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Climbing the Citadel to Pettingell Traverse

At only 13,294 feet, the Citadel is not even one of the higher 13ers ( a peak above 13,000 feet) in the state of Colorado. What it is though, is a fun one. With many of the peaks being a gentle, albeit long, hike, the Citadel is not one of those. 

The route goes at an easier class 4 climb. When you add in the Citadel to Pettingell traverse, it goes at a 5.4 downclimb, or a rappel down the side of the mountain. While this is not the most difficult mountain in Colorado to climb, it does add some technicality that makes this route best run with ropes.

It is a route that I’d recommend to many looking for something to do for a half day in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. It is a short drive from Denver, though does require some anchor building skills and a comfortableness with exposure.

My sister, Jessi, was in town for a couple days and when I suggested running the route, she immediately agreed. We also invited one of my coworkers, Stephen,  along for his first roped experience in the alpine. 

After meeting at my place at 4 that morning, we arrived at the trailhead at 5:30 and I was surprised to see we were the only ones there. Even on a weekday, the trailhead is an extremely popular one in the summer. We quickly grabbed our gear and started up the trail. Already it was starting to get light out so we were able to forgo the headlamps. 

The trail starts off like almost all trails in Colorado with a decent incline up the mountain. It didn’t relent until we reached the lake at the base of the mountain. We turned left on the trail that ends and picks up again as it is more of a social trail than anything. It lead us down a bushwack through the willows, towards the rocky peak looming above us. 

From there, te trail ascends quickly up the mountain to the saddle between the Citadel and another lower peak. The Citadel loomed over us on the right, and it was time for the fun. 

Looking over to the Citadel Traverse

Parts of the climb had loose, chaucy rock, so we donned our helmets and continued on. We reached an area where you could go left or right around rock. We went left first. It looked passable from below, but reading the route description, it looked as though it would not connect with the ridge. So we went right instead and found a gully that we made our way up. 

This gully was like every other gully I’ve encountered while hiking high peaks, loose, with rotten rock over an area you probably didn’t want to fall down. We climbed it quickly as we tried to not kick rocks down on the person below. 


Coming up a gully. Easy climbing when the rocks hold.

The rest of the climb stayed at a pretty sustained class 3/4 with fun rock hopping and a lot of being able to choose your own adventure. The route itself is pretty straightforward. There is not a lot of route finding involved other than to continue going up the mountain along the ridge. 

After staying ridge proper for a few minutes, we eventually reached the first crux, or the hardest move, of the mountain. There were three we noted, though none are particularly difficult in climbing terms. This first one was a class 4 downclimb on a chimney that was about twenty feet over a very steep gully.  The holds were good and plenty though and we made our way down the banded rocks, testing the holds as we went.

Jessi going down the first crux.
Another view of the first crux, with Stephen coming down.

The rest of the route, up to the rappel, has a couple other chimneys. It got a little exposed at one point, with a nice foot wide ledge to walk across, following a nice thousand foot drop off the side of the mountain. This was probably the second crux, as we scrambled down another exposed chimney. The exposure stay fairly consistent after that, with easy scrambling along the edge of the mountain. 

Part of the mountain were little loose looking, so we made sure to test the holds as we went. It was pretty stable though, and we ended up not pulling any rocks down. 

We reached the final crux, which may have been the hardest due to the downclimb and the really loose rocks. It was right before the rappel point. Though the climbing was not any more technical than the previous cruxes, we made sure that the person before was at the anchor point away from the downclimb before the next person headed down. 

A couple rocks were dislodged on this section, but we made it to the anchor point relatively fast. When we got there, we saw some from newer webbing, but were dismayed to find the marmots had gotten to it first. 

We cut it off and attached our own webbing to make an anchor then started the sixty foot rappel down the face of the mountain. 

It was a fun, airy rappel off the side of the cliff, that provided amazing views of what we had previously just climbed. We could see some of the higher mountains in the background, along with some of the ski resorts in that area. 

Photo of Danielle nearing the bottom of the rappel. Photo by Jessi Maxey

After the rappel, we decided to not continue over the class 2 ridge to finish the Citadel to Pettingell traverse and descended via the saddle between the two. It wasn’t as bad as it looked and it took only a few minutes to return to the basin where we started earlier. The hike back to the car after that was short and we arrived back around 2 that afternoon. 

It ended up being around 8 miles round trip, though had we done the entire traverse, it would’ve been around 10. 

With a competent leader in the group and athletic hikers who are okay with a little exposure, this route could be done by beginners. It is best though that everyone is the group has some class 3/4 scrambling experience or rock climbing experience. 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jessi

    A fun mountian! The views are well worth it! Thanks for sharing this route with me.

    1. Danielle

      It’s a fun one indeed! Definitely a favorite of mine in the Colorado Front Range!

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