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Thomas Hanson
 early Feb., 2007


FRB: How did you get into climbing, Tom?

Tom: When I was about eleven years old and living in Minnesota I saw some photos in an issue of National Geographic of some climbers doing routes in the Dolomites. Those pictures scared the hell out of me and I was immediately intrigued. I quit the school band, sold my trumpet, and bought a hundred foot gold line rope and some carabiners with the money, which went over big with my parents. I lured friends into practicing rope technique in trees. I was lucky enough to have some friends who considered that kind of activity fun.

I had no mentors, being a twelve year old climber living in Minnesota back in 1971. There was no such thing as a rock gym back then.

Minneapolis had a tiny climbing shop called Midwest Mountaineering. It was upstairs in a creepy old building in a bad section of downtown.

I used to take the bus down there to hang out with some real climbers, who I inundated with questions. I think they were amused by this little kid who they couldn't have taken too seriously. I read every book I could get my hands on that related to climbing.

Around this time I went to Taylors Falls with some acquaintances from my Civil Air Patrol squadron. It was two older guys and their girlfriends who went up there to make out. I went bouldering. Then I talked my parents into stopping at Devils Lake on the way back from my uncles wedding. My ten year old brother belayed me. Basically, I was hooked after seeing that National Geographic article.

FRB: How did you catch wind of the potentials
          in Castlewood?

Tom: I had been bouldering and top roping at Castlewood since around 1983. I immediately saw the bouldering potential there, but it wasn't until the year of the Yellowstone fire that I realized its potential for sport climbs. That summer, my friend Mark Johler and I headed up to the Tetons for a two week climbing trip. As the fires were burning everywhere, the rangers told us to enjoy the park, but stay on the pavement. We headed down to the Wind River Range to climb in The Cirque of Towers, but they were also closed due to the fires. Then we headed back down to Rocky Mountain National Park to do The Diamond, but that weekend The Park was also closed due to fire danger. That summer was also when the first Rock & Ice mini-guide to Shelf Road came out, so we headed down to Shelf to investigate. Before our road trip I had two very scary climbing experiences that shook me up pretty good (I'll elaborate later). These horrifying experiences caused me to lose my lead head and I was shaky on the sharp end for a while. Shelf Road was just what the doctor ordered. I had been leading runout 5.12's in Eldo until my two scares and at Shelf I was able to get back on difficult climbing without fear of death. After experiencing sport climbing at Shelf, we realized that Castlewood had all of the requisites for sport routes. I bought a Bosch and the rest is history. I must mention here that Castlewood's first full time ranger, Bob Finch, was a climber and he was instrumental in establishing climbing as a park sanctioned, legitimate activity at The Wood.

Prior to Bob, the canyon was called Cherry Creek Canyon, and when is was finally purchased by Colorado State Parks, it was not certain that climbing would be a legal activity there. Really old maps of Douglas County label the canyon Wild Cat Canyon, so Castlewood is the third name bestowed upon it. I'm sure the early Indian tribes had yet another name for it.

FRB: Tell us about the early days of C-wood.

Tom: People have been climbing at The Wood for a long time. It was a regular haunt of The Colorado Mountain Club back in the seventies. Fred Crowley introduced the CMC to The Grocery Store Wall, where the CMC members established dozens of top rope climbs. I used to find the occasional ancient piton on certain cracks around the canyon. They looked ancient back in the early eighties. Around 1986, shortly after Castlewood became a state park, Alan Mosiman published the first climbers guide to Castlewood. It was a great guide, but only described the top rope climbs at The Grocery Store Wall. A short while later, Chis Drysdale published Scenic Solitude, which included The Grocery Store Wall, Five and Dime Wall, and a few routes on The Falls Wall. When I began drilling in the summer of 88, I only bolted lines that we felt we had done the first ascent of on top rope. Climbers are very territorial and we didn't want to step on any toes, so we limited our bolting activity to the east rim and the upper canyon. Later we added the sport routes at Morning Sun Wall on the west rim. To this day, few people realize that there are about 160 sport climbs scattered about the canyon. My early sport climbing cohorts were Mark Johler, my brother Rob Hanson and later, Scott Sills. Soon after I started putting up sport routes, Tod Anderson, Mike Lane, Eric Leonard, Ziggy Moskovitz, Dave Fields, Mark Dinkleman and Richard Wright joined the party. Tod and I became good friends and with the new crew we went on to develop Devils Head. In 1993 I published the current all inclusive climbers guide, which is still in print and available at the parks visitor center (shameless plug).

FRB: OK, enough of the sport climbing history,
         this is FRB after all.

Tom: My knowledge of the bouldering history of Castlewood is rather inbred and sketchy at best. I know that The Wood had been visited by competent boulderers prior to our arrival, so I'll stick to what I know first hand. Back in the early eighties, I did a lot of bouldering there with Mark Johler, mainly in the upper canyon and below the east rim. We never took it too seriously and we kept no records and never named or rated any problems. Back then the V-scale wasn't in use and we didn't haggle over B1, B2, or B3, we just bouldered.

