A new 5.13+ crack boulder problem has brought sudden fame to the little-known climbing area of Cathedral Spires in southern Colorado. Now, some are calling it one of the best cracks on the planet.
An Overdue Discovery
“I used to come out here by myself. Every few months, I might run into someone,” says Tyler Dziedzina, 29, who stands on hardened February snow, 100 feet downhill from Purity Ring. He waves in the general direction of the boulder, where several climbers are conducting a photo shoot. “Then, this happened.”
Dziedzina and his partner, Ellie Sun, are seasoned route developers that have put up more than 100 original routes in the greater South Platte area. The crack boulders of Cathedral Spires first caught their attention six years ago. “I’d come out here and see a lot of rocks that looked like Vedauwoo,” says Dziedzina. But years of producing first ascents with Sun brought mostly “dead silence” from the climbing community.
In February 2021, Dziedzina started Front Range Crack Bouldering, an Instagram account documenting the crack boulders of Colorado and southern Wyoming. “It was originally to get my friends Ashley Cracoft and Danny Parker to come out here and try crack bouldering with me. I had been trying to get them out here for 5 years.” Despite growing the account to more than 2,000 followers, Dziedzina says that most reactions to fresh South Platte boulders have been lukewarm. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh, this looks really cool,’ and then nobody goes out to it.”
That all changed when Dziedzina discovered Purity Ring in October 2021. “There’s nothing like it,” says Dziedzina, referring to the 20-foot diagonal finger crack. “I knew it was going to be a project for sure.”
“It’s like the offwidth of finger cracks.”
“Walking in through the two boulders, that thing’s just in your face,” says Kate Kelleghan, 28, who holds the women’s speed record on The Naked Edge (5.11-) in Eldorado Canyon. “It’s majestic. It’s striking.”
Located one mile uphill from the Cathedral Spires Park Trailhead, Purity Ring looms at the center of an open cave. Three fifteen-foot-tall boulders form a tight circle around the five crash pads in the center.
Dziedzina announced his first ascent of Purity Ring on December 22, 2021, on the Front Range Crack Bouldering Instagram. In a caption, he mentioned that it took him upwards of 200 attempts, and more than 20 days, to send it. On the Purity Ring Mountain Project page, he graded it V8/V9 (5.13+), comparing it to a much harder version of Public Consumption (V8) in Vedauwoo. The climb’s name, which Dziedzina claims is a dual reference to a South Park episode and a Canadian pop band, is fitting for a pure splitter crack that practically demands ring locks.
“The challenge is really in the size,” says Jenny Fischer, CEO of OCÚN. Initially venturing out to Purity Ring to shoot photos of OCÚN crack gloves, Fischer was pleasantly surprised that the crack angle wouldn’t require her to weight her injured left knee, and that she could project it for a few weeks before surgery. “It’s definitely not a hand, and it’s not finger locks, either. It’s like the offwidth of finger cracks. And it’s probably forty degrees overhanging.”
Purity Ring gained rapid acclaim throughout January and February, mostly due to social media. Fischer’s short Instagram Reels of Purity Ring alone gathered more than half a million views. As small crowds gathered on February weekends, Dziedzina would stop by Purity Ring, keeping tabs on people’s progress and offering to show them different boulders nearby. On Front Range Crack Bouldering, he repeatedly posted pictures of other first ascents in Cathedral Spires. “Out of the Blue, V6!” he’d write on an Instagram Story. “Much better than Purity Ring! Come get it!”
“I’ve almost been avoiding it,” he jokes, referring to the crowd in the Purity Ring cave. “It’s been a bit of a madhouse.”
A looming deadline
Starting on March 1, the area surrounding Purity Ring in Cathedral Spires would be strictly closed to the public for seasonal raptor nesting for five months. Faced with this deadline, climbers felt incentivized to prioritize Purity Ring over other projects.
“There’s an expiration date,” says Isabelle Faus, who counts the boulder amongst her several concurrent projects. “And it’s been snowing. For anybody who’s psyched, there are, like, two days a week when you can try it. So everybody goes on the same two days.”
Battling spring Colorado weather, climbers took drastic measures to protect the boulder from the elements. Especially dreaded amongst Purity Ring devotees was a snow day, which resulted in the crack filling with ice for four more days, shredding tape gloves, and ruining send opportunities. Charlie Barrett, 37, claims that he spent more time cleaning ice from the boulder than working it.
Some climbers, such as Layton Blankenship, 30, took heroic efforts to save the boulder from the elements. After the South Platte was hit with heavy snowfall on Wednesday, February 16, Blankenship hiked up to Purity Ring at 4:00 AM the next morning to brush it off. “My leaf blower died ‘cause it was super cold up there,” he says. “I had to kind of slap the rest off with my jacket. I was just trying to make sure it was dry for the week. Everyone’s trying to send it before the closures.”
