March 17, 2012
On St. Patrick’s Day 2012, the day before my 11th wedding anniversary, I had only a short time slot available for adventure. Brian and I eventually decided to spend it bushwacking up the northeastern slope of Green Mountain with a twofold goal: (1) stay out of the raptor closure area and (2) work our way up and around the 5th Flatiron from the Skunk Canyon area. These were actually Brian’s goals that seemed strange to me, but I agreed to be agreeable. And, I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked out despite a lengthy work-related phone delay, some of the worst terrain I’ve ever traversed, and a tricky (icy) descent from the backside of the 5th Flatiron. In fact, aside from innumerable cuts and scratches that will haunt me for the next two weeks, it was quite fun.
I’m delighted that a bit of open-mindedness allowed me to participate in Brian’s screwball idea that was only partially ruined by a bit of poor mental mapping on my part (the local expert!), which I’ll explain later.
Due to my insane work schedule, Sunday was ruled out and I couldn’t start on Saturday until 11am…oh, and I had to be home by 4:30pm. At least the ski conditions continued to be poor enough for me to avoid feeling miserable about missing another day of skiing. We planned to start at the Mesa trail parking lot near Eldo for a scramble up the East side of the Maiden followed by a ridge climb to the Bear Mountain summit, but we couldn’t find parking. We then backtracked to highway 93 and then moved south a few miles to NCAR, which always has parking, and started hiking around 11:30am.
Once we hiked to where we could see the rocks, the Maiden looked too far away for such a time constrained day. Brian then suggested Skunk Canyon where we’d take one of the gullies near Satan’s Slab toward the top of Hippo Head and a descent past the 5th Flatiron. It was a very ambitious idea, but I had committed to being agreeable on this day since my restricted schedule had limited Brian’s options severely.
We started east toward the green water tank and then down and north toward the Mesa trail which we followed a north short distance to Skunk Canyon. At the cutoff for Skunk Canyon, Brian paused to look at the stupid Raptor Closure sign posted on the fence I had stepped over. He noted aloud that our route would trespass on the closure area. I paused for a moment and then asked if he wanted to do something else merely because of a sign nailed to a split rail fence. Brian said he had a new idea.
Brian’s new idea was to hike up to and then along the raptor closure and work our way around to the 5th Flatiron. Then we’d hike up the south side of the 5th and descend to north side down to the Royal Arch trail. I contributed the idea of going north on the Mesa trail for a 100 yards or so to get a better view of our options. This turned out to be a waste of hiking unless you count the extra exercise as a bonus, which I did.
We worked our way up the grassy slope to the first slight ridge before the rocky ridges within the Raptor Closure. At approximately 12:30pm my phone rang, and I had to stop for a work related phone call for 30 minutes. I called it a lunch break. I actually ate a bit while I chatted on the phone; Brian just sat quietly in the shade, probably thinking that I was either an ass or an idiot.
We followed the ridge north and then east as it disappeared into the rim of a basin with the Royal Arch on the other side. This was some of the worst scramble/hiking terrain I’ve ever encountered. I remarked that it looked haunted, as it was full of dead, twisted trees and logs with large and small lichen covered boulders everywhere. And dark!
We also found a new flatiron to climb someday…I’ll have to figure out what it is called at some point that has not yet come to pass.
Weaving through and around the various bits of Flatironettes sprinkled across the slope, we eventually reached the climbers trail connecting the Royal Arch trail to the south end of the 5th Flatiron, which we followed to the base of the 5th.
Continuing with Brian’s plan, we ascended the improbable line up the south side of the 5th that seems to be impassable at every step except for a single, improbable escape that allowed us to continue until, finally, we reached the top.
Brian was finally ready for his lunch and so we stopped at the top of the 5th to eat a snack and change into our snow gear (long pants and gaiters)
After a short rest, we descended the always steep and treacherous climbers trail down the north side of the 5th Flatiron. I managed to bruise my ass by falling on a sharp rock when a dead branch I trusted broke; it still pains me as I write this trip report 2 & 5 days later.
We were stopped by the most tricky part of the 5th descent, a delicate downclimb which was made worse by the remaining snow and ice. I believe many people rappel this part, but we didn’t bring any ropes. After watching Brian struggle to wriggle down a rabbit hole, I announced that I was going to look for a way to move further north for easier descent ground. Brian said that sounded like ‘Chickening out’…I replied that I’m all over that. ’Discretion’ is the hallmark of my personal climbing philosophy.
Brian agreed and found a slot in the northern rock (Tangen Tower) that we could slither through. It was a genius maneuver that took us directly to the Tangen Tunnel route.
The snow cover was still sufficient to protect our descent of the generally impossible, without ice gear, section above the 2nd cave, and then both caves were essentially free of snow and ice. It was perfect!
Once we reached the Royal Arch trail, we changed back into our dry, hot weather gear. Brian wanted to go up to the Royal Arch and then bushwack down to the Mesa Trail directly. I was worried about the time and assured him that the Royal Arch trail would descend must faster as it was a very well established trail and would not take us too far out of the way. I was even so bold as to proclaim that he’d be surprised to see how far south the Bluebell shelter actually was…it was beneath the Royal Arch more than beneath the 3rd Flatiron. He agreed and we made very fast time down the great trail.
And since the chance of getting lost was zero, I could just enjoy the great outdoors and views as I got a last bit of exercise.
Once we reached the Bluebell shelter, I turned to show Brian what I meant about the direct descent path only to find that I was completely wrong. We were actually on the north side of the 3rd Flatiron. The Royal Arch trail wanders all over hell and back.
Oh well. It was only 1.5 miles back to the turnoff to NCAR, just a short bit of walking. But we should have tried Brian’s idea for the finish, especially since now looking at the map, I believe we descended in that general vicinity last year when descending, a bit lost, from Angel’s Way (approximate path noted on map).
Heck, we didn’t even break any laws, but it was fun anyway.
And, it was the start to a great St. Patrick’s Day / Anniversary celebration that my wife and I finished off with an evening at the Boulderado for its St. Patrick’s Day party. I couldn’t get the Irish beer I wanted and was forced to discover that a Black & Tan is one of the great pleasures in life.
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