Sometime around 1990 I began to boulder with a regular crew, The Boys of the Wood. The core of this group consisted of Scott Sills, Mike Brooks, Steve "Steebo" Carpenter, and myself. We often bouldered at The Wood up to four days a week. For several years I never bothered to bring a rope and we tried to boulder everything in sight. It was during this period that many classic areas were established. We sent The Drain, Berthoud Canal (to the lip, but never proceeded up the wall above), Nine Lives, Tombstone right side, Slabmaster. Mini-Wall, Turd Balls, Corridor, Trapezoids, etc. Scott sent Power Line, Steebo sent Shred of Dignity, and the others repeated them. Several years later, the Benningfield guides drew a lot of attention to the canyon. We were a little pissed that many of our areas and problems were renamed, but got over it. Matt Samet contacted me when Colorado Bouldering II was in the works and the second volume includes much less revisionist history than the first. It is impossible to really know who did what problems first in an area like The Wood, but The Boys of the Wood played a major role in the development of problems up to about V8 there.

FRB: What do you miss most of the early days?

Tom: I miss having a regular crew. I miss the discovery of new stone. I miss having tons of climbing time.

FRB: You got a new Castlewood area. Tell us about it.

Tom: I finally moved to Castle Rock in the fall of 2005. My home is on top of the mesa between Mitchell Gulch and Willow Creek Canyon. These are the two canyons that parallel Castlewood to the west. There is a ton of stone in these canyons and it is a ten minute walk from my front door. I have been doing a lot of exploring and I've managed to develop about twelve new areas. The Cave, B25 and Norwegian Wood in Mitchell Gulch are pretty good and The Bovine Arena in Lost Canyon, which is a side canyon of Willow Creek, is proving to be an exceptional area. I've met some good friends by giving tours and they have helped me develop a lot of new stuff. All of this new stuff is on private property and access may become an issue, but so far all is well. A middle school is being built behind my house which is currently limiting access to The Cave.

FRB: Who is active in Castlewood these days?

Tom: It's hard to tell. Justin Jaeger is one of the locals. He is cranking hard and repeating a bunch of stuff as well as putting up new stuff of his own. The lurking Castlewood ronin ninja remains active, though no one knows who he/she is.

FRB: Tell us about Devils Head, southwest of Denver.

Tom: Mike Lane took me up there on my first visit in the early nineties. We linked up with Tod Anderson and started bagging first ascents on the best quality granite in the South Platte. I guess I am the most psyched by the trad leads I established there, but the area is mostly known for the incredible sport climbs. The Head Crew was very busy there in the late nineties, and Tod, who publishes the guidebook, is still active there today. The sport climbs there tend to run from 5.11 on up. There is not much moderate stuff there, but if you climb in the higher grades, it is paradise. Surprisingly, there is no bouldering at The Head, but the lead climbs are just incredible.

FRB: Tell us about some more of the characters
          from the past.

Tom: I moved to Colorado in 1982. Before that I was one of the locals at Taylors Falls, Minnesota. We did weekend trips to Devils Lake. My climbing lifestyle was heavily influenced by the DLFA. I was never a core member, but I fell in love with the lifestyle of hard core climbing and partying. Have fun or get hurt bad was our motto. We drank like fish. We climbed every available moment. My brother Rob, and Dave Halls, who I've known since first grade, were my regular partners back then. Scott Backus, who went on to become a premier alpinist, was a Taylors Falls local who we climbed with from time to time back then.

After moving to Colorado, I climbed with the late great Mark Johler, who was one of the funniest people in the world. In the eighties I still climbed a lot with my brother. He did a ton of top rope first ascents in Castlewood, many of which I later bolted with his approval. I climbed with Joe Desimone quite a bit. I introduced Scott Sills to climbing and he was my regular climbing buddy for many years. He is one of the original Boys of the Wood and member of The Head Crew, and was a major player in the development of Castlewood and Devils Head. I climbed with Mike Brooks, who was another one of original The Boys of the Wood. He has done a ton of first ascents in Eldo. Mike Lane and Tod Anderson of The Head Crew have been great companions over the years.

FRB: Did you ever solo the Yellow Spur in Eldorado?

Tom: I mentioned earlier that I had two scary episodes in 1988 that pushed me towards sport climbing. One of them was while soloing The Yellow Spur. I had lead it many times and felt that it was easy. I used to ride my bicycle from Denver to Eldo and solo a few routes before riding back to work in Denver. One day I went up on The Yellow Spur and the wind picked up and started blowing with hurricane force. When I got to the bolt ladder pitch and I thought I was going to die. The wind was knocking me back and forth. I had no harness or slings so I started hooking my fingers into the bolt hangers. I finally kept going and the final easy pitch on the arête was horrific. When I summitted, the rock slopes away from the void and you are out of harms way. My legs shook and I collapsed. It took me about a half hour to regain my nerves to hike back down.

