The higher virtue of Stewart Green, the Colorado Springs legend maintaining climbing freedom, history

Original story at

By: Seth Boster May 28, 2018

Stewart Green
Stewart Green, a resident legend, with an extensive resume of climbs from all over the world, pauses as he looks at the view from the Gray Back Peak trail on Wednesday May 9, 2018 in Colorado Springs.

From a ridge overlooking the Emerald Valley, the rocks catch Stewart Green’s eye, as rocks do pretty much everywhere the Colorado Springs legend goes.

“Those big cliffs down there, see them down there?” he says. “They’re phenomenal. None of these even have names; none of the routes are named. But it’s like pure adventure climbing.”

At 65 and with an ankle that still gives him fits years after it broke in a fall from high limestone, Green keeps seeking these thrilling realms, these crags kept secret in a local circle.

He’s responsible for many of them entering the climber consciousness, as he’s the one who created the routes, drilling holes and bolting anchors like luminaries before him.

Yet to the mainstream, Green is known for what he’s revealed in books. He’s working on the next edition of “Rock Climbing Colorado,” a go-to source for the masses breaking into the sport. He’s also published multiple editions for Utah and Arizona, as well as Europe and several U.S. cities with high profiles. That includes Moab, Utah, where some of today’s hard-earned, self-affirming ascents were first won by Green in the 1970s, when the bustling epicenter was a barren outpost, a true frontier.

Stewart Green and Jimmie Dunn in 1976
Stewart Green, right, and Jimmie Dunn bouldering in 1976 in Utah’s Fringe of Death Canyon on the day of Supercrack’s first ascent.

The Springs’ next generation of rock grunts, Brian Shelton among them, later would learn about the escapades of Green and his illustrious company, Jimmie Dunn and Billy Westbay.

“They were pushing the envelope,” Shelton says. “Actually, no, they were building the envelope.”

Now, the owner of Front Range Climbing employs young guides who might not know about Green, who Shelton says “will be a local hero in the climbing community forever.”

Native champion
Others know Green as climbers’ chief at roundtable discussions with land managers.

He fought to keep open Garden of the Gods routes established by Harvey Carter back when the park was a free-for-all, a place to test your grit while Oldsmobiles stopped anywhere and honked at your success. When Red Rock Canyon Open Space entered the public sphere, Green was entrusted to establish routes on the sandstone slabs.

It’s hard to imagine someone like Carter – who griped about chalk and other aspects of climbing’s new age before his death in 2012 – taking on the sort of role Green proudly serves. He figured someone had to lead the cause. That’s why he formed the Pikes Peak Climbers Alliance, committed also to preserving access at Shelf Road and treasured sites along the South Platte.

“You have to adapt,” Green says. “The city of Colorado Springs, for instance, or the national parks, naturally they’re concerned about our impact. My thought has been, well, if we’re involved in the process, then it’s less likely that our freedoms will be taken away.

“The fact of the matter is, now we can’t go everywhere we want to go, slamming bolts with impunity and doing things we might have done before.”

So as parks officials next debate how to manage climbing in North Cheyenne Cañon, Green will be there, withholding nostalgia.

Stewart Green
Stewart Green, a resident legend, with an extensive resume of climbs from all over the world, pauses for a drink of water at the top of Gray Back Peak trail on Wednesday May 9, 2018 in Colorado Springs.

He found his passion in the canyon, the 12-year-old son of a climber who caught the sport’s wave in England before immigrating to the U.S. after World War II. Eric Green laid brick, and Stewart and his pal Dunn worked for the man to pay for school at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

“I can still hear him now,” Dunn says. “‘Lads, time to go to work! Lads, time to go to work! Lads!'”

But the lads were daydreaming, plotting their next climb.

They, along with Westbay, would schedule classes for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays so they could have four-day weekends to pioneer. Not that “pioneering” occurred to them as they ventured to the desert, eating cactus and smoking pot and making history that had no books at the time.

Their names weren’t drawn at the tail end of the Vietnam War, making them feel as if they’d cheated death. They were free to cheat some more.

Life beyond the rock
They’re credited as the first to scale the west face of the 400-foot Castleton Tower, roping their way up cracks and becoming wing-level with a golden eagle that thought that territory could only belong to it. Climbers at the time thought the face impossible.

On that same trip to Indian Creek, Green and the guys completed the third ascent of Standing Rock and became the fifth or sixth party to top North Sixshooter Peak.

While Dunn went on to El Capitan glory, Green stayed put in his hometown. He married in 1978, had two boys in the next two years and groomed them into fine climbers themselves as he continued to discover the region’s endless granite.

“I wanted to do something more of lasting value,” he says as to why he delved into writing and photography.

Stewart Green goes through climbing books
Stewart Green, a resident legend, with an extensive resume of climbs from all over the world, thumbs through one of his many books on hiking, climbing and walking on Wednesday May 9, 2018 in Colorado Springs.

In 1985, he published “Pikes Peak Country: The Complete Guide to Natural Wonders, Historic Sites, Attractions and Outdoor Recreation.” FalconGuides called soon after, sparking his traveling across state lines, his boys in tow.

Their dad’s status became clear to them as more climbers stopped to pick his brain. But Green was no longer the dirtbag that his friends were, tearing the countryside for audacious ascents.

“He assumed the family-man role,” says son Ian. “Once we came around, I felt like he probably put his personal aspirations in terms of the sport on the back burner and traded it for raising us, being the best dad and role model he could be.”

Ian could understand that later. He’s the father of Rockwell and two girls after a professional climbing career that left him “burnt out” and feeling there was more to life.

But as far as his best friend is concerned, Stewart Green is still obsessed.

“That’s his life,” Dunn says. “Stewart Green’s life is climbing.”

Still dreaming
He’s still eyeing some first ascents. Though now, Green seems most interested in preserving climbing’s history, with a blog dedicated to that, stocked with stories and photos passed on to him.

Other contributions include obituaries he wrote on Carter, fellow early trailblazer Eric Bjornstad and Layton Kor, a contemporary of Green’s who in his dying days dreamed of returning to the Dolomites – dreamed of climbing, as many of Green’s friends did before their last breaths.

Stewart Green
Stewart Green, a resident legend, with an extensive resume of climbs from all over the world, removes his shoes after hiking Gray Back Peak trail on Wednesday May 9, 2018 in Colorado Springs.

He’s counting fewer partners still around. Cancer bested Westbay in 2000, and another friend, the soloing great Earl Wiggins, died by his own hand a few years later.

A dark trend has been noted among mavericks from Green’s day. He’s known five to commit suicide.

He’s thought about that, wondering if it has something to do with adrenaline, an addiction that can’t always be fed. “I’ve had a more emotionally normal life, so it’s hard to understand,” Green says. “But a lot of climbers I’ve known, they’re misfits in a lot of ways.”

Balance is good, he knows. But he’s far from finished.

Along the trail now, he looks to a jagged face in the wooded distance. “I’d like to go back in there, put some bolts in, maybe make a two-pitch,” he says. “I don’t know. There’s just so many climbs to do. So many climbs.”