Before moving to Boulder I had heard tales of RMNP and its grand jewel, the Chaos Canyon. The climbing community was reticent though about divulging information, however, and many of my inquiries as to where it was were fruitless. Where was the canyon? Why was there no guide for the modern bouldering in the park? No one seemed to know, or they didn’t want me to know. The climbing community here seemed heavily divided into “crews” and cliques. Gaining information without being accepted by the hardcore climbing scene was difficult. I, a newcomer, found it especially challenging. Finally out of desperation I purchased a topo map of the park at the infamous Neptune Mountaineering. Even the swanky climber types behind the counter didn’t seem to be willing and able to give me directions to these “exclusive” boulders, only furthering the mystery of the place. After fifteen minutes of pondering the map I discovered the tiny little canyon on the southwest side of the park. Only one more obstacle to go; apparently the boulders required a slight bushwhack to reach. (This I would handle later.) Not able to contain myself any longer I decided to do a recon’ mission the next weekend; foregoing crash-pads I would hike the two and a half miles of rugged terrain to see what I could find.
Setting off from the trail head I was soon to learn of the tricky nature of climbing in the park. Topo in hand, I was soon charging up the steep trail toward certain delight, only to be engulfed in a typical Rockies thunderstorm. Nothing could stop me now, however, and I rounding one ridge after another I until I finally came to a monumental view; Hallet Peak rises from a beautiful cirque like a hand of Mother Earth thrust into the air calling all to stop and listen. Listen I did, the vista was incredible. Dream Lake, so well named, shining turquoise under high altitude skies sat proud under this rugged mountain. After a few minutes of contemplation I was off, boulders of equal beauty waited for my obsessed eyes to behold. The final mile of trail toward this canyon of mystery proved to be the toughest. Switch-backing up and around a steep ridge, the panoramic views did little to distract me from the throbbing of my heart and the burning in my lungs. The high altitude was wearing on me already. I could not conceive of carrying a crash-pad up this mountain. (But I will!) Coming down a ridge I glimpsed a trail leading off to the right into the forest. Something about this trail said “climber path”. Turning right I followed this faint trail as it disappeared and reappeared, prompting in me for the first time the fear of getting lost. I turned around three times in my worries but finally a resolve kicked in to find the boulders even if it meant being benighted. I would sleep with the bears and mountain lions if that’s what it took! Suddenly, as the rain slowed and clouds cleared, a lake appeared, surrounded by giant walls still holding snow from the previous winter. “This is it, it has to be!” I told myself. Then on the other side of the lake I spotted something, making my heart jump with anticipation. Chalk! It couldn’t be I said aloud. Running around the lake, hopping from wet boulder to wet boulder, nearly falling in many times, I reached the lone boulder here on the lake shore. This boulder told me all I needed to know; this was the canyon after all. A look upward also revealed something to me I had been pondering over: where did the name Chaos Canyon come from? Now I knew.