Archive for April, 2010

Gary and I had been trying to arrange a climbing “date” for the last two weeks. A snowboarding incident (injured ribs) and the weather had complicated the scheduling but other than being windy, Wednesday finally looked good.

I was surprised to run into Jenn and Jeremy at the parking lot, where we got the skinny on winds and crowds (bad and not bad respectively). Wind Tower didn’t look too crowded, but Gary wished to avoid pulling any overhangs, so we continued on to the West Ridge. The two pitch climb, Verschneidung Dihedral (5.7) was our goal. Gary took the first pitch, kindly letting me have the classic second pitch containing the dihedral.

Lots of good hand jams and a couple convenient face holds got me through the dihedral and then out to easier climbing leading to the anchors. Gary followed, while trying to modify his technique a bit to compensate for the hurting ribs.

Two rappels and a bit of scrambling got us back down to the ground were we fought a few ticks for our packs.

Ticks destroyed, we headed home for an early evening.

Read Full Post »

Browns Canyon WSA

I wish I could relate a story about how I never left the trailhead on Saturday, an epic involving car trouble, tow trucks, a dog and a wedding party. Unfortunately a friend of mine would be far too embarrassed if I put the story in print, so I’ll just have to move on to Sunday’s hike.

As usual, where to go was decided largely based on the weather forecasts, and Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area (just south of Buena Vista) was selected. We arrived at the trailhead and hiked just east of Ruby Mountain, over it’s saddle and then down the other side. Here the trail runs along some private property by the Arkansas River and a foot bridge leading to a trailer park.

Soon our path took us across the flats towards Middle Cottonwood Creek.

A few fresh footprints helped define the little used trail as we followed it up the dry creek bed, then climbed the ridge to the south and worked our way east.

Some impressive rock domes and boulders greeted us as we reached Cottonwood Creek on the east side of the WSA.

Since the only climbing gear we’d brought was our helmets, we turned away and headed south towards the one ranked peak within the WSA: 9082.

By now we were about two hours from the car and enjoying the abundant sunshine, not at all wishing our goal was the 14’ers across the valley.

We approached 9082 from the north, working our way to a saddle then following the ridge more or less directly to the summit.

The first highpoint we hit turned out not to be the summit, but the way ahead appeared straight forward.

We found a summit register placed by our friend Ryan last year and became the 4th and 5th signatures in the jar. While snacking we worked to identify our next peak, the soft-ranked 8620 to the south east.

A large dome stood just north of 8620 and we wondered which was really the taller one. First we had to get down from 9082, which took a bit of route finding and some traversing to clear the many cliffs.

As we approached 8620, the views of the dome made me wish we’d brought some climbing gear.

A little scrambling brought us to the “summit” of 8620.

Unfortunately, even from here I wasn’t convinced the spire to the south or the dome to the north weren’t possibly taller. We scouted the spire, but it would have been technical (low 5th class), and I didn’t feel comfortable attempting it without at least a small rope and a few stoppers. And the dome looked to require considerably more gear. Oh well, we may have to come back better prepared in the future.

We worked our way back towards Cottonwood Creek by returning back over the saddle north of 9082 and picking up the old 4×4 tracks again. Along the way we found a few cacti in bloom.

The clouds had thickened and combined with an increasing breeze we had a cool walk back to the trail head.

Complete photo album

Read Full Post »

2 am – Beep, Beep goes the alarm clock and I roll over to start the stove for a cup of coffee. Worming out of the sleeping bag while putting on clothes carefully set aside last night and then the shoes get strategically laced up.

2:15 am – Hoot (Dave) and I hop into his rental car and struggle through the dark and insanely laid out roads of the Grand Canyon Village.

2:25 am – We arrive at a picnic area just off the Yaki Point Road and meet up with Bob, Emily, Rob and Bill. The temperatures are already warmer than we’d expected and layers come off before we even start.

2:57 am – A short walk brings us to the canyon rim at the South Kaibab Trailhead. A last group shot is taken and then we start down. Already other hikers and runners are on the trail and we see head lamps on the switch backs below.

Bob leads the way with a super bright flashlight, while I follow just trying to pace myself with the group and not bomb down the trail. Rob thinks we’ll all be taking fewer and shorter breaks than he will, so he pulls ahead. Bill lags behind a bit while I chat with Bob, Emily and Hoot and try to admire the stars as much as possible while also not tripping and ending my hike too soon.

