| But I climb 5.10 in the gym?!?!
Climb: 1st Flatiron
Route: Direct East Face 5.6
Group: Brian (Brian C), Natalie (Nkan02), Myself
Weather: Sunny with strong, cold wind
The original plan for this day was an attempt at Skywalker couloir, but with the storm that blew in Saturday and CAIC pending avy danger upgrade I decided to glomb onto Brian's trip up the 1st Flatiron. I was pretty stoked to hear that he was good leading the entire route and climbing with someone FAR less experienced. Hearing Nat would be joining also helped to take some of my nervousness away knowing that I had two strong climbers to back me up on my 1st "real" outdoor climb. I had heard great things about Flatiron climbing and was excited to be going up. Besides, it was only 5.6...I climb 5.10 in the gym all the time (famous Flatirons saying according to Brian)
The commute in from Erie left me feeling a bit uneasy as there were ominous clouds hanging over the entire Front Range. They were the kind that looked like they were just waiting for someone to brush their legs out from under them so they could come crashing down into the lower elevations like an Indiana Jones boobytrap. I just hoped that someone wasn't going to be me. We met at the Chautauqua ranger shack at 8:15am. After making introductions we were packed up, and trudging up the muddy trail with our hulking target in plain view. The closer we hiked, the larger the rock seemed to loom overhead. My nerves were really starting to get shaky. At one point, I even thought about making up some half-ass excuse for bailing, but ultimately decided that if I didn't make a go of it today, I might not ever - and that was just unacceptable. Easy conversation made the approach fly by and soon we crossed the short bridge to the base of the stairs, signifying we were at the start of the route. I looked up and thought I might choke on my heart it was beating in my throat so hard. "Last chance to back out" I thought. "Seriously dude, knock it off" I muttered to myself, "you're gonna be fine."
After donning my harness and rock shoes, I studied the sloping face of the monolith to venture a guess as to where we were going. What looked like completely blank rock -directly in front of us- was immediately ruled out. There was what looked to be an obvious start a few feet further up the stairs with one small ramp leading to a rib with very reasonable looking holds. "5.6...This is going to be a nice mellow start" I thought to myself. We spoke to the group of two in front of us (directly in front of the small ramp) who were climbing the route for the first time, and they graciously allowed us to climb first which would allow them to watch our movement. Brian attached two ropes to simul-belay Nat and I, and started up...
The blank face in front of us??? "Crap."
Natalie on belay at base
Much to my relief (and partially to my dismay) he made quick work of the first pitch (5.6R) with Natalie feverishly flinging rope out to maintain slack. All at the base were glad to see him not fall as the only two bolts that provide ANY protection are far enough apart that if you fell close the second, you would deck out at your belay's feet after tumbling 50-60 feet down the face. He reached a small tree in the center of a ledge with a sturdy block to huddle into, and set our first anchor. Nat and I were on belay and it was the moment of truth. I swallowed heart, cleared my throat and stepped onto the route. A quick gear double check, a brush of my shoes, and I was heading skyward. This first pitch is T-H-I-N with tiny dimples that seem to mock your fingers rather than embrace them. Half pocket / half smear footholds look shady enough to run an underground boxing club. The first couple of moves felt quite dicey, but were only a few feet off the ground. This helped calm my nerves slightly while I learned to trust in my shoes. Another 7-8 cautious moves, and I was at the first bolt. I hooked a middle finger into the bolt to take a breath. I'm still not sure why it popped into my head, but the thought of "I hope the mountain doesn't think I'm flipping it off" slowly rolled through my imagination, disappearing into nothing -think "In a galaxy far far away" scene of Star Wars. A small reassuring tug from Brian taking up my slack snapped me back to the task at hand. I unclipped my rope from the quickdraw and looked for my next set of moves. Two. Three. Four more moves up. I was quickly learning to make smart foot placements -above all else- and accepting that the smeared rubber was enough to keep me attached. I was starting to get comfortable just concentrating on the task directly in front of me and my limbs. I found it funny to think about how many times I had trusted my shoes in the gym, yet out here -on real rock--with no padded floor- I could just could not seem to get completely right with it. After 9 or 10 more moves, I was finally confident enough to start enjoying the climb. I was careful not to let my confidence evolve to hubris. Being a bit scared kept me sharp, which was just as well as the moves never got any easier. 5-10ft below the belay station, the route traversed across a toe width rib with another of the same size running parallel above it for fingertips. Finally some semblance of familiar feeling gym-type terrain. I stepped onto the belay ledge and breathed a deep sigh of relief. After a short congratulations and debriefing of my first truly technical pitch, I said, "One pitch down...how many more?"
