Posts Tagged ‘4th flatiron’

4th Flatiron Revisted

March 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

Pitch 1

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

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

Pitch 2

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

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

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

Pitch 3

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

Pitch 4

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

Pitch 5

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

Pitch 6

4th Flatiron East Face Route

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

Pitch 7

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

8 – Scramble to Garden

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

Pitch 9

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

Pitch 10

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

Brian on the summit of the 4th Flatiron

Pitch 11

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


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

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

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

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

Keys to climb:

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

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Winter Tangen Tunnel

February 18, 2012

February 12, 2012

Ah, sweet success.  After many years of trying the Tangen Tunnel route in winter, Brian and I finally succeeded.  And it came on a day when neither of us expected to succeed due to a late start (my fault) and the highest amount of snow we’d ever seen in the Flatirons.  But once we neared the top, the prospect of retreating down that snowing, icy hell hole was so horrifying that we continued to push on and finally made it.  Heck, we got back to the parking lot with over 30 minutes of daylight.  What a great day!

We came, we saw, we tried like hell, we barely made it.

The start to the Tangel Tunnel route in winter

We started planning the weekend to be our first ski day of the season despite the continuing poor ski conditions (historically low snowbase).  But I had a problem with a toe and couldn’t risk death by ski boot. So I left the choice to Brian with a suggestion of the Tangen Tunnel as an “aggressive” alternative.  I also indicated, unhelpfully, that I could not do an early start due to a commitment.  I suppose I knew that this ruled out success on the Tangen Tunnel route which takes a long time even in good conditions, but that is what came to my mind at that moment. The real problem is that the Flatirons have had so much snow that I just didn’t know what to suggest.

Brian picked Tangen Tunnel route.  (Me and my big mouth, eh?… at least we’d get some exercise, and be outside).


I spent much of my time-constrained morning digging around for my snow gear not seen since the previous spring, and I just couldn’t get to Chautauqua park before 10:15am; but I was better prepared than usual.

We set a good pace up toward the Royal Arch and reached the bottom of the Tangen Tunnel route a bit after 11am.  We could see that we’d be swimming up the route, so we took time to get on all the gear:  insulating liner jacket, gators, warm hat, helmet, and harness, and then we set off.

Snowless images of the initial cave entrance and exit (photo from Fall)I made it 10 feet before being stopped by a 6 foot tall boulder covered by soft snow.  Slipping and sliding, and failing to find purchase on snow flavored air, I eventually resorted to stemming on the icy rock face of Tangen Tower and hooking rock overhead with my ice axe to inch my way over the first obstacle.  During the summer, this obstacle represents a barely noticeable, small scramble; on this day it was a 15 minute puzzle.

Now we knew for certain it was going to be at least an adventure (but hopefully not an epic one).

Epic (climbing slang word)

A climber’s slang term that refers to a big climbing adventure and all the bad stuff that happens on it, like ropes getting stuck, being benighted on a ledge, getting caught in a bad storm, or wandering off route.


(1) The 1st Cave/Tunnel

Rabbit Hole #1: the escape hole from tunnel #1 on the Tangen Tunnel route

The rest of the swim to the 1st cave / tunnel was easier, but once inside the cave it was not clear if we would get through it.  When I stopped to look around to remember the path upward, Brian started climbing.  From 10 feet up, he announced that the obvious path didn’t go all the way; but he did think he could wriggle through a slot to get out.  As I watched, he slithered like a snake and was gone.  My turn.

I followed his path and found I could just squeeze under a hanging boulder to reach the exit hole, but once through I could not safely turn around to crawl out.  As I layed there pondering my next move, a rope with a loop tied on the end fell down into the hole.  Good ‘ol Brian to the rescue!

With a secure belay, I managed to maneuver my body around to get a grip on the rock above.  I pulled up and then risked weighting a dead branch wedged in the hole.  The last required move was a high step onto a packed snow cornice that was supported by naught but air.  It held.

I glanced at my watch at saw that it was 12:15pm; we had already burned 45 minutes…to travel about 100 feet.