Over and hour passes as we move along, happily downhill but remembering that we’ll have to come up this climb when the sun is out. After leveling out for a bit, the trail drops over another rim and we start to descend the inner canyon. Shortly, the sound of the Colorado River is first noticed and steadily grows louder. It’s one of the very few sounds that I can recall from the whole day.

4:40 am – I found myself at the front of our group of 4 and jogging a bit and catch up with two runners from Salt Lake City just as we all reach the Black Bridge over the Colorado River. I pause for a minute to rejoin Hoot, Bob and Emily.

After crossing the bridge we descend below the structure and walk a sandy trail to Phantom Ranch. The Ranch was dealing with a major break in a water pipe and we weren’t positive if there would be water available here. Luckily, they had reserve tanks for drinking water but I’d carried a bit extra and didn’t need to fill up yet.

5:00 am – While we’re standing around and stretching, the Ranch opens for breakfast at 5am on the dot. Bob leads us away and onto the North Kaibab Trail into Box Canyon. Emily recommends some books to read while bats occasionally flap through the circle of light from our head lamps. The trail takes us across the first of five foot bridges and Bob explains how the gap between the 2nd and 3rd is long and seems never ending when coming back this way. I make a mental note that the 3rd bridge came at 44 minutes from Phantom and hope I’m moving faster when reversing this section in the afternoon. The trail is particularly flat with a low gradient and I hope to run a fair amount later.

Hoot decides he’d like to do a bit of running now, so he and I depart from Emily and Bob and mix a bit of walking and jogging.

By now the stars have disappeared and twilight begun. It’s still dark in the canyon but we can turn off our headlamps and wonder when we’ll hit the sun. Hoot tells me that last year (when he descended the longer Bright Angel Trail) he hit the sun right at the Pumphouse. I think it would be nice to get even higher towards to North Rim before meeting the sun.

Soon we reached our first real obstacle, Mill Creek.

With all the snow melting from the North Rim, the creek was flowing pretty good. Neither of us wanted to wade across just above the short falls, so we went off trail towards the creek’s confluence with the Bright Angel Creek and located some stepping stones to keep our feet dry (mostly).

A bit of a bushwhack brought us back to the trail.

6:45 am – Hoot and I reach Cottonwood Campground. Rob is just leaving, and again says we’ll probably catch up with him soon. After adding a bit of water to our packs we continue up the trail expecting water at the Pumphouse in only another 1.5 miles.

Hoot stops for some pictures and I continue ahead and cross Bright Angel Creek one last time to reach the Pumphouse. I fill up on water (over 100 oz) and start as Hoot arrives.

A meeting with the sun is imminent as I climb the switchbacks while looking ahead to guess where it’ll catch me.

7:47 am – Inevitably, the sun and I meet. I switch to sun glasses, start applying sunscreen and try to slow down my pace a bit.

Just ahead I spot the bright orange and red of one of the Utah runners, slowly I close the gap between us and we both stop at the same spot for a photo of one of the seasonal waterfalls flowing over the trail.

Troy and I start talking and run through the usual subjects – “where are you from”, “have you done this before”, “done other ultras?”. The company helps pass the time as we hike along the exposed trail.

Occasionally, I look back and spot Hoot still moving and going at the same pace we are.

Troy stops to remove a rock from his shoe and I continue upwards, like Rob, sure that he’ll catch me soon. I’m trying not to think about my pace or the amount of climbing left to go. I’m just working on moving at a level I can tolerate well enough. Still my stomach is starting to feel a little off and none of the food in my pack sounds appetizing.

I reach the Supai Tunnel and am a little disappointed, for some reason I thought it would be longer. It is well placed to mark a change, for after crossing through the tunnel I notice the smell of pines and the mess of oak leaves on the ground. Also, passing Supai Tunnel has brought patches of snow.

The snow is welcome to put under my hat and down my shirt, but it’s slick surface makes the walking harder. I’ve also remembered that the tunnel means I’ve still got about 1,600 feet to climb to the North Rim. That feels like it will take forever.

