Ides of November11/18/2014
The day-to-day updates here have been lacking, mostly because it’s been that time of year where physical productivity generally drops for me. A few weeks ago my right shin flared back up, making it an easy decision to forget about any competitive ambitions until next year and instead concentrate on the typical (more shin-friendly) off-season activities of climbing, scrambling, hiking, and skiing. The nitty gritty, starting with the 1st of the month:
Sat – Classics Scouting w/ Joe (Queen Anne’s Head, W.C. Fields Pinnacle, Friday’s Folly)
Joe and I were both inspired last year by Bill Wright’s three-day link-up of Gerry Roach’s 53 designated “classic” easy climbs in the Flatirons, but it took us a full year to get around to scouting in earnest the many climbs that neither of us have seen before. It’s not often that we head into the Flatirons with a rope and a rack, but today was worth it.
We kicked things off with a great warm-up scramble on the East Face of Queen Anne’s Head. The exceptionally humid morning had us sweating buckets (along with the on-sight route-finding while carrying packs on our backs), but upon reaching the summit it was easy to agree with Roach’s “classic” designation. The only drawback about this aesthetic spire is that there doesn’t seem to be a simple downclimb other than reversing all ~400′ of its slabby, 5.4 face. On top of that, we found the rappel to the north to be particularly finicky—after negotiating an intermediate slab and pulling the ropes we were still left with a couple sections of tricky down-scrambling in the 1911 Gully before we were back at the base of the formation.
Next up was the directly adjacent W.C. Fields Pinnacle, with the classic A Very Ament Slab on its east face. At 5.8, it is technically the hardest climbing of all 53 routes, and we found it to be so. We scrambled the first pitch before Joe led up the run-out, bulgy face on what we felt to be particularly suspect rock. Beyond clipping the two bolts on the route, Joe placed a single red C3 in a fragile-sounding crevice. Not very inspiring. Furthermore, the crux move requires (at least the way we did it) crimping hard on two holds that seem liable to break off at any moment. Spicy stuff. Thankfully, the 5.4 West Face proved to be a convenient downclimb, so during the link-up we’ll likely set up a top-rope for this route.
Finally, after marching up the gully, it was my turn on the sharp end for the uber-classic (Roach gives it a top-1o designation) Friday’s Folly on the west side of the Third Flatiron. This single-pitch crack system is a real beauty; it eats up gear and is very consistent at the grade, with exceptional exposure. A pleasure to climb. Both AVAS and FF will take a few more laps to get dialed in before we’re ready to insert them into a big link-up.
Sun – Classics Scouting: 4th Flatiron Area (2:51, 4500′)
After yesterday’s outing, I was inspired today to go check out the next climbs that—hopefully—wouldn’t require a rope. Considering the 5.7 roof on the Morning After/The Needle/The Thing (this formation seems to have three different names) and the top-10 Classic chimney on Green Mountain Pinnacle, I packed my race vest with a pair of climbing slippers and a bag of chalk as some measure of confidence. When I found the base of the Morning After, the initial 100′ or so proved to be your typical 5.4-ish Flatiron slab. So far, so good. A beautiful crack bisected the crux 5.7 roof above this, but after making the initial moves, I decided I wanted the slippers and chalk. This did the trick, and with the extra trust afforded by these aids I was able to turn the roof comfortably. I changed back into running shoes above the roof and never got the rock shoes out again the rest of the day.
Next up was Green Mountain Pinnacle. A couple years ago, Joe and I had scouted this beautiful feature but neither of us had felt comfortable on-sighting it without a belay. For whatever reason, that wasn’t a problem today and soon enough I was enjoying the view from the summit of the pinnacle before downclimbing its east face. My next objective–Challenger–was directly to the west, and lived up admirably to its “classic” status. Although a bit grungy with all the lichens, the north arete on this formation is not to be missed. From there, it was a quick drop down the hill to the base of the Hammerhead for Yodeling Moves. This route proved to be yet another suitably unique experience, scrambling over a large arch for much of the ascent and then finishing with the giant bucket holds and airy position that give it its name. On the way back down Bluebell Canyon–feeling warmed up and in a particularly good flow state–I decided to scramble Morning After again to fully imprint the beta for the roof crux. I felt very solid on it, even in running shoes, so finished out the day confident that this section of the project would link together quite nicely after all the shenanigans that will be required for yesterday’s Third Flatiron-area routes.
