Archive for the ‘Alpine Rock’ Category

Sharkstooth Sprint

July 18, 2013

July 13, 2013

The Sharkstooth taken on approach in July 1992

The Sharkstooth taken on approach in July 1992

I did my first rock climb of 2013 on June 30  and was amazed to discover that this latter-day cyclist missed his rock climbing days. It had been over a year since I had done any climbing on non-snowy or icy rock, and afterward I found myself actually moved to happiness simply by thinking of possible climbs to do this summer. And then, after a wonderful day in Eldorado Canyon State Park July 6th, my mind moved immediately to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I wanted alpine rock, and what better place to start than Sharkstooth (12,630′), the location of my very first alpine climbing adventure 21 years ago this July 10th.

In truth, I suppose I might have gotten ahead of myself a little bit.

The jump from moderate climbs on Eldo’s Wind Tower to RMNP’s Sharkstooth is a rather dramatic one:  a short walk from the car at 5200′ elevation for few 2-3 pitch climbs in the sunshine vs. a 5 mile approach in the pre-dawn dark over rough trail and talus gaining 2700′ to begin a 5-pitch climb that would take 4 hours to ascend another 650′ and 1 hour to descend for a 10-12 hour adventure. But I had done it many times before, and so it did not feel like foolish overconfidence to claim I could do it.

And Brian agreed with only the slightest hesitation.

Sharkstooth seen from Zowie

Sharkstooth seen from Zowie in 2010

With such a plan in hand, due diligence includes checking the weather report to understand whether the climbing window is wide, narrow, or closed for the targeted day.  The month of July is the height of the thunderstorm season for Colorado and its high peaks, and depending on our overall speed we would need 6 to 7.5 hours after first light to do it: a 30-60 minute talus hop through The Gash to the base of Sharkstooth plus a 30 minute climbing prep (including breakfast) plus 5-6 hours of climbing/descending to get off the mountain. And this not counting another 45 minutes would get us below tree-line, and out of the danger zone.

The thursday forecast was for ‘showers and storms starting at 9am’, but the friday forecast would rule for a saturday climb.  While waiting for friday’s report, below is a ranking of possible weather forecasts, from worst to best that I carried in my mind:

Storms starting:

  1. at or before 10am, meaning less than 6 hours to finish (nope; reschedule)
  2. at 11am, meaning about 6 hours to finish (everything goes perfectly plus we hike out in storm; take a chance?)
  3. at noon, meaning about 7 hours to finish (everything goes perfectly; go for it)
  4. at 1pm, meaning about 8 hours to finish (probably safe; definitely)
  5. at 2pm, meaning about 9 hours to finish (very safe; a no brainer)
  6. at or after 3pm, meaning 10 or more hours to finish (no weather risk at all)

On friday afternoon, the forecast improved to ‘storms starting mostly after noon’.  We decided to proceed and make every effort to start fast, maintain speed and finish safely.

This ‘go fast’ strategy required three tactics:

  1. get up very early to start hiking very early
  2. hike as fast as possible (i.e., hiking fast as possible in the dark)
  3. reach the trail-less talus right at first light (daylight needed for navigation) to avoid lost daylight
  4. be first on the rock to avoid having to wait for other climbing parties

Just to be safe, we decided on an extra early start to give ourselves some extra margin for age-related slowness now that we are both over 50.  We decided to meet in Boulder at 2:15am and drive together to the Glacier Gorge trailhead in RMNP for a 4am targeted hiking start. The only obstacle to starting even earlier was the need to have some daylight to navigate the giant talus field in The Gash below Sharkstooth; if we got there too early we would have to wait for the sun to catch up.

The Day

I got up at 1am and met Brian at 2:15am. After throwing my gear into his truck, we started from Boulder right on schedule and arrived at the trailhead (9,240′) a bit after 3:30am to find only 1 or 2 cars. We assumed they were left the day before by bivying parties since no one could be crazy or worried enough to arrive even earlier than us. After an bit of last minute dumping of extra gear and water to save weight (and needless suffering), we started up the star and moonless trail at 4am.

We made great time in part by not stopping to rest. It was about 5:15am as we approached Andrews glacier in the dark. Brian said, “headlights,” and my heart fell. Damn. As I looked to where he pointed, Brian said, “I wonder what they are doing up there?” They were way off the hiking route to Sharkstooth and seemingly headed toward nothing that we knew. “Perhaps they are planning a climb up that way,” Brian said hopefully, but without conviction.

Approach to the Sharkstooth via the Loch Vale trail and junction to Andrews Glacier & Pass

Approach to the Sharkstooth via the Loch Vale trail and junction to Andrews Glacier & Pass

The sky was lightening quickly and was sufficient to start across the talus when we arrived at 5:30am. The lightening sky also revealed a cloud filled sky.

It wasn’t long until we could see that they were headed toward Sharkstooth.  I said, “Let’s go faster.” And we did.

We used a patch of snow to gain a chunk of ground on the other party, and a short distance later, we passed them. They didn’t know the area, but they were not slow.  And now that we were showing them the way, we had to keep up the brutal pace. We did it. We arrived at 6am, about 15 minutes before they did, ensuring a clear path to the top.  When they arrived, we discovered they had started hiking at 2am and simply got lost in the dark.  One of the cars at the trailhead was theirs!

It is worth noting here that we only took 2 hours to hike 5 miles and ascend 2,700′ to reach the base of Sharkstooth. That is 2.5 mph and 1,350 feet per hour, with 20 lbs of iron in the pack.  That pace is off my personal speed chart and a full 50% faster than we managed almost 17 years ago as 34 year old men. With such evidence in hand, I am pleased to report that Brian has regained nearly all of his pre-illness strength, and that my increased cardio fitness (and lower weight) has held off the ravages of age for a bit longer than expected.

Pitch 1:

After changing into dry, warm clothes and consuming a bit of breakfast and 1 of 2 liters of water I brought for the day, I started up the rock at 6:30am, taking the most obvious dihedral.  My fingers quickly froze as I slowly worked past the wet vegetation, straight up to a large ledge directly below the slot marking the start of the 2nd pitch.  They key for us was to stick to the route we knew to minimize any lost time.  The sky was not yet threatening, but did look like it could rain in the next few hours.

Pitch 2:

Brian continued straight up until reaching a ledge at the top of the prominent left facing flake.  I followed the rope without much thought for route finding until I reached the flake.  I paused to decide whether to face climb the rock to the left (as I had done before) or simply layback up the flake.  I decided to do the classic layback to reach the belay in style.

Pitch 3:

View of Estes Park from top of 3rd pitch

View of Estes Park from top of 3rd pitch

I continued straight up the steep but bucket-filled terrain to reach a big flat ledge that marked the start of a recognizable arete. Every variation of the NW Ridge route must hit this ledge, as it is the first part of peak that actually forms a ridge.  The views are spectacular off both sides.  This was the longest pitch of the day, taking nearly the entire 200′ rope.

At this point, the clouds seemed to be thinning.  It seemed that we would get lucky with the weather, as we have so many times when we show proper respect.  Still, it looked to be raining in parts of RMNP, so we stayed alert.

Pitch 4:

Brian climbed up the off-width crack and belayed at the next large ledge below the white face.  I followed after taking many photos in a foolish attempt to capture the majesty of the views from that spot.

Pitch 5:

I took the last pitch, starting by moving left of the white face and climbing the rough rock toward the summit.  I stayed left to avoid rope drag, continuing past the next big ledge to belay a few feet below the summit level.

We untied and scrambled to reach the summit at 10:30am.  We enjoyed the views for a moment before heading down to get some water; it had been 4 hours since our last drop of water.  And, while the weather had held, we were still at least 1.25 hours from treeline.

Panorama from Sharkstooth summit July 2013

Panorama from Sharkstooth summit July 2013

The Sharkstooth rappels are always interesting for the questionable anchors; we sacrificed a sling on on the middle anchor where the slings looked particularly aged.  After downclimbing the final 70 feet, we scrambled down few hundred feet over blocky talus to reach our packs.  I found that the marmots had knocked my pack down from a ledge in a vain attempt to get my food (I had carried it with me).

View of Petit Grepon and Sky Pond from Sharkstooth rappels

View of Petit Grepon and Sky Pond from Sharkstooth rappels

We got back to the packs right at 11:30am.  With the improvement in the weather, we stopped to rehydrate and eat lunch before starting the long walk to the trailhead.  I finished my last liter of water and a couple Larabars.

The steep descent was brutal on my aging knees, but we kept up a good pace to get to treeline before any late arriving weather spoiled the day.  We continued back down the way we came up; I was dreaming of ice for my knees.

We arrived at the trailhead at 2pm for a 10 hour truck-to-truck roundtrip.

Not bad for two 51 year olds.

Timeline:

  • 1:00am – I wake up before alarm goes off after 3.5 hours sleep
  • 2:00am – leave the house for Boulder
  • 2:15am – meet Brian at 29th street mall and leave together for RMNP
  • 3:30am – arrive at Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot
  • 4:00am – start hiking toward Sharkstooth
  • 5:15am – see headlights ahead of us
  • 5:30am – arrive at turnoff for The Gash and The Sharkstooth; first light
  • 6:00am – arrive at base of Sharkstooth (15 minutes ahead of other party)
  • 6:30am – start climbing
  • 7:15am – finish 1st pitch
  • 8:00am – finish 2nd pitch
  • 9:15am – finish 3rd pitch
  • 9:45am – finish 4th pitch
  • 10:30am – finish 5th pitch; arrive at summit
  • 11:30am – descend to base; eat lunch
  • noon – packup and leave for trailhead
  • 1:00pm – arrive at Loch Vale
  • 2:00pm – arrive at trailhead and leave for home
  • 2:30pm – stop in Estes for ice
  • 3:30pm – arrive in boulder
  • 4:00pm – arrive home 14 hours after departure to hike 10 miles, ascend (and desend) 4000′ of elevation, burn 4000 kcal
  • 4:05pm – soak in hot bath until cooked and pruned
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First Alpine Adventure

January 28, 2012

The Sharkstooth taken on approach in July 1992

 It sounded like just the thing (i.e., far away, complete different, somewhat stupid, brag-able material) and so I signed up. 