Soon I run into Jenny Roach, who left the campground around 7pm last night to walk to the trailhead and descend the longer Bright Angel Trail. She wanted to do a hike of 50 miles (not my puny 42). She complains a bit about the snow, and getting tired overnight but seems to be doing pretty well. I was wondering when I’d see her, and that’s one mystery solved.

Another mystery soon sorts itself out, from behind comes Jeff charging uphill and running well through the snow. He asks if I’m coming or going to the North Rim. Unlike me, Jeff left the trailhead around 5:30 am, and has already caught me. Unlike me, what he’s doing could definitely be described as running.

All too soon, Jeff comes bounding back down the trail, but his speed doesn’t give me a good reference for how much further it is to the top. My altimeter watch still indicates several hundred feet to go when I see Rob. Rob says he just barely beat Jeff to the rim (with a 2.5 hour head start), and says “You’re almost there, but you know that already”. But I don’t, not until he starts down with another “you’ll probably catch me soon”, and I look up to see a sign not 30 feet above. My watch was reading far too low.

9:33 am – I take a short break to settle my stomach and get ready for a long stretch of downward motion. Troy arrives just as I’m about to leave and we take photos of each other. I pass Hoot at almost the same place that Rob and I passed minutes ago then start jogging the snow where I can and just hiking and letting my heart rate settle where I can’t run.

I wasn’t moving very fast, even while headed downhill. The terrain was steeper and rockier than I felt comfortable running, but just moving downhill was allowing me to piece myself back together a bit. Seeing everyone else was also motivating. After Hoot I saw Bob, Emily and Bill from our 3 am start group, and George, John and Wayne who started at 5:30 am. Other runners and hikers were also out on the trail.

All the snow melt waterfalls were a blessing on the way down and I stood under each for a few seconds to soak and could jog comfortably for a while after that.

A ways below the foot bridge, the trail began to level out more and became less rocky. I started jogging portions and went by a trail crew and thanked them for their work.

I was surprised that George hadn’t caught me yet on his descent from the North Rim and added a bit more jogging as I got closer to the Pumphouse.

11:04 am – Once at the Pumphouse I knew I still had plenty of water to continue to Cottonwood Campground, but I stopped to wet my hat and stretch my legs. Back across Bright Angel Creek I continued to mix jogging into my pace whenever the terrain allowed. Now I was starting to feel really good and knew 8 or so miles of mostly gentle downhill terrain was ahead.

11:27 am – George finally caught and passed me just before Cottonwood. John was fast on his heels but still at the water spigot when I arrived.

The next 7 miles to Phantom Ranch may count among the best experiences of my life. The terrain was easy, allowing me to jog quite a bit and the scenery was beautiful. However, beyond that I started to experience a deep sense of well being, bordering on euphoria, that I suspect is the fabled “Runner’s High”.

By now I’d actually “run” maybe more than I’d ever run before in my life. My other ultra-distance events had been mostly walking at a 3.5-4mph pace. So either I was experiencing a runner’s high, or just the initial stages of heat exhaustion.

Regardless, my and my great sense of well-being continued on down the trail, it wasn’t effortless, but I felt I could continue for a long time and didn’t particularly want the Box Canyon to finish. I remembered Bob saying the space between the 2nd and 3rd bridges would take forever, and I really didn’t care. Just running down this beautiful canyon was plenty. I was certainly cognizant of my pace and the time, but I was mostly aware of being lucky enough to pass through this incredibly beautiful area. The emotion was strong enough that I often started to tear up. Why hadn’t I done this before? I can see why people return year after year for the double crossing.

It was in this state, when I was sure that I was plenty lucid, just euphoric, that I encountered the first spaceman. As I came around the corner the humanoid’s back was turned to me but I was immediately struck by the huge yellow helmet it was wearing.

It was real, and not a hallucination. Miles from even the civilization of Phantom Ranch, these guys were dressed in full flight suits and helping to coordinate the helicopter drop of supplies to fix the water pipe that feeds Phantom Ranch.

They let me run by and the rest of my time through Box Canyon was punctuated with the helicopter flying overhead. Normally, the intrusion might have bothered me, but I didn’t mind its presence, only that I could keep running through this place of beauty.

