Move over, George Washington. It’s time the chiseled icons of Colorado climbing got some face time. Now that you’re hooked on Centennial State stone (see our Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing in Colorado), meet the legends you’re following. These four Colorado masters established areas, pioneered styles, and inspired thousands—accomplishing more than enough to earn enshrinement on a mountain of their own.
Along with fellow gurus John Gill, Royal Robbins, and Layton Kor, Ament is responsible for sending some of the toughest Colorado climbs of his time. He made the first free ascents of 5.11 routes in Colorado and Yosemite National Park in the mid-1960s, including Supremacy Crack in Eldorado Canyon State Park and a route on El Capitan. Ament, who now lives in Fruita, also has maintained a prolific writing, songwriting, singing, and photography career. One of his later folk tunes that would have come in handy on the mountain? “Concentrating.”
Before Gill, most rock jocks bouldered only to practice for big climbs. He legitimized the activity as a sport in its own right and established the first grading system, the B scale, in the 1950s (he was, after all, a mathematics professor at the University of Southern Colorado, today called Colorado State University-Pueblo). Although the B scale has been replaced by new grading systems, other facets of Gill’s pioneering have stuck, like the use of chalk for grip—the Pueblo West resident got the idea from gymnastics—and a more dynamic style of climbing.
It’s a testament to Caldwell that his escape from kidnappers in Kyrgyzstan isn’t the most notable thing about his career. The Estes Park native owns first ascents of routes on some of the world’s most challenging faces, including his free climb of Yosemite National Park’s Dawn Wall in 2015 (The Dawn Wall, made by Boulder’s Sender Films, details the journey). The 19-day feat captured the world’s attention and earned him and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson, a tweet of recognition from then President Barack Obama.
Hill, who was born in Michigan and grew up in California, moved to Colorado in the early 2000s and might be our most accomplished transplant: She climbed competitively in France, was the first person to free climb Yosemite’s infamous Nose route in a day, and was the first woman in the world to send a 5.14 route. She also led the team that established Madagascar’s Bravo les Filles route, one of the most difficult big-wall climbs ever completed by an all-female group. Hill now lives and offers private coaching and guiding services in Boulder.