On July 10, 1992, the Sharkstooth was the very first alpine climb I ever did, using the Northeast Ridge (II, 5.6) route.  The Sharkstooth is the highest (12,630′) and farthest west in the Cathedral Spires and has the most elevation gain above any col. This adventure was an unexpected part of my week-long rock climbing course at Colorado Mountain School (CMS), which in itself was a last minute, spur-of-the-moment decision made while sitting comfortably in my air conditioned office in tropical Miami, Florida.

I had lived my entire adult life (albeit I was only 30) and my entire childhood since the age of 4 in Florida.  I loved the ocean and the adventures I found therein, but I had a sudden craving for some new kind of adventure. A co-worker, Bill, who had taken me to a climbing wall in the recent past suggested I take a class at CMS in Estes Park, Colorado. It sounded like just the thing (i.e., far away, complete different, somewhat stupid, brag-able material) and so I signed up. And, two weeks later, I was in Colorado and relying on every ounce of my Triathlon training fitness to survive the daily onslaught of hiking and climbing exertion.

It was a serious grind complicated by high altitude (I lived at 16′ elevation in Coconut Grove, Florida) and overwhelming fear (see Scared to Death on Pear Buttress).

Approach to the Sharkstooth

At the time, the 5 mile approach in darkness and 6 pitches of technical climbing for a total of 3350’ in elevation gain over snowy rock were far beyond anything I had ever experienced to that point in my life. Adding to the allure, I was told that Sharkstooth was the only officially named peak (i.e., name is on map) in RMNP that required a technical climb to stand on the summit. It seemed the perfect candidate to be the only peak I would ever summit, and I planned to brag about it for the rest of my life. It was too bad that I was wholly unprepared for such an adventure.

CMS 'Bunk House' 1992 (photo by Mark)

I had been told that the weather forecast was poor, and to expect chilly conditions in the low 30’s. Now that doesn’t sound so bad today, but 20 years ago, to a life-long Floridian, 30F sounded deadly. In fact, my biggest concern about the climb was the possibility of freezing to death. I brought extra food so I would have enough energy to stay warm, but I didn’t bring any hiking boots, long pants, hat or gloves. I didn’t even bring a flashlight.  But unlike every other moment of unpreparedness I’ve faced in the years since, I just didn’t know better. Twenty years later, I cannot recall if the equipment list provided to me was incomplete or I merely stubborn (all suspicions indicate my guilt), but I did not bring anything useful besides a rain suit and a ridiculous ski sweater I bought the night before in panic. Naturally, I did have the rock shoes (the newly introduced Five Ten), harness, stitch plate (an old fashioned belay/rappel device) and pack (think: rucksack) I rented at the beginning of the class.

My classmates, Mark and Jim (both from Chicago), and I slept badly in the CMS lodge until awoken by Mike Caldwell, our guide, at some ungodly hour.  It was so far before dawn that I wasn’t fully awake until after we started hiking. I didn’t have any idea why we’d start so early, but my only serious concern was a lack of light since I had no flashlight or headlamp. I asked what I should do, hoping someone had a spare light; I was told to follow behind someone and step where they did.

On the hike in, Mike Caldwell in the lead position

That sounded like a dumb idea to me, but what choice did I have. The trail turned out to be rather flat, so I was able to keep up without mishap for the first 1/2 mile.  About 100 feet past the first creek crossing, Mike abruptly stepped off the trail and headed uphill into the even darker forest.  He announced that this was a great climbers’ shortcut that would shave 1/2 mile from our hike, which was somehow our top priority.  Oh, it was a stumblefest for me. I had to resort to asking for the kindness of a light a number of times, but by the grace of youthfulness I survived with only minor ankle and knee twisting. What a great shortcut!

Our shortcut eventually reconnected with the main trail and then quickly took a fork to the right toward something called ‘Loch Vale’. It was still pitch dark, and the Sharkstooth was apparently still so far away that it didn’t seem manly to ask how much farther.

We continued to and then around Loch Vale, which turned out to be a very interesting, oblong lake that we couldn’t see very well.

Loch (/ˈlɒx/ or /ˈlɒk/) is the Irish and Scottish Gaelic (cognate with the Welsh llwch) word for a lake or a sea inlet.

Once

Loch Vale on approach to the Sharkstooth.

past the far side of the lake, we continued along the trail until we reached a small creek with a log bridge crossing. We crossed the slippery log carefully and then turned right to leave the path (again) and head toward Andrews Glacier. After a bit of steeper hiking through the forest on a faint path that quickly diverged from the creek, we emerged into a rocky and snowy valley that was the source of the creek water. At this point, the morning was dawning and I could finally see the impressive panorama. In the distance was Andrews Glacier bracketed by Mt. Taylor to the left and Mt Otis to the right. Below Otis and directly to our right was Zowie, a scary-looking tower that was described as similar to the Petit Grepon. To our left was a rocky buttress that we were told held the ‘Cathedral Peaks’ on the far side, including the Petit Grepon.  The Sharkstooth was not yet visible, but it was supposedly close.

The snow cover seemed truly Arctic to a Floridian, but no one else seemed to care so I didn’t mention it. And while the temperature and my feet (clad in running socks and shoes) were cold, it did dawn on me that I might not freeze to death. If the weather was not so socked in, I might have even felt happy. As it was, I was still afraid.  But I was not a quitter.  And think of the stories I would tell!

To tell the truth, I was willing to take a serious chance on death to finish this goal. My first climb, Pear Buttress, frightened me so badly that I was willing to quit climbing forever, but after another week of learning and overcoming fear, I was ready for ‘something massive’ (to quote The Eiger Sanction) … something that would really scratch the itch that led me to seek an adventure in the first place.

Nearing Andrews Glacier on approach to the Sharkstooth

As we approached Andrews Glacier, moving past the Cathedral Peaks buttress to our left, a massive, toothy pinnacle appeared in the gloom. Holy shit! We were going to climb that? Of all the unlikely things I had done during this past week as a part of my rock climbing class, this was the most unlikely.  But since everything seemed to go without a hitch, I had no reason to doubt the word of our excellent guide, Mike Caldwell.

We turned left and hiked directly toward the Sharkstooth, moving over massive boulders when possible and consolidated snow when necessary. I was carrying a ice axe that Mike had forced me to carry because I didn’t know how to do a self-arrest on snow. Hell, I didn’t know how to use an ice axe either, except as a hiking pole.  And on talus that demanded a 2 handed assist, the ice axe seemed more like a prank designed to get me skewered.

We made good speed, but we seemed to be ‘almost there’ for quite a while before we actually reached the base of the climb. It was hard to judge the scale of the Sharkstooth; but you can trust me, it’s big.

As we prepared to climb, the weather worsened. The sky started spitting hail and a snow/hail mix called graupel which quickly covered the ground.

Graupel forms when snow in the atmosphere encounters supercooled water. The size of graupel is typically under 5 millimeters, but some graupel can be the size of a quarter (coin). Graupel pellets typically fall apart when touched or when they hit the ground.  Also Known As: snow pellets, soft hail, small hail, tapioca snow, rimed snow, ice balls.

We put on our rain gear and then Mike started up the rock belayed by Mark.  My Florida conditioning (heat management) did not prepare me for the cold I began to feel as I cooled down from the morning exertions. I was not only lacking a tolerance for cold, I didn’t have any idea what to do to conserve heat or whether the symptoms I was feeling meant approaching death or merely discomfort.  You can believe that I was once again feeling stressed about the situation.  The intermittent thunder and lightning exacerbated my pervading sense of doom.

The belaying technique that Mike used to belay 3 climbers was to bring up Mark and I at the same time, and then I would belay Jim while Mike started up the next pitch, belayed by Mark.  I always tried to watch Mike carefully, to know where to climb; but inevitably, once I touched the rock I couldn’t remember a thing.  Mark started up a path of his choosing, but I didn’t like the look of it; I followed my nose. I couldn’t believe the amount of vegetation on the rock; it felt like my hand went into wet moss on every hold.  My hands were numb in a matter of minutes. And, I had climbed myself into a box I couldn’t get out of.

I yelled down to Jim, “Don’t follow me, I’m screwed. Take Mark’s route.”

Mark recalls:

I had just turned 30 and was looking for some adventure.  [Nearly 20 years later,] I remember one scary hanging belay, the fear and the lightning. The lightning was made worse by Mike’s story of the static electricity catching his wool hat on fire. I remember thinking “great, one more way to die up here”

Somehow I made it to the first belay.  As my hands thawed and gave me my first thawing agonies, I thought I was in trouble.  I worriedly asked Mark if such terrible pain was normal….he just looked at me without comment as if I had requested permission to mumble dogfish to the banana patch (Steve Martin, anyone?).  I soon found that I would live.

In the cold, the body reduces blood flow to the extremities to keep the vital organs — heart, lungs and brain — warm.  Reduced blood flow starves the extremities of oxygen, forcing them to use a less efficient type of metabolism, and in effect causing a mild injury. All of these factors together cause the release of a chemical soup that triggers inflammation and pain.  Cold can block the transmission of nerve signals, so you may feel no pain in your cold, numb fingers, but when you thaw out, the blood vessels dilate, increasing the blood flow. More oxygen gets delivered, and you get that throbbing feeling as the blood pulses into the oxygen-hungry areas. Oxygen wakes up the nerves, and you feel pain.  These changes are normal, and not harmful so long as the cold exposure is brief.

