Archive for the ‘Rock Climbing’ Category

Kamikaze Overhangs vs. Wits

October 20, 2013

October 19, 2013

For a cold but clear late October Saturday morning, Brian had identified a new route on the 1st Flatiron as a target for our ongoing, weekly search for exercise and adventure.

And he was so right, aided by a bit of poor preparation by the Joe and Brian team.

While it is a Cardinal sin of climbing to fail to prepare due to mere laziness, in this instance our lack of preparation might just have been the flavoring that made the day so good.  Perhaps there is an argument for purposefully leaving without all the information just for the sport of living by your wits.

From my own CliffsNotes: Rules, Laws, etc. 

  1. Climber’s Luck Maxim: luck is not an attribute, but rather a symptom of preparation (with a nod to Branch Rickey); good preparation plus determination = good luck plus success
  2. Silver Lining Maxim: sometimes, good things come from setbacks, if you let them.  “When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars” (Salk). “Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it” (Horace) also known as “Necessity is the mother of invention”.
  3. The ‘Path Less Traveled‘ Axiom: finding your own path or using a seldom used, less well known route adds to the adventure and can get you into some serious trouble.

Below is an annotated photo showing our route (in red) and the well established Kamikaze Overhangs route (in blue), at far as I can tell (but don’t take my word for it).  I believe we correctly started on the Kamikaze Overhangs route, but then spent most of the day climbing between the Kamikaze and Zig Zag routes before finally finishing on the Kamikaze route at the very top, after skipping 2 of the 3 official ‘overhangs’.  Along the way, and in spite of all our errors, we found good climbing and great adventure, and enjoyed the heck out of living by our wits, such as they were.


We met at the Chautauqua parking lot at 8:30am, which was a bit later than normal to allow the cold morning temperature to reach into the 40’s before we put flesh on stone.  As we navigated the flood damaged trails toward the start of the climb, we talked about the day’s adventure.  I had read the route information Brian emailed but neglected to bring the printout of the Mountain Project page.  Hoping that Brian had prepared better, I inquired as to his readiness. He indicated he had studied the page and memorized the key bits of beta.

I should point out that, at this point, my judgment remained handicapped with the misunderstanding that the route was a new route, found only on easily updated Mountain Project (MP) website.  And, while I failed to recognize the route name on the MP page as a long established route, I had placed great significance on the sparseness of the information and lack of user comments offered.  I interpreted this as evidence of a general lack of information in the climbing community.  It was a poor assumption, yet it explains that my only regret was in the forgetting to bring the hard copy I had taken such care to print out.

I announced that I’d rely on Brian’s memory as I knew almost nothing about the route.

I did happen to recall some mention that the route started “a couple switchbacks above Fandango” and so, without seeking any confirmation from Brian, I headed to that spot, the site of last week’s climb.  When we arrived at Fandango, Brian announced that we had gone too far.  After a bit of back and forth, we agreed to go up a couple switchbacks to check it out.  I thought I could recognize the start based on the photos I had seen the day before. Once we hit the next section up, we both agreed it was the right start.

Pitch 1 – the 1st roof

I thought I should take the 1st pitch since Brian would naturally want the crux roof further up the rock.  Brian agreed and indicated that the route went straight over the lichen covered roof about one rope length overhead and directly below a tree with slings.  I recalled the pitch had an ‘s’ rating indicating run-out. Brian added that there was an alternative route to the right somewhere that  was easier.  I assumed the escape right was near the direct roof, and it was my intention to find it.  As it turned out, I didn’t find it because the alternative route is the Zig Zag route start, which goes right early in the climb and stays far right of the tree with slings.

The potential for a long  leader fall is indicated by an ‘s’ (serious) … after the rating of the climb.  A climb rated ‘s’ will have at least one notable run-out the potential for a scary fall.  ~Rossiter

I slowly worked my way up the rock finding little pro to ease my mind and wandering widely to make use of the few opportunities presented. I tried to make out a path to the right, but nothing looked good.  I continued higher until I was below the thickly lichen covered roof which I  surprisingly found to be quite easy and well protected.  I pulled over the roof and setup a belay at the slung tree.

Brian quickly followed, remarking that the route finding was surprisingly abstruse.

Pitch 2 – which way do we go?

Brian took the second pitch.  He started straight up a gully that didn’t seem to lead anywhere, and then he veered right to setup a belay below the next roof obstacle.  Unfortunately, neither of us knew that the Kamikaze Overhangs route continued straight up from the slung tree past the 2nd roof and again straight up to the 3rd roof and crux.

After Brian called ‘off-belay’ but before I could fully clear the rope from my belay device, Brian started hauling the rope and jerked my belay tool from my hands.  I noted with regret, as I watch my $30 ATC-Guide Belay/Rappel Device tumble down the 1st Flatiron, that I had no backup device and had only an faint memory of tying the Munter Hitch knot that I would need for the remaining belays and for my rappel from the 1st Flatiron summit.

