Growing up in Durango

I am fortunate to be a native Durangoan and happy that my kids are growing up here. They are old enough to start climbing now and it’s brought a new life to my personal climbing experience. My dad is a climber so I started climbing when I was maybe ten or eleven. The evolution of climbing, and especially climbing in Durango has been incredible to take part in. I really hope the kids will have these same kind of powerful memories.

Kassi Kuss climbing at The Rock Lounge, here in Durango

I ┬áremember being on car trips and family vacations. Passing through towns and saying to myself “wow this place looks bleak. I wonder where the hell they climb? Doesn’t everybody have an X-rock? It must suck to live here“. I climbed at X-rock, mostly, and when my brother in law, John Byrd, took me to East Animas when I was twelve, it was an eye opening look at the big league. I didn’t realize it at the time, but people had only been climbing there for a few years. One of our partners that day, John Ritchie, pulled a huge block off one of the routes near Byrds Classic or maybe that route. It was awesome.

Stepdaughter Victoria Barletta, on Durango’s coolest summit, X-rock

As I got a little older, my goals for the end of summer went from climbing the Left X, to the dream of climbing The Watch Crystal. I’d get home from school, beg one of my neighborhood friends to go with me, and we’d ride our bikes to X-rock for some toproping. I had the opportunity to climb with some of the hard men of the area at the time. Bruce Lela and Ken Trout were amazing climbers to me. They were finding some gems that are absolute classics still. The Gold Wall, Simians to the Sun and Durangotan are but a few of their legacy.

Then I met John Duran. He climbed with Jeff and Larry Clark and my big brother James. That whole gang were all really good climbers. It seemed like John had climbed everything available here in Durango and he had his own bouldering area near his hometown of Ignacio. He was (is) a hippy-athlete to the core. His ability seemed unattainable and he was awesome to watch. John was really patient with me and really inspiring, like any mentor should be. He showed me the moves on all the boulder problems and showed me what good climbing looked like.

We didn’t have sport climbing yet. We had a few climbs with bolts, which meant you could run it waaay out. It’s probably good that we didn’t fall much though because most of those bolts would be totally unacceptable by today’s standard. We had X-rock, East A, and some routes out at Lightner Creek.

In those days, finding a climbing partner was, for me, about as hard as getting a date. There was no one to climb with. It was desperate. I’m so thankful that there are so many climbers here and that so many of them are my friends. I can find a partner any day of the week, any time, rain or snow.

Well now that that’s out, I feel really old. That’s okay. I still climb at X-rock and I’m still as excited and psyched to climb here as that fifth grader in the ’70’s with the four hexes, three stoppers and eight biners I got for Christmas!




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