"Oh my god."
From atop 1st anchor - Natalie traversing
Natalie followed closely behind and was quickly onto the ledge with us and we began flaking ropes for Brian's next push. Again, he flew up the rock keeping Nat quite busy flailing rope in an attempt to keep ahead of him. He reached a decent ledge with a small crack system above it and built an anchor with a nut and two cams. After hearing the belay call, Nat and I were off again, quickly simul-climbing while Brian hauled in our ropes. The 2nd pitch (5.4ish) was much more hold-friendly with ample foot placements on decent ribs as well as many jugs and pockets to keep your hands solid. It heads straight up another small overhung rib system with good underclings, before traversing to a small roof. Atop this roof is a convenient belay position with a small horizontal crack just above to anchor into. I decided to take a turn with cleaning the route, unclipping and slinging the two quickdraws Brian had placed over my shoulder.
Brian cruising the 2nd pitch at undercling rib
Natalie at 1st anchor while Brian builds our 2nd anchor
We regrouped, flaked rope and once again Brian took off like a rocket up the 3rd pitch. This section is a long run up the scrambly face (maybe hard 4th / easy 5th class) of a prominent bulge, basically until you run out of rope. 3 cams in the base of an overhanging boulder set our life line and we were off. After a quick discussion with Nat, I broke down our 2nd station and cleaned our route on the way up to get as much of the trad climbing experience as possible. Once we reached the belay at the top of this pitch the wind across the summit ridge quickly became evident in the rocking trees above us. We decided that we would head to a large notch at the base of the summit ridge and rappel off the back. It was a fairly easy call, based on Brian's experience with the ridge in windy conditions and my lack of experience in general. It did not sound like a great time.
The group behind us setting off from first anchor
3rd pitch as far as your rope will get you. Our anchor was under large dark boulder above and left of Brian
At anchor #3
Clearing out our 3rd anchor
Just below the 4th anchor
The 4th pitch follows a series of ramps into a large bowl that ramps up again to climber's right to gain the escape notch. Brian went off rope to the top of this pitch with Nat and I following shortly after. One last pitch of light Class 3 scrambling led to the rappel anchor. If anyone was still on the fence over bailing early, they were -without a doubt- blown off that fence once we hit the notch. 20-25 mph wind with totally random 40-50 mph gusts almost took Natalie's pack off the ridge. Air temps dropped instantly to the point of non-enjoyment. All 3 of us were anxious to get off this perch and back to the warm, sunny, leeward side of the rock. Brian backed up the ancient looking rappel anchor with a piece of sacrificial webbing and one by one we lowered ourselves to much friendlier conditions. The hike out was quite chilling in the shade, but the wind was cut by the dense trees enough that we were able to explore some other routes on the backside of the face. Brian also ventured off the trail to the remains of a small shelter built into an overhang with a tight squeeze through the roof out onto the top of one of the "Ironettes"(?) with impressive views of our morning's work.
Brian "see? easy." Sam "ohgodohgodohgod"
Fake a smile long enough and it becomes real
Cool chimney squeeze onto face of Ironette
View of upper route from top of chimney
One final stop at Southern Sun for french toast and a porter, followed by a good gear gawking in Neptune Mountaineering and our day was complete. This trip is one that I will never forget and I want to thank Brian and Natalie for sharing their knowledge and helping me out on my 1st "real" outdoor climb. I look forward to climbing this route again (and hopefully many, many more) in less windy conditions.
One last look at our morning
A look at our route and escape
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):