That same week I did a first ascent on the north face of The Maiden with my buddy Mark Johler. The route starts near the tree on the regular north face route, but instead of continuing the traverse, you go straight up and slightly right. I ran the rope out without getting a single piece of pro in. Mark had to unclip from the belay anchors to gain ten feet so that I could reach the top. We only had a 150' cord. The climbing was pretty sustained 5.9 with a few moves of 5.10 thrown in. I was still shaky from my previous Yellow Spur episode. Mark came off two or three times while seconding. The next day Johler, my brother Rob and I went up on Semi Wild in Eldo. I was still so unnerved that I decided to bail.

I tossed the rope down without warning those below and hit Layton Kor on the head with it. Talk about embarrassing.

FRB: Did Steebo ever hit you in the shoulder
         with a Rattler Snake?

Tom: Yeah, the story goes like this. It was on a typical hot and sunny day at Castlewood, perhaps ten or more years back. The usual crew, The Boys of the Wood, were there, Mike, Scott and Steebo.

We had spent the first few hours bouldering and decided to head over to the east rim to do a few sporty climbs near Patrick Hedgeclipper at The C-Section. I decided to jump on The Korbomite Maneuver. All was going smoothly until I was approaching the anchors when suddenly the rope popped out of the last draw. Dang, I shouldn't have placed that bolt so close to the corner. Now I was looking at possibly decking on a ledge about fifteen feet below. I needed to concentrate, but it was difficult because of the commotion taking place below me. While I was on the route, Steebo had managed to catch a rattlesnake. The last twelve feet to the anchors was pretty loose back then, even by Crumblewood standards. I managed to make it to the anchors and lower off to the excitement taking place below.

As I was coming down from my adrenal overload, I was, for the first time, able to take notice of what was transpiring at the base. Steebo was holding his proud catch behind its head and showing it off to the boys, when the serpent twisted its head, freaking out Steebo, who lobbed it in my unfortunate direction. The rattler bounced off my shoulder, inducing from me, the classic "snake dance."

FRB: How does the present compare to the old days?

Tom: For me personally, the differences are big, but every aging climber may be able to relate. In my early days, the old days, every day spent climbing was a total adventure. I had a bunch of long time friends and we had whole summers off. We would road trip out west and climb great lines. We hitchhiked and hopped freight trains to get there. We camped every night for months at a time. These days I am lucky if I can get out one weekend day and one evening after work during the week. When I first started climbing, it was a fringe activity with few participants. Today climbing has become somewhat of a mainstream activity by comparison. The numbers of people climbing today has increased exponentially from that of thirty years ago. There are tons of people climbing today and 5.14, V12, etc. are not breaking news. It is about time that our wonderful sport has gained the popularity that it has deserved. It is great to see so many participants. However, there are so many great climbers out there now that few people stand out as exceptional. All of the modern day climbing magazines and web sites are dispersing information in real time. Back in the day, we swapped lies around the campfire and legends were born and rumors perpetuated. These days unbelievable rumors are debunked as soon as they are told. I miss hearing the well told tall tales, that had just enough truth to be believable, but were in fact, lies. I recall a quote from an old Yosemite guidebook that read, "On either end of the social spectrum there lies a leisure class." I don't have to tell you which end of that spectrum most climbers of that era were from. From my observation, today climbing is a middle class sport and I too have joined those ranks, but I miss being a dirt bag hobo climber with my thumb out on the highway heading toward another new adventure.

FRB: Who were your role models?

Tom: Warren "Batso" Harding, The Vulgarians, the DLFA. Those guys had a great time out on the rock and didn't take themselves too seriously.

FRB: What are your favorite climbing areas?

Tom: The Tetons, Devils Lake, The Flatirons, Devils Head and of course, Castlewood. Many people make one trip to The Wood, end up on some chossy pile and go away thinking the place sucks. Sure, the rock is not as bulletproof as some areas, but nothing keeps a climb fresh like breaking off a hold. There are thousands of boulder problems there and the setting is beautiful. It has the warmest winter climate in the state. The Tetons are always a magical range for me. They were the destination for our annual road trips each summer when I was a teenager. I remember taking the boat ride across Jenny Lake with my buddy Dave Halls and we shared the ride with Yvon Chouinard. He was guiding some clients up on Cube Point. Dave and I did Durrance Ridge on Symmetry Spire that day.

FRB: How has your climbing changed now that you are older?

Tom: I don't take chances like I used to. I used to like the rush of scaring myself silly. One time I did a roped jump off the blade of The Petit Grepon while dosed on mescaline. When I was a kid I did a handstand on the Royal Gorge Bridge. I used to do handstands on skateboards while bombing down steep hills at freeway speeds. These days I rope up to cross the street. I don't climb at the levels that I used to either. I no longer get out five to seven days a week. From 1984-87 I climbed about 350 days a year. Now I'm lucky to do 50 days a year.

FRB: How do you want History to
         remember your accomplishments?

Tom: I want to be remembered as an over-the-hill-has-been, instead of a never-was. I want to be remembered as someone who was fun to go climbing with.

FRB: Any final words of wisdom?

Tom: Have fun or get hurt bad.

FRB: Thanks for the interview, Tom.

Tom: You're welcome.


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