Mon – Green Mt. (1:21, 3000′)
Today’s weather was uncharacteristically gloomy and drizzly which precluded me from hitting the slabs, but it was nice to mix it up with a simple hike up and down the hill. Shin didn’t hurt. The wet rock made today a logical day to get in the climbing gym, so Joe and I did just that later in the afternoon.
Tue – First Flatiron (1:00, 1600′)
Today Joe and I were committed to filming with L’Equipe (as we would be all week), and they wanted some footage on the First Flatiron, so we obliged. Between interviews, rigging them up on the first pitch, and depicting the downclimb in seemingly painstaking detail (the light was nice), it was an all-day affair. Luckily for us and them, the weather was immaculate, even if daylight is pretty limited right now.
Wed – Flatiron Classics: Morning After to 5th Flatiron (2:48, 4500′)
The weather continued to be perfect, so I was excited to get back on some rock. After biking to Chat, I kicked things off with a scramble of the Morning After and then ‘shwhacked over to the Fourth Flatiron area. Next was a downclimb of the Hammerhead, which led nicely into scrambling the 4th Flatiron itself. After the first two pieces I inserted ascents of Green Mountain Pinnacle and Challenger before scrambling the third and final piece of the Fourth. This would be my high point of the day, but now it was time to descend all the way to the Mesa Trail (~1500’ below) before the classic link-up of the Regency, traversing the Royal Arch, and then finishing with the East Face South Side of the 5th Flatiron. On the run back to Chautauqua I added a quick climb of Tomato Rock (a big boulder), putting me at an even eight Classics for the morning.
Thu – Longs Peak (4:00, 5000′)
Today was an early start with the L’Equipe bros, and they maximized on the absolutely pristine weather; it took us four hours before we were done shooting at Chasm Lake! Despite being pretty tired, Joe and I knew we would regret not capitalizing on the perfect conditions, so after hitting a gel we rock-hopped around the still unfrozen lake, donned crampons, and marched up through variable snow conditions on Lambs Slide to the Loft. After negotiating Keplinger’s Couloir, I led us up a 4th Class-ish crack/gully system that connected to the Skyline at the top of the Stepladder, which afforded us a more engaging finish to the climb than the typical Homestretch. The summit was further sweetened by the fact that this was my lifetime 50th summit of Longs Peak (only the 10th this year after 15 in 2012 and 25 last year). The rap on the Cables went off without a hitch, and to my surprise my shin even allowed me to run all the way back down to the parking lot. Great day.
Fri – AM: Flatiron Classics: Morning After to 5th Flatiron (2:17, 4000′)
With the knowledge that a winter storm next week would take away scrambling for a while I decided to cram as much in while I still could. Today was another tour of the 4th and 5th Flatiron-area stuff (Morning After, Yodeling Moves, 4th Flatiron, Green Mt Pinnacle, Challenger, 5th Flatiron), just getting it dialed in. I love repeating things and knowing every hold and figuring out the most efficient bushwhacking between formations. Today was simply more of that.
PM: First Flatiron (1600′)
This afternoon was more filming on the First with L’Equipe.
Sat – Flatiron Classics: Skunk Canyon+Dinosaur Mountain (3:28, 4800′)
Time to learn some more routes. Today I biked over to the open space access at the base of Skunk Canyon, behind the federal research institutions, NOAA and NIST. In retrospect, I don’t think this is actually any shorter than just approaching from Chautauqua, but I enjoy the Skunk Canyon trail—and it’s certainly much less crowded—so it was worthwhile.
It unexpectedly rained quite a bit last night, so that changed the morning’s conditions a bit. Even with a pretty late (9am) start, the rocks were definitely still wet, especially on the northern aspects. That winter sun just doesn’t hit at a direct enough angle to dry things properly. In anticipation of the particularly thin route on Satan’s Slab, I carried rock shoes and chalk again today.
Skunk Canyon has five parallel ridges of rock–Hillbilly Rock, Stairway to Heaven, Satan’s Slab, Angel’s Way, and Mohling Arete, east-to-west—and the first four are all Roach Classics. If one begins by climbing up Hillbilly Rock (like I did), it works perfectly to then downclimb Stairway, upclimb Satan’s, and downclimb Angel’s Way, thus setting you up for the formations on Dinosaur Mountain on the southern side of Skunk Canyon. All of these Skunk rocks are strikingly long—each ~1000′ or so—so this strategy saves one quite of bit of time and vertical when linking them up. Furthermore, it maximizes continuous scrambling (a huge plus), and minimizes bushwhacking.