~from Wisconsin State Journal, Kristine Kwekkeboom, an assistant professor at the UW-Madison School of Nursing

Slowly the sky cleared as we progressed up the rock following the narrow buttress at the right edge of the east face.  Aside from the conditions and the exposure blowing my body and my mind, the climbing was easy (in the 5.5 to 5.6 range) and ended in a short scramble to the airy summit.

Me and my classmates on the Sharkstooth summit in 1992. From left to right, Mark, Jim, Joe

We did it!  We had reached the summit of the Sharkstooth. It was a supreme moment of achievement. We were all beaming.  And I was satisfied that my climbing career had reached a fitting pinnacle.

After a summit photo and a quick lunch we started down.  The rappel route we took seems different in my memory from the presently accepted rappel route even though the present route seems nearly the same as described in Fricke’s 1971 guide book.  I think the route we took was the route described in Rossiter’s 1997 guide book RMNP Rock & Ice Climbing:  The High Peaks.

Fricke (1971):  From the southeast corner rappel from one of several old pitons or a bolt into the “meadow”. Walk down to the very bottom of the meadow and find the lowest possible anchor on the left (north) side. Rappel (150′ plus a bit of fourth class) to the belay ledge which constitutes the top of the lead one of the Left Gully route.  From a spike of rock rappel 150′ down the gully.  Then scramble onto the small ridge to the left (north) and down it to the notch. 

Rossiter (1997):  Rappel down the east side from fixed anchors (pitons with slings). Rappel 150 feet to a grassy ledge, then walk north along the ledge about 100 feet to another anchor.  Rappel 150 feet to grassy ledge where an easy 300′ scramble (cl3) leads down to the East Col. 

On descent from the Sharkstooth, a view of The Saber with Thatchtop in the distance.

On the 2nd rappel, I set up my rappel device with the brake rope on the opposite side from all 3 other times in my life.  I didn’t think much of the situation and felt rushed, so I proceeded anyway with my right hand holding the brake rope instead of my left.  About 10′ down, the wind blew hard and my foot slipped, causing me to swing into the rock.  To protect myself I reached out with my hand to slow my impact speed.  Unfortunately I instinctively used my right hand, releasing my hold on my rappel brake….my life line.

But nothing happened.

Fortunately, the ropes we were using were worn 11mm ropes that were actually 13-15mm thick due to the frayed sheathing.  The stitch plate I was using just barely fit such ropes and did not require any friction from my brake hand to stay static.  At that moment I looked up at Mike Caldwell who was watching me rappel.  He shook his head and looked away.

At the bottom of the 2nd rappel, we were standing atop a large steeply sloping grassy area waiting for Mike to set up the next anchor.  When he arrived he told us to simply walk down the rest of the way.  We all looked at each other as the apparent death sentence worked its way into our mutual understanding.  No one moved.  Mike then offered to belay us if we felt unsecure; we all accepted.

Once at the base, I begged anyone to take the ice axe down…I pleaded that it was going to kill me to carry it. Jim took pity and carried it out, and let me enjoy the rest of the day.

I was delighted to have survived my adventure and be able to tell my Florida family and friends about it.  I had no intention of ever doing another climb….ever. I was so beat up afterward that while I was waiting for my flight home at the airport the next day, a man and his young son who were waiting nearby asked me if I was a boxer.

Such was the start to my Alpine climbing career and the beginning of my love for the Sharkstooth and RMNP.

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Petit Grepon: 14 Years Later

July 27, 2011

Me (right) and Mark (left) and Jim on the Sharkstooth summit in 1992, shown here instead of the 1993 Petit summit photo which has been lost to the ages.

Ah, The Petit.  It was the second rock climb I ever did in RMNP (07/04/1993), back when I lived in the Flatlands and dreamed for 12 months at a time for my next high peaks adventure. I climbed the Petit with my Chicagoland friends, Mark & Jim (summit photo lost to the Ages) after a high altitude bivy beneath the stars .  It was a scary, wonderful experience that weighed heavily on my decision three years later to move to Colorado.

I repeated that climb in 1997 as a part of a bargain with Brian who wanted to climb the Petit while I wanted to climb Northcutt-Carter.  We agreed to do both to further our mutual progress on the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

And, then, out of the blue, fourteen years later, Brian said, “I’ve been thinking about doing the Petit again.”  Hell, yes!  Why haven’t we been back?  It was a plan.

I remember back in the pre-internet days, route information was hard to come by.  But these days, the trick is sorting through the noise to find the information.  In this particular case, I had only to dig out my old trip report to confirm what I already knew….the key to climbing The Petit Grepon, 17 and 14 years ago was to arrive before the crowds show up to climb one of the most popular climbs in North America.

Early Bird Tenet: early starters get the best parking spots, the best trail and snow conditions, the most comfortable temperatures for exercising hard, the least lightning, and the highest success rates

~ CliffsNotes: Rules, Laws, etc.

A view of Petit Grepon and South Face (5.8) route. Taken after descent.

My old trip report indicated that we started hiking at 4am, which today meant leaving the house at 2:30am, and rolling out of bed at 1:45am. And then I remembered why we haven’t been back to the Petit in 14 years. Ugh.

Oh well.  The only thing worse than getting up at 1:45am to do a rock climb is getting up at 1:46am, committing to a 10 mile hike, waiting on the rock for hours for slow climbers to move, and then having to bail because of weather.  I set two alarms and then woke up 10 minutes early.  July 23rd, 2011 had begun.

We left Boulder right on time (for a change) and arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 4am to find a 1/3rd full lot.  As if we needed reminding, it was time to haul ass.  We pushed hard the entire way, passing 2 parties along the way to Sky Pond. To match my previous efforts (done in a 35-year old body), I had to put my full spinning-induced fitness to work.

As we neared the Petit Grepon in the early light, we could not see or hear anyone ahead of us.  Our ‘start early and hike fast’ plan worked again.  The old strategies are the best strategies, it is said.

1st Pitch (“Why Bother?”):

Brian approaching the top of the 4th pitch

Since the bottom part of the climb was wet, and not very interesting looking in any case, we decided to skip it and hike up the left side of the Petit to reach the ‘1st Terrace’ (a big grassy ledge at the bottom of the giant chimney).  It was rather easy route finding, but the climb was quasi-technical in my boots.  I’d call it hard 4th class.  But it was fast.  We reached the bottom of the giant chimney at a little before 6am.

That’s when we noticed the climbers already 2 pitches up.  Now that was an early start.   They were far enough ahead that we didn’t figure they’d factor into our day, and we were almost right.

2nd pitch (“The Giant Chimney”):

I took the giant chimney pitch so Brian would have the crux pitch without interrupting our pitch swapping.  The “chimney” was big, cavernous and chilly in the early morning, and the climbing was mostly dodging around chock stones or steep face moves on the left side.  It appeared dirty looking but the holds were solid and clean from frequent use. The pitch finished by passing the second of two large chock stones to the left, and setting a belay on top (approx. 150′).

The holds were so positive (5.6), in fact, that I was tempted into hauling legs rather than stepping up. It was a mistake possible to make on many of the pitches on the Petit, and one that would pay dividends for me later it the day.

3rd pitch (“The Bombing Range”):

Brian took the 3rd pitch, climbing up the left side of chimney and exiting the top of the chimney to the left (dodging the roof), into a steep hand crack (5.7). The crescent crack was offwidth-sized, but there was little need for crack technique.  Its jagged interior was  a source of fun holds to go with the foot edges on the wall to the left.  It soon turned into a steep but easy chimney which spit us out onto the second terrace.  Like most of the belay ledges, this one was shaped like a drain, designed to funnel plentiful loose rocks directly onto the pitch below.

I followed and made ready for leading the 4th pitch when a sharp whistling sound arrived an instant before a big rock (about 12 inches cubed) falling from far above hit like a bomb 15 feet from us.  It scared the crap out of us and spooked us with the reminder that random death was so close.

It is criminally negligent for climbers to knock down big rocks that would mean instant death (as Brian pointed out, “Helmets wouldn’t have helped with that rock”).  We’d have to be extra careful, until Beavis and Butthead were no longer overhead.

4th pitch (“The 2-Pin Belay”):

Brian at the top of the 5th pitch with Sky Pond far below

I took the 4th pitch, which started up into a roof-less chimney through which I could see the knife-edge summit ridge.  This had 20 feet of easy chimney, but then returned to STEEP.  Never hard, but a sustained face.   Near the top, the line angled right to reach a right-facing dihedral below the left edge of a shallow, sharp-edged roof. From the dihedral, I followed a short ramp to reach a belay below the right edge of the roof, where I found two pitons. The belay ledge was nothing more than a sloping ramp with room for one belayer, one itinerant climber and no guests.  But at least it was clean.

5th pitch (“The Crux”):

The crack overhead (5.9+) seemed obvious, but we followed common advice and 14-year old memories to the run-out right.  Slabby feet and hard-to-see finger edges took us right, then up and back over the belay to the first pro:  a flaring TCU hole and small stoppers.  Yuck, but only 5.6.

Better holds and a vertical finger crack brought us to the “v-slot” where another clean crack separated two smooth walls.  A couple crack moves later we pulled out of the slot onto flatter ground followed by the belay ledge.  This had the usual funnel-shape, and it would be the last of the grassy ones.

I had strong memories of the crux section…that might have been from my first climb 17 years earlier.  It was really the only thing I thought I remembered from either previous climb. But my memory was nothing like the climb, and the climbing was also harder than I remembered. Heck, I was grateful to not be leading it.  