1:10 pm – I arrive at Phantom Canyon for the second time and immediately head to the snack shop to purchase a lemonade. The girl working the counter asks how the hike down from the rim went, I reply that they were both nice. She realizes I’m doing the “rim to rim to rim” and asks how the upper canyon is, as she’s never been much past Phantom Canyon. Beautiful is about all I can answer, but I try to describe the waterfalls, wildflowers and snow on the North Rim. Either I was acting as strange as I’d felt for the last 2 hours, or she finally caught the my very sweaty smell, as I got a hint that I should take my lemonade and leave.

I spent 15 minutes reassembling the pieces of myself with the aid of a ice-filled cup of lemonade while sitting in the cottonwood shade of Phantom Ranch. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the long and mostly shadeless climb up to the South Rim, but loaded up with water I was ready to get started.

Or, almost ready to get started, I really needed to visit a bathroom before hauling any extra water up 4,800 feet. I headed toward the Colorado River expecting the restroom there to be open, but it was closed for cleaning. A sign directed me partway up the Bright Angel Campground. I figured that little detour probably cost me 15-25 minutes. Regardless, I stopped by the Bright Angel Creek on the way out of the campground to soak my shirt and hat before beginning the final leg.

1:55 pm – Crossing the Colorado River again and trying not to look up at what awaits.

I get a few switchbacks up and think I spot Wayne just ahead (he probably passed while I was in the Bright Angel Campground), looking back I spot Troy’s bright colors trekking towards the bridge.

I’m not sure what the best strategy is, take it really slow, or try to push hard to get higher and into cooler temps before my soaked clothes dry out. Not consciously making a choice, I seem to have picked option #2 and move pretty steadily uphill and think I’m gaining on Wayne.

40 minutes pass and I feel my energy waning. I slow down and think about stopping for a break, instead I push on a bit too far (foolishly wanting to hike for at least 60 minutes before taking a break).

By now I’ve hit the junction with the Tonto Trail and am looking hard for shade. I spot a boulder uphill and crouch down in its shade feeling dizzy. My heart rate is way up and I’m not sure I can eat anything. A few minutes of sitting and my vision is shifting in strange ways. I take a salt tablet, a bit of water and the breeze picks up. Slowly things come into focus again and I wonder if I’ll make it to the rim okay.

Troy emerges from the shaded porch of the restrooms about 100 feet below and I see him walk towards me. He’s got his head phones in, but I call out and he sees me. We chat briefly about the heat and feeling dizzy and I ask if he’d mind if I stuck with him. I need the company.

We both slowly hike upwards, stopping frequently to catch our breath or clear our heads and seeking out whatever shade we can. We leapfrog with some day hikers who “just” went down to the river and back. We stop caring that some pass us and are obviously moving better than us. Troy, it turns out, was also very happy to run into me. His 3 water bottles run out well before we’re halfway to the rim, and I’ve got water to spare.

At least the temperatures are dropping slowly as we climb up. The wind also increases and as we contour around O’Neill Butte we get an extended stretch of shade.

We take a long break at Cedar Ridge, and talk to a European visitor who hiked partway down to the river. Yes, we think we’re crazy too for doing this.

I stare at the map and eventually realize we’ve only got about a mile or less, but still over a thousand feet to go. Giving it a last push, Troy and I mostly complete this section without pause.

A few of Troy’s friends met us just below the rim and get our picture as we stagger to a rest after 14.5 hours.

In the last 5 hours I’d gone from thinking I can’t wait to do this again, to I’d never. Right now, I just know I need to lay down, which I do after Troy’s friends give me a lift back to the parking lot where Pete, Rob, Wayne, and others are waiting.

After 20 minutes I can move my body out of the way of cars and we drive to the visitors center to find cell phone reception so I can others know I’m okay. Poor Pete, who has to listen to me mumble about the experience and wait for me to pull myself together so we can get some dinner. Strangely, after watching me and others (including Jeff who was completely spent after his 8 hr and 15 minute personal record) in our post-event states, Pete is fired-up to do this himself.

Adam’s complete photo album
Dave’s (Hoot’s) complete photo album
Bill’s photos
Jeff’s report
Emily’s photos

Read Full Post »

Sinking Ship

A long evening drive punctuated by a stop in Glenwood Springs to visit a brewery I’d never eaten at before ends with a stop on a plot of National Forest land outside of Monticello, UT. Pete and I throw out tarps and our sleeping bags onto the ground, attempting to dodge the cow patties and quickly fall asleep under a clear sky of brilliant stars. When dawn breaks we pack up and return to the road.

