Angel’s Way

Sometimes, the adventure is found in just getting in and getting out; but as long as its in there somewhere, it is all good.

With an ankle under repair, I was limited to a short sort of adventure. Brian suggested Angel’s Way, a Flatiron’s route we’d found only a few months earlier and put on top of our Flatiron to-do list.

Angel's Way is the 3rd rib on the north side of Skunk Canyon, sandwiched between Satan's Slab and Mohling's Arete

August 7th, 2010, was going to be a hot one; the high temperature forecast was 96F. To beat the heat, we started from NCAR at 6:30am; but, it was already in the 70’s.

(Position #1 on map)

I had a vague memory of having to hike back down the main NCAR road to find the path leading to the water tank on top of the hill separating us from the Mesa Trail. Brian agreed and we found ourselves hiking through tall grass that made me think of Africa.  I kept wondering if I’d find a sleeping lion in the grass until my mind hit on a more likely scenario:  snakes.  Yikes!

Our Angel's Way map and reference points along the way

My pace was energized by my worrying about my route-finding mistake so early in the day.  Fortunately, we quickly came upon a super high quality trail/road. Heck, it looked brand new.

We then quickly worked our way over to the Water Tank (passing the correct trail junction along the way) and then down to the Mesa Trail.

(Position #2 on map)

We followed the Mesa Trail north for a couple hundred yards before exiting the trail at the end of a switchback, heading west toward Skunk Canyon on a climber’s trail.

Before leaving the Mesa trail, we had been quizzed about our wearing long pants on such a hot day; the sea of poison ivy on the climber’s trail justified the extra water loss. We were forewarned.  We were also warned about the shocking bushwack and route-finding needed to reach the base of Angel’s Way, but we were not prepared for the confusing directions provided to guide our efforts.

Here is where I’ll officially complain about the poor quality of information available to guide us to the base of the climb.  I don’t mean to say that all the information was incorrect; it was all correct.  The problem is that the people providing the information were not thinking about the uselessness of a description that while correct cannot be used to distinguish the right rock or path from many other wrong ones.  Much of it was so bad that it actually seemed to be contradictary, for example:

“It (the 3rd rib) is about 100 yards west of the [2nd] rib that forms Satan’s Slab”


“The Third Ridge is almost abutting the Second and the gully that separates them is very narrow”

Note: both of these statements turned out to be true, in one way or another

I know, I know.  All we had to do was count the ridges, right? The third ridge comes right after the second ridge which is preceded by the first ridge. And while there is no hiding from this fact, it is only useful if it is obvious what makes up a ridge when you are standing far below them, and for only as long as you knew in advance to avoid losing track of what you’ve already passed.

Neither of us managed to succeed with either requirement. Fortunately, Brian did bring along his brain which proved helpful in isolating the important data and using it to reason out the correct conclusion.

(Position #3 on map)

After considerable debate of the information and our observations (collected via hiking back and forth between the ridges in dispute), we finally found the start to Angel’s Way at 8:30am, with a route-finding cost of about an hour.
To summarize, follow the creek bed and keep careful count of the ribs of rock to the right.
  1. The first rib is Stairway to Heaven; the ridge starts with an overhang.  There is no directly opposing rib of rock on the left side of the creek bed.
  2. The second rib is only 50-100 feet further west and is called Satan’s Slab; the ridge ends in a steep slab that slopes down to the very edge of the creek and meets another rib of rock coming down from the left side of the creek; the two ribs block the creek from easy passage.  Once past this obstacle, you are below the backside of Satan’s Slab.
  3. To find the third rib, leave the creek path and head North following a faint trail.  Continue up and west for 100 yards to find the unimpressive start to the 3rd rib, Angel’s Way. This rib does not reach down into the creek bed
  4. If you continue past Angel’s Way for another 100 yards, you will find Mohling’s Arete.
(Position #4 on map)

Angel's Way Route

After such a confusing start to the day, it was gratifying to finally start climbing and find the climbing to be very enjoyable.

We completed the climb in 8 pitches.
  1. Pitch 1: Brian insisted on starting from the bottom of the ridge for his personal sense of aesthetics, a 15′ exposed climb led to the ridge which he climbed along  for 200′ before belaying in a nice shady spot next to a tree
  2. Pitch 2: I climbed under the ridgeline in a low-angle dihedral to a roof, and then mounted the ridge top and climbed to an exposed belay after approximately 180′
  3. Pitch 3: Brian continued along the ridge for 30′ before stepping climbed near the ridgeline for another 180′.30 feet into Pitch 3 is where I stepped over a horizontal tree and avoided clipping it.  After that came one of the occasional steps in the ridge.
  4. Pitch 4: I climbed up a dihedral and then over some easy rock for 200′
  5. Pitch 5: Brain started up a very boring start, but after 30 feet came a hidden dip in the ridge had a short steep wall on its other side. He then traversed over some dark-colored rock to regain the ridge, and then belayed in the middle of dull-looking spot after 180′.
  6. Pitch 6: I continued up the ridge for about 50′ to find another notch in the ridge.  This notch created a relatively hard required move (I thought of it as the crux), after which the pitch turned into another easy traverse, but this time below the ridge crest which cliffed-out at the end of a big notch in the ridge after 150′.  I climbed down the ground to set up the belay.
  7. Pitch 7: Brian moved the belay up the slope a bit, and then he climbed a steep wall under a tree to reach the ridge
  8. Pitch 8: I led the short climb to the summit, which had better pro than we’d been led to believe

(Position #5 on map)

We did a belayed down climb from the summit and then north to reach a likely down climb.  I should say Brian thought it looked likely, but when I moved the belay to the official ‘rappel tree’ I surely didn’t like the look of it.  Brian allowed me to go first and take the belayed down climb while placing gear to protect Brian’s descent.  I couldn’t figure it out until Brian lowered me past the crux where I found the necessary footholds that Brian shortly used to join me at the bottom.

We then scrambled down the next section before packing away our gear and switching into hiking boots.  We contemplated returning to the start of the climb, but since we had brought our packs along to avoid having to go back down the ridge, we were loath to crawl back into the poison ivy pit of death.

Instead, we started hiking east.  We figured we’d find a way to get to the Mesa Trail and we used Brian’s research into booze to pass the time.

It turns out that Gin, Whiskey & Vodka are all very similar forms of liquor.  Back in the day, the problem with Whiskey was its harshness out of the still.  The only way to make what was essentially Vodka, palettable, to “anyone other than a Russian”, was to put it in wood casks and let it sit for a few years.   That is, until some enterprising Belgian doctor discovered that if you put Juniper berries in the un-aged whiskey and distilled it again, you got something tolerable.  It is called Gin.

If this is incorrect, talk to Brian

(Position #6 on map)

After a considerable amount of bushwacking down and across a moderately steep forest of small pine trees, we broke out onto a talus field.  At this point, we could see that we had been heading a bit NE instead of E, but it was going to work.  We reached an old road cut into the talus which we followed NE for a 100 yards to its end, and then we scrambled further down the talus to reach the current Mesa Trail.  We turned south and hiked toward NCAR.

(Position #7 on map)

It had been a hot day, but really it was not so long compared to others we’ve done recently.  We powered back up to the water tank and then took the proper trail toward NCAR.  A few hundred feet of hiking got us back to the car at 2pm.

My first thought was that now I get to cross off one more flatiron from my endless list of flatirons not yet climbed. I haven’t done much of that in the last few years; if I don’t pickup the pace, I may never finish that list.

See all trip reports

See Boulder Flatiron list


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