When I crawled out onto the grassy ledge on the east side of the pinnacle, I was careful not to repeat the rock fall that the earlier team has produced.  This looked to be the source, with lots of loose rocks, small and large.


A view of the upper pitches (photo taken on descent)

6th pitch (The “Pizza Pan Belay”)

The 6th pitch was mine.  Once again I had zero memory of it. The route description said to go up and right and then go back left to reach the arête. So, I started up and right, following the easy ground.  After I passed below a large detached flake, I decided it was time to start back to the left.  I was torn between moving back over the flake or climbing the off-width crack formed by the right edge of the flake.  Even though the off-width crack looked dirty, it looked interesting plus I thought I could work back left after the flake.

It worked, although was a bit thinner I expected as I worked to reach a crack that led to a small ledge that extended to the arête.  I wasn’t sure that this was the ‘pizza pan’ belay at first but stopped because it was a good spot for a belay.  Later, I noticed the triangular ledge jutting out from the ridge (at my feet) that was approximately the area (but not the shape) of a large pizza, and finally noticed the piton above my head that I had failed to use in the belay anchor

Brian says:

We were now on the east side of the PG and would only occasionally visit the south face again, as it changed from a narrowing face into an overhanging arete.  Like most of the next 3 pitches, we had to wander through the wide east face following out-of-sight handholds and brief weaknesses, hoping to find the next belay ledge.  Joe’s lead seemed a bit far to the right, jamming the right edge of a huge detached flake before sliding over thinner face moves to attack the pizza pan belay hanging on the arête.  Restacking gear while dangling 800 feet over Sky Pond was a challenge.  Joe offered to surrender the big cam out of the anchor, but I preferred to have him in as solid as could be.  The cam also turned out to be holding 100 feet of rope stored in loops.

7th pitch (“The Sacrifice”)

The view of Pitch 7 from the 'Pizza Pan'

Back on the arête, the wide edges were gone, replaced by nubbins, hooky points, cracks and stems, all clean, solid and steep.  After 20 feet the route dodged left into a crystal-filled chimney that took us back onto the east face.

Brian took the 7th pitch which was supposed to be longest pitch on the route Brian noticed that the team below us was catching up and would soon be joining me at the Pizza Pan belay (where there was absolutely no room).  I think this factored into his thinking to shorten the pitch to 100′ when he arrived at the 1st good belay ledge.

The climbing was once again hard as the start felt like a 2nd crux, although now the problem was my hands were giving out after hours of leg hauling. Still, the position was spectacular:  almost 1000 feet of air below my feet, climbing along the knife-edge arete.

8th pitch (“The Knife Edge”)

This is the part everyone sees from Sky Pond and can’t believe that it’s the route.  When you’re on it, it’s too steep to plan your line, and there’s no major features to discern except up.  But the holds are all there, often thick edges, many times positive, sometimes requires deft sidepulls.  Pro gets a bit thin, and the route touches the arête near the top

A quick calculation confirmed that I could finish the climb on the 8th pitch; adding the 60′ of the normal 7th pitch to the standard 80-90′ of the 8th pitch meant I would have the longest pitch of the route.  I was delighted while also hopeful that my arms would hold out. Surely the climbing difficultly would ease, right?  No.

The pitch started with a 10-foot lay back finger crack that I took a few minutes to figure out.  When I finally committed to it, I counted on finding a hold to pull myself up to stand on top of a large (12″ square) platform but found nothing.  So, I was left with a balancy move that I regretted needing.

Joe enjoying a moment of satisfaction on the Petit summit

From there I moved straight up to a nice ledge below the ridge line (after it flatten out), which I figured was the normal 7th pitch belay.  I stepped up to continue directly to the ridge (as I thought proper) but paused to noticed that there was no pro or holds above me. Out of self-preservation, I decided to down climb a bit and then move right to find better ground.  This area was passable and led me to the ridge line which I followed to the always spectacular summit, which turned out to be the only thing on the entire climb that I remembered.  Oh, the ravages of age!

The summit (“The Teeny, Tiny Platform in the Sky”)

I brought Brian up and we once again marveled at the uniqueness of the Petit’s summit.  Over the years somewhere I misplaced my fear of heights; so this time the summit did not feel like it was about to fall over or that I might simply fall off.  But it is really something to experience every few years.

Brian on the 'far' end of the summit

It was approximately Noon, so we had taken 6 hours to do 8 pitches.  Not bad, but 6 hours is a long time in the high country without a drink of water.  We couldn’t stay long, and didn’t try.

The Descent (“Let’s Leave the Boots”)

A rappel descent is always a 2-edged sword:  little or no physical effort is always attractive, but the added risks of rappelling error, anchor failure and failure to find anchors makes for a bit of extra stress.  A 6-part rappel makes the problem larger by somewhere between 6 times and to the 6th power.

We made it and can recommend the rap route highly.  It was put together very well, but the necessarily twisting route means that the anchors are not simply below you.  We found it important to review the directions for finding each anchor just prior to each rappel.

The only problem we had was the infuriating tendency for the ropes to tie them selves into knots when tossed.  Fortunately, we noticed the knots before becoming stranded while dangling in mid-air, and we resorted to feeding the ropes over the edge.  The ropes didn’t often make it far down the wall, but they no longer became tangled.

Still, it took us 2 hours to descend the 6 rappels.  It was the longest continuous rappelling effort of my life.

We did pause briefly on the 1st Terrace to pack up & drink our water.  We had gone without water for 8 hours at that point.

There could be no delay in the consumption of water.

The rappel route from the summit of the Petit to the base...leave your hiking shoes and pack on the ground

We took our time getting out.  We started with a dash for a water fill-up and then ‘skied’ down a snow field to Sky Pond that we skirted to link-up with the hiking trail.  We took some photos, admired the beautiful rocks of the area, and eventually worked our way down long enough to allow the iodine pills to dissolve.  We stopped at 3pm below the waterfall marking the transition to the Loch Vale level to eat lunch and consume every drop of liquid we felt confident wouldn’t make us sick.

The hike out went easily for a change.  We reached Brian’s truck at 4pm for a 12 hour round trip….only 1 hour longer than our time 14-years earlier.

Brian gazes upon the Petit after acquiring more water

Thus ended another great day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  And, a big ‘Thanks‘ to Brian for contributing mightily to the story.

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The Flying Buttress

March 23, 2011

A view of Mt. Meeker's Flying Buttress

Brian & I had been climbing in the Park for weeks. We decided to push it a bit and try out the imposing, intimidating, Flying Buttress of Mt. Meeker. It had been on my goal list since I first climbed Mt Meeker the December before.

On September 12, 1998, we hit the trail  at 4am.  The rain started at 4:30am. Crap.

Determined to not to lose the weekend, we pressed on and hoped the rain would let up. We made good time as we hiked past the Ranger Hut and turned toward Mt. Meeker and the Flying Buttress. We weren’t sure of the best approach and so just followed our noses as we aimed for the impressive, steep, narrow, western-most rib of rock on Meeker’s North Face.  It promised amazing exposure and great views in nearly every direction.

The rain did stop, but the skies didn’t clear. We managed to get up three pitches before the rain started coming down hard enough to convince even the hard-headed to go home.

Flying Buttress topo

And while that was not my hoped for accomplishment, it was a first.  After 5 years of climbing in the Park, I finally had to bail on a climb.   We took an awesome 145′ rappel to an escape ledge and then made the long hike out in a steady rain.

7 Days Later (9-19-98)

Once more toward Mt Meeker, and once again we hit the trail at 4am.

This time the skies were clear. But our late season effort delivered a cold, windy day.  We once again approached the Flying Buttress, aiming for the right-most of the rock ribs protruding from Mt Meeker’s north face.

I did have some warning about the weather and brought a heavier jacket and some down mitts, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the freezing temps and 50 mph winds  My toes were numb for an entire week after the climb.

1st pitch

I took the first lead.  We took the easiest line up the right most dihedral on the east side of the rib that finishes up a 5.8 chimney.  At the belay, to stay warm, I changed into my hiking boots and put on my mitts.  It helped a little.

2nd pitch

Brian took the 2d pitch, a 5.8 dihedral around the corner of  a 5.10 line directly up the obvious line on the prow. The protection (or lack thereof) allowed me to follow the 10a variation just for the practice. I took a fall before reaching Brian at a nice belay ledge with a couple bolts.

3rd pitch

The Neck-Stretcher

This was the 5.9 roof pitch; I was delighted for Brian to take it. But after sitting in a freezing wind tunnel for 30 minutes, I was a popsicle.  Still, I enjoyed the excellent pitch, right up to the moment that I became tangled in a sling right at the crux.  It somehow got wrapped around my neck during my unsuccessful efforts to remove the #4 Camalot.  But I couldn’t get it out and my arms were giving out.  I needed to rest, but being so entwined, I couldn’t back-off nor could I yell over the heavy wind-noise for Brian to take in the rope slack.  I had to get that piece out or die by hanging. Shit.

With the proper motivation, I persevered to success. I continued up a short distance to reach Brian at a nice ledge.

4th pitch

I took the 4th pitch.  It was generally an up and rightward traverse over moderate ground.

5th pitch

I also took the 5th pitch, which turned into a difficult adventure.  Pulling though a 5.8 crack I found myself below a crusty roof.  instead of risking the dirty direct path, I decided to traverse around a bulge to the right and began a miserable rope drag struggle. It was a mistake.

Finish

Looking back at the top of the route

After bringing Brian up and apologizing for my messy line, we started talking about the rest of the day.  We had planned to do the entire ridge, including the upper section to reach Mt Meeker’s summit ridge, but the day was old.  As it was, we’ figured we’d barely make it back to the car by dark if we started down right away.