Taking the scenic route we head through Monument Valley, passing numerous cars with California plates all driving 20 miles below the speed limit. I know that’s not how they drive at home, what gives?

We watch our cell phones for signs of arriving in Mountain Standard Time and eventually ask at a gas station “where does the time change”. Answer: across the street.

After arriving in MST, our next destination is the Grand Canyon.

Too early to check into our campsite, we stop at a little used picnic area and notice one other car in the parking lot but no one around. Seeing Colorado plates I’m suspicious, and that hint is confirmed when I recognize the name on the camping permit hanging from the rear view mirror. Laughing, we start hiking from the parking area and traversing along the south rim.

Soon we hear voices and shouted conversation confirms that Jeff and George are on some cliffs above us, but that John and Gerry are climbing the peak known as Sinking Ship right now.

Pete and I continue away from the rim and bushwhack through some steep terrain before hitting the trail that the others used. Wrapping around the east side of the peak we eventually approach the north side.

I hear voices in a small amphitheater ahead and enjoy using the line “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” on John and Gerry who are just wrapping up a rappel.

We catch up and receive a bit of information and decide to attempt their down climb and rappel route versus the one Sarah and company did a few weeks ago.

A bit of scrambling leads to a ledge and a choice between a hand crack with some exposure and a tight chimney. The hand crack looks a little chossy, so I try the chimney and find the climbing not to hard, but unprotectable, with the crux coming at the top while exiting around some chockstones. Pete, the lucky devil, gets to follow with a belay.

We leave the rope at the fresh rappel sling (thanks John!), and find easy scrambling above.

Soon we’re on the summit, but wondering if it’s going to rain. Not wanting to deal with wet sandstone, we don’t spend much time on top.

The down climb and rappel go quickly, and we reverse our hike but head more directly towards the rim and AZ 64.

Wanting to rest up for a big day tomorrow, we continue on to the Mather Campground and setup camp. Dave (aka Hoot) shows up after we’ve setup and joins our party. Then we make final plans for the big hike.

Complete photo album

Read Full Post »

Alternate title for this post: “How Pete Got His Grove Back”

After backing off our climb of The Maiden on Saturday, Pete needed to get his head on straight for exposure and rock climbing. I thought the perfect climb would be the Wind Ridge on Eldo’s Wind Tower. With an early departure from work we headed up to Eldo and were amazed to see not a single other party on the whole Wind Ridge.

We geared up at the base and I started up the beginning of Breezy to do the 5.6 start with the hand traverse around the arete. I was climbing on Pete’s rack, and got my first experience placing Alien cams.

After the traverse the climbing went quickly up to the first belay stance. I assembled an anchor in a crack on the lower portion of the ledge and straddled the lip to watch Pete come up.

He said that the short traverse did mess with him a bit, but he got through it and was soon at the spacious ledge. I re-racked while he re-stacked the rope and started up pitch #2. More fun climbing followed, including a nice hand crack. Once at the large ledge I took a little while to assemble an acceptable anchor out of a large block and a tiny Alien. Pete started to climb up while I watched a threesome on Bastille Crack. For a while I felt the rope not moving and figured he was either working on a stuck piece of gear or fighting the hand crack.

Eventually he popped into view and I when he reached this next belay I found out it was the hand crack that had given him problems. I need to just take him somewhere where we can work on hand jams at the ground level. Anyway, I asked if he was up for his first lead (I’ve selected the uber-first climb of West Crack on Whales Tail for his first lead), but Pete didn’t think he was quite up for it. So I suggested we do the 3rd pitch of Wind Ridge (it was right there after all) rather than taking the walk off. Pete was game so I struggled through the overhanging flake, loaded the crack with 3 pieces of gear and finally pulled onto easier terrain. “Really, that was easier than I made it look.” I told Pete as I hurried up the rest of the pitch to the summit of the Wind Tower.

Pete said he struggled through the opening moves as well, then rushed up the rest of the pitch where we made the short scramble to the rappel anchors that would lead to the trail and back to our packs.

Pete said he could now understand why I liked Eldo (I guess my earlier introduction of the place to him via the Mountaineer’s Route on Shirttail Peak, wasn’t quite so classic.

