Brian and I were near the end of a run on the major Hallett Peak rock climbs. The year before we had climbed Northcutt-Carter (5.7), Culp-Bossier (5.8), and this year we had already climbed Jackson-Johnson (5.9). Brian picked the Love Route (5.9) for what would turn out to be our last high peaks preparation for our upcoming attempt on the Casual Route (5.10), Longs Peak.
The weather wasn’t perfect, but we’d had great weather luck for many weeks in a row. I figured my luck would continue to hold. I was wrong.
On August 1, 1998, we set off for Hallett Peak a little later than usual. The day before, in a flash of stupidity, I reasoned that if we could do Jackson-Johnson after starting at 8:30am (after a false start), we certainly could climb the Love Route with a 7:30am start (6am sunrise) in the face of poor weather. This would allow for a 4:30am departure from Boulder instead of the normal 3am. One and one-half hours of sleep was the difference between 3.5 hours and 5 hours of sleep. Apparently, I was willing to gamble a lot to exchange a miserable night sleep for a mere bad one.
Brian wanted to be flexible, I suppose, and he didn’t argue the point. Perhaps he also looked forward to a few extra winks.
As planned, I felt much better than usual when Brian showed up for the drive to RMNP. And, after hiking to the base of Hallett in the dawn light instead of the pitch dark, the day was officially off to a grand start.
To the left of the Cup-Bossier start is the dihedral start to the climb. Rossiter says, “Climb the pink wall 20′ right of the smaller dihedrals and 80′ left of the big dihedral”
A 160 foot 5.6 climb up the grassy, right-facing dihedral leads to the 4th class gully (the big dihedral) that leads to the top of the triangle buttress. We started up the route at 7:15am. I took the 1st pitch to allow us to switch off pitches (not counting the 50-foot ‘move the belay’ pitch) and leave the crux pitch to Brian.
Pitches 2 & 3:
The 2nd and 3rd pitches were only 4th class. The only interesting event on this section of the climb was Brian’s apparent attempt to drop his car keys to the bottom of the buttress. The rock didn’t cooperate and snagged them only 50 feet below where Brian was able to collect them.
But the rock was very wet. It is quite common for have wet rock early in the day, but we’ve been able to rely on the wind to dry off the rock before long. But not this time. Not with overcast skies.
Brian led the 4th pitch up some wet, but good 5.6 rock through the white band for about 160 feet.
The 5th pitch was mine and was very bad…wet and runny. I started up, angling right. I was supposed to stay in a right leading crack for 90 feet then angle left and up. I was in water the entire time, and every time it looked like the route could go left, the path required friction moves over slime. No way.
According to Rossiter’s guidebook, there were no routes between Love Route and the Englishman’s Route, which was far to the right. But the weakness in the rock and the only safe climbing went right. I had to try something.
I stayed right, picking my higher and higher. But every step was in mud, and every hand hold was in water. And I was unable to find any good pro for long stretches. At one point I was 15 feet over my last good pro before I found a good placement. It was a foregone conclusion that I was not going to get back to the route; I had passed up all changes to traverse back to the line. I was probably screwed. I just hoped I could find a safe belay before running out of rope.
It was turning ugly, but at least the weather had held despite threatening otherwise.
Looking up, I spied a potential belay and could see a line to get there. Thank God.
Just below the ledge, I had to pull up on and then step on two loose hand-sized rocks wedged into a shallow crack.
But I made it. I had 5 feet of rope left.
The ledge turned out not to have much pro or space, but it was a satisfactory belay given that I was out of rope.
As I brought Brian up, he was whining about how far off route I was and how I should be more careful. Yeah, whatever. I was just glad to be alive. I told him we’d be back on route if he’d go up to the lower angle rock and then head left to get below the roof. He said he’d try; what more could I ask.
He made it. The climbing was moderate, but the pro continued to be scarce. Still, it was another possible path to take when The Love Route was runny and slick. We were back on route.
It turns out that I wasn’t the only one to think so.
In the years since our climb of the Love Route, another route emerged into general knowledge between the Love Route and The Englishman’s Route. It is called “Better Than Love” and follows the line we used except for continuing to the top while remaining to the right of the Love Route. See Gillett’s High Peaks guidebook 2001 version. Apparently the climb was done many years ago; but since it wasn’t in my 1997 Rossiter guidebook, it might as well have been classified Top Secret by the US Govenment.
We took a moment to study the 7th and crux pitch. And then it started to rain and hail. Shit.
It was bad. We’d never bailed before but this maelström did not look like the ‘take prisoners’ kind of storm. But Brian thought he could aid the crux, and since the top was a lot closer than the bottom, we agreed to push on.
It was so slippery. He had to aid the roof then then pulled off a couple unprotected traversing moves in a waterfall to make it. It was well done; one of his more heroic efforts of all time.
When it was my turn to step around the roof, I didn’t think I’d make it. But I had a top rope, so I had to try. Sticky rubber is sticky even wet.
I took the last pitch, which was thankfully short and only 5.6. And by the time I reached the top, the rain had gone.
Our perfect record was still intact.