Brian spotted a line to scramble off the buttress which we followed, scrambling (3rd-4th class) across the exposed top of the rib and moving right when possible. We eventually exited the Flying Buttress and reached a horizontal break on Meeker’s north face, from which we were able to scramble down to the base to recover our gear.

Another long hike out and the day was over after a 15 hour effort. I went home satisfied with the day, but still wanting to come back someday to finish the entire ridge.

But 13 years later, I’m not so certain of the inevitability of that success.

Our approach, climb & descent routes

Lost Again on Hallett Peak (Hesse-Ferguson)

March 1, 2011

Our Route

I wanted that big, giant roof.  You know, that imposing structure jutting out to the right of the Englishman’s Route. And, since that roof was on the last of the major routes on my tick list for the 2nd buttress of Hallett Peak:  Hesse-Ferguson (5.9).

I HAD to do it.

Brian was game, naturally, but even more so having failed to get past the 3rd pitch on his earlier effort due to route finding difficulties.

“I’ve never NOT been lost on this rock!”

~ Joe, shouted at no one in particular while on Hallett’s 2nd buttress in the vicinity of the Hesse-Ferguson route

On August 29, 1998, we arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at 5am and, after a brisk 2.5 mile hike in darkness, started climbing at 7am.

The climbing promised to be hard, so I left my food and water at the base to save on weight. It was good to not have a pack weighing me down and trying to pull me off the mountain, but I just didn’t think about how long it might be before getting a drink of water.  Think 2,000 year old mummy, when I later describe how dehydrated I became on this long, long climb.

Our Climb

1st Pitch (5.6)

I took the first lead and began as for the Love Route, climbing through a pink band of rock left of a big, right-facing dihedral. I continued up a dirty, right facing dihedral to reach a good ledge with a good anchor after ~160′.  The entire pitch was very easy with good pro (5.6).

2nd Pitch (5.7)

Brian took the second pitch in which he went straight up the dihedral from the belay ledge to reach a left facing dihedral below a white roof that blocked the way above. Brian climbed to just below the roof where he set an uncomfortable belay.

As I watched, I thought the correct dihedral for Hesse-Ferguson was further to the left, to allow for the roof above us to be defeated to the left (per Rossiter). But the party ahead of us blazed a path past the roof to the right and, I suppose, Brian was still smarting from his recent route-finding challenges. So, with a long day ahead of us, I just had to hope the guys ahead of us knew the way.

3rd Pitch (5.8s)

To my great relief, I turned the white roof to the right rather easily.  But, having lost sight of the group ahead, I decided to pick my way left to get to the large left-facing dihedral capped by the big, giant roof, which was, after all, the goal for the day.  But that was easier said than done.

To get to the large left-facing dihedral below the big, giant roof, I would have to climb up and over some seriously run-out, slabby, dirty 5.8 rock.  Yuck. I proceeded slowly, checking out every hopeful indentation.  I got stuck in a spot where I was sure I could get in some protection only to abandon the effort after burning 30 minutes in the attempt.  I then found the courage to proceed after spying another ‘certain’ placement that turned out to be good only for ‘psychological‘ protection (read: almost certainly worthless).

Brian recalls:

You were stuck forever (it seemed) on that section.  When I followed, I could see why:  it was thin, slabby, and the only relief that could be seen ahead was thin, slabby, and covered with grass.  The one piece of pro that I cleaned was absurd.”

After the longest 50-foot climb of my life, I reached the dihedral and safety, at the cost of burning up my reserves of energy and courage for the day.  I finished the pitch by ascending the dihedral to near the roof where I set my anchor, leaving the terrible-looking crux for Brian (the best climber on our team).

Note: many years later I figured out that we’d gotten onto the ‘Right Dihedral‘ route that would skip the big, giant roof. It was fortunate that I lost sight of the party who’d led us astray.

4th Pitch (5.9)

With all due excitement, Brian took off to figure out how to escape that big, giant roof…which turned out to be a fiendishly hard trap we’d been so careful to get into.

Brian recalls:

“From the distant ground, the giant roof appeared to have a hand-jam crack slicing through it along the right wall.  But after reaching it, I saw that the hand jam was much larger:  more like a bomb-bay chimney – just wide and deep enough that one could scrunch into it and inch toward the roof’s edge, with good placements in the narrower crack above and the vast Tyndal gorge below.  Turning the roof edge to regain the face was stunning.

I watched with amazement and dread as he crawled up into the bomb-bay chimney and shimmied his body further and further out over Tyndal gorge.

“How was he going to get out of there and onto the face?”, was my big question, as I looked at the blank wall below him.  He threw down a lay-back to reach past the blank wall and grab the face climbing holds that took him out of my line of sight.  It was beautiful.

I followed and found the moves to not be too technical or strenuous, but wildly awkward.

2nd Buttress of Hallett Peak, Hesse-Ferguson route

 

5th Pitch (5.8)

The next pitch was described as 5.7 serious…it was both.  And I was tired.  But since it was only 5.7, I figured I could manage.

I started by climbing straight up from the belay, aiming for a small roof.  I was able to find pro until I reached the roof, but then the pro ran out.  My choices were to continue up over completely run out face climbing to a belay on a flake (official route) or traverse 40 feet, up and right, to join a left facing dihedral on the Culp-Bossier route.  The Culp-Bossier route had good pro.  As I was completely exhausted and had already burned through my entire supply of courage, it wasn’t a hard choice.

I climbed as far as the rope let me, not quite reaching the top of the Culp-Bossier dihedral.

We were off route again, but I was alive. It was a good trade.

6th Pitch (5.8)

When Brian came up, I mentioned that I was tempted to stay on Culp-Bossier, since we knew the route and the day was old.  But Brian wanted to get back to Hesse-Ferguson, and it was his lead.  So, he traversed left to reach the flake belay atop the run-out section before realizing that the Hesse Ferguson route then moved up and right to a point directly above my belay. We could have just gone straight up to get back on route, but all we lost was a little more time.

7th Pitch (5.8)

After bringing me up to get a full rope, Brian continued climbing up to the base of a white band (face climbing) and belayed on a nice ledge we shared with a couple of guys who insisted they were on Culp-Bossier.  I couldn’t swear I was actually on Hesse-Ferguson, but I sure I wasn’t on Culp-Bossier route, at least not the route I’d climbed twice. But they were nice guys and Halletts can be forgiving for that sort of error, if you’re willing to work for it.

8th Pitch (5.9)

My lack of water (and courage) was taking a toll. I was too tired to lead anymore, so I let Brian finish the route. He climbed up the left side of the white band through some small, fun roofs and a shallow right-facing dihedral. It was a great pitch; it started hard (steep with good holds) and then became harder (move under roof without feet) and then ended with a thin, blank traverse to reach the top at 5pm.  It had taken 4 hours longer than expected.  Ouch!

Since we’d left our packs at the base, there was no reason to stop for a rest.  It took us another hour before I could have my first drink of water since 7am. I’ll just say that I was seriously dehydrated.  Brian went without a drink as long as I did, but he is unnaturally immune to dehydration.

After a long rest, we packed up at got back to the parking lot at 8pm.

What a day! Despite my fatigue, I thought Hesse-Ferguson was a great route:  far better than merely a way to climb that big, giant roof.  It was a classic Hallett climb.

Hallett Peak, 2nd Buttress

And, now, 14 years later, I’m amazed that that was the last time I did a rock climb on Hallett’s 2nd Buttress.  At least it was a good one.

“This is my favorite route on Hallett Peak. It is demanding both physically and mentally. The run-outs epitomize what climbing on Hallett Peak is all about, and it has some burly, physical cruxes.”

Mountain Project (Hallett Peak, Hesse-Ferguson Route)

 

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No Love on Love Route

October 17, 2010

Brian and I were near the end of a run on the major Hallett Peak rock climbs.  The year before we had climbed Northcutt-Carter (5.7), Culp-Bossier (5.8), and this year we had already climbed Jackson-Johnson (5.9). Brian picked the Love Route (5.9) for what would turn out to be our last high peaks preparation for our upcoming attempt on the Casual Route (5.10), Longs Peak.

The weather wasn’t perfect, but we’d had great weather luck for many weeks in a row. I figured my luck would continue to hold.  I was wrong.

On August 1, 1998, we set off for Hallett Peak a little later than usual. The day before, in a flash of stupidity, I reasoned that if we could do Jackson-Johnson after starting at 8:30am (after a false start), we certainly could climb the Love Route with a 7:30am start (6am sunrise) in the face of poor weather.  This would allow for a 4:30am departure from Boulder instead of the normal 3am. One and one-half hours of sleep was the difference between 3.5 hours and 5 hours of sleep. Apparently, I was willing to gamble a lot to exchange a miserable night sleep for a mere bad one.

Brian wanted to be flexible, I suppose, and he didn’t argue the point. Perhaps he also looked forward to a few extra winks.

As planned, I felt much better than usual when Brian showed up for the drive to RMNP. And, after hiking to the base of Hallett in the dawn light instead of the pitch dark, the day was officially off to a grand start.

Pitch 1:

To the left of the Cup-Bossier start is the dihedral start to the climb.  Rossiter says, “Climb the pink wall 20′ right of the smaller dihedrals and 80′ left of the big dihedral”

A 160 foot 5.6 climb up the grassy, right-facing dihedral leads to the 4th class gully (the big dihedral) that leads to the top of the triangle buttress.  We started up the route at 7:15am.  I took the 1st pitch to allow us to switch off pitches (not counting the 50-foot ‘move the belay’ pitch) and leave the crux pitch to Brian.

Pitches 2 & 3:

The 2nd and 3rd pitches were only 4th class. The only interesting event on this section of the climb was Brian’s apparent attempt to drop his car keys to the bottom of the buttress.  The rock didn’t cooperate and snagged them only 50 feet below where Brian was able to collect them.