Read Full Post »

When Erick suggested we spend Sunday at the Flatirons I almost had to laugh. That would make there days in a row on these iconic Boulder landmarks. We settled on trying to even the score with Fandango – the route on the First Flatiron I’d failed to locate properly two days before. This time we found the start of the route and I set off, a little higher than the “direct” start at the base of the slab.

Erick quickly followed the pitch and re-racked for his lead. I wasn’t positive where to head from here (I keep interpreting the beta photo as somehow wider than it really is). I though we needed to go further right on the Baker’s Way ramp so that’s where I pointed Eric for his pitch.

Erick finished his pitch and I followed, picking out the Baker’s Way ramp for one landmark by the time I’d reached his belay. I thought we were too far right, but thought I saw reasonable ground heading upwards. The first half of my pitch went quickly then I slowed down while climbing some slightly harder terrain under an overhanging flake. Belaying just past it I started to reason out that I was now on the Direct East Face route. A guided party below and headed our way helped re-enforce that notion.

Erick took over and led up to the ridge crest.

Then I followed and got him to take a photo of me and part of Boulder down below.

I took the next pitch along the ridge and went to just past where Pete and I reached the North Ridge after Zig Zag on Friday.

Erick quickly cleaned the pitch and I told him he’d easily make the summit rappel bolts before the rope ran out.

Two other groups were converging on us by the time we hit the summit so we quickly passed the rope through the eye bolts and rappelled to the west.

It was only just after noon when we reached the ground, so we consulted the guide book and decided to check out the Sunset Flatironette formation just to the south. After hiking around the base of the rock and then partly up it’s southwest side we felt like we’d located the start of the route “Steppin’ Out” a 5.8 that started with an overhanging flake. Erick took the lead and worked past this low crux then got stymied while trying to decipher the route description and thinking there would be more 5.8 climbing. Eventually, he took an easy route to the east ridge (which I now think was the correct route), and I followed to grab the rack from him.

We then each led a longer-than-30-meter pitch on the Chase the Sun (5.4) route on the east ridge to the summit.

From the summit we worked out the down climb back to the trail and then walked around the Second Flatiron and made our way back to the cars.

Eventually, I may do every route on the First Flatiron, but in pieces and parts as I wonder lost on the face.

Complete photo album

Read Full Post »

The Maiden

Ryan, Pete and I left the South Mesa trailhead with the southern Flatirons skyline in view. Prominent among those peaks in our view was The Maiden. After following the well manicured trails we split off on a climber’s path to work our way through the woods.

We followed the south side of The Maiden and did a bit of scrambling to reach the upper (west) end. Our goal was the North Face route, which had 2 pitches of climbing (and traversing and descending) just to reach the north side of the rock.

I lead up the run-out but easy first pitch to an amazing view of The Maiden, looming over us more like a cobra’s head. I’ll admit to feeling a little intimidated by it. Ryan and Pete climbed this short pitch to reach my position, then I handed the rack of gear to Ryan and he started the mostly down-climbing second pitch while being belayed from above. Ryan was placing gear partly to protect my down climb, as I wouldn’t have the advantage of a top rope through this section.

Pete followed with the advantage of a belay on both sides, then I started down toward the Crows Nest where Ryan and Pete were belaying. My hands had gotten cold on the long wait but thankfully the rock was mostly warm and color soon returned to my digits.

Once at the Crows Nest I took the rack and tried to decipher the route to the pine tree belay on the north face that I could clearly make out. Right below the Crows Nest I could see a ramp that led to below the pine tree, but looking at the route topo it seemed I should climb up first and take a slanting down climb almost directly to the pine tree. A fixed pin and a TCU provided some protection as I tried not to look at the large amount of exposure and concentrated on trying to leave the nice ledge and commit to the steep face. Once committed, I found the handholds plentiful enough and a couple fixed pins and made the pine tree with some relief.

Pete tried to follow the route, but got pretty spooked leaving the comfort of the ledge and decided his mind was in the right frame for this. Returning to the Crows Nest he settled in for a long wait while Ryan followed the pitch with a top rope from the piton (whose sling we’d retrieve later).

With a bit on an adrenaline shake going on, Ryan reached the belay with audible relief. After clipping into the anchor he untied and we pulled the rope through the piton then re-stacked it.