I followed quickly to explain the situation to Brian.  We agreed to switch-off use of Brian’s belay device so the leader would get a proper belay.  Then we took turns trying to remember how to tie a Munter Hitch.  I finally got it right (“you know it when you see it”) and we practiced a few times before I started up.

I inquired about the route.  Brian admitted he wasn’t sure whether we were on route, but he was confident (he saw a photo) we were to aim for the dead tree above the large roof about 200-240 feet up, nearly straight above.

Pitch 3 – aiming for the dead tree

I skipped some interesting looking moves straight up and instead took the path of least resistance, taking a generally up-and-right line.  I worked past the 2nd roof section and then ran out of pro placements.  I spied good pro in the dihedral some 20-30 feet up and to my right, and so I worked over to it.  I placed a perfect cam with great relief and then paused to enjoy the reduction in stress and to examine the remaining route.  At this point, unbeknownst to me, I had joined the Zig Zag route, although I almost immediately moved left of that line as I was aiming for the dead tree which was up and back to the left. Just as I was leaving the Zig Zag route, I I passed an obvious path over the roof that didn’t look very hard.  I didn’t think it could be the crux and continued past to set up the belay.  This path over the roof is also on the Zig Zag route.

I could see that the direct path to the tree was through a chimney-like weakness in the roof.  Since I recalled reading about a chimney, I figured it was the proper path and planned to belay below it if I could place a solid anchor.  Another long run-out section got to just below a section of the 3rd roof with a good horizontal crack that held three bomber pieces for my anchor.

Brian came up quickly but paused at the Zig Zag line through the roof that I passed up.  He said it didn’t look right and besides he didn’t see a fixed pin, which apparently was the key piece of evidence marking the proper route.

I told him I thought the route might go up the chimney since I recalled reading something about a chimney, and besides, I didn’t see anything else.  He said he didn’t remember anything about a chimney (it turned out that the photo with the dead tree was of a guy in the chimney, who was off-route).

  1. Ben Franklin’s Rule of Shared Information:  “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.”  ~Benjamin Franklin

Pitch 4 – the chimney

With no way to know that the Kamikaze Overhang crux was just around a corner further to the left, Brian took off toward the chimney about 20 feet up and slightly left from the belay.  After a fruitless search for the confirming fixed pin, he cruised past the 3rd roof obstacle.  He continued up and out of sight, running out most of the rope before stopping.  After a lengthy Munter Hitch tying session he brought me up.

I found the chimney-like obstacle to be balancy and steep but made moderate with a sold, but painful hold hold half-way up.

The rest of the pitch was rather run-out like most of the earlier pitches ending in the first (and possibly last) place it could, about 150 feet above roof.

Pitch 5 – joining the ridge line

I took the last bit of new route climbing, joining the well-known ridge line at the 2nd to last false summit.  I hoped to reach the true summit, and claim the fun finish for myself, but our 200 foot rope was about 20 feet too short.

Pitch 6 – the finish

Brian led the final bit of climbing and I quickly joined him.  The next challenge was to rappel 90 feet using a Munter Hitch.  I got the knot tied after only two tries and gutted out the free hanging rappel with a tighter than normal grip on the rope.

We stopped for lunch at a rocky outcropping that permitted an inspection of the route. We both spoke of later checking for more information to figure out what we’d really done. I was certain we hadn’t done the entire route properly, but I thought we had done most of it.  I couldn’t imagine we had missed nearly the entire thing after the 1st pitch.

Thinking back, now that I am safely sitting in my home office chair, I don’t know if being better prepared would have added to or detracted from the overall experience.  It certainly would have been a safer day.  Yet it was also have been a significantly less adventurous one.   There is a special stress and thrill that comes of not knowing if the route will work or if we’ll have to bail out or resort to the ultimate ignominy:  wait for rescue.

I suppose I shouldn’t rationalize about being careless, or better said, about being insufficiently prepared.  But I am certain we need to go back and give it Kamikaze Overhangs the respect it deserves.

List of Errors:

  1. Did not know where the climb started
  2. Did not know the options on the 1st pitch:  only to reach the slung tree by climbing straight up through the lichen or off to right
  3. Dropped my belay device
  4. Did not know to go straight up and over the 2nd roof obstacle
  5. Did not know how to find the 3rd and main roof/overhang:  only ‘knew’ (it was bad advice) to aim for a dead tree based on an anonymous photo of the roof route

Post Script – 11/2/2013

We went back to do it right when we had another good weekend of weather only 2 weeks later.

And, now that we’ve had another look at the rock, I would say that there is no clear route for the 2nd pitch, only blank, licheny sections of unprotectable rock that you must find a way through.  Having done so, I claim victory.  I took the 2nd pitch and looked at all options straight up and right (poor pro and slabby climbing over crumbling pancakes barely attached to the rock, and, finally left where I found adequate pro and moderate climbing difficulty.  I angled back right toward the roof separating me from the  rock layer that I correctly assumed would lead me to a belay below the crux roof.  To mount the roof I used the corner where the roof turned upward to form a dihedral.  There I found good protection for a liechen covered, thin high step.  From there I had climb straight up 40′ to reach a lower angle seam that I followed to the dihedral that I followed to just below the crux roof.

