17-Hour Saber

It had already been a full summer, and it was only July 11 of 1998.  I had been hitting the rocks hard since my early June summit on Mount of the Holy Cross, and had done a number of hard climbs at Lumpy Ridge, Eldorado Canyon, Red Rocks (NV).  I was in good rock climbing form and looking for good routes; and what could be better than a Layton Kor Route?

Brian was angling again for his notion to visit Vedauvoo for some hard crack climbing; but I had my eye on The Saber, Kor Route:  11 pitches, 5.9. Brian is an easy mark for classic climbs in RMNP.

We knew it would be a long day with darkness at both ends. We tried to start early enough, hitting the road from Boulder at 4am.  Still, when we arrived at the (old Glacier Gorge) parking lot a little after 5am, it was 1/3 full already anyway.  Still, it was odd that we didn’t see anyone on the trail; either they were fast hikers or they arrived the night before for bivies in Glacier Gorge and Loch Vale.

From the parking lot, we hiked up the trail for 2 hours to cover the 3.5 miles to Sky Pond.  As we arrived, we could see The Saber sitting between the Petit Grepon and the Foil, towering over both and Sky Pond. We couldn’t afford a break yet as we had already lost a bit of daylight that we’d never get back. (Sunrise: 5:42 AM Sunset: 8:29 PM Day Length: 14h 47m 19s).

A view from below The Saber of the 'Kor Route' which Layton Kor put up in 1962.

Layton Kor did the initial ascent of The Sabor  in 1962 during a period of time during which he put up many great climbs, including a few that I’ve been able to enjoy:

  • Yellow Spur, Rosy Crucifixion, Calypso, Ruper, and West Buttress in Eldorado Canyon State Park
  • Kor’s Flake & Pear Buttress in Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park
  • Satan’s Slab & Southeast Arete on the 2nd Flatiron in the Boulder Flatirons
  • The Owl in Boulder Canyon

The initial name for the Kor Route was The Saber, which was some years later stolen to provide a name for the pinnacle.

The first third of the Saber is lower angled. We skipped a big chuck of ugly climbing by hiking up 300′ of talus to the right of the SE corner of The Saber.

The Kor Route on The Saber. Topo constructed from original work in Rossiter's High Peaks guidebook

Below are the pitch descriptions by the position numbers indicated on photo & topo:

Position #1:

When we reached a grassy meadow and the first of two big, slanting ledge systems, we put on harnesses and rock shoes, and roped up for a few warm-up pitches to start the day.

I took the first lead and scrambled up and left along the easy ramp, and then straight up some low 5th class climbing to reach a grassy ledge (position #2).

Position #2:

Brian moved left and climbed some mid 5th class terrain to reach a ledge with some large blocks (position #3)

Position #3:

I had two options, as I recall. I could have gone up & right or up & left to reach the big grassy ledge that would make the real start of the technical difficulties. I chose the left ramp since it was described best by Rossiter.  When I could, a short distance later, I climbed straight up some low 5th class rock to reach the large grassy ledge. I moved about 1/2 way toward the big dihedral to save some rope drag on the crux pitch (position #4).

Position #4:

Brian had the pleasure leading the prominent, 100 foot long, left-facing dihedral that starts off in the middle of the ledge. The crux pitch. He is more likely to succeed quickly on a 5.9 lead, so that is his honor.

He climbed up the dihedral until it ended at a small roof.  He then moved left to pass the roof and reach another left-facing dihedral that led to a good ledge right on top of the crux pitch (position #5).

This was the crux of the climb, and really the only difficult climbing of the day, rating-wise. But our fast start was a thing of the past due to a variety of obstacles.

I followed badly at first and then well.  The 5.7 section right off the ledge was a strange combination of dead vertical plus giant holds; the crux felt easy by comparison. I joined Brian on the small ledge and prepared for some route-finding difficulty as we left the SE Ridgeline and entered the ‘Open Book’ section.