Joe contemplating his future while looking at the next section of snowy, icy rock.

I then turned and followed Brian uphill, losing a step in the knee to thigh deep soft snow for every two taken.

We quickly learned to stay near the 4th Flatiron rock face where the snow was firmer, perhaps due to snow melt dripping down during the sunny days since the big dump.  Of course, this was also where we faced the risk of falling icicles, which were falling more and more as the sunshine did its work high above us.

As a side note, I always have a mental image of the Tangen Tunnel route as a narrow gully with rocky obstacles.  But somehow I am always surprised on each visit of the wide possible path and the myriad of choices that must be made correctly to stay on route.  At least I remembered that the key was to ‘bear left’…a lesson learned by trial and error over the years.

Post Script:  having just returned to the Tangen Tunnel route (2 months later) I can report that it is a narrow gully with rocky obstacles that appears to be a wide open space when all the rocky obstacles are covered by a thick blanket of white, white snow.  There are few options for completing the Tangen Tunnel route; perseverance is required in all cases.

The entrance to tunnel #2

Just past the start of the 2nd piece of the 4th Flatiron, we came upon a tiny cave entrance.

(2) The 2nd Cave/Tunnel

Brian ducked into the small entrance as I approached.  By the time I crawled to the back of the cave, Brian had crawled out of the 2nd rabbit hole, leaving his pack behind to make his escape.  I handed up his pack and then mine, and then it was my turn to slither skyward.

I found that a layer of clear ice covered much of the rock, and snow falling from above covered the rest.  I got Brian to give me another belay and then made the slippery moves to crawl out.

Looking up at Brian from inside tunnel #2

As I pulled my head above the snow surface, I saw a block of ice the size of a soccer ball plunged from the rock above into the snow 4 feet from Brian. It was an off-target kill shot.  All Brian heard was a muffled but insistent, ‘WHOMP’, as the deep snow cushioned the impact.

The sun was warming and now sufficiently loosened the ice on the exposed rock above; it was time for extreme caution.  And, not wanting to stand in any one place too long, we quickly packed everything away and then continued our ascent.  It was 1pm, and time for a lunch break…if only we could find a safe & dryish place to stop.

We continued up the soft snow, overcoming many snow-covered rock obstacles along the way.  Before long we could see another cave in the distance, in a section of rock that seemed to block our path.

From a distance, the 3rd cave looked much better than the 2nd cave, but we didn’t recall crawling out the back of this one before.  As we got close, it became clear that the cave was not a part of the path as it wasn’t a ‘tunnel’.  But we could skirt it by taking a steep ramp to the left, and it did look like a dry place to sit without fear of falling icicles.  After a bit of deft icy rock scrambling and rock hooking, we settled down for a rest and lunch.  It was 1:30pm.

Brian approaching ‘Lunch Cave’…a surprisingly dry and safe spot to rest and refuel.

(3) The ‘Lunch Cave’ 

Finally, we could add some fuel to the fire.  I had purposely brought no more food than I thought I needed to keep from eating extra for no reason.  Unfortunately, I didn’t leave room for a ‘need more food’ scenario.  I ate my 2 bars and drank a liter.  Now it was just a race to the top (and then bottom) with the sun, hoping not to bonk along the way.

I mentioned that I hoped we could make it to the top to avoid the ugly series of rappels we were doomed to take on the retreat.  Brian reluctantly admitted a lack of confidence in our chances.  I had to admit that the late start didn’t help.

And, just at that moment, as I was looking out of the cave entrance, facing down the mountain, a 100 lbs collection of icicles I had admired (and photographed) over my head a few minutes earlier came crashing down…right onto our tracks in the snow.  Wow.

100 lbs chandelier hanging above the Tangen Tunnel trail

Despite the excitement, sitting on a cold rock, even a dry one with overhead shelter, doesn’t work for long on a cold day.  We left after 10 minutes.