The crux roof was much better than the chimney option we took on our earlier errant effort.  Brian led the left hand option and setup a belay after only 50′ to provide a good belay for my move over the crux.

The finish was nearly identical to our previous attempt except for the amazing crowds on the 1st Flatiron ridge and summit.



4th Flatiron Slowfest

January 27, 2012

….or, ‘How to make a mountain out of the 4th Flatiron (molehill).’

On January 21, 2012, Brian and I chose to take advantage of an amazingly warm late January saturday by climbing the 4th Flatiron. While the mountain snowbase has recovered sufficiently to begin the ski season (just barely), circumstances beyond our control precluded that alternative.  Besides, I like climbing the Flatirons, and the 4th Flatiron with a finish over the top to the summit of Green Mountain is a favorite not done for 4-5 years.

4th Flatiron East Face route to Green Mountain summit

It had been warm long enough since the last snow fall that we simply assumed the conditions would be fine; we should have known better, especially on the 4th Flatiron East Face route (which could have been named, ‘the east face gully route’).

We started from the Chautauqua parking lot at 8:30am and hustled up the road toward the 4th Flatiron, enjoying our sunny, 30F morning. The temperature forecast was for a high of 61F much later in the day, but we had some sort of Chinook where the higher we got the warmer the breeze became.  About 1/2 way up, I had to stop to take off my jacket; I hiked the rest of the way in my t-shirt.

Chinook: A type of foehn wind. Refers to the warm downslope wind in the Rocky Mountains that may occur after an intense cold spell when the temperature could rise by 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes. Also known as the Snow Eater. 

Foehn Wind: A warm dry wind on the lee side of a mountain range, whose temperature is increased as the wind descends down the slope. It is created when air flows downhill from a high elevation, raising the temperature by adiabatic compression. Examples include the Chinook wind and the Santa Ana wind. Classified as a katabatic wind. (Weather Channel Glossary)

At the bottom of the route, we found snow covering the base of the climb. But the bottom pitch on the 4th Flatiron is such a non-event, even though protection-less, that we didn’t even discuss it. I asked Brian if he wanted me to take the first lead, since it was such a short, easy pitch. He hesitated to accept my offer since he likes to start fast, but after a few moments consideration he decided to let me take it so he could do the more interesting 2nd pitch. He handed me the gear and I took off.

1st Pitch (9:30am)

With a plan to head up to the summit of Green Mountain afterward, I was wearing my approach shoes instead of climbing shoes so that I didn’t have to carry 2 pairs.  To keep them dry, I chose to start up a snow-less, shallow gully 10 feet left of the normal start. I didn’t think about it much but figured I could traverse over after climbing up a few feet. I was so unconcerned about the climb that I didn’t even bother to remove my liner gloves.  And, for the first couple minutes, I climbed while finishing a work story that I had been telling Brian for the past 15 minutes.

Normal Start (left) vs. 'Dry' Start Taken (right). Photo taken on rappel.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I had forgotten to do the traverse. Instead of quickly getting onto easy ground, the climbing was getting steep and wet (from snow melt above).  I looked across to the proper gully and saw that the intervening rock was too steep to traverse in my approach shoes.  My only options were to continue up and hope for the best or down climb to a better spot for a traverse. Since I didn’t have any protection in the rock and it didn’t look like I would find anything for another 25′, I decided to attempt the dreaded and always difficult down climb.

I managed to descend about 7′ but could go no further without a high chance of falling.

I decided to try the traverse, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work.  It just seemed too likely that I would end up sliding (or bouncing?) 10′ down the rock to the ground.  I looked back up the line I was on and could see that the holds got better as the rock got steeper.  I didn’t want to take a chance on falling just yet and so I figured my best bet was to climb up and hope to find a way out of my jamb.

Delayed Risk Preference Fallacy: the tendency to prefer solutions that eliminate a perceived likelihood of a bad outcome now in exchange for a likely worse outcome later.

This tendency is related to Wishful Thinking (making decisions based on what is pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality or reality) and Irrational Escalation (justifying an increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong.)…this tendency leads to the pattern of behavior so commonly referred to as “it isn’t the crime, it’s the cover-up” made notorious by Watergate.

Let me stop here and point out to myself and the world that this decision was horrendous.  It goes against everything I have learned over the last 15 years.  And this fact reveals just how treacherous the slippery slope of delayed risk preference is to human nature.  Clearly the primary mistake was not paying attention to the need to traverse.  But, once I realized that I couldn’t traverse without serious risk, I should have downclimbed as far as I could…even if I would eventually slip and fall to the ground.  It would only have been a 7′ fall.  But instead, I decided to continue up a path that was steep, wet, snow covered, never climbed (loose rock and a ton of lichen & moss), and with no chance for protection until after a fall would be fatal.  By not wanting to face the serious but non life-threatening consequences of my initial mistake, I forced a bad situation and created a strong opportunity to die that I only survived by luck.

