.8): Climb up towards the bolt above the hole 35 feet up. Continue straight up from here weaving between two water groves and there will eventually be another bolt after about 40 feet up. From the second bolt the anchors are visible up and to the left.
P9-11 (150M, 5.6): Head up! We simul-climbed these pitches, clipping a tibloc to the anchor so if the second where to slip it would not affect the leader (ideally he has 2 tiblocs, then this would be true the whole time). The climbing is mostly 5-easy with the occasional harder section. Whenever the climbing gets hard there is a bolt immediately before the difficulties.
I thought the climbing on this route was great and fairly varied while the positioning fantastic. There are occasional sections where the rock is a bit grainy or decomposing but this is the exception not the norm. I imagine traffic would rapidly eliminate this. The route did not seem traveled which was fun and lichen is slippery. The climbing also goes fairly quickly, the route took around 4 hours with the off width pitch accounting for at least one full hour, so the route can easily be accomplished even in the summer with an early morning start. The route’s difficulties stay in the shade until about noon.
- singles of aliens – blue, green, yellow, grey
- doubles of BD (#0.5-2) and one BD #3
- nuts, single set (optional – without you will be placing gear about every 15 feet on the off width pitch)
- 10-12 Yosemite Draws
- 60m, twin ropes, (enable you to bail from anywhere on route if something goes awry)
Descent: From where the route tops scramble along the ridge to the summit. The rap station is just below the summit proper heading towards the saddle. For some reason it is positioned so you have to do a sketchy move down to clip into it. No real benefit to doing a single (52m) versus double (30m) rappels. Both stations are nice and the ropes will not get stuck. The stretch right before the ground is an overhang so I am not sure you could make it safely to the ground with a 50m.