Hillbilly Rock is super moderate, but on the very first step onto the rock my foot slipped due to wet shoes and wet lichens, which doesn’t really inspire much confidence as the beginning of a long outing of friction climbing. I was more deliberate than usual, but the scramble went by quickly. I looked at the North Face downclimb but the wet lichens deterred me, along with the fact that it looks like the key hold for downclimbing is actually a giant loose block. Instead, I scrambled down the northeast ridge until there was an easy escape north onto the ground.
Next up, Stairway to Heaven. I’d climbed this long formation twice before, but never downclimbed it. Again, the wet lichens required me to pay more attention than usual, but all was going fine until my iPhone slipped out of the front pouch of my race vest (I’d simply neglected to tighten the bungee, duh) and proceeded to bounce and ricochet ~100′ down the face of the route until stopping on a big ledge. Much to my surprise, despite several deep gashes in the Lifeproof case, the phone itself was untouched and didn’t even turn off. Kudos, Lifeproof!
At the bottom of Stairway, I took my time getting to the base of Satan’s East Face route. I’d scrambled this three times previously, always in rock shoes, and always feeling a bit insecure on a single ~15′ bulge of slab with thin holds. As such, I was trying to give the rock as much time as possible to dry while I changed into my slippers and chalked up my hands. Of course—especially with the long warm-up on the other rocks—the crux felt the best it ever has for me, and the second cruxy “boulder move” section up on the ridge after that was good, too.
I changed back into running shoes on the summit of Satan’s and had a blast descending Angel’s Way. Though this rock is very technically moderate it is pleasingly continuous and often has you traversing down along a wonderful arete. Score another one for Roach.
Crossing over to the south (north-facing, shaded) side of the canyon, next up was the Achean Pronouncement. Today, I skipped it. The opening moves are a 5.7 slab, that, due to the steepness of the hillside, would expose you to a good 30-40′ fall if you were to come unglued. The shaded rock was still so wet I could barely get off the ground, so I instead moved west to the Primal Rib on the Rainbow. This rock proved to be licheny but is maybe the best arete I’ve been on, anywhere. Simply fantastic position.
From the summit of PR, I zipped down the Porch Alley climber’s route, past the Backporch, to the base of the Front Porch for Tiptoe Slab. I was bonking hard for this one, but it’s short, and soon I was downclimbing off the back and running the trail over to Dinosaur Rock. This one offered up a couple of moves that got my attention amidst a bunch of easier terrain, leaving me only the South Ridge and Free Shot (downclimbed) on Der Freischutz. This is a large, somewhat broken rock, and I think I found the right lines, but it’s hard to say, and in any case, I was so short on calories and water that I no longer really cared anymore. I had a quick run back down the Skunk Canyon trail before I straddled my bike and staggered to the nearest grocery store for replenishment. A most excellent day in the Flatirons, with lots of fun, new routes discovered. In the evening, I had a good session at the gym with Joe despite my fingers feeling increasingly battered from all the scrambling.
Sun – Flatiron Classics: Morning After to Dinosaur Mountain (5:44, 9000′)
This was the big one, a finale to the Flatirons scrambling season, with tomorrow’s impending snow. I biked to Chautauqua, departed with a 14oz flask of water and six gels—leaving behind the rock shoes today—and got to work. Basically, I wanted to link up all the routes I could from Bluebell Canyon to Dinosaur Mountain.
So it was all familiar territory: Morning After, Yodeling Moves, Fourth Flatiron, Green Mountain Pinnacle, Challenger, Regency, Royal Arch, and Fifth Flatiron (both the South Side and North Side routes—by time I hit that second, longer route I was starting to feel the day’s efforts). After a tricky bushwhack over to Hillbilly Rock, I climbed it, downclimbed Stairway to Heaven, and then started up Satan’s Slab. Without climbing slippers, I avoided the crux on the first piece of the slab by zigging up and right on easier terrain, and then traversing up and left back in on a nice ascending seam that deposited me in the giant pothole and by which I was comfortable in my running shoes. After traversing the ridge, I was very pleased to find a key hold on the “boulder move” that made it feel way more solid than it ever has before for me. A quick downscramble of Angel’s Way and I was at the Achean Pronouncement.