Damn it!

I even said out loud after giving up on the traverse that I sure did screw up.  Brian shouted up that if I was really worried, I’d take off my gloves.  Right.  Where was my head?

I finally removed my gloves after reaching a set of bomber footholds and then continued up, one agonizingly slow move after another. I was able to reach the bottom of the snow cover without too much difficulty, but that ended any easy moves.  I tried to dig out the snow and ice to find a crack for a cam, but the ice was too strong and went too deep.  In the few minutes I invested in the effort, I only managed to tire myself out.

Brian recalls:

About 10 feet into the first pitch, I woke up and started paying attention to the rock.  I think Joe did, too, at that point, which was unfortunate for him because he was leading while I was just holding a useless rope.  I watched him try once or twice, then abandon traversing right to the standard groove. The face he was on had just a hint of northern exposure and the accompanying lichen.  But it was dry and the slope seemed to level off just above.  Another 10 feet, still no pro, and chunks of snow start getting tossed down. Lots of snow.  Where is he getting all that from?  At least it is adding to the crusty drift at the base, which is Joe’s sole protection if he slips. I guess I’ll drop the rope in that case and try to “spot” him into the drift.

I looked up to see that the rock above steeped significantly and the improved holds which tempted me from below were now clearly wet. And, I could see for certain that there was absolutely zero protection until I reached the top of the snow cover where a large boulder was wedged. At this point, a sense of doom came over me.  In my mind’s eye, and for the first time in my climbing life, I could foresee my failure and my body bouncing down the rock to my death. I would have given anything to be out of that situation, but there would be no rescue. Lacking alternatives to merely jumping to get it over with, I kept moving up.

Despite not have any issues with my approach shoes, I had to continue to bear in mind that I wasn’t wearing rock shoes that would give me enough sensitivity to the rock to feel the beginning of a slip.  I had to rely on my handholds to give me a 2nd chance if I had a slip; this caused me to grip extra hard and my fingers to get cold even faster than normal. And, the increasing lack of finger sensitivity forced me to grip even harder. I had to continue moving up by smearing the wet rock and could only stop to look around once more when I found two good footholds together.

A view of the Royal Arch from the top of the 1st pitch

Slowly I crept toward the large boulder at the top of the snow cover and marking the easing of the rock angle (and protection, I hoped).  Two more moves, and then only one more move to reach it. I was desperate to reach a bomber hold to save me…to let me recover.  Finally, I was there and I jammed my hand into the crack between the boulder and the rock face….but no joy. The shadows contained only icy, sloping spaces.

Tenuously perched upon cramping legs on one good but wet foothold and one poor foothold, I had only moments left to save myself.  I decided to place some rock gear in the icy shadows, hoping that something would catch somewhere, somehow.  That done, I noticed a small detached flake above my head to the left; surely I was saved.  And with a burst of adrenaline to energize my final effort to live, I placed a small Friend in the perfect crack.  Before clipping, I pulled on the piece, and nearly fell when the piece pulled out easily.  The flake was wobbly and would not hold gear.

I was down to my last chance.  I was tempted to pull on the loose flake, trusting to luck that it would hold just long enough.  But, I could not bring myself to risk it breaking off and sending me tumbling. Out of options, I stepped up onto the ice and reached high, above the big boulder and found a hole in which I jammed my now bleeding and numb hand. It was solid. I stepped up with my second foot and then both feet blew out, slipping out from under me on the ice.  But the hand jam held and I was able to haul my body higher to reach better holds and my escape.

I called back to Brian and apologized for forcing him to follow my terrible path in order to clear the gear.

A short time later I reached the top of the 1st pitch and brought Brian up.  It took him 10 minutes to climb the pitch that I had agonized on for 45 minutes.

2nd Pitch (10:30am)

Joe examining the route and decompressing from a close call

Brian took the 2nd pitch with a promise to check out the fun possibility of escaping from the back of the shallow cave along the way.  The cave route would only work without packs in Brian’s judgement, and so would have to wait for another day.

When Brian reached the 2nd belay, he yelled down to see if I had both cordalettes.  I announced that I had none (I had given no thought to the matter since I was used to not having one in recent days).  Brian then announced that both cordalettes were down at the base.

What a day!

In order to avoid losing both of our cordalettes, Brian untied from one of our double ropes so I could pull it down.  I then untied from the rope Brian retained and used the 2nd rope to setup a rappel that I used to return to the base of the climb. I found the cordelettes hanging on a tree near where the gear was hanging when Brian handed it to me 1.5 hours earlier.  I should have taken at least one of the cordalettes at that time, but it was that sort of day.  I grabbed them both and then used the rappel rope to batman my way back up, this time using the proper path…snow patch be damned. When I got back to the 1st belay, it was 11am. I put the rope away and tied back into the rope anchored to Brian.  I then followed the pitch quickly to join Brian at the 2nd belay.

