Found Money (Gambit)

I’ve been climbing in the Boulder Flatirons & Eldorado Canyon ever since I moved to Colorado in 1996. Over that time I’d managed to climb every moderate (5.8 or under), well-thought-of climb I’ve found. But last year I stumbled upon another highly regarded, moderate climb in Eldorado Canyon — Gambit.

I was amazed when I found it on Mountain Project.  It sounded too good to be true; all I had to do was give it a try to find out.

Brian was a go, naturally; the only prerequisite was to do some climbing to get our climbing skills back to a level that would allow for a 5-pitch 5.8 route.  We started with Spearhead’s North Ridge (5.6), and then, after a Solitude Lake Cirque diversion, we did Sharkstooth (5.6) in good form and then Zowie (5.8) in poor form, then we did  a variation of Blitzen Ridge that included a short pitch of 5.7+.  Finally, we did Long John Wall (5.8) with Brian leading the hardest parts without hitch. We were ready.

On September 18, 2010, on a foggy morning, we set out for Shirttail Peak to climb Gambit.  The temperature was nice and the forecast was for the fog to clear by midday.

It was a fairly short approach and an easy to follow trail.  True, it wasn’t as easy to get to as the Wind Ridge or the Bastille, but it was no harder than Yellow Spur or Long John Wall or the 1st Flatiron.

According to the beta available from Rossiter and Mountain Project, there were many different ways to breakup or combine pitches.  Brian and I agreed that we’d use the Mountain Project breakdown (5 short pitches) to avoid rope drag.

We got the gear organized and established the order of leading pitches.  Brian noticed that one of our TCU’s had a broken wire.  It somehow worked well enough to keep it on the rack, but the end was near.

Pitch 1

Brian took the first pitch that started just to the left of a tree growing around a bulge in the rock.  It was a nice warm up, rated 5.6, that was still rather steep for the grade.  It would turn out that every pitch was steep, with the hard ones being at least dead vertical.  The route was almost exactly 100 feet long and ended at a big ledge with a big tree.

Pitch 2

I took the 2nd pitch, which started directly behind the tree.  The pitch started with an unprotected overhanging section.  Not a nice way to start the day.  Still, it was only 5.7, so the holds had to be there.  And, they were.  It was a steep pitch with buckets.  Thankfully, it was only 75 feet long, as I was nearly out of gear at the end. The pitch ended at Pigeon Ledge, named, I suppose, for the leavings of our feathered friends.

It was a nasty, smelly place; so, I setup the anchor in the alcove above the traverse ledge.  This meant I had to hang on the anchor, but at least I could breathe and I could get out of Brian’s way when we was ready to traverse over to start the 3rd pitch.

Pitch 3

Brian took the perfect left-leaning dihedral pitch.  It was nearly vertical and capped by a broken roof.  I followed and found that I could stem across the dihedral to reach holds near the top of the roof.  I pulled over the top and found Brian on a big ledge, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.  It was a good lead on the crux of the route.

Pitch 4

We sat for a minute to study the beta.  The beta said to ‘climb the narrowing slot in front of us, and then to climb an overhanging handcrack…

This pitch packs more punch than may be implied by the 5.7 rating it garners…follow a right-angling, slightly overhanging hand crack over stupendous exposure with knockout jams.

~ Mountain Project

I had visions of Zowie’s 5.8 overhanging hand crack, that only 2 weeks earlier I had ‘fallen up’ after blowing out my arms 15 feet from the summit.  In a shameful display of cowardice, I offered to switch pitches with Brian (taking his 5.6 finishing pitch).

Naturally, he agreed; and, I was shamefully happy.

Brian took off, only stopping to comment on the fixed #4 Camalot.  When it was time to take down the anchor, I made some effort to lose another nut tool (lost a 1-year old one on Sharkstooth this summer).  Fortunately, I was saved by a sticky bush which caught the tool on its terminal bounce from the ledge.

This pitch created a lot of consternation for me and among the Mountain Project discussion board users.  With 20-20 hindsight, I can say it is unfounded; below are my thoughts by section:

Awkward Slot with Chockstone

Okay, it was ‘awkward‘ as in “not straightforward’ but not very hard.  A short layback mounts the slot, and is very well protected by a good pin.  No big gear is needed for the slot; the pin is good.

Overhanging Hand Crack

This was steep, but it was no ‘overhanging hand crack’.  Lots of hand and footholds made this portion of the climb only 5.6ish to me.  The protection opportunities seemed less prevalent, but I should have taken it.

Pitch 5

Okay.  Now was my chance to redeem myself.  Even if the climb was only 5.6, it was near vertical…and was not solid rock.

I was tempted to climb the top of the Tiger Balm Arete, which was recommended by a few Mountain Projet posters; but I decided I would use the ‘loose rock’ conditions to prove my mettle.

I started up, aiming to stay left to avoid the worst of the loose rock (as mentioned in Mountain Project).  I quickly found the ‘piles of wedged rocks’ that served as the source of many key holds.  But the situation was not too different from Alpine climbing where no piece of rock can be trusted; a process of testing and evaluating each hold slowed my progress but allowed me to make steady progress to the summit.

This route is not a good place to transition from the rock gym to real rock.


The summit of Shirttail Peak was nice, by which I only mean we had a nice flat area to sit and organize gear and ropes.  I cannot comment on the great views that were promised because we were still in a cloud; we couldn’t see anything further away than 100 feet.

No views for Brian and I, but we knew we’d be back.

The only remain question was how to get down.  The recommended path would take us into a wet mess; the cloud was blowing up the northwest side and deposited a lot of water on the rock. We decided to try to find a way to reach the rappel anchors below the climb that we’d seen earlier in the day.


We had to start by scrambling down the wet rock to reach the top of the gully.

With that done, we had to make an interesting downclimb to get into the gully.  It was only 4th class, but the exposure was rather serious; I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone not completely comfortable with 4th class downclimbing.

It turned out that we couldn’t get to the first anchor that looked to be set for coming down from the Potato Chip area.  We continued down to reach the next established anchor; this effort included an even harder down climb to descend the last 20 feet to the anchor.  Brian setup a belay on a tree with a poor anchor above the hard downclimb so we could do a belayed downclimb; Brian took the hard job of cleaning the gear on his way down.

The rappel anchor was good and a single rope (60m) rap got us to another ledge with a tree and an established anchor.  On this ledge, I found a newish cam that perfectly replaced the cam with the broken wire.  It added to the cache of gear we found on the day.

We reached the ground about 15 feet from our packs.  After a very short walk, we sat down for a few minutes to eat lunch and enjoy the moment.  Brian had to go early, so we left at 1:30pm to get Brian to his truck and me to my PC to record this trip report marking the check-off of another goal.

Finding a great route in my backyard felt like ‘Found Money’ without the generally feared consequences (“Law of Found Money”)

Gambit (5.8), Shirttail Peak, Eldorado Canyon State Park

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