While we were on the north face, at least we were somewhat out of the wind and I was feeling warmer than earlier and ready to check out the 4th pitch of this climb. Heading up from the tree I found an easy ledge, then another exposed downclimb and traverse around a corner which resulted in some rope drag so I was glad to spot one of the pitons in the belay alcove that marked the end of the pitch. Ryan followed the pitch pretty quickly and we looked forward to the final pitch which actually climbed “up”.

The hardest move of the final pitch came right at the start and wasn’t hard at all. A corridor through the rock was followed then I hopped up on the well featured ridge above finding plenty of positive handholds and more cracks for protection than the average east face of a flatiron. The summit was soon reached with a bunch of water pockets in the pot marked top. Traversing over to the bolts I clipped in and yelled to Ryan that he could follow.

From the bolts we made communication to a freezing Pete straight below at the Crows Nest and tossed the rope ends to see them hit the Nest with a couple feet to spare. I rigged the rappel and autoblock backup, then slowly eased off the summit straight into the wild free rappel. I tried not to concentrate too much on the huge amount of empty space in all directions as I descended slowly back to the Crows Nest. While waiting for Ryan to rappel Pete and I setup the second rope for the next rappel.

Pete was shivering so I got him on the rope with my autoblock and sent him down to the ground where he’d be out of the wind.

Ryan floated down to the Crows Nest and then successfully pulled our rope from above.

He then put on belay so I could traverse over and retrieve the sling we’d left on the piton, then we coiled the rope into my pack and I set off to descend down to Pete. Ryan cleaned up the anchor and soon joined us were we luxuriated on being back on solid ground and the warming hike out that awaited.

Complete photo album

Read Full Post »

Zig Zag

With a beautiful Friday off work, Pete and I decided to visit the Flatirons in Boulder. Our plan was to climb the First Flatiron via the route Fandango (5.5).

We hiked up to the base of the First Flatiron, saw a group on the Direct East Face route and kept going. Unfortunately, I went to far south and passed the start of Fandango. I wasn’t 100% sure where I was but the climbing looked fine and I thought we might be able to traverse over to the Baker’s Way ramp and pick up the rest of the route.

Turns out, I was starting up the slightly harder Zig Zag (5.7) route. After the initial slab I hit the first roof and noticed a whole bunch of tat for a rappel anchor. After getting around this I continued up past another rappel anchor to a large tree (I was actually on the Kamikaze Roofs route for the last bit of pitch one).

While at the belay I studied the route diagrams and figured out where I was. Once Pete joined me I set off on pitch two, heading up then hard right to rejoin Zig Zag. Running most of the 60 meter rope out I belayed just below another roof.

Pete and I both enjoyed the second pitch more than the first (the climbing was a bit more secure with mostly better protection). I got around the roof at the start of our pitch #3 by tending slightly left and finding some good hand holds and fairly good protection. Above was some easier slab then the large flake.

With backpacks on I decided to stay just to the left of the flake instead of crawling under it. It functioned well as a right shoulder rest and layback as I neared the crest of the ridge.

Belaying just below a notch in the ridge Pete quickly followed up then I set off to run the ridge south and locate the summit.

The undulating ridge crest was a lot of fun – mostly 3rd or 4th class with a few 5.low moves.

I just reached the summit rappel anchors with only about 2 feet of rope left to make 4 long pitches. Pete soon joined me and we threaded the rope for the partly overhanging rappel off the west side of the formation.

While I’d done a couple other routes in the Flatirons, this was the first summit I’d reached and the route proved to be a lot of fun. Maybe we’ll have to come back sometime and actually climb Fandango.

Complete photo album

Read Full Post »

Original plan was to try Rewritten, a classic 5.7 5-pitch route on in Eldorado State Park. Unfortunately, the park was blanketed in clouds as we drove north from Golden and it was snowing lightly while we hiked in. We briefly considered turning tail and heading to the South Platte or elsewhere, but Pete had never been to Eldorado and I was determined to show him around.

Given the colder temps, snow and more wind than expected I didn’t really want to jump on a committing multi-pich route like Rewritten. Instead, we hiked past the Regarden Wall, and started climbing along side the West Ridge. Of course nothing was in the sun yet, so we just kept climbing. Reaching the end of the West Ridge I figured we could have a casual stroll up the Mountaineer’s Route (5.5) to the summit of Shirttail Peak while we waited for the weather to warm up.