Feeling psyched by my scramble of Satan’s, I decided to at least take a look at the East Face route on the AP. The rock was totally dry today, and, to my surprise, the 5.7 opening slab has some attentive but actually completely reasonable holds for both the hands and feet. This was really exciting, because then I had the pleasure of climbing definitely the longest, coolest crack I’ve seen in the Flatirons. Next up was yet another aesthetic arete, but this one, unfortunately, features some pretty bad rock in a few places. It’s better to traverse left out onto the face and skip that section, I think. Of course, I wasn’t equipped to pull the 5.7/8 moves up to the final summit block, so I scrambled down to the ground and continued on my way with a reprisal of yesterday’s Dinosaur Mountain activity: Primal Rib, Front Porch, Dinosaur Rock, and Der Freischutz, plus a tag of Tomato Rock on the way back to Chautauqua. Phew! This left me with 19 Classics (and, including Royal Arch, 20 climbs) for the day.
I was definitely feeling the vert by the end, and this re-convinced me that one of the (many) cruxes of attempting to link-up all 53 routes in a day will be the sheer time and vert. Fortunately, those are both things that I’m probably most experienced at dealing with in the mountains (versus truly technical climbing). So, it looks to be a really fun challenge.
Mon – 1st Flatiron+Green Mt+Freeway (1:36, 3000′)
I was tired from the past week’s effort—particularly yesterday’s Classics bonanza—so today was leisurely. The First was particularly windy—winter front coming in—and after tagging the summit of the mountain I decided to downclimb the Freeway on the 2nd Flatiron to just get in a little more scrambling, though it’s really mostly a 1000′ crabwalk. On the bike ride back to my apartment the temperature fell about 30 degrees and soon after it was snowing. Of course, the crappy weather made it easy to head to the climbing gym in the afternoon.
Tue – Green Mt. (1:47, 3000′)
Up 3rd access, down Flagstaff Mt. Winter! I was super excited that my shin didn’t protest at running the streets to and from Chautauqua because biking today would’ve been miserable.
Wed – Green Mt. (2:10, 3000′)
Up 1st/2nd access, down Ranger-Gregory. Wallowed through the snow on the uphill, floated through it on the downhill. I’m really enjoying the abrupt shift in seasons for some reason.
Thu – Green Mt. (1:54, 3000′)
Up 1st/2nd access, down Ranger-Gregory. Ran to Chat today to meet Fred for a run up between the flatties, and a couple photos. On days like today—brilliant sun, trees and rocks blanketed in a dazzling preponderance of fresh powder—I envy someone like Fred who can actually capture the beauty of the scene on his camera. Whenever I try to snap a photo that accurately represents the intensity of the surroundings, it never seems to even come close. Fred and I used poles today on our uphill, and I was happy for them. Poor footing is when I find them the most useful, and today they fit the bill, essentially granting me 4wd on the uphill. Evening: climbing gym.
Fri – 2xGreen Mt. (2:24, 5000′)
A buddy of mine is also rapidly approaching the 1000 summits milestone on Green Mt., but he’s a few tags ahead of me, so with today’s gorgeous weather and my shin’s cooperation all week I decided to try and make a little dent in his lead. I locked my bike at the base of Gregory Canyon and brandished the poles for two laps up and down the Amphitheater-Saddle Rock-Greenman route on the front of the mountain. Snow conditions were still fairly loose and unconsolidated, making for relatively slow ascents, but the day couldn’t have been more beautiful with sparkling snow and abundant sunshine. Really nice to get a little extra time and vert in on the hill. Evening: climbing gym.
Sat – 2xGreen Mt. (2:24, 5500′)
I awoke today to the accurately-forecasted winter weather—things seemed benign enough as I sipped my coffee, but by time I made it out the door the flakes were falling hard—and I figured that the wintry conditions would just add some pleasant ambiance to the outing. The bike up the hill was fairly cruxy on the largely unplowed streets, but once I locked up the machine at Chat and got to work going uphill, all was right with the world and I was soon grunting through the flakes, comfortable in a t-shirt. My second lap was on the standard ASG path—quite a bit more packed and icy than yesterday—but I descended without a hitch and was even more relieved once I’d then navigated the increasingly snowy streets back home without taking a tumble. Lovely morning all around.
Sun – Green Mt. (1:09, 2500′)
Nothing too special about today. Biked to Gregory Canyon, marched up the hill on a nicely set-up track, and ran back down. The shin twinged a little bit on the way down, so, that, combined with the incipient sore throat that I woke up with convinced me to limit it to just one lap today. I’m going to blame it on my increasingly sickly nature, but I wasn’t very Olympic at the climbing gym in the evening.