• Stewart M. Green

Dateline 1911: John Otto Climbs Independence Monument


Here's a photograph I shot with a 600mm lens of a couple climbers rappelling off Independence Monument after a successful ascent of Otto's Route in Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction in western Colorado. John Otto, a crazy redneck cowboy, trailbuilder, and general pain in the neck to local politicians and newspapers, did the first ascent of the 450-foot-high tower in 1911. He laboriously drilled a ladder of pipes with a big railroad hand drill, chopped about 60 steps in the Wingate sandstone, and wedged juniper tree trunks in the route's infamous off-width crack to facilitate his ascent.

Otto also tirelessly lobbied to have the sandstone canyons southwest of Grand Junction turned into a national park. His efforts paid off in 1911 when President William Howard Taft proclaimed the area as Colorado National Monument. Otto was appointed park superintendent for the princely wage of a dollar a month. He held the position until 1927 when the Park Service relieved him of his duties because he was, as one local put it, a "virtual pest." The great climber Layton Kor told me that a lot of the pipes we still in Otto's Route when he climbed it in 1960 with Harvey Carter. The following couple years the Park Service removed most of them. Check out the second edition of Layton's book Beyond the Vertical (which I edited and made photo selections for) of Mr. Kor grabbing pipes on the last pitch. That photo took me 9 hours of Photoshop work to make it presentable. If you haven't climbed Otto's Route, go do it! I've been up the beast 16 times, which pales to the 100+ ascents my buddy Brian Shelton with Front Range Climbing Company has done.

Great climbing Mister Otto...you crazy old bastard!

Climbers rappel off the top pitch of Otto's Route on Independence Monument in Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colorado. Photo @ Stewart M. Green

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