Talking Ellingwood Arete with Rifle Climbing Guides owner Joda Hankins

Rifle just might be the finest rock-and-ice oasis you’ve never visited.

Ask Joda Hankins, a former U.S. junior national team bouldering veteran and owner of Rifle Climbing Guides, a new guiding outfit made to give both locals and visitors a taste of everything Rifle Mountain Park has to offer. And he’ll tell you it offers plenty: top-rope climbing on 5.8 and 5.9, traditional climbing on 5.12+, endless bouldering problems and secluded ice caves come wintertime.

Yes, you read that right: Rifle has ice caves.

“You have these ice floes that freeze and create a massive cavern behind them, where you get freestanding stalagmites,” said Hankins, who’s spent the past five years exploring and leading treks in Rifle and across the Western Slope with The Absolute Alpine, his other guiding outfit. “And it’s not a hot spot!”

Hankins has come a long way from spending endless hours training in a gym. The Absolute Alpine boasts a crew of seven international guides with experience on five continents, 34 peaks and more than 50 glaciers. This summer, the Tennessee native and longtime Colorado resident is launching a slate of new local programs through Rifle Climbing Guides, including day camps for youth and a combo yoga-and-climbing week for women.

“I left the competitive side for more of the traditional, outdoor climbing scene,” Hankins said. “I’ve pretty much been on that same path with a bigger alpine twist since then and that’s what I like to guide. I use that competitive background for a coaching background, and then get into the alpine for guiding.”

Before summer treks and camps begin, Hankins sat down with the Summit Daily sports desk to talk about Rifle Climbing Guides, transitioning from gyms to the high-alpine and how he bit off more than he could chew the first time he tempted Ellingwood Arete, a multi-pitch route on 14,203-foot Crestone Needle.

Summit Daily News: How’d you get started rock climbing? Outside? Inside?

Joda Hankins: I pretty much ended up…

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