Crawling up and over the escape ramp turned out to be very hard.  We succeeded only by discovering that we could sink our ice axes into the rotting wood of fallen trees and then pull up to gain a bit of altitude. Thunk, thunk, thunk, and then we were past the ‘Lunch Cave’.  I think it is fair to say that this technique plus the ability to hook rocks beyond arm’s reach made all the difference between success and slippery futility.

The next milestone would be the end of the 2nd piece of the 4th Flatiron.

Old Bivy Cave

As we approached the end of the 2nd piece of the 4th Flatiron, I recognized another cave that Brian and I had used several years ago on a failed winter attempt.  We used the cave to rest and light a small campfire for a bit of warmth while we ate our lunch.  At that time we had been lost and decided to turn around to avoid a disaster (‘epic’ adventures make for great stories, but no rational person purposely seeks to experience such days).  It was interesting to discover that we were right on route except for the last decision to head right, which we eventually abandoned before returning to the cave.  This was also the day when we learned to ‘bear left’ on earlier decisions.  It was also the correct choice on this particular route-finding decision.

The objective: Green Mountain summit.

Passing underneath the start of the 3rd piece of the 4th Flatiron was a challenge.  The open space beneath contained thigh deep snow that was too soft to stand on.  I suppose it collected all the snow rolling off the steep section of the Flatiron.  Whatever the reason, it was the worst struggle of the day; but at least we were safe from falling ice or slipping off icy rock.

We could tell that we were nearing the top, but it was after 2pm and daylight was expiring (2-3 hours remaining, at best).  Our current plan was to get to the top and see if we could tell where we were, and figure out the best and fastest way down.  I mentioned that we had several options if we couldn’t find a path to Green Mountain.  I said we could drop down into Skunk Canyon or we could head down toward the 3rd Flatiron.  I felt that we could make it down those paths easier than we could our ascent path; but it was clear that the best way was to prevail in finding a way to Green Mountain’s Greenman trail just below its summit, and then follow that trail down to take the Saddle Rock trail to the bottom.

Joe posing at the high point along the 4th Flatiron ridge below the summit of Green Mountain…our escape is assured

The feeling of desperation was evident in our continuing high energy output. Higher and higher, and by finally by 2:30pm we could see down into Skunk Canyon.  We had made it to the top of the 4th Flatiron.  Naturally, nothing looked familiar. But we reasoned that all we needed to do was hike west, but from every past experience on this section of rock we knew it would be hard.  And with the amazing snow cover, it might be impossible.  Let’s just say that a high stress level was a reasonable reaction.

Now we had to bear to the right, just slightly.  And every break in the trees would lead to an examination of the possible paths down.  If we couldn’t find our way to the Green Mountain trails, it was going to be a hard night.

We kept getting cliff-ed out, and then barely finding a scramble down, we continued making progress toward our goal.

Post Script:  the key is to stay on the ridgeline and find a line of least resistance (which is sometimes the only possible path forward)

(4) The Top (of the ridge)

And suddenly, everything seemed to be below us.  One final outcropping of rock and then it would be an easy stroll to Green Mountain’s Greenman trail.  It was only 3pm!  And we could see the Green Mountain summit!

We were going to make it and with time to spare.  There would be no stumbling down in the dark this time.  I felt so good that I insisted that I get a ‘summit’ photo.

The rest of the route finding was merely an exercise in not losing much elevation, and not gaining much either.  I knew that if we looked to the right while we stayed near the ridge line, we’d see a split rail fence marking the trail.  And, at 3:15pm, we found it.

(5) The Green Mountain Trail

Brian pausing on the trek back to the parking lot for a posed shot behind the 1st Flatiron

The Greenman trail was in beautiful condition for an easy, snow cushioned descent.  We decided to skip the Green Mountain summit, discretion being the better part of valor.

I predicted a 4:15pm arrival at the parking lot and was only off by 5 minutes.  It was a 6 hour round trip.

I can remember when 6 hours was one-third of the hard day, but I was glad to be driving home.

10,000 high steps had taken their toll on an old man.  Carpe diem memento mori

P.S. – I was sore for 4 days.

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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.

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