But the rock was very wet. It is quite common for have wet rock early in the day, but we’ve been able to rely on the wind to dry off the rock before long.  But not this time.  Not with overcast skies.

Pitch 4:

Brian led the 4th pitch up some wet, but good 5.6 rock through the white band for about 160 feet.

Pitch 5:

The 5th pitch was mine and was very bad…wet and runny. I started up, angling right. I was supposed to stay in a right leading crack for 90 feet then angle left and up. I was in water the entire time, and every time it looked like the route could go left, the path required friction moves over slime. No way.

According to Rossiter’s guidebook, there were no routes between Love Route and the Englishman’s Route, which was far to the right.  But the weakness in the rock and the only safe climbing went right. I had to try something.

I stayed right, picking my higher and higher. But every step was in mud, and every hand hold was in water. And I was unable to find any good pro for long stretches. At one point I was 15 feet over my last good pro before I found a good placement. It was a foregone conclusion that I was not going to get back to the route; I had passed up all changes to traverse back to the line. I was probably screwed. I just hoped I could find a safe belay before running out of rope.

It was turning ugly, but at least the weather had held despite threatening otherwise.

Looking up, I spied a potential belay and could see a line to get there. Thank God.

Just below the ledge, I had to pull up on and then step on two loose hand-sized rocks wedged into a shallow crack.

But I made it.  I had 5 feet of rope left.

The ledge turned out not to have much pro or space, but it was a satisfactory belay given that I was out of rope.

As I brought Brian up, he was whining about how far off route I was and how I should be more careful. Yeah, whatever. I was just glad to be alive. I told him we’d be back on route if he’d go up to the lower angle rock and then head left to get below the roof.  He said he’d try; what more could I ask.

 

The upper route topo. Red line is our route. Green line is the true Love Route. Blue line is the Better Than Love route, unknown to us at the time.

 

Pitch 6:

He made it.  The climbing was moderate, but the pro continued to be scarce. Still, it was another possible path to take when The Love Route was runny and slick. We were back on route.

It turns out that I wasn’t the only one to think so.

In the years since our climb of the Love Route, another route emerged into general knowledge between the Love Route and The Englishman’s Route.  It is called “Better Than Love” and follows the line we used except for continuing to the top while remaining to the right of the Love Route. See Gillett’s High Peaks guidebook 2001 version.  Apparently the climb was done many years ago; but since it wasn’t in my 1997 Rossiter guidebook, it might as well have been classified Top Secret by the US Govenment.

 

Brian approaching the top of the 3rd pitch

 

 

Pitch 7:

We took a moment to study the 7th and crux pitch.  And then it started to rain and hail. Shit.

It was bad. We’d never bailed before but this maelström did not look like the ‘take prisoners’ kind of storm. But Brian thought he could aid the crux, and since the top was a lot closer than the bottom, we agreed to push on.

It was so slippery. He had to aid the roof then then pulled off a couple unprotected traversing moves in a waterfall to make it. It was well done; one of his more heroic efforts of all time.

When it was my turn to step around the roof, I didn’t think I’d make it.  But I had a top rope, so I had to try. Sticky rubber is sticky even wet.

Pitch 8:

I took the last pitch, which was thankfully short and only 5.6. And by the time I reached the top, the rain had gone.

Our perfect record was still intact.

Lucky again.

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Blitzen Ridge, At Long Last

September 6, 2010

Mt Ypsilon and its Donner (left) and Blitzen (right) ridges

Blitzen Ridge.  It has officially been on my Climbing Goals list since 1/1/2000.

Unofficially, it was added the day I climbed Ypsilon Mountain from Chapin Pass (a walk-up) and marveled at the majesty of the entire area on July 11, 1999 (see Mummy Range Weekend trip report).

One of the key problems in accomplishing this goal is I never get to see it; I’m always driving to Estes Park in the pre-dawn dark, and I’m always climbing in the Longs Peak, Glacier Gorge or Loch Vale areas which are far to the south.  Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

Still, every few years or so I’ve been reminded of it in some way.  Each time, I mentioned it to Brian for consideration and always get a similar negative answer, all of which boil down to: too much hiking for too little climbing. The fact that this statement is essentially true led me to never push very hard.

But in the year, 2010, I decided I would finish a number of my long-standing goals. I started my lobbying efforts early, and was unintentionally aided by the fact that our climbing skills have fallen far enough to severely limit our RMNP alpine rock climbing options.  Earlier in 2010, we’d done everything in RMNP we could think to do: Spearhead North Ridge, Notchtop Spiral Route, Hallet Great Chimney, Zowie Standard Route, Sharkstooth NE Arete, and we even bagged one of my long-standing goals, the Solitude Lake Cirque, a linkup of Arrowhead, McHenry, Powell and Thatchtop.  And, so, with a perfect weather forecast, Saturday, September 4, 2010, was the time to dedicate ourselves, finally, joyfully, to climb Blitzen Ridge.

Interesting story about the first ascent and naming of Blitzen Ridge

On about Sept 1958, a group of Yale students did the first ascent of the Blitzen Ridge. After a forced bivy on the summit, they walked down to Fall River Pass (where the RMNP Alpine Center is located) in the morning and hitch-hiked down. They named the two ridges “Donder” and “Blitzen” intending the names to mean ‘thunder’ and ‘lightening’.

~from a Charles Ehlert email published by Andy in the Rockies

Oddly, the ‘Donder’ ridge is now named ‘Donner’. It is impossible not to recognize the reindeer names, and a little research revealed to me that naming of Santa’s raindeers has changed over the years.  ‘Dunder and Blixem’ (Dutch) from the 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (i.e., “twas the night before…”) by Henry Livingston, Jr. became ‘Donder and Blitzen’ in later versions by other authors, and eventually became ‘Donner and Blitzen’ in the 1923 song Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  ‘Donner’ is the german word for ‘thunder’. Unfortunately, ‘Blitzen’ means ‘flash’ in german; it was used instead of ‘Blitz’ which is the german word for ‘lightning’ because of the need to rhyme with the name ‘Vixen’.  Still, it works for me.

The Plan

The plan was a simple one, and was designed to finish the ridge climb with the least amount of hiking possible.  It would also approximate the route used by the first ascent party in 1958, minus the hitchhiking.

The Blitzen Ridge route map

We would start from the Lawn Lake trailhead at the bottom of Old Fall River Road and hike to the bottom of Blitzen Ridge via the Ypsilon Lake trail spur.  We would climb the ridge and then descend from Ypsilon Mountain to Chapin Pass, where we would use a stashed vehicle to drive back to the starting point.  Yeah, driving would save ~4 miles of hiking and scrambling, but it would still be a hard day: 10+ miles of hiking & climbing from the Lawn Lake Trailhead (8540′) to the summit of Ypsilon Mountain via Ypsilon Lake and Blitzen Ridge to cover over 5000′ of elevation gain in 12 hours.

“Opened in 1920, Old Fall River Road earned the distinction of being the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park offering access to the park’s high country.”

~nps.gov (http://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/old_fall_river_road.htm)

I also hoped to check out the ‘Louis R. Leving Grave’ that is indicated on my GPS map as situated on the Blitzen Ridge.

On 2 August 1905, Louis Raymond Levings lost his life on the face of Ypsilon Peak…his body is buried there and a bronze tablet was erected where the body lies, to his memory.

~ Estes Park Archives

The technical sections of the Blitzen Ridge

The Day

We met in Boulder @ 1am and drove up to RMNP in single file order. We drove past the Lawn Lake Trailhead at 2:10am on our way up Old Fall River Road to stash Brian’s truck at the Chapin Pass Trailhead.  The road was in good shape, but still narrow and winding in places and so slow (and explaining why it is a one-way road). It took a little over 30 minutes to drive the 9 miles; then we dropped Brian’s truck at what seemed to be a parking spot (next to the sign forbidding overnight parking).  We then continued up the one-way road in my 4Runner to the Alpine Center and then down the new Fall River Road to complete a 30 mile loop to reach, again, the bottom of Old Fall River Road and the Lawn Lake Trailhead.

And so it began.

Position 1

I was delighted to start on-time.  I figured some part of my start-up plan wouldn’t work and we’d start late; I was glad to have the extra time.  We actually arrived 20 minutes early.  But my estimate of 1 hour to position the cars was actually low by 15 minutes, and that was with no traffic at all.

When we pulled into the Lawn Lake trailhead, the lot had half-a-dozen cars already parked.  I couldn’t believe it; we wouldn’t be first on the rock. Brian suggested some of them might be headed toward Lawn Lake; I agreed it was good to have hope.

I had expected a cold, windy day, based on a forecast for Longs Peak on 14ers.com. But it was not cold, nor was it windy, except for the occasional gust. I packed away my extra clothes against the chance that the weather might change once we got above treeline.  And at the last minute, to save on weight, I decided to leave behind my extra water and only bring 1 liter of water and an extra (empty) bottle.  My plan was to drink a liter and refill both at Ypsilon Lake.  I figured 3 liters would be too little water for a 12 hour hike & climb, but still enough to get me home.

Position 2

In my preparation for the trip, trying to remember my previous 3 visits many years ago, I couldn’t recall a cutoff for Ypsilon Lake from the Lawn Lake trail. I was worried that the Ypsilon Lake trail would be hard to find, and worried that not finding it would be a quick end to a long plan. I decided to bring my GPS primarily for the purpose of finding the cut-0ff in the pitch dark.

We started up the excellent Lawn Lake trail making good time in the pitch dark. At about 1 1/4 miles in, I pulled out my GPS to guide us. But it was all unnecessary. At 1.5 miles along the Lawn Lake trail, we came upon a small sign indicating the turnoff.

So far so good.