Position #5:

I started by downclimbing and traversing right to reach another ledge from which I could climb an easy dihedral to reach the ‘long’ grassy ledge (position #6). I had thought about taking the belay to the next position, but feared rope drag and a (unlikely but serious) long whipper for Brian.

Position #6:

After Brian arrived, we moved the belay to the far end of the ledge to the bottom of a large left-facing dihedral (position #7).

Position #7:

Brian took off, heading up the steep dihedral, looking for a ledge with a pinnacle.  He found it and brought me up (position #8). From this belay, we struggled to know where we were and to judge where to go.  I do not claim any of the rest of the climb is the “official” route.

Position #8:

I climbed the dihedral above, looking everywhere for “the second grassy ledge”. I continued up through rock that didn’t look like the topo; I only stopped to belay when it looked like I wouldn’t find another good belay for a while (position #9).

I brought Brian up; he didn’t know where we were either. The climbing wasn’t technically hard although it was steep; rock wasn’t solid and the route-finding took more time than we thought it would.  We were going too slow; the daylight was running out.

Position #9:

Brian started up looking for “a ledge with rappel slings” and possibly a dead tree (Rossiter’s topo). He found lots of old slings, but didn’t find the belay described by Rossiter. But as I had done before, he found a good belay (position #10) and brought me up. Good enough.

Position #10:

I wandered up toward the ridge line towering above me; the closer I got, the steeper the rock.  The climbing felt dead vertical at the very top, but the holds were gigantic and some were even safe to use (position #11). We made it.

Only my dehydration posed any continuing problem, that and the fact that we didn’t really know how to get down, the ground was a long way away, and the wind was trying to force us to take the fast way down.

I brought Brian up and asked him about the rap anchors; he pointed and then turned and pointed toward the summit which he said was a long way off.  He said ‘choose’, and I chose the summit.  Of course.

Position #11:

Brian led a simulclimb of the summit ridge, which involved a lot of up & downs over easy terrain. It was a magnificent exposure but the hurricane winds blew us around mercilessly. Brian had a close call when a gust nearly threw him off the summit after he untied from the rope.

Descent:

Since the daylight was ending, we quickly started down the back side into The Gash (between Sharkstooth & Saber). Fifth class down-climbing in hiking boots on snow and ice covered loose rocks with strong, gusting winds was scary enough to keep me alert despite my physical and mental exhaustion. Brian followed his nose down ledge after ledge; I followed Brian.  Once we reached the talus, we had to traverse underneath the backside of The Saber and The Foil to reach the descent gully. It was endless.

The descent gully was tricky in the failing light.  And we weren’t really sure we were in the right gully until AFTER we rappelled past a section that we couldn’t figure out how to downclimb. Fortunately, it was the right one.

But even then it wasn’t over.  We had to descend toward The Saber and hike back up the talus to collect our gear at the base of the climb. What a pain; and did I mention I was exhausted? All that extra work just so we could stand on the summit. It was almost enough to make me sorry for my choice.

But the good news was that we reached our packs and headlamps with a few minutes of daylight to spare. Finding our way down in the dark without lamps would have been horrific. We got lucky once again.

Still, no water for 13 hours while exercising at high altitude was not smart. And the liter I had stashed was not enough beyond making it home.

A 2+ hour hike back to the parking lot and we had done it.  We spent 17 hours hiking 10.5 miles and climbing 12 pitches on The Saber (Kor Route), another Kor Classic!

And twelve years later (as of 2010), 17 hours is my personal record for continuous climbing/hiking without a bivy. But I still haven’t been to Vedauvoo.

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2 Responses to “17-Hour Saber”

  1. joelavelle Says:

    Update: I met a fellow hiking out of RMNP Cathedral Peak area this summer who claimed to have just finished climbing both the Petit and the Saber in the same day; it started raining around 1pm, so total time was around 6 hours. He said his party climbed very fast; Superman fast, compared to my time.

  2. The “Casual” Route? « PeakMind Says:

    […] The Saber in RMNP; 11 pitches up to 5.9 (7/98) […]

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