3rd Pitch (11:30am)

I was my turn, and I needed to shake off the lack of confidence that hung on me like a bad smell. I mostly followed the ridge line as I worked up and right. I managed to not be too stressed despite not finding much gear. I reached the normal belay spot in a small alcove that separates the upper two pieces of the 1st section of the 4th Flatiron. Brian followed quickly.

Brian climbing above the 3rd pitch, on the 1st section of the 4th Flatiron

4th Pitch (12:00pm)

Brian didn’t think he could reach the end of the 1st section of the 4th Flatiron and enquired about the possibility of a simulclimb.  I told him that I had not felt secure all day in my approach shoes and not to push it.  As a result, Brian stopped on a good ledge with a nice big puddle.  I followed without incident.

5th Pitch (12:15pm)

I finished the last bit of the 1st section with a short sprint to the top and then a downclimb to the dirt and rocks between the 1st and 2nd sections of the 4th Flatiron.  Brian followed and then agreed to take a break for a late lunch.  Afterward, we speculated about where the 2nd section started.  We’d done the 4th several times over the years, but the memory wasn’t clear.  Several place looked right, but I thought we had to scramble up a ways to get to a ledge system that I saw from the top of the 1st section.  But after wandering around for 10 minutes, it finally dawned on me that the proper spot was only a few feet from where we ate lunch.

6th Pitch (1:00pm)

The traverse and climb to the Hanging Garden

Since it was my poor memory that resulted in us not being sure about the start, it was rightfully my risk to check it out. But Brian was chomping at the bit and grabbed the sharp end. It was his turn, after all.

Brian took off and I fed out the rope until it was gone.  I knew something must have gone wrong…we hadn’t simul-climbed here before. But I hurried to ready myself to give Brian more rope and was ready just as Brian yelled out for more rope.  I started the traverse with the knowledge that I must not fall.

Brian’s point of view:

The trench really didn’t seem wet at first.  Flaring, and deep enough to isolate climbers, it was dry except for the few slimy inches of parallel off-width in the center that normally would be the best feet.  Still, I thought I that with the low angle, I could stem across the flare on slopers while pinching the edges.  There was a little snow up above at the first chockstone, but surely it would be drier after that.  But it wasn’t.  The chockstone made a platform ideal for holding snow, and soon I was trying to jam soggy shoes, wishing the pro placements weren’t 15-20 feet apart.

I started looking for a belay perch, figuring that Joe would soon be simul-climbing in the wet stuff.  More snow patches came and went with no relief.  A lone scrawny tree passed by.  It had no backup and gave no hope that a belayer might keep the rope dry.   I reached the base of the crux section, got in a good cam, and knew that Joe must be standing in slime.  I was standing in postholes.  Another 8 feet of rock and I was actually sliding, just breaking even between forward and backward movement.  I could back off to the last cam, but then what?  Ask Joe to lead in his approach shoes with no pro until the next chockstone?

I leaned a shoulder into the flaring groove and stretched the opposite foot way out to some holds, then chimneyed and groveled my way for 15 dripping feet, hollering for rope slack.  That got me to the last chockstone where the grade eased up and the snow reappeared.  A dry, side-sloping ramp on the left was the final remaining section of the 4th’s middle tier.  It promised some cam placements, but it was all lies.   Its dry nature wilted under my wet feet.  When I finally sunk my fingers around a lip that formed a threshold to the hanging garden, I was beat and extremely thankful that Joe had remembered the classic climber’s mantra:  “the belayer must not fall”.

Back at the bottom of the pitch on simul-climb, I found at first that the climbing was no big deal; the traverse was barely technical.  Once I dropped into the gully, the situation became more interesting.

I made every effort to keep my approach shoes out of the snow and water; I didn’t want a slip.  Fortunately, once the conditions deteriorated to the point of ridiculousness, I could see Brian had setup a secure belay; a slip would no longer mean a permanent end to the Brian and Joe show.  The last section was so slippery I said out loud to Brian, “well, this couldn’t have been fun on simul-climb.”  Brian merely grunted in agreement.

4th Flatiron route taken vs. official

Decision to Bail (1:45pm)

Once in the Hanging Garden, it was clear we were done.  We only had 3 hours of light remaining to do 4 more pitches plus a long slog to the summit of Green Mountain and a 30 minute descent.  No way.  We’ve been down that path on this exact rock before; we wouldn’t do it again.  It just wasn’t our day.

The descent was nasty but at least non death-defying. I was glad to be alive.

I’ll do better.  I promise.  And I think I’ll be bring my rock shoes when I go rock climbing from now on.

