A Talk About Rocks with Dan Crossey

I sat down with Colorado College’s Dan Crossey in the CC Carpentry Shop to talk about his favorite old-school rock climbing crags hidden around Colorado and the Southwest. Crossey, an outdoor enthusiast and adventurer, attended CC in the ‘70s and is now a carpenter and master cabinetmaker at CC. He has a wealth of knowledge about the outdoors —and many other topics not limited to archeology, joinery, and Mexican beer— and endless stories of outdoor adventures. 

Photo courtesy of Dan Crossey

Crossey credits his love for the outdoors to his childhood in Alaska and to his father. “My father was a pilot: a military man and an engineer,” Crossey said. “When we lived in Alaska, he was in charge of the base and the missile sites near the Arctic Circle, near Russia. Every year he would go off for two weeks and learn survival skills and come back smelling like campfire, and I really got this survival bug. I wanted to learn to survive in the woods. I feel bad. I didn’t want to do more hunting and I was never a fisherman, but I really like the camping and hiking and that progressed to mountaineering, which progressed to rock climbing.”

Reminiscing on his high school climbing days, Crossey mentioned Bill, his first climbing partner who is still his friend today. “Bill’s father would teach us how to rappel and rudimentary ice axe stuff—but that got me the bug,” Crossey said. “We would spend time at the Crestone Needle; its only rated 5.7 but it’s absolutely beautiful and stunning … as much fun as cragging with friends for a day is, humping a big pack up a mountain really creates bonds. The guys I did that with are still my friends to this day.” In fact, it was with Bill at the Crestone Needle that Crossey experienced a mountaineering incident that permanently damaged his feet. “I lost both big toes and parts of the others. I have less than attractive feet,” he stated. The accident put an end to climbing from Crossey for 10 years, but that didn’t stop him from eventually returning to climbing with full force.

When asked about tips for new rock climbers or climbers returning to the sport as he did, Crossey underscored the importance of having climbing mentors. “I don’t know if there is anything more important than mentorship or apprenticeship.” “Really later on in life, when I got back into rock climbing, I found people better than [me]. You want the leader to be experienced; that’s how you learn. The best way to learn to place pro is to follow behind someone and understand ‘What were they thinking here?’ and ‘Where were they standing?’” he said. If you are interested in climbing or are a beginner climber, Crossey mentioned he is available to give advice or mentorship. His email is dcrossey@coloradocollege.edu.

A short list of Crossey’s favorite climbing spots in Colorado and in the Southwest, with his own description is as follows:

Cirque de Crags behind Pikes Peak

“You go through the Mennonite camp and there is a road that goes to Cripple Creek. Part way down there, there is a sign that points to ‘The Crags’—some really nice rock. There is a big old school 5.8, pretty scary… It’s like a big Eiffel tower-shaped piece of rock.”

Feral Petunia and Duck Rock near Wilkerson’s Pass

“Must be a half-dozen places to climb there. Super easy approaches. One of my favorite areas.”

Sugarite, on the New Mexico-Arizona border

“Volcanic lava flow, beautiful flat-topped mesa, with vertical single pitches. I highly recommend the one or two bolted routes. It is flat top, so you can climb on top and set up three or four top ropes. [The rock] is rhyolite, and it’s got a crack every five to 10 feet. Between the cracks there are lava flow pockets, like a bubble burst. Something about volcanic lava flows—it’s some of the coolest rock you can ever climb on. Some 5.7s some 5.8s, a lot of 5.9s, some really difficult stuff.”

Chicken Head Rock in Valley of the Chickens, South Platte, Colo.

“Incredible chicken heads, they look like stone mushrooms where there was an outer face of granite that eroded. [The eroded rock] kept this cap where you can loop slings. Good climbing there, really weird.”

Eleven Mile Canyon in Lake George, Colo.

“For climbers trying to go from sport to pro, four-star 5.6s and 5.7. Super comfortable, big holds, nice stances.”

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