In addition to poor weather, climbers faced the daunting task of skin regeneration between all-out attempts on Purity Ring. “I’ve never bled this much on a route,” says Blankenship. “I have four bandages on my hand right now. I’m just skin farming like crazy.” Kelleghan, who has been training twice a day in the gym while also projecting Purity Ring, adds, “My skin is kind of destroyed. For the first time ever, I have a blister on my toe from the toe jam and a blister on my finger from the ring locks.”
As the end of February draws near, Kelleghan describes her commitment to maximize the chance for fresh attempts on Purity Ring. “I got psyched,” she says, with open passion. “With the closures and everything, I just went a hundred percent, trying to do it before March 1. It’s definitely the most stoked I’ve ever been on a boulder.”
An instant classic
Several climbers cite their initial doubts that Purity Ring deserved the 5.13+ grade. Blankenship admits, “To be honest, I was feeling pretty cocky. I can do a one-arm pull-up on a mono, and a pull-up on a ring lock. I was like, this is going to go down in one session. I’m going to downgrade this climb.” Now, he says, “I definitely feel like it’s legit V9. If you just take this boulder problem and say it’s the crux of any of the hard 5.13s or soft 5.14 sport routes that I’ve tried, I would say it’s harder.”
Barrett, who nabbed the second ascent of Purity Ring in early February, had a similar first impression. “I was like, no way. This is not 5.13 plus,” says Barrett, who recently ticked off his ninety-ninth 5.13 and twentieth 5.14. “Then I tried a couple of times, got to the top, and was like, okay. I see what you’re talking about now.”
Unbroken, diagonal, and almost perfectly straight, the single crack on Purity Ring narrows gradually as it extends from the bottom left to the top right lip of the overhanging wall, where the angle suddenly becomes positive over the bulge. The section of crack starting six feet below the lip, where the 0.75-inch slot becomes a 0.5-inch squeeze, is widely considered to be the crux. “You get on it, it feels super hard, and then your next session on it, you make a bunch of progress,” explains Fischer. “And you’re like, oh, this will go. But that all happens before you encounter the true crux of it.”
“If this was a route, this would be one of the best 5.13 pluses in the country,” says Barrett. “This is as good as it gets for hard crack climbing. Especially for hard boulder cracks.” The crux of Purity Ring, Barrett claims, is equal to the crux of Dean Potter’s Sasquatch Crack (V11) in Yosemite. “Everyone was like, ‘This is the hardest crack on the planet right now’,” he says, referring to Sasquatch. “I did that second try.” Purity Ring, by contrast, took Barrett four days.
Despite the stiff grade, many climbers who are able to make initial progress on Purity Ring find it to be an addictive challenge. “One thing I think is really cool about it is that everybody is getting so close,” says Dziedzina. “It makes 5.13+ feel super attainable. You get on it and start making links, and it’s like, I can f**king do this.”
Beyond Purity Ring
As a pure crack climb that is also a boulder, Purity Ring presents some climbers with a unique opportunity to get out of their comfort zone.
“This is my first crack,” says Faus, who was the fifth woman in the world to climb V14. “That’s kind of why I was psyched on it. There are no other features; it’s just the crack. I was like, ‘This is a great way for me to learn how to do this.’” Faus says she was unsurprised when Purity Ring became popular, calling its instant fame inevitable. “It’s pretty perfect.”
Kelleghan, who has worked the crack boulder alongside Faus, comes at it from the opposite background. “I’m much better at pure crack climbing than I am at face climbing,” she explains. “I’ve always loved trad more than anything else. And now I’m finally getting to bouldering, because it turns out it makes you stronger.” A big-wall enthusiast who recently freed Moonlight Buttress (5.12+) in a day, Kelleghan sees Purity Ring as excellent practice for challenging Yosemite climbs, such as the Alien Roof exit on the Rostrum. “This is great training for steep fingers,” she says. “The first female ascent is also an allure.”
As the upcoming closures shut down access to Purity Ring and other nearby climbs, Dziedzina has repeatedly reminded the small group of climbers on Purity Ring of the numerous unclimbed crack boulders nearby that will still be open beyond March 1. “I’m not a competitive person,” he says. “I think that weird pressure just takes away from my own enjoyment.” Sending out photos and coordinates, he freely offers to show climbers the way to potential first ascents.
Dziedzina has also taken deliberate efforts to protect the wilderness from the recent influx of climbers. He has used the Front Range Crack Bouldering account to openly chastise climbers about leaving trash in the area, remind everyone of Leave No Trace ethics, and publicly enforce the March 1 raptor closures. “My plan was, on the last day of February, to rap down to Purity Ring with a bucket of water and clean off all the chalk,” he says. “So the next season would look fresh. And, you know, because I think that looks better than a chalked-up white paste.”
Purity Ring, which has yet to see a third ascent or a first female ascent, will reopen to the public on Aug. 1, 2022.