See all trip reports

See Flatiron climbs

Achean Classic

October 29, 2011

October 22, 2011

We’re in that ‘inbetween’ season where the weather can be sunny and cool, when it isn’t laying down a bizzard.  Ah, Fall.

As we do so often in this season, Brian and I settled on looking for something in the Flatirons to find some weekend fun. Brian had the idea to head into Skunk Canyon for a change. It has been a while since I did a new flatiron; my quest to climb all the flatirons has turned into a lifelong project.  I was excited to pick off another classic:  Achean Pronouncement (5.7+).  Yes, it is a Roach ‘classic climb’…a designation that is at least as good as the ‘Two Thumbs Up” used to be back in the Ebert & Roper days.


Our 1st view of the Achean Pronouncement provided a clear view of the route: up the crack to the right of the dihedral, follow the skyline, then pass underneath the summit block to mount on far side.

We started from the NCAR parking lot and made quick progress to the creek bed beneath Satan’s Slab and the Achean Pronouncement (“AP”).  Brian gazed longingly at Satan’s Slab, but we had done it many years ago. I insisted we add to the list and so we followed the climber’s trail up and left to reach the bottom of AP.

Roach indicated that the start was ’60 feet up and south of the low point’.  But that didn’t look right, so we hunted around a bit until settling on the bad news that the blank looking, dirty slabby path to the two trees was probably the path.  Holy cow….it looked like you’d have to jump for a tree, if you fell, in a desperate effort to live. Ugh.

But the more I looked at it, the more I could see pro and features.  The only thing I could not see what the last couple moves to escape the danger zone, but I decided I’d volunteer.

Pitch 1

Starting from the tree on the ground approx. 60 feet from the low point of the flatiron, I picked my way up and right toward the 2 trees that marked the bottom of the 2nd pitch. I moved high enough to place the gear that was possible but made sure to stay left of the Juniper bush that was flowing down the face.  After a moment of exposed difficulty, the short pitch was over.

As I sat in the shade, slowly getting cold, I realized that I’d dressed for a summer climb instead of a cooler, breezier fall climb.  I shouted down to Brian to bring up my sweater that I managed to bring in a spasm of thoughtfulness.  I couldn’t do anything about my short pants, but at least I’d have a jacket, even if it was only a light fleece.

Pitch 2

Heading up the obvious crack toward the next tree-based belay station, Brian moved a bit more slowly than I’ve come to expect of him. I noticed more than usual as I was very cold despite now wearing my sweater, and I wanted to move up into the sunshine as soon as possible.

When it was finally time for me to climb, I discovered the source of the slow pace:  lichen. The route was very dirty for a ‘classic’ Roach climb, and it was slick as snot.  And the pro was surprisingly sparse; I was able to forgive Brian for his careful pace.

I worked my way up, slipping 3 separate times before reaching the belay.

Brian belaying after leading the 4th pitch; photo taken while straddling the ridge

Pitch 3

The third pitch stayed close to the dihedral, which was more of a scramble than a rock climb, so the lack of pro wasn’t an issue.  As I neared the top of the ridge, I could tell that a mere fleece sweater would not be enough…the wind was really blowing.

The promised fixed pro was gone, but I was able to set a strong anchor before bringing up Brian.

Pitch 4

Brian took off over a blank slab, angling up and left, and placing questionable gear every now and again, for moral support, I suppose.

I followed quickly, only stopping once after regaining the ridge to snap a photo of brian below the summit block.

Once I was able to check the topo, I realized that Brian had taken most of the 6th pitch as well.  I figured the final and crux pitch would be mine, for a change.

Pitch 5

The climbing was much more pleasant than earlier. This was why Roach had picked this climb as a ‘Classic’.  It was a very nice finish.

I worked my way across the slab below the summit block, looking for a path upward.  I had to move fully past the summit block to find a good path upward, which I took to wind around to the south face where the pro was scheduled to disappear.

I hunted around for the right path to the top, first examining the SE corner and then settling on the south face 20 feet to the left.  I placed the last piece I could get in and started up only to find that the rope was dragging on something I had missed along the way.  After fiddling with it I surrendered and setup an anchor to belay Brian.  The 6th pitch would be his after all.

An impressive view of the four ridges to the north of the Achean Pronouncement: Ridges from right to left: 1 (Stairway to Heaven), 2 (Devil's Slab), 3 (Angel's Way) and 4 (Mohling Arete).

Pitch 6

Brian took about 1 minute to pass the crux above my head and then another 5 minutes to scramble to the top.

It was a nice climb to find and do for the first time after climbing in the Flatirons for 15 years.


See all Flatirons

See all Trip Reports

Alpine Flatiron

October 9, 2011

The first day of the snow season brings a double-sharp sword:  the body’s ability to cope with cold is at a low point which combines with the mind’s poor memory of (and ability to prepare for) the cold. Such a day can cut clean through the self-deception of a risk-less rock climb.

