4th Flatiron Revisted

Holy Cow!  How long has it been since I did the complete 4th Flatiron east face.  I could barely remember the 3rd piece of rock and I couldn’t find any record of an ascent since 1998.  Now, it couldn’t have been that long, but I’ll bet its been at least 10 years.  I am learning to hate how time slips by.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that Brian and I failed on an attempt on the 4th earlier this year (see 4th Flatiron Slowfest).  Now, climbing the 4th in March is plain crazy, but in January is flat out stupid; let’s just say I didn’t feel too badly about not finishing on the earlier effort.  But now, since the weather has been in the 70’s for 2 weeks and the snow is essentially gone,  we had to finish it.  We just had to.

We started up at 8am, which was strange since that was the plan (I was on time).  We hiked up the trail at a brisk pace and made ready to climb at the base of the 4th by 9am.

Brian announced that he’d like to do the ‘chimney pitch’ which required me to take the first pitch. I accepted.

Pitch 1

I scrambled up the 1st pitch, which is only 75 feet long to a nice ledge.  I remembered to bring my rock shoes, and I enjoyed the security at every step.

The squeeze chimney at the back of the 4th Flatiron cave

Pitch 2

Brian took off toward the cave with a grim determination to crawl out the hole in the top.  He pulled through and setup an awkward belay to bring me up.  I scrambled up to the opening of the cave, handed up the packs, and then barely fit through.  And, I mean barely.  It was a near thing, and I nearly had my harness pulled off as I ssssqqqqquuuuueeeeezzzzeeeeddddd through.  I most certainly would not have fit through 20 lbs ago.

Brian put it well:  the chimney was worth doing…once.  He named it the Commoner’s Cave (a corollary to the Royal Arch)

Joe pulling his body through the narrow slot on the 4th Flatiron chimney

Pitch 3

I stretched out the 200 foot rope to make a nice ledge.  I even got in a few pieces of pro.

Pitch 4

Brian took the entire rope length to reach the only nice ledge in the vicinity.

Pitch 5

I took the finish to the 1st piece and continued on to the start of the next pitch on the 2nd piece of the flatiron.  We stopped for a brief snack at approximately 11am. We paused long enough to fully appreciate what a beautiful day we had to enjoy….and once again appreciate how lucky we are to live in Colorado.

Pitch 6

4th Flatiron East Face Route

Brian took the sharp end into the gully and stopped quickly after finding a good belay spot.  He had learned a hard lesson the last time, when he couldn’t find a belay and had to simulclimb over terribly exposed and slippery rock to reach the hanging garden.  I didn’t blame him one bit.

Pitch 7

I could not find much pro along this entire stretch that nearly reached to the Hanging Garden.  It was a bit unnerving.  I was forced to setup a belay in a a sea of thorn bushes.  I got a hundred tiny thorns imbedded in my flesh for my trouble.  I also froze to death as the wind picked up in the natural wind tunnel.  I luckily remembered to bring a jacket, which I wore for the rest of the day.

8 – Scramble to Garden

Brian finished the scramble to the garden and then we walked to the backend of the garden…. and then out to the 3rd and final piece of the 4th Flatiron. Unfortunately, neither of us could remember how to finish this damned route.  I remembered descending a bit and then taking a right curving line to get back into the big gully.  Brian remembered nothing. Note:  I read later that the ‘official’ route is to walk directly across from the Hanging Garden and head up and left.  I’ll try to remember that.

Pitch 9

But Brian doesn’t scare off; he accepted the challenge and took off.  He didn’t get any pro for a while, but eventually made it to the base of the wide portion of the big gully.

Pitch 10

This was hard, for a mere 5.4 route.  Water polished rock with no pro.  I didn’t let myself think about it too much and just kept moving up.  Eventually I did start finding pro, but the slick difficulty did not relent until I reached a nice ledge below the exit to the final crack.  A part of the problem was the wet mess leftover from the snowpack in the center of the gully where otherwise there might be better footing.

Brian on the summit of the 4th Flatiron

Pitch 11

Brian flew up the final pitch.  I remembered thinking that this was the crux pitch on previous climbs, but not this time.  It was 3rd hardest, at most.  We arrived at 3pm.


The descent off the overhanging ledge is always tricky.  I didn’t hesitate this time and just downclimnbed until I could jump.  Brian remarked, “always anticlimactic”.  I responded, “it felt climactic to me”.  It really did.  Be ready.

We then followed our line from our earlier Tangen Tunnel climb (see Winter Tangen Tunnel), staying on the ridge line as we climbed and passed a series of ribs to reach the descent trail from Green mountain.

Joe on the 4th Flatiron summit with Bear Peak in the background

At 5pm, we arrived at the parking lot.  I was surprised that we managed to do a 9-hour day without much difficulty.  Not too old, I guess.

Keys to climb:

  1. Do the chimney once, then not again
  2. Watch the rope drag on the 3rd pitch
  3. The 2nd piece of the 4th is only 40 feet from the top of the 1st piece
  4. Be prepared for stemming in the big gullies
  5. Go straight across from the Handing Garden to start the 3rd piece
  6. From the summit of the 4th, it’s just under 2 hours to the car
  7. On the hike to Green Mountain trails, stay on the ridge crest and find the line of least resistance

See all Trip Reports


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