Climbing in gloves and approach shoes (so I could keep my socks on) I led the first (5.4) pitch placing just a few pieces of gear. Rope drag still reared it’s ugly head by the time I reached the belay and threw on an extra jacket. Pete arrived just as the wind picked up again.

The crux seemed to come on pitch 2, as I worked up a little bulge that I over-protected (I was still climbing in gloves), then tried to hurry up the slightly awkward gully above. At least a nice belay ledge presented itself. Pete struggled a bit with the bulge and made empty threats to pull on gear.

Eventually he arrived and sucked down a couple calories while describing the baseball-sized rock that hit his shin and now had blood-stained his shoes. Motivated to get us up into the sun I took off from the ledge past the awkward (guidebook’s words) bulge then ran out all but 5 feet of our 60 meter rope to a sunny belay (10 or more feet shy of the notch the guidebook claims is reached in 110 feet).

For the first time I found myself stripping off layers rather than wishing for more while belaying Pete up. I also got to watch a few climbers on Gambit (5.8) climb to the summit via that neighboring route.

After scrambling to the notch and coiling the rope we scrambled (4th class) to the summit.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten the page of the guidebook that described the descent, and I thought there was a walk-off to the north. Some scouting failed to produce said delusion, so we did 2 rappels and a bit of scrambling back to the base.

Walking back down the West Ridge I ran into Jenn and Meg, who’d just finished Positively Forth Street, Jenn’s 5.9 project. We chatted but didn’t stay to do any other climbing as Pete wanted to ice his now swollen shin.

After his first trip to Eldo, I’m not sure Pete will be too excited to come back.

This post edited while enjoying Crabtree Brewing’s Braggot Imperial Stout – so don’t trust a word I wrote.

Read Full Post »

For Lent, Pete, Ryan and I decided to give up long approaches, alpine starts, frozen fingers and ranked summits. Instead, we chose a visit to Castlewood Canyon, a place none of us had ever visited, because the weather forecast looked good there and I read the cliffs were out of the wind.

A short detour to the visitors center to buy a guidebook and we were back in the west side of the park and found the short trail leading up to the Grocery Store Wall. Already it was sunny and warm and looking like a very pleasant day. I racked up and warmed up with a lead of Zucchini (5.4) which was a little tricky for good pro. Unfortunately, there weren’t any anchors on the top, so I built a solid directional, then walked 8 feet over to the bolts at the top of Peaches and Scream. Both Pete and Ryan took a turn on the route with a top rope.

We next each top-roped Peaches and Scream (5.6).

Doing it on top rope allowed me to verify that there was adequate pro to lead the route, which I did when my turn came up again. Just as I was cleaning the anchors another group came up and we headed further right to give them these routes.

Ryan hadn’t been out much lately and was feeling a little pumped, so we toned it down a notch on Caramel Corner (5.5), which I again led, and Caramel Corner Layback (5.5) which we top-roped from the same anchor and a directional.

Wanting more of a challenge, I had Ryan move the anchor over Licorice Stick (5.9-) and managed to climb the route without hanging on top-rope. Ryan and Pete both struggled on the lower, crux, section. While belaying them I talked with a lady walking her dog who had just gotten back into rock climbing (at a gym) after a 5 year hiatus. Between Pete’s shoes and harness and my helmet we got her equipped to give the route a try and while Susan didn’t finish the climb, she seemed to have fun.

With not much time left before we needed to head home we decided to finish up with an easy climb – Banana Split Chimney (5.4) that I was able to rig a top rope for by stepping across to the free-standing tower from the main cliff.

The route was easily accomplished without requiring any hand or arm strength and so was great for a end-of-day climb.

Then we packed up and headed home, pleasantly surprised at our day at Castlewood Canyon. I’d heard horror stories of rattlesnakes (must not have been out yet) and rednecks (didn’t see any). The climbs were short (65 feet or less), but it reminded me a bit of Red River Gorge with some bouldery starts and pockets that ate tricams. I’d originally intended to donate the guidebook to the AAC library, but I might hold on to it a while longer for when I need a pretty low-key, uncrowded rock climbing day.

Complete photo album

Read Full Post »