Position 3

The Ypsilon Lake trail started as a fine trail but eventually reminded me of the Knobs Shortcut to the Glacier Gorge trail; it was rough and dark. Still, I only lost the trail once as we worked our way past Chipmunk Lake and, finally, Ypsilon Lake at approximately 5am.  In the dark, Chipmunk Lake looked like a swamp; Ypsilon Lake looked magnificent.

In my preparation research, I could not find any certain evidence of a ‘best’ way around Ypsilon Lake to reach Blitzen Ridge.  Roach wrote of heading north from the east end of the lake, while Rossiter indicated to hike up a grassy gully on north side of the lake.  I guessed ‘clockwise’ but wasn’t sure.

Once we arrived at the lake, I decided to take a couple minutes to see if a trail went counter-clockwise; it didn’t. And we did find a climbers trail to follow clockwise. The plan was still working.  But at this point, I forgot to do something important.

Position 4

Our first view of Mt Ypsilon and the 'Aces' (see the shadows)

We followed the climber’s trail across a good bridge and for another 30 feet before completely losing all sign of a trail.  We continued hoping to find a trail, but willing to bushwack our way eastward, moving up or down depending on the obstacles. I was looking for a talus field that was supposed to mark Rossiter’s ‘grassy gully’ that led to the start of the ridge. In the dark, the talus field we found 1/2 way around looked more like landslide debris; but we took it.  It was very steep, but it went to the start of Blitzen Ridge, which we reached at 6am.  Still on plan.

But then I realized that I had forgotten to get water at the lake.  Shit.  One liter of water for 12 hours of high altitude exercise = bad day.  I started making an effort to breath through my nose instead of my mouth.

And, under the circumstances, I was glad to finally find the cooler temperatures and higher winds above treeline.

Position 5

It was still too dark to see any landmarks, but my GPS confirmed that we were on course.  The next step was to follow the ridge as it turns from a rounded hill to a sharp-edged ridge.  When we reached a point were we could see the Spectacle Lakes, the sun had come up enough to expose the scenery. Mt Ypsilon’s Y-Couloir and accompanying Donner and Blitzen Ridges are wildly spectacular; in my opinion, the area rivals Longs Peak, my favorite mountain in the world.

Brian examining the long way up Blitzen Ridge

The only odd thing was that we couldn’t see the Aces on the ridge.  Eventually, we saw the shadows of the Aces on the Donner Ridge wall, highlighted by the morning sun. By 7am, we arrived at the base of the 1st Ace; it was an impressive pinnacle.  To climb to the top of it would be a time-consuming undertaking.

Position 6

Our plan was to skirt the 1st two Aces. I took the 1st lead and did a descending traverse on 3rd and 4th class terrain to get below the 1st Ace and then continued with an ascending traverse over somewhat easier terrain to get by the 2nd Ace and to the base of the 3rd Ace.

Brian followed, arriving at 8am, and then prepared for his climb of the 3rd Ace.

Position 7

Brian's lead of the 3rd Ace

The 3rd Ace was the one we had to climb, according to the route beta.  Brian, delighted for a chance at some real climbing, worked his way up the 3rd Ace, taking the hardest path when possible.

When I followed, the route felt a bit harder than 5.4, but that made sense.

When I arrived at the top, Brian indicated that he couldn’t find a rappel anchor. Now that was a bother, as we brought two ropes specifically for the 2-rope rappel off the 3rd Ace.

I climbed out to the ridge edge to see if I could find an anchor or a place to set one without leaving iron behind; I couldn’t. The going was easy enough that I shouted to Brian that I was going to down climb and place gear to protect his down climb. I admit it would have been better if I had taken the rack; I only had the 5-6 pieces I cleaned from Brian’s lead.

I continued down until running out of rope, but I could see it was going to work. Brian followed and then we scrambled the rest of the way to the saddle between the 3rd and 4th Ace.

Position 8

The plan for the 4th Ace was to pass it on the right.  I had read that the best path comes of climbing up for a bit before turning right.  Looking at the 4th Ace from high on the 3rd Ace, I couldn’t make sense of this advice; and worse, the rock looked hard to climb. But once up close, the obvious weakness in the rock started up and right, right off the ground. It was my lead so I started up, following the slight ramp to see where it would lead.

The climbing was easy but the protection was scarce. I worked far enough right to see a probable path around the corner about 50 feet away.  And then Brian yelled out that I only had 20 feet of rope left.  Shit.

I brought Brian over and then he finished the climb by turning the corner to find a nice walking and scrambling path to the foot of the Headwall. He brought me over and then we scrambled to the Headwall, which would be Brian’s lead.

And then I forgot to look for the brass plate marking Louis Raymond Leving’s grave.  Oh well, I guess it will wait for me.

The Blitzen Ridge 'Headwall'

Position 9

Brian indicated that he’d read that climbing the white pillar was the best start to the Headwall.  I didn’t think he meant ‘easiest’…he didn’t.

Brian's lead up the Headwall 1st pitch

He started up the SE corner and found the hardest climbing of the day.  It was a balancey climb in a strong wind. I was surprised to be able to make it without a fall; I’m sure Brian was pleased with himself.

But we had another 125 feet of steep rock to reach the top of the Headwall.  I ran the rope out 75 feet up some 4th class rock and then led a 50-foot pitch to reach the top of the Headwall near a notch in the ridge. Brian came up and then we unroped, based on the advice we’d read (but absolutely not based on the look of the rock).

Position 10

The first 50 feet or so were wickedly exposed, but the rock was good.  The key was to get to the top of the ridge as quickly as possible. Once on the ridge, the difficulty was primarily past.  It was mostly 2nd & 3rd class movement; the hardest part was avoiding the overhanging rocks just out of sight that jumped out to bash my helmet at any moment of weakness.

The last 100 feet was the easiest terrain since before the Aces.

Position 11

Ypsilon summit: enjoying our first break after 10 hours of hiking and climbing

I reached the summit at 1:30pm and sat down for my first official break of the day. I had saved 1/3 liter of water for my lunch. I was surprised that I didn’t feel dehydrated, but it had not been a hot day (so far, I should have realized).

I found Brian trying to use the sun to melt some found ice into his water bottle.  We sat and chatted about the day; I insisted that the Blitzen Ridge was a great idea.

Brian asked if we were behind schedule; he thought I had mentioned a plan to summit at noon. The weather had been so good all day that I didn’t pay any attention to the time.  I dug out my trip plan and found that our 7 hour climb was the high-end of my predicted range (5-7 hours).   We decided to stay awhile and enjoy the views.

I claimed that we could have gone faster if we hadn’t tried to make the technical climbing portions interesting. I was probably right, but it was all good. A good climb and a good plan.

After a 30 minute break, it was time to head down; but not before stopping to appreciate our path over the many obstacles on the Blitzen Ridge.

The 4th & 5th class climbing sections of the Blitzen Ridge

Position 12

I had a mind to find the best compromise between shortest line between two points and avoiding losing any altitude that I’d have to re-climb. I followed a cairned path much of the way as I bypassed Chiquita and aimed for the saddle between Chiquita and Chapin, finding and losing the path at least a dozen times.

Brian had the energy to bag Chiquita on the way past.  I skipped it since I had already done these peaks on my Mummy Range Weekend adventure some years ago.

Once at the saddle, the trail became excellent and we made good time back to Chapin Pass, finally seeing other people for the first time in the day.  But it finally started getting hot, and I started feeling thirsty.  I wished I had stashed some water in Brian’s truck; now I’d have to wait for the long ride through RMNP.

As we approached the trailhead, the sight of Brian’s truck (13 hours after leaving it) was a sight for sore feet.

We made it.

Panorama of descent path to Chapin Pass trailhead

All that was left was the drive back to my 4Runner at the Lawn Lake trailhead.  Naturally, the traffic was horrific with all the tourists gawking at the aliens dressed as elk.  But, as a mere passenger, I was permitted to sleep and catchup on the lost sleep of the night before (I only got 2 hours of sleep: 10pm to midnight).

And once back at my vehicle, I started home immediately, and I drank 2 liter of water as I drove home.

Another great trip.

Trip data (click for more details)

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A Quick Zowie

September 1, 2010

For August 28, 2010, it was another bad weather forecast.  This time we chose Zowie for its short approach (1.5 hours) and short climb (6 short pitches) that, combined, would allow us to beat the 40% chance of rain after noon.

The only problem with Zowie was the 5.8+ finish on the easiest route to the summit. There was a time when that was no problem; but, we haven’t climbed anything harder than 5.7 in a long time. Brian remembered that we could bail from the bottom of the crux pitch, so we decided to go for it.

Approach to Zowie & Wham

We started hiking at 4:45am on a clear night from a nearly empty parking lot.  The trail went faster than the week before, and so the sun didn’t come up until just before we left the trees.  Heading toward Zowie, we left the trail soon after leaving the trees; we turned left to cross the Andrews Glacier drainage creek, and then hiked uphill to the base of the climb.

I’d done Zowie at least three times before.  The first climb of Zowie (7.27.1997) was up the left side of the South Face with a true south face finish. I don’t know the route name; I just climbed where Mark indicated.  The second climb of Zowie (9.21.2001) was the standard South Face route (that ends on the East face), or, at least Brian and I thought so at the time. The third climb was in August 2003 when Brian and I redid the standard South Face route except for a variation on the last pitch where we traversed back to the south face to climb to the summit.

This time we’d repeat the standard South Face route although, this time we’d find a better path, that stayed on the south face until the final pitch.

We stopped at the base of the climb to eat a bit of breakfast. Oddly, neither of us could remember the actual start to the climb.  The topo didn’t seem to match the rock; but since we could see the big chimney that we had to climb to reach the big ledge, it didn’t matter.