Brian and I knew the weather would be colder, as in the 40F area, and rainy. But Saturday was the only day we could get out, and since we’ve climbed the flatirons in the rain before, we decided it was no big deal. I remarked to Brian that the cooler weather would keep away the lightning, so we shouldn’t have any problems.

We met at the Chautauqua parking lot at 8:30am, both of us wisely with full waterproof shell gear.  I even had a light sweater and liner gloves, just in case.  I thought about bringing a heavier jacket but couldn’t fit it in my pack and didn’t want to wear anything hot on the hike in.  I also could not find any waterproof gloves, but I figured I would be okay with wet hands for only a few hours.

We started up toward the 3rd Flatiron (39.98760, -105.29163) in a light drizzle.  Along the way, we could see the snow dusting that had fallen and stuck to the trees up high on Green Mountain.  We didn’t think it would be too bad.

We were wrong.

A view of Chautauqua Park from the 3rd Flatiron on a snowy rock climb

Naturally, we were alone on the rock. We started up, taking the easiest possible path along the East Face of the 3rd Flatiron.  On a normal day, it would be easy enough to skip a rope (only a few spots as hard as 5.4).  But lichen-covered rock dripping wet in a steady light snow, we knew it wouldn’t take much bad luck to create serious problems. Let’s just say that our progress was justifiably slow.

Within the first 10 minutes, I was very sorry not to have brought more clothes. I was thinking, what kind of idiot goes out to climb in a snow shower without waterproof gloves or even a warm hat, for the love of God.

With my core getting cold, my exposed hands were doomed, and they got worse and worse until they refused to function properly. The climbing gear was nearly impossible to manipulate with immovable fingers.

Fortunately, the climbing required few hand holds.

At first, I stopped every 20 feet to warm my hands on my legs; it helped well enough to get me to the first belay. I told Brian to continue leading if he was able; I was too cold and needed some time to warm up.

He said he was okay and so organized the rope and gear as I jammed my hands inside my clothes to warm them against my belly skin.  My core was warm, but I swear my hands won the temp battle and cooled my core instead of the planned opposite impact.

A view of the First and Second Flatiron from low on the 3rd Flatiron, as the weather worsened

After 2-3 minutes, I accepted failure and put my liner gloves on and made ready to belay Brian.  He took off just as the sky started snowing harder, throwing large clumps of snowflakes. Within a few minutes, my gloves were wet and worse than useless.

We repeated this process 3 times, with the weather getting worse and worse.  On the 4th pitch, my hands were completely gone and my feet were starting to get numb.  I knew I had to get off the rock quickly before I lost the ability to get down at all.

When I reached Brian in the notch below the final pitch, I told him I had to skip the final pitch and scramble to the rappel anchors from there.  He agreed as he had finally succumbed to the elements as well and was shivering like a wet rat.

Brian climbing through a wet, heavy snowfall on the 3rd Flatiron

It was my job to move the belay through the escape gully, but first I had to get some functionality back into my hands.  Once again I jammed my claws down my pants to find warm skin.  This time, I had to endure the thawing agonies that we all know so well.  I was yelling out loud to disrupt my mind’s focus on the pain.  After five minutes, my hands started working again, and in addition, the adrenaline from the pain had warmed up my entire body and mind!  I’m sure it helped that I was sheltered from the wind throughout the process.

I moved the belay and setup the rappel.  I quickly rapped down to the rap ledge and then traversed west to the second anchor where I clipped in before taking myself off rappel.

While I waited for Brian, I could see that the wind blowing south was fierce.  On a south-facing ledge, we were protected for the moment; but soon we’d have to step and rappel into that freezing hurricane.  I was thankful for not facing it all the way to the summit.

Brian quickly followed.  He pulled the rope and handed me an end that I used to setup the 2nd rappel. I clipped in and stepped over the edge.  Only 75 feet from the ground, I was almost safe. Almost.

Brian escaping the brutally cold wind after the descent

About 1/3 of the way down, I noticed that the rope dangling below me had been blown around the corner of the arête and been tangled on rock features seemly designed with deadly intent.  While hanging in a freezing wind, clawing my way toward the snagged rope, the thought ran through my mind:  if I cannot clear the rope quickly, I’ll die here today.

I attempted to clear the tangle as my brake hand (holding my weight on the rope) slowly lost feeling. I couldn’t quite get far enough around the corner to see what the rope was caught on, so I kept flipping the rope in hopes of clearing whatever it had gotten hooked on. After 4 attempts, the rope fell clear.

Then the wind blew again and the rope below me swung around the corner to get caught again. Once again I clawed my way to get as close as I could, and finally was able to clear it.  Before heading down I looked to see if any more tangles would impede my retreat, and could see a massive knot in the ropes well below me, blowing far out to my left in the wind.  My heart sank for a moment until I realized that I could reach the ground before needing to clear the knot. I was safe!

