Flatiron Blizzard

It was April 16, 2000, and the ski season at Vail was over.  Due to an injury, I wasn’t ready for any big snow climbs; I asked Brian if he would accept a chilly 1st flatiron climb as a minor adventure just this one time.  He agreed.

We met at Chautauqua Park at 7am and made the short hike to the 1st Flatiron together.  The weather was cold and overcast, but we didn’t even discuss a change in plans.  We’ve gone up the 1st Flatiron in every kind of condition, including heavy snow, ice, and rain.  Heck, I didn’t even bring water proof pants or gloves.

When we got to the rock, we were surprised to see rivers of water running down the rock.  Apparently, there were enough patches of hidden snow up high melting to create the water of a rain shower.

We started up anyway.  The first couple pitches are short on protection, so we took our time and made our way up carefully.  Still, it was rather nerve-racking.  As we progressed higher and higher, the weather started to show it true nature.  It started snowing.

Our route up the 1st Flatiron during the Blizzard of 2000

Position #1

By the time we reached the big platform one pitch below the ridge, the snow was coming down so heavy we knew we had to bail.  And that was saying something; we had never bailed on a Flatiron before.

It was my lead and I decided to take the easiest possible way to the ridge.  I believed that there was a bail spot and had a vague memory of an anchor on the ridge up and right of our position.  I started up and found the snow was accumulating fast, even as it was melting.  Everything was wet and slick as snot.

Position #2

When I arrived at the ridge, I could see no way to set an anchor without leaving behind some iron.  I decided to head up to the normal belay spot we use after initially reaching the ridge line.  I knew we could set a safe anchor there using just cord.  Unfortunately, I also knew I couldn’t reach it before running out of rope.  I would go as far as I could and then bring Brian up to finish.

Position #3

I found a good belay about 20 feet below the ridge and set it up.  It was a relief to be anchored into the rock, but I was getting cold fast.

I put on my gloves, but they weren’t waterproof and so were soon soaking wet.  My rock climbing shoes were soaked, and my pants were soaked as well.  Thank God I had a waterproof jacket with a hood.  But it wasn’t enough.

Of course Brian climbed very slowly in such conditions.  I was shivering violently by the time he arrived; he had managed to bring waterproof jacket and pants plus had wisely changed into his hiking boots to give him some traction on the slick, wet snow.   Brian offered to let me go ahead so I could warm up, but my hands were bad and my feet were numb below the ankles so I didn’t think I could climb safely.

He hurried as well as he could and shortly pulled up the rope.  I had trouble standing up at first, but slowly was able to get ready to climb. I got my hands warm enough to hold on to big holds, which allowed me to crawl up the rock despite feet slipping off of everything.  I arrived at the anchor and waited for Brian to setup the rappel.  Then I clipped in and started to slide off the edge into space.

Position #4

In a panic, I realized I wouldn’t be able to hang onto the frozen rope with wet-gloved, frozen hands.  I desperately pulled off one glove with my teeth and managed to hold on as I swung out into space.  I was then able to descend to the ground.

While Brian came down, I changed into my hiking boots.  But I could barely walk since my legs were now numb below the knees. Fortunately, the activity warmed me up enough to thaw my legs down to the ankles.  I was able to walk out.

My feet stayed numb for 24 hours while my big toes were numb for 2 weeks.

It turns out that even a Flatiron climb demands and should be given respect by us puny humans.

Pretty stupid, huh?

See all trip reports

See all Boulder Flatirons List

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