I took the first pitch so that Brian would lead the crux pitch.  I traversed along a seam in the rock to get below the big chimney, and then belayed on a nice ledge below the “V”. It was rated 5.5 but felt harder in a few spots; I supposed I just wasn’t climbing well.

Brian then ran the rope up the chimney.  We took the lefthand part of the “V”.

Once on the big ledge, we moved the belay to below the dihedral/chimney. I used tricams to set the belay to I could have all the cams.  I had a feeling that I’d need all the cams on the climb.

The third pitch felt hard.  It was very steep with great holds, and since my hands were way out of shape, great holds on steep terrain eventually felt like bad holds on steep terrain.  At least the protection was good.

Once at the top of the dihedral, the ledge looked familiar. The topo showed the route continuing up the chimney, but it didn’t look familiar to me. I yelled down to Brian and he remembered traversing right. I thought I should follow the route this time and climbed up into the chimney to see if I could make it work. The only problem was my backpack and my big body (215 lbs) fitting into that tight space. But it went.

Brian wasn’t convinced that it was the real route, but if it wasn’t, it should be.

Brian took the 4th pitch.  He stayed on the south face, near the east edge; he climbed past one ledge and belayed on the second. The crux of his pitch was an excellent 20-foot off-width crack, where we found and cleaned a fixed nut.

I took the 5th pitch, my last of the day.  The topo said to traverse to the east side and then climb up cracks to the base of the ….  But when I traversed over to the edge and looked over, it didn’t look right. As I moved back toward the belay, I noticed a fixed nut near a giant flake about 10 feet above me, on the south face.  It struck me that I might be able to climb that flake and the rock above…and I could clean the nut.

It was a great pitch! The climbing was awkward, but otherwise easy (5.5ish). I stayed on the south face until reaching the bottom of the summit block; I climbed NE over some blocks to reach the normal belay below the crux.

Still, Brian had a big job to do.  He had to run the rope up to the summit, and that would take some doing for an old guy.

Remarkably, he did a great job.  He got all the way to the dead-vertical part, 10 feet from the top, before needing a rest.  After a short rest, he made it to the top. And, then it was my turn.

I started up the initial wall.  It looked hard, and was certainly harder than anything climbed on the day.  I made it up to the ledge below the hard crack, and then continued up past the pins and to Brian’s last piece of protection before succumbing to gravity.  My hands were gone.

I was surprised to feel the grip of panic as I hung from the ropes; out of practice, I suppose.  I was able to put it out of my mind and just focus on helping my hands recover. But they wouldn’t come back.

After a couple minutes, I decided I would just try to move up a a few feet.  I did this a couple times to reach the top. My hands were so bad I was worried I couldn’t hold the rope on rappel.

The weather, which had been good all day, finally turned ugly.  We rappelled into the backside without incident and then scrambled down to the final rappel with only the miserly of scrambling down loose scree.

We continued the scrambling down the gully to reach our packs, where we stayed to eat until a few drops of rain fell out of the sky.

The light drizzle continued for about 30 minutes as we made the 1.5 hour hike back to the trailhead.  We arrived at 3:30pm for an 11 hour round-trip.

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Another Sharkstooth

September 1, 2010

It finally happened.  I finally did Sharkstooth’s NE Arete and actually felt like I knew the route.  It really felt more like a Boulder Flatiron than an RMNP Alpine route, although I’m sure the beautiful, sunny day helped with that perception. I thought I’d document this trip (8.24.2010) to have and to hold for future reference, after the details once again slip from my mind.

We left the Glacier Gorge parking lot around 4:30am in an attempt to finish before the 3pm forecast for rain (30% likelihood).  We hiked up the Knobs shortcut and then past Loch Vale before turning west for Andrews Tarn.

Brian was ahead of me for much of the approach.  After the turn toward Sharkstooth, he built up a big lead.  I just couldn’t motivate myself to go any faster; that is, until I saw the guys ahead of Brian.  I knew he’d push to get ahead; now I had to pick it up. I didn’t want to be the reason that we got stuck behind another team when the weather was threatening.

I lost sight of everyone for a while, but I pushed as hard as I could without vomiting. I was surprised to find how much I had gained on the other team; it made me think I had regained some of my old strength.  I neared them just below Sharkstooth; as I passed them, I could see they were older than me.  Oh well.

At least we got on the rock first.

Sharkstooth seen from Zowie

Below is a summary of the pitches:

Pitch 1:

Brian took the right-most of the two obvious cracks and worked he way straight up to a large ledge.  When I arrived, he suggested I look to the left before setting off. He was right; the proper route was up the left crack.

Pitch 2:

I traversed left 10 feet to get into a slot which I climbed up (was crux for me).  I continued straight up until reaching a roof, which was at the bottom of a left facing detached flake.  I seemed to recall doing a layback up the flake, but the face to the left looked easy enough so I just walked up to the ledge atop the flake, where I setup the belay.

Pitch 3:

Brian continued up the steep but bucket-filled terrain to the big flat part of the NE Arete. Every variation of the NE Arete route must hit this ledge, as it is the first part of peak that actually forms a ridge.  The views are spectacular off both sides.

Pitch 4:

I climbed up the off-width crack and then moved left to climb the left side of the ridge.  I continued past the next big ledge and belayed at the end of the 200′ rope on a smaller ledge below the roof protecting the summit.

Pitch 5:

Brian finished it off by scrambling over the roof.

After a brief stop so I could drink the liter of water I hauled to the top, we started down the rappels.  The Sharkstooth rappels are always interesting for the ; we had to sacrifice a sling on each anchor to back up the aged cords.

We got back to the packs at 11:30am.  We ate our lunch before starting the long walk to the trailhead.

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A Notchtop “Bad Variation”

August 3, 2010

It was going to be our 4th weekend in a row in RMNP, but the weather report was uncooperative.

A 40% chance of rain, mainly after noon.

Rats.  Rain at noon, or earlier, and long approaches didn’t leave a lot of time for climbing. We discussed our options for shorter approaches, including going to Lumpy Ridge and climbing on Hallett Peak.  We both wanted to continue climbing in RMNP, so Hallett was the better of the two.  But the only route on Hallett that would not be a reach at our current level of climbing would be the Great Dihedral (5.7); however, it was sure to be wet after all the recent rain.

We decided to take a chance and do the Spiral Route on Notchtop Mountain, which is what we’ve been thinking about for a few weeks any way.  The trick would be to start early and go fast, as always.  And, finding a bit a weather luck wouldn’t hurt.

We started from the Bear Lake parking lot this time (just before 4am), and started up toward Notchtop in a very dark night (the moon was just a sliver). The trail was good up to Joe Mills Mountain, and then the climbers trail to the base of Notchtop was pretty good too. It felt like a walk in the park compared to our adventure on the Solitude Lake Cirque.

From the bottom of Notchtop, the next step was to reach the top of the big platform that made up the bottom 3rd of the pinnacle. We took an obvious path up the gully next to Notchtop to find the right leaning ramp we’d used twice before to reach the top of the platform that marks the start of the climbing.

Reaching the platform, we stopped to get organized and to put on more clothes…I mean, all the rest of our clothes.  We were freezing to death on July 9th. The sun had been up for a short while, but it was not putting off much heat; and the wind was ferocious. There is something about Notchtop that leads to strong winds; we’ve had strong wind on all 3 visits over the past 13 years. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough clothes, so I shivered as Brian started up.

When it was my turn, I climbed in my gloves and hiking boots; I was still too cold to do otherwise. When I found the climbing very easy going, I was sorry I hadn’t taken the 1st lead. I was doubly sorry when the 2nd pitch turned out to be hard, at least the path I chose was hard. By the time I reached the grassy ledge that we’d take to the East Meadow, I had warmed up very well.

Brian then led us over toward the East Meadow.  He stopped at the slight ridge which pokes out about 2/3rds of the way there with an idea for a new route to the notch. When I arrived, we decided to continue on to the East Meadow and use the Relief Train route (I think) to climb towards the notch.

It was a nice route, rated around 5.7; I enjoyed climbing it in my hiking boots  since I had a top rope.  Brian’s lead reached to just below the Notch.

When I arrived, Brian suggested we take a new path, on the north end of the ledge.  It looked like a bouquet of fins leading up and left toward the summit.

Roach’s RMNP Classic Hikes and Climbs:  “There are three places in the minicirque where it is easy and tempting (and wrong) to head farther north.”

Brian and I found a fourth.

It actually started off well, but once we got high enough to see down into the normal ascent gully (on the other side of the notch), the climbing became steep over crumbly rock.  It probably could have been protected, mostly, but we had put away the ropes and gear.

Once we reached the Notchtop summit, I was relieved to finally have the unprotected climbing behind me.

Oh, how wrong I was.

It is surprising how little I remembered about the two previous downclimbs of Notchtop.  I suppose I put it out of my mind. Every section just kept getting worse. I’d agree it was only 4th class, but downclimbing is always harder due to a lack of vision at the feet level.

A surprisingly quick scramble down with a few rain-drops reminded us of the primary issue of the day.  We hurried up to our packs (and water!); and we enjoyed a few minutes of rest.

I once again did my, ‘guess the time’ game.  This was the only time I can remember winning.  Brian guessed 12:30pm while I guessed 11:30am.  It was only 11am.

Brian’s water bottle made a mad-dash escape attempt, bouncing all the way down the gully toward the South  face bottom.  Brian pursued while I returned via the ascent route and met up with Brian at the bottom.  Brian was bottleless, but heavy one torn, faded down jacket that was spewing feathers; it wasn’t a good trade.

Another long hike on tired legs and sore feet back to the Bear Lake parking lot ended another RMNP adventure. And when we got back down to Boulder, we found it had rained cats and dogs. At least the weather luck is holding up, even if the legs aren’t.

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