After reaching the ground, I cleared the knot and then scrambled to find some shelter from the hurricane winds while I waited for Brian, who soon joined me for a snowy scramble back to civilization and warmth.

I know it sounds rather pathetic, my near brush with disaster while doing a 5.4 rock climb in the Boulder Flatirons.  But I have to say that Brian and I both felt that we could both be pleased that we found an adventure and persevered on a day when a self-inflicted adventure was all we had time for.

I suppose it is true, adventure is where you find it. And, twenty-four hours later, my fingertips are just starting to regain feeling.

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)


See all RMNP trip reports

See all trip reports

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.

See all trip reports

See all RMNP trip reports

Found Money (Gambit)

September 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitch 1

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

Pitch 2

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

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

Pitch 3

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

Pitch 4

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

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

~ Mountain Project

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

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

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

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

Awkward Slot with Chockstone

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

Overhanging Hand Crack

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

Pitch 5

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See all trip reports

Scared to Death on Pear Buttress

September 1, 2010

On July 5, 1992, I clawed my way up Pear Buttress in Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park, Colorado.  This was my first multi-pitch climb and was significant otherwise for two important aspects of my climbing style:  Ignorance and Fear.  And, it was nearly the last climb I ever did.

My first multi-pitch rock climb: Pear Buttress (5.8) on The Book

I’ll start with ignorance. I didn’t know anything about rock climbing.  I had bluffed my way into an ‘Intermediate’ level class because I was afraid of being bored in a ‘beginner’ course.  I was a fool; I started my climbing career with a 5.8 classic.

My ignorance accounted for the fact that I selected my street shoe size when asked what rock shoe size I wear.  What did I know about rock climbing shoes?  My feet swam in rock shoes built for Michael Jordan…and did not hurt me one bit.  In fact, I could not begin to understand the complaints from my fellow climbing students whenever we descended in our rock shoes later in the week-long course.  Also, it explained why I had no ability to stand on anything smaller than a sidewalk.  As a ‘Leg Hauler’, I did more pull-ups that day than I had done in my life to-date.

Still, I was able to do it, somehow. My ability to exceed my physical limitation was related to the second important aspect of my climbing style.  Fear.

For the 1st time in my life, I knew stark terror.  I discovered that I had a fear of heights. Living in flat Florida, I just didn’t know.

The start of Pear Buttress

On the first pitch, I followed Topher, my CMS guide up the standard start.  We went up the slab right of a giant flake and then quickly stepped left to get to the flake. It formed a perfect hand crack (5.7) that was good enough even for a climber without any technique.  Once at the top of the flake, I attempted to follow thin cracks (crux) up to a sloping ledge where Topher built a belay. The key was a little ‘crystal’ for my right foot that I needed to step up on to reach a hand crack.

I couldn’t do it; my foot kept slipping off.  After 5 or 6 unsuccessful attempts, I felt my first sensation of being “gripped’. I felt terrible about failing and about ruining the climb for everyone else.  My vision tunneled and my other senses began to shut down as my mind went into melt-down, just like Colossus when presented with an unsolvable problem (“what happens when an unstoppable object hits and immovable object?”).

A fly buzzing about my head seemed to be tormenting me in my life’s weakest moment.  It was the Devil.

I just wished it would all end so I could go home and say that I tried rock climbing but did not like it.  Topher only said, over and over, “try again”.

In a fit of anger, I managed to step up and reach into the crack.  Thank God.

The rest of the climb went pretty much the same:  I yelled out “falling” whenever I thought the possibility was high and tried to keep to myself any thoughts of how Pear Buttress would be the one and only rock climb of my LONG life.

But first I had to finish.

On the second pitch, we followed the ledge up and left to the edge of the face, then cut back right into a crack which we followed to a belay on a smaller ledge (5.4).

The third pitch followed a hand and finger crack above the belay for 100 feet (5.8).  By this time, my hands and fingers were just hamburger…I painted the route with my blood, and still have some of the scars.  The pitch finished with a traverse right under a small roof to a belay on another ledge.

The fourth pitch was easy going as we climbed toward a ‘cave’…but the face climbing to reach the awkward belay was nearly too much.

Finally, we traversed out of the cave to reach the greatest amount of exposure the world could present (I thought), but a short climb to the top got me out of harm’s way. When I pulled my body up and over the top and shook Topher’s hand, I had an overwhelming sense of satisfaction come over me that was unmatched until the birth of my 1st child nearly 10 years later.

Topher bringing up another of the students to the top of the Pear Buttress route.

I had just completed the most physically and emotionally demanding effort of my life … and I was going to live to tell about it.  I “knew” in my head that this climb would be my last; but my heart couldn’t forget that feeling…that overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

I still haven’t.

See First Alpine Adventure trip report (the climb done on Sharkstooth at the end of the week-long class.

See all trip reports

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.

See all trip reports

See all RMNP trip reports

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.

See all trip reports

See all RMNP trip reports

%d bloggers like this: