Thursday, October 20, 2016

Tour de Flatirons - Stage 5

Here's some advice for any local outdoor athletes: don't enter the Tour de Flatirons if you're looking to feel good about your fitness. This event isn't for the casual. Since I moved back to Boulder in 1994 my motto has been "Move to Boulder and be humble." Now I'd tack on: "and stay away from the Tour." Unless, at least, your ego doesn't bruise easily.

The Tour has grown considerably in the past few years and this year's final stage was the biggest ever with thirty-six starters. The growth in the field seems to have been heavily weighted toward speedy. While age and an excess of ice cream is inexorably increasing my times, it isn't doing it nearly as fast as the field is causing me to slip to the rear.
Record-breaking Matthias Messner!
Matthias finished off his clean sweep of the Tour with his fifth victory, the first time every stage has been swept. He also ended by breaking Dave Mackey's 33:17 12-year-old record on the Third Flatiron when he finished in 32:56. Congratulations to Matthias on an absolutely incredible season.

Dylan finished with his best effort ever in the Tour, matching Dave's previous time. Cordis finally lived up to his amazing potential and made the podium for the first time. David Glennon, for the first time, fully unleashed his phenomenal running ability, going out hard and immediately separating himself and Matthias from the field. He got swallowed up by just three scramblers on the face and finish in fourth place. Stefan, still the holder of the unsupported Third Flatiron record and a Tour legend, finished in fifth.

We never had an all-star rigging team for this stage. Internationally renowned athletes Anton Krupicka and Joe Grant, along with Jon, did a fabulous job rigging four very independent lines. It was the best rigging we've ever had. Mauricio was high on the third shooting photos, Jeff Valliere was shooting video and Darren's dad was doing the same. Stuart Paul, injured in stage 3, was out shooting some amazing photos as well. Sheri shot the finishing photos.

Alas, I had my comeuppance, big time. My main rivals, Danny, Buzz, and Willie, all hit the face before me and then just stretched out their lead. My only advantage in the previous stages was intimate knowledge of complex courses. Here there were no secrets and pure fitness won out. I actually ran pretty well and have no excuses. They are simply faster than I am. In fact, twenty scramblers were faster than I am. When I ran my first ever scrambling race on the Third Flatiron back in 1999, the field was small, the field was slow, and I won. Since then I've gotten faster, but I and other Minions have also recruited the fastest scramblers I could find. I love what we've built here.

Thanks to everyone that competed, rigged, and documented the best Tour de Flatirons ever. At least until next year.
The entire 2016 Tour. Left to right: stage 4, stage 3, stage 1, stage 5, stage 2.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tour de Flatirons - Stage 4

Official Tour de Flatiron Scrambling Uniform

I've tried in the past to avoid using the word "race" in these reports... That's getting increasingly difficult for me. My biggest rivals this year are Danny, Buzz, and Willie. Each stage I've been behind but each stage I've been able to edge ahead. I feel somewhat bad about this. Danny is fitter and always gets to the rock before me. Buzz frequently scrambles faster than me and beat me to the Slab today. Willie refused to pass me on the run out from Stage 2 (I started late here, but if he put enough time on me, he might have taken me). So, how do I get in front? A lot of it is luck. Some of it is experience. Today, it might have been being overly aggressive and that isn't cool. Yet, every time, they are such good sports about it. If these were separate time trials, I'd surely lose to them. But they aren't. They are chaotic, competitive events that, to the non-Minion, would look like...a race.

Stage 4 Course
Despite the reschedule due to adverse weather/conditions on Wednesday, twenty-two scramblers toed the line at 5:15 a.m. Brian had run earlier and gave me a time to shoot for: 1h03m. Dylan had to start early as well and he'd come tearing down the trail cheering us all on as we labored up the steep approach. Angela started about ten minutes early to ensure more daylight. Still,  twenty-two is a big group and we quickly spread out. I start at the front only because I'm the starter. I then try to stay to the far right as all the big guns go by.
Nikita on the Slab
Danny passed me early, as usual, but I kept him in sight. Buzz went by earlier than usual and, almost feeling guilty, says, "You have a handicap, since you fixed the lines this morning." A nice gesture, but I went easy in the morning and felt no effects of it. I'm getting slower and lots more fast, young guys are joining the Tour, but the field is also getting broader and larger, so I'm barely hanging onto to the top half of the field. At least when it comes to the finish line. On the approach, I'm probably in the middle of the back half. We have so many Minions that can go uphill so fast... Inspiring to be in such a group.

Willie arrived just before the start, so had no warm-up. In a show of camaraderie he saved late-arriving Greg by letting him borrow a harness and a rappel device. Without that Greg probably wouldn't have broken the top ten for his first time. Adam offered an extra pair of gloves to Jason. I love seeing that.

Willie was glued to my backside once again. He could have gone by, but he specifically did not. His plan was to follow me everywhere and then hopefully run by me on the descent. Not surprisingly, I know these courses well. Duh. I create them. So this strategy isn't knew to me, at least for people close to my fitness level. I tried to gap him on the Slab and did a bit, but he closed things down on the Fiddlehead.

Lead group on the Slab
I hit the slab a bit after Buzz and Danny and closed on them. I just followed Danny's lead and all of us got a bit off track. You'd think that I wouldn't get off track, but I was redlined and it is so much easier if you can just follow someone. It indicative of how hard we're going when the course creator strays from his best route. Near the top I corrected earlier than Danny, though, and I hit the top of the Slab ahead of all my rivals. Doing so left me in considerable oxygen debt though, and I ceded the lead to a faster moving Buzz on the ridge. We'd gapped Danny and Willie.

Buzz and I caught someone unfamiliar with the downclimb and directed him to it, with us following right behind. Once on the ground it wasn't long before Buzz graciously stepped aside and I was once again in front of my rivals. In a minute or two Danny was on me and then passed me on the steep climb up to the Fiddlehead. As he went by he said, "I think today's my day, Bill." I thought so as well and said, "Right on. Be careful up there." He responded, "I'm going far." Indeed he wasn't. He was ahead, but the four of us hit the rock very close together, probably within twenty seconds. Danny then said, "This is going to be a photo finish." I couldn't respond. Danny, Buzz, and Willie all seem to have a lot more breath than I do. I'm maxed. I can't talk. My mouth is completely occupied with sucking in as much oxygen as possible.

I scrambled the lower part well and took a more efficiently line than Danny and got in front again, with Buzz on my tail, then Danny, and then Willie. I had the best line and was maxed out, but the other three all closed right behind me. Our speeds were close enough, I felt, where I didn't need to step aside. There is climbable rock on both sides of me, but I'm definitely on the easiest, fastest line. Should I have stepped aside? I don't know.

Near the top, I cut hard left on my regular route out to the ridge. There I caught up to Nikita and Jed. I found out later that Jed had started five minutes late and was actually catching all of us. I just barely slipped in front of Nikita where our routes merged. I even slipped a bit here, making this move. Was I being overly competitive? Maybe. Uppermost in my mind was to get to the top of the Fiddlehead before all of my rivals, so that I'd be first in line for the rappel lines. Getting in front of Nikita and Jed, and having them between me and my rivals effectively ended the race with these three. That was just luck, to encounter them at the exact time where this could happen. Yes, I was in front at that point, but the meeting of our group of four, Nikita and Jed, and the top of the Fiddlehead turned out perfectly for me. Unless I was rude or too aggressive to any of these other five. I've talked with most of them and they are being gracious, but if anything I did was uncool, I will penalize myself 5 minutes.
Buzz trailed by Danny on the Slab

At the top, behind me, there might have been some overly aggressive action. We have to remember where we are and that we are all friends. Being a gentleman or a lady and being kind and gracious to your fellow competitors should be more important than our finishing position. I'm calling out myself, mainly, but let's all remember this. I'm going to be very explicit about this in my directions for Stage 5.

Anyway, I hit the ropes first and, having fixed them myself, I knew the best line was the yellow rope. Thankfully it was free. Two of the three lines were free when the six of us arrived and Jed got the other one. I zipped down the line all the way to the very end, going off the end of the rope on hiking terrain, with no down scrambling to do. I sped down the slick climber's path next to the Pellaea with Jed on my tail. When he closed up tight, I stepped aside. He quickly gapped me and the gap would grow, but I kept him in sight most of the way out.

I was acutely aware of the others behind me. I knew Nikita was the next to the top and that he was the fastest runner behind me. Nikita is fitter and he beat me in stages one and two. I figured he'd come by me. I calculated that when he did, I should still have a minute gap on Danny. I ran as fast as my clumsy legs would allow, trying to get close enough to the finish so that when Nikita came by I'd have the mental toughness to endure the pain of holding off Danny.

When I got the 3-minute-to-go trail junction and a quick glance didn't reveal Nikita, I switched my goal to holding him off. I endured even more pain and when I turned off the trail for the final, steep, 90-second section I spotted Jed ahead. Still not knowing that he started 5 minutes late, I pressed, trying to close that down, thinking it was possible. Alas, it was not. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, as his total time was six minutes faster than me.

I finished in 56:22 and a minute later Nikita came. Then Danny. Then Buzz. Then Willie.

Once again Matthias crushed all and locked up his second consecutive Tour title. Congratulations, Matthias! He's also re-writing the record books. He'll take aim at Dave Mackey's Third Flatiron record next week. It would be fitting end to win all five stages and get the record at the same time.

In second was Ryan, followed closely by Stefan. These two have been stalwarts of the podium for many years and they stamped their authority on this stage by beating Will Porter. Will, though, has nearly locked up second place in the Tour. For Stefan to sneak by him, he'd have to win the last stage. Beat Matthias. Stefan is probably the most amazingly overall outdoor badass I've ever met. His range of mastery is staggering. Yet, I fear, that task before him is too great. He'll have his hands full finishing third with Ryan his chief rival. Here I'd bet on Stefan. He's never failed to make the podium.
Me on the Slab with Willie on my heels
Newcomer Greg made a strong showing, finishing solidly in the top ten. Following Scott Bennet on the way out he got a lesson on how hard you have to go to play with the big boys. Trying to pass Scott, he caught a toe and went down in a heap, sustaining abrasions on this legs and torso. He's okay, fortunately, and got a taste of the kamikaze effort put out by the sharp end of Tour.

One stage to go. One stage and the 2016 Tour de Flatirons, the 13th annual Tour, will be in the books. We are already guaranteed to end up with the most Tour finishers (at least four stages must be completed to be a Tour finisher) ever.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Tour de Flatirons - Stage 3


Each stage seems to be more fun than the last. And bigger. We had 30+ tonight and there seemed to be such a glow of positive energy all over Dinosaur Mountain. Afterwards, I didn't want to leave the "after party" at the trailhead. I felt a kindred spirit with everyone there. The Tour de Flatirons is, to my knowledge, unique in the world. To be fair, there isn't many places that could stage such an event. The Flatirons are just such unique, magical rocks. I love them. And I love this group.

My new best buddy this year is Danny Gilbert. We're so evenly matched that it makes every event so fun for us. I hope everyone in the Tour has a close rival as well. The difference with the Tour last year and this year, is the numbers. At no point during this entire hour-long stage was I not very close to another scrambler. This doesn't feel like a boring, painful time trial. This is a very exciting, very fun, and, yes, very painful race. I try not to use the "r" word, but I can't help it here. These things are an order of magnitude more fun than a trail running race, precisely because of all the different skills necessary for these courses.

Driving to the start I had a mixture of dread and excitement. Dread for the pain to come and fear that I wouldn't have the toughness to endure the pain and my friendly rivals would leave me far behind. Excitement because, in the end, it's the most fun I've ever had racing. 

I got there early and jogged just a little with Matthias to warm up. I had a lap up Green Mountain in my legs from the morning and I felt heavier and more sluggish than usual. A huge group (thirty is huge for the Tour) massed at the start and I gave some final reminders. Page, Angela, and Brad had taken off a bit early and would be some carrots to chase.

Here's the course description I sent out to the group:

A couple of key notes:

1. Once you downclimb off the backside of the Front Porch head immediately west, to the right of a very large boulder. Don't head down between the boulder and the backside of the Front Porch. Down that way is a ground nest of hornets/wasps/yellow jackets. If you go west, just a few tens of yards, you'll be against the Lost Porch. After you descend a bit you'll re-intersect the normal descent trail and should be fine. EVERYONE needs to do this, as once those stingers are stirred up, they'll range far and wide. The first guy through will be fine regardless, but the rest of us won't be.

2. After descending off the Hand ( you must touch the very summit) and doing either the exposed chimney/arete slide down or the tunnel, head DOWN. The rock immediately south of the Hand is Der Freischutz. You'll goal is to descend down between these two back to the Mallory Cave Trail. Once on the ground you'll see a pine needle covered, steep, loose gully that will quickly lead to a steep, smooth slab. Because of the danger from rockfall from above NO ONE can climb down this slab. Instead, once you get to the rock slab, head to descender's right and get on a rib/ridge of rock that you can downclimb to the ground. The climbing here takes some care, but not too bad. You are safe here from any rocks from above. Once down this climb, follow your nose and the faint climber's path down to the Mallory Cave Trail.

Full Course Description:

As usual, it is highly recommended to preview this course to make sure you locate the start of each rock. It starts with the usual route on the Front Porch - NOT TipToe Slab. This route is just right of a prominent gully/canyon and I think almost everyone knows it well. Once off the downclimb (and avoiding the wasps), you'll head down the trail until you can see the saddle off to the right. Climb up to and over the saddle and then down to the Mallory Cave Trail. Head up that, staying on the regular trail, until the very base of Sunnyside II. Climb up that and off the back side. We do NOT go to the summit of Der Zerkle. Head west to the Mallory Cave Trail. For the Hand you must start at the big tree which is almost at the very base of the rock. So, once on the Mallory Cave Trail after getting off Sunnyside II, you'll descend a little bit. It only takes about ten seconds or so. The Hand is the technical crux of the stage. It is thoughtful climbing and has a couple of crux sections. There is some crumbly rock here, but not much and easily avoided. As always, slow down and take what time you need here to be safe. At a slow enough speed, this is solid, fun scrambling. Make sure you have a good safety margin. You must touch the top of the Hand and then do the descent described above. If you want, though this will take WAY longer, you can still go up and over the backside of the Finger Flatiron and down the trail up by the Box. You must start at the bottom of Der Freischutz and you'll head up a ramp just right of a right-facing corner. There is something that looks somewhat like this a bit higher up, pass that by. The trail will practically touch this rock at the right location. Ascent Free Shot (easiest route to the summit) and touch the far summit of this rock. Then head down the somewhat tricky downclimb to the north. It's steep here for a bit, so be careful and take your time. Plenty of time to hurt once you get on the ground. Once off the downclimb you go down into a tunnel and work your way north to intersect the trail you've already come down once before. Now run back to NCAR and try not to puke.

I said "Go" and we took off. I always start at the front, just because I'm the starter, but I quickly drift to near the very back. Danny was just in front of me and Buzz soon was right behind me. My other friendly rival is Willie, but unfortunately, he arrived five minutes late and would be a chaser. I passed one scrambler as we headed up the Mallory Cave trail and then caught up to Tony on the Porch Alley climbing trail. Tony would throw in some fast bursts when the trail flattened out and I didn't have the fitness to move by. I hit the Front Porch about twenty seconds behind Danny, two seconds behind Tony, and Buzz right on my tail. We passed a few scramblers on the ascent and eventually moved by Tony. Danny, myself, and Buzz hit the top all within a couple seconds of each other and in that order.

A scrambler was just starting the descent and graciously stepped aside for us three. Danny takes this steep descent a bit higher than I do and I went low right at the crux and slipped on by. That move had me gap Buzz and I never saw him again. I sped down the descent and gapped Danny, with him cheering me on. Got to love that. I slipped a bit at the very bottom, worrying Danny a bit, but I was fine, with only a little abrasion on my palm. I sped down the loose trail as best I could and over the saddle down to the Mallory Cave Trail. Danny closed on me and I urged him by at a switchback, but we hit Sunnyside II right together.

I scrambled just a few seconds faster up this route and moved just ahead of Danny once again. I scrambled off the back and over to Hand and started up. Above me was Galen Burrell, who had started this stage like he was shot out of a cannon. Reports from spectators said that when he hit the steep climb up to the water tank he actually accelerated. His speed on the trails might be the fastest in the group, certainly rivaling Matthias, but his scrambling confidence is still evolving. I followed Galen for a bit and then he stepped aside for me at the crux. He also let Danny go by, making it harder for me to open a gap on him. At the summit I caught...someone. I was too oxygen starved to recognize who. It might have been Nikita. I scrambled down just ahead of that person and caught someone else, Max I think, at the tricky ramp section, with the tunnel alternatives. The ramp is serious, with a fifty foot cliff immediately to your left if you slip off that direction. The person in front of me took one look at it and then at my closing speed and said, "I'll let you go first." I flew down this ramp and that was the move that got me the key gap on Danny.

Once in the gully I was down the pine needles and then over onto the rib of rock. Here there was a slight traffic jam with Angela, Page, David, and Jon. I couldn't fall in line behind them, I had Danny behind me! I scrambled a bit further right (descender's right) and passed Jon and David and then when I had to come back left, I was able to slip by Page and Angela. In the gully between the Hand and Der Freischutz I found the dim light of the late afternoon a challenge, but I pushed and tried to increase my gap.

As I started up Der Freischutz with David right on me. Once the terrain opened up for easier passing David went by and I tried to keep up, failing. Max closed right on me and passed me just before the summit, but I slipped by him at the start of the descent. Max, Jon, and I were clogged up a bit behind David on the descent but it was only a few seconds, though it seems much longer when in the heat of the battle. 

On the ground for the last time I tried to keep David in sight on the descent. Max was right behind me and I asked a couple of times if he wanted to go by, but he demurred. We took the climber's trail down and intersected the Mallory Cave Trail not far behind David, but he'd pull away pretty quickly. Down at the switchback by Square Rock, Jon caught up and went by. Max stayed behind me until the uphill started to the Water Tank and he went by for good. I was running scared of Danny or Buzz catching me and nearly hurled on this climb, despite my pedestrian pace.

I ran down the switchbacks, seeing Brad, an early starter, ahead of me. On the flat section before the final climb up to the NCAR mesa I looked back up the switchbacks and saw no one. I felt I was safe from behind. No one could close that gap in the 2+ minutes I had left to go. I inched by Brad and urged him to come with me. I was barely able to run the steps up to the mesa and then had just 90 seconds or so to the finish. I was hurting, but still running along fine. After thirty seconds or so I heard footsteps and figured Brad was kicking things in, but then I heard "Sorry about this, Bill" and Galen flew by me. Nice. I had completely forgotten about him. Over this last section he had to going twice my speed. That's impressive.

I finished in 53:57, but the time wasn't that important. It rarely is, because the courses are frequently unique and I don't even know what is a good time. I was doing about 90 minutes when previewing so I figured I had a shot at breaking an hour and I did. Cool. But what really matters is how I did against my rivals and I was able to stay in front today. Once again, I caught and passed David and Jon and once again they passed me back. I love that give and take. Same thing happened with Galen and Max. Fun stuff. If I could only stay ahead of those guys...I'd, I still wouldn't be a contender. But I'd have a better chance of making the top ten.

Matthias won with an amazing time of 41:40. Will took second. Dylan smoked it and finished third. He ran up behind me as I was headed to Der Der Freischutz yelling, "I'm going to lap you, Bill!" But he didn't. He was just behind me when I turned off for the climb and he continued out to the finish. That means Matthias and Will did lap me, though. Stefan, out last week with a cold, finished a solid fourth.

In the field were some world-class alpinists and I think all of them beat me. Scott Bennett finished fifth and Jed Brown was sixth or so. Colin Simon, who last March soloed the Diamond, setting the FKT for a winter solo, was in the field as well and I'm not sure of his finishing position or his time as yet. 

Just a complete blast. We had a couple of photographers out there and hopefully we'll have some photos to share soon. Two stages to go!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tour de Flatirons - Stage 2

Chaos. That sums up tonight pretty well. Rangers, cops, DNFs, off route, and even a serious fall on rock for the first time ever.

My buddy Jeff V. was running on the Amphitheater trail around 4:30 p.m. and noticed rangers near the Amphitheater itself and even a police cruiser down at the trailhead. Did someone talk? I got there a bit later than I had hoped and recruited Ryan to run over there with me to check things out. We didn't see any official presence and I decided to go on with the stage, but we started in a few waves to make us less noticeable. Most of this route was well off trail and by the time we were coming down the First Flatiron we were spaced out nicely, of course.

Here was the course description:

We'll start down at the Baseline Trail at Chautauqua and follow that trail over to the Amphitheater Trail (slight descent to get to this trail, don't head up the Bluebell Trail, which you get to just before the descent to the Amphitheater Trail). Head up this trail for about two very hard minutes a nice climbers trail (not blocked by branches like one slightly lower) will go off to the left, just before the first really steep section of trail flattens out). Follow this to a talus field and go up there to get to a saddle just beyond a very prominent and cool tower. We are NOT climbing this tower.

Once at the saddle on the uphill side of the prominent tower, you must start scrambling and not hike up next to the ridge. This ridge seems very solid to me and I have not encountered any lose rock, but others have noticed a few loose blocks. This will be a no-pass section because it is very narrow. No one get pushy here, there are plenty of other places to pass. Stay on the obvious scrambling ridge until it ends.

Then head up towards the bottom of the Spy. You can scramble on rock slabs on the left or hike up terrain on the right. Either one is fine here, just make a beeline for the bottom of the Spy, which you'll clearly see above you. There is a steep wall before the last bit of the Spy. You can go over this any way you want, but it is easier to get over it on the left.

Scramble the Spy to the top and off to top back to the ground. Now hike up steep terrain directly adjacent to the First Flatiron. It is possible to get on the First Flatiron almost immediately and you can do this, but it is not recommended or required. The rock there is covered in lots of lichen and the climbing is a bit too dicey for a stage. So, hike up steep terrain to the normal North Ridge start. This should be pretty obvious and will be about 2-3 minutes of hard hiking above the Spy. Once on the First, follow the North Ridge to the summit. From there downclimb or rappel off the top.

Once off the First, head to nearly the very base of the Sunset Flatironette. There is an easy way to gain the rock just about ten feet up from the very bottom. Follow the obvious ridge to the very summit. This has outstanding scrambling and a couple of interesting sections where previewing might gain you a few seconds. (emphasis added post stage)

Downclimb off to the northeast, down the ridge. Once on the ground follow the First Flatiron Trail to the usual finish for the First Flatiron. You CANNOT cut any switchbacks. This trail is a total mess and we're not going to contribute to that. This stage will be towards the end of the daylight, but there could be many other hikers on this descent. Be cool and try to give the other hikers warning of your coming and/or a good berth around them. Some won't like our speed no matter how nice we are, but let's try to leave as good of an impression as we can.

The first group went off with the big guns, including Matthias, Will, and Ryan. Stefan was under the weather and sitting this one out. I hope he recovers fast and can join us. Also in the field was world-famous Anton Krupicka. He owns more than a few Flatiron speed records and would be a threat to win. Alas, despite Anton's amazing speed over short distances, his speciality is long courses, as he's probably still most famous for his 100-mile running prowess. Matthias is just possessed this year. It appears he not only wants to win this second Tour or even to win every stage, but to annihilate the field on each stage. His times are mind-boggling.

It was great to see a recovered Joe Grant back for stage two and doing very well up near the front. Speedsters Jed and Darren, who weren't at the first stage, made their presence known here, clocking very fast times. Newcomer Erik, in his first stage ever, finished in the top half, way in front of me.

The wave start did prevent me from mixing things up with two of my favorite scramblers to be around: Buzz and Jon Sargent, but I think those two mixed it up nicely.
Matthias with a gap near the top of the First Flatiron
Ali G, a newcomer to this year's Tour, but very fast (6th last week) fell off the lower section of the Gregory Ridge. He hurt his ankle in a fall of about four feet and had to limp back to the start, where it swelled up rather nastily. Will was right behind Ali at the time and offered his help, but Ali G told him to go on and that he was okay.

This was our first ever injury while on the rocks and he was lucky to limp away from it. I think we are all humble enough to know that this could happen to any of us. I just want to reiterate that these events, while so fun and so comfortable for us almost all the time, are quite dangerous and should never be taken lightly. You all know this and I'm not trying to be patronizing, as most of you are safer, better, stronger, better looking than me. Just want to use this opportunity to remind us all to always take care in tricky spots and always emphasize safety over speed. One of the best examples in our group, I believe, is David Glennon. This guy can flat-out fly! He won the 2015 Rattlesnake Ramble. He was 4th at Imogene this year. Footspeed-wise, he's the fastest guy in the Minions. Yet, he knows not to scramble like Matthias. He puts his fitness ego aside and takes the climbing at a speed that is always safe for him. I sometimes come across him in these stages and that's one of things I love about these events. They are so quirky that an average Joe like myself can come across an elite athlete like David in the midst of an event. That's only because these are NOT running events. These are scramble events. And it's a different, much more serious game. Remember the first rule of the Tour: No Dying. Dying gets you disqualified. From the Tour and from living the rest of your great life.

I started off dead last due to having to run back to my car. When I got back to the start one scrambling was waiting to start with me: Danny. He and I were very close in the last stage and he wanted to go head-to-head again. So cool! He seems to be a touch fitter than me and was in front of me all the way to the top of the First. I was able to move in front only because I rappelled and he downclimbed. Did he tell me at the finish that I had only beat him because I rappelled (which is undoubtedly true)? No, he did not.
This shows Angela rapping off the First Flatiron and you can see many scramblers in the background on the Sunset sunset.
When I caught some scramblers, everyone let me pass. Because I asked to pass? No! They offered me the pass and stepped aside. I love that about this group. Everyone does that. Everyone is trying to do their best, but they want everyone else to do their best. I'm going as hard as I can go to beat as many people as I can, but I will gladly step aside for anyone on my heels. I don't want to hold anyone back.

I caught Willie at the top of the First and we stayed together until near the top of the Sunset Flatironette where I got a slight lead (because David was super cool in letting me pass on the downclimb). I booked down the trail as fast as my geriatric legs and limited agility would allow. David passed me in about a minute. Willie caught me in another minute. I asked if he wanted to go by. He said no. After five minutes of him being on my heels I told him to go by. He refused. It was super fun running out with him, but I'm not sure I understand that. I'd have gone by! I ended up being 2 minutes faster than him because I started two minutes later, but who knows how much time he could have put on me if he went by. I suspect a tough battle with him in Stage 3, along with my real rival this Tour: Danny.

Once again we had three chick scramblers: Sonia, Sara, and Angela. What tough, fast ladies these are. I passed all three...barely. Inching by them, going about 0.1 mph faster. This group gives you a skewed view of reality. My bet is that they are faster than 95% of all climbers. I mean, this isn't the way most of the world climbs...

A bunch of people did not do the full course, including, maybe the winner. Here's the mistake a bunch of people made:

Obviously I'm disappointed that my directions were not clear enough. I'm not sure what else I could have done. I announced a preview of the course and you could have gone with me. I said in the description to start "ten feet from the very bottom of the rock". I posted a Strava track showing the correct route, which, when compared against an erroneous route, clearly shows the difference. I didn't mention the route "Going to the Sun" as this is the one of only two routes that I know of on the Sunset Flatironette. The other is a short, steep route on the west face. I do apologize to anyone that feels this wasn't sufficient. I want everyone to have a great time and I had no intention of leading anyone astray. That said, I do like to put somewhat of a premium on really knowing the Flatirons and getting to learn them and previewing the courses. I'll try to post a more detailed description for the next two stages (I don't think anyone needs directions for Stage 5), with photos. I've done that in the past and was just lazy this year. Sorry.

What to do? I've decided instead of marking these scramblers with a DNF, to add a time penalty. Danny went back up there and timed the difference of getting on the Sunset early vs. the bottom. For him it came up to almost exactly 3 minutes, so that's what I'm adding to anyone that didn't go to the bottom. Anyone disagreeing with this assessment can go measure the time difference for themselves and I'll adjust their time accordingly.

Looking forward to Stage 3. I'm hoping we have a stage with no injuries...

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Tour de Flatirons Kicks Off!

After an aborted first stage last week, due to torrential rain and lightning, the 2016 Tour de Flatirons officially started tonight and oh what a start it was! A full field (20+ is huge for the Tour) started from NCAR and headed out to link the Stairway to Heaven to Buckets on the Ameboid to the East Face South Side Route on the Fifth Flatiron.
The course: Stairway to Heaven to the Ameboid to the Fifth Flatiron
Start and finish at NCAR
At the start, speedster and Tour neophyte (he has competed in a few stages before) Galen Burrell went straight to the front. His dad, Buzz, one of the pioneers of speed scrambling, went straight to the back. I know from experience that I should be behind Buzz, as he'll eventually catch and pass me. A few years ago, he catch me, pass me, bury me, so I tried to always stay behind him at the start. Here, though I was a bit ahead of him. We're a lot closer in speed these days. I did notice as I labored up the water tank hill that only Brian, Sonja, Sara, and Buzz were behind me. A number of scramblers took off early, including Angela, Greg, and Adam, but I was definitely close to being the Lantern Rouge.

At the front was Galen and defending champion Matthias and they ran together to the base of Stairway to Heaven. At that point, Matthias dropped the hammer, went off the front, and absolutely annihilated the field. He made a very strong statement that he plans to repeat this year. The usual podium was broken by Will, so finish second and then Stefan took third. Stefan hasn't finished below second overall in the Tour in about a decade.
Defending champion Matthias Messner
Back at the tailend of the pack, I labored up Stairway, trying to keep Danny close. Behind me were Sonja and Brian, but I'd continue to put more space between me and them. Near the top of Stairway I could see Buzz closing on me, but some other scrambler was coming fast. Who could that be? It was Kyle, who started about five minutes later. He topped out right behind Danny and I. I led the way down the new, steep descent and Kyle did his descent further to the west. I think Danny balked on my way and went down the usual slab.

My fast descent and nailing the bushwhack to the Ameboid, with Kyle right on my heels, allowed me to leapfrog past a number of scramblers, including our sponsor the Imperial Grand Poobah of Sportiva, Jonathan Lantz. I nearly caught up to Jon Sargent and David Glennon. Jon saw and cried out, "Ack! Here comes Satan!" Not for long, I was so gassed. Going up Ameboid, I was passed by Kyle and maybe another scrambler, but the gap I got was rapidly closing.

I scrambled down the ground and nailed the bushwhack over to the Fifth. On my way over I heard cries of "Rock, Rock!" Apparently a scrambler (Matthias?) had trundled a large rock while descending the Fifth Flatiron. In the past we've given a 1-minute penalty to anyone that knocks off a rock that descends down the course. Stefan did this while scrambling Atalanta and assessed himself a 1-minute penalty. I didn't say this before the start, so no penalty this time (and it wouldn't have changed the order), but that's the rule going forward, so take note.
Trying to stay ahead of Buzz and Sonja on Stairway to Heaven
I got the base of the Fifth and there were a bunch of scramblers there. I started paddling up the face, taking my usual route on the far left. Many scramblers were to my right. I was really sucking wind here and Danny passed me, Buzz passed me, I think a few others too, including Nikita and Jonathan if they weren't already by me. I topped out right behind everyone, though. It was crowded on that final ridge with climbers going up and down, but everyone was cool and there were no problems.

I descended the Fifth rather quickly passing everyone near me, including Jon Sargent, who was ahead of me, but missed the south-side descent ramp. I too went too low, but only lost maybe 15 seconds. Jon lost at least 30 seconds. I reversed and took the ledge with Buzz about five feet behind me. I cruised the descent, hit the ground and descended the fastest I've done in years. Usually, with our historically smaller fields, I wasn't in the midst of so many scramblers near my speed. I had made great strides descending the Fifth and I wondered how long I could hold off these fitter, faster runners.

I nailed the descent all the way down the Mesa Trail, blasting past Galen Burrell (first time I've ever wrote that line! Probably the last time too). I didn't know that he had DNFed by skipping the Fifth, but I was coming down a lot faster. I touched down a couple of times, but did no damage. I was able to maintain my lead all the way down to the Mesa Trail, but just after I reached it, David Glennon comes cruising on by, complimenting my descending skills, while running about twice as fast as me. He quickly disappeared. Next to come by was Nikita, running strong. I was hurting bad here and barely caught and passed a couple of chicks out for a casual run with their dog. Ugh.

I then passed Joe Grant, limping badly and under the watchful eye of Jason Wells, who gets the award for most compassionate scrambler. Joe had hurt his foot and I hope he's okay and will be able to continue with the Tour. I dropped into Skunk Canyon and had to power hike out of it. Here Jon Sargent came running by me, complaining about the lack of aid stations. I sure could have used one.

I was running scared now. I'd lost three places since hitting the Mesa Trail. I got over the Water Tank Hill and ran down the other side, but looking over my shoulder saw Buzz just a little ways back! Ack! I thought Buzz didn't run downhill fast anymore. I just did my fastest descent in years and here's Buzz right on me. Dang it. I know he's a threat to me on the ascent, but thought he'd just take it easy on the descent. Wrong. I ran as hard as I dared, trying not to hurl, over to the last hill up to the NCAR Mesa and then power hiked up it, looking over my shoulder constantly. I got to the top just as Buzz started up the last steep section, only 20 seconds back or so. He had the class and the breath to call up, "Nice job, Bill!" I barely eked out a "You too", but I had no breath to spare and not sure it was even loud enough to be heard. I ran scared the last 90 seconds, prepared to sprint if necessary, but held Buzz off by 22 seconds.

I finished in 1:05:47, which really surprised me. I figured I'd do 1:20 to 1:30, but having so many scramblers around me for almost the entire stage was motivating and I pushed into the pain zone way more that I would on a solo time trial.

What a fun, painful time! Loved it!

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Little Bear

Strava - Approach - Garmin POS software won't upload it!

One of my favorite days on Colorado 14ers was when Mark, Loobster, and I traversed the ridges between Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingwood Point. Since Derek had never done these peaks before, we planned to give them a go over Labor Day. To make a clean sweep of the group, our plan was to bag nearby Lindsey before heading into Lake Como for the other three. Now what do they say about the “best laid plans”?

The “road” into Lake Como is infamous and notorious. I believe it is the toughest road to drive in Colorado. To get clear to the lake requires a speciality vehicle - no stock SUV has a chance. We had no designs on getting all the way to the lake but hoped to get near the first named obstacle, “Jaws I”. Our Land Cruiser should have been up to the task, but it wasn’t running great and had some trouble idling at 12,000 feet on our 10-4 adventure, and then on the Lake City 14ers trip, it got some tire damage had to be fixed. In talking with Mark about the best ways to address these short comings in the two days before Labor Day, he ended up offering me his significantly lifted FJ. He drove that FJ when we went in last time and got us very close to Jaws I. I hoped to do the same, after Lindsey.

We took off at 5:25 a.m. on Saturday from our house with Sheri driving, me riding shotgun and Derek comatose for most of the drive in the back. We got off I-25 at an exit with not a single building or sign or anything. We drove to the town of Gardner where we found out Gardner’s nearest gas station is 45 miles away. The drive into Lindsey from there was 22.5 miles, one way.  We had less than a quarter tank of gas.  Game over. I’d never made a mistake like that before. We’d have run out of gas before we could get anywhere near a gas station if we had climbed the peak. We headed further south to Fort Garland, the nearest gas and on the way to Lake Como.

After gassing up, we decided to just head into Lake Como and we could get Lindsey on the way home. I buzzed up the lower part of the road, which wasn’t technically challenging, just very bumpy as the roadbed consisted almost entirely of baby heads. Actually, they are more like adult heads. It’s a bumpy ride.

We buzzed up past the normal stopping point for regular 4WD (at least according to and caught up to a caravan of speciality vehicles. They were just stopped in the road, blocking all passage while one of their vehicles cooled off. As will become very obvious, I’m a neophyte when it comes to 4-wheeling and I was a bit surprised at their audacity. Maybe the culture surrounding 4-wheeling is that no one is ever in a hurry to get anywhere and stopping and blocking the road is acceptable social behavior. We weren’t in a big hurry, but I put on the parking brake and hiked up the road to the second vehicle in the train, with its hood propped up. I see lots of vehicles doing this whenever they stopped - they popped the hood so that the engine could cool down quicker. I asked the guys eyeing the engine how long we’d be stopped.  He replied, nicely, “Oh we’re ready to get going now. Are you the guy in the FJ?” I said yes and asked how he knew that. He said, “Our tail gunner has a radio.” It probably wasn’t me the tail gunner was talking about, since right behind their group and right in front of me was another FJ.
At Jaws II
We followed this group for awhile. At one switchback the FJ in front of us pulled off and I was now behind the trailing speciality vehicle, which was now being driven by a kid that looked to be 14. Sheri had already recommended that we pull over and stop twice when we rounded another switchback that had the lead vehicles going very slowly. We gave them some room so that we wouldn’t have to stop every few feet. I watched the vehicle in front of me spin all wheels and balk before clearing an obstacle. That should have been a warning to me, but I continued up, very steeply. A large rock forced me right, towards the edge of the road. Falling off this road would total the vehicle and likely kill everyone in it. That happened at the Jaws II obstacle and there is a plaque there memorializing the killed driver. I lost traction, spun the tires and slid further right, to the very edge. Yikes! I stopped.

I shut off the engine and got out. I had to turn the engine off because I had to leave the FJ in gear because the parking brake wasn’t sufficient to hold it on the slope. Things didn’t look good. We jammed some rocks behind and in front of the wheels, hoping to stop and drift backwards and to give us better traction going forward. The surface of the road was wet just under the first layer of dirt and the mud was slick. I got in and tried again. No dice. Too dangerous. Sheri and Derek went up the road to see if there was a place to park or turn around. I got out the control cable for the winch.
Hiking the road into Lake Como
When I picked up the FJ from Mark, he immediately started telling me how to work the winch. I almost stopped him because I had no interest in doing anything with his truck where I’d get it stuck and would need a winch. I needed the winch now, as I feared I might lose the entire truck. I opened the back and some of our gear fell out onto me, as the road was so steep. I dug out the control and plugged it in at the front of the vehicle. I showed Derek which buttons to push and I pulled out the cable until I could wrap it around a 5” diameter root thirty feet up the road on the left side. I got back in to drive and Derek worked the winch. We had to go forward, even if we eventually wanted to back down the road. If we went backward even a few inches, we’d lose a tire over the edge and that would be the end of it.

Derek tightened up the winch and I could see the root flexing. I gunned the engine, but my tires just spun and smoked a bit. The root flexed even more. I feared it busting and rocketing toward me, smashing the windshield or hitting Derek. I told him to stop.
Little Bear
We re-assessed. A large tree was way up the road. I wondered how long the winch cable was and we decided to pull it all out. I was afraid to leave the truck unattended now. I kept my foot on the brake and the handbrake fully engaged. I asked Sheri if she would take over holding the brakes while I set up the winch. Her response, “I’m not getting anywhere near that truck.”

Sheri worked the winch control while I kept the truck on the road. When we previously pulled out the cable, it had bound up, pinched between coils. I had to tie a loop in it and jump on it with my foot to free it. Now Derek had to do the same. With the entire cable out, we couldn’t reach the tree. Dang. Then I realized that there was a sizable tree up the slope to the left. It was at a 50-degree angle to the road, but at least it would be pulling us away from the edge. Derek took it up there and wrapped the cable around the 14” diameter trunk. Now we had a firm anchor and the winch did its job pulling us away from the edge. I was able to then maneuver the FJ away from the edge and straighten it out. We were then in fine shape, but my confidence was shaken enough where it took me a moment to tell Derek to remove the cable from the tree. At least with the cable I knew I wasn’t going over the edge.
Derek at camp
With Sheri and Derek helping to guide me past large rocks and the edge, I backed down the steep slope to the switchback, where I was able to make a 4-point turn and head further down facing forward. Derek and Sheri walked down while I drove. With the FJ in 1st gear of 4WD low, it wouldn’t even roll down the hill. I had to give it gas. I shifted to second gear and still had to give it a little gas, but I didn’t have to touch the brakes. I got down to the next switchback where I was able to wedge it into a parking position off the road, next to another vehicle. Whew! I was never so glad to be parked.

We took awhile to pack our backpacks and then headed up the steep road again, this time on foot. It took us 45 minutes or so to get up to Jaws I, hiking casually. Just as we got there a trio of vehicles arrived and we stopped to watch the action. This is a serious obstacle and each vehicle went over it with a spotter directing him minutely. We documented it with our cameras. After the second vehicle got by we continued hiking and stopped again at Jaws II, the site of the fatal accident, to wait for the 4x4’s. There are two ways to do this obstacle. The hardest and safest is to be hard against the inside wall, but the jeep then gets tilted up at nearly a 45-degree angle. The lead jeep tried this ten times and couldn’t make it happen. He kept sliding to the left. In trying to position himself, his tires would get to the very edge of the road. He didn’t seem that worried. I was, just watching. He eventually gave up and went left, against the edge of the road. There is a key rock there and once he got his left tire positioned just right, and it had to be just right - within an inch or two - then he cruised up it no problem.
Our camp
We spent nearly an hour all told waiting and watching these jeeps, but it was interesting to us. Sheri eventually got bored and hiked up to Lake Como where she waited for us. We regrouped there and headed up higher to a great spot we knew from the last time we’d camped there. Surprisingly, it was still open and we set up camp. Sheri had brought in the newspaper and she read it while Derek and I reviewed our usual memory games: naming all the U.S. Presidents (44) and all the named elements (112). We ate a couple of the Mountain House dinners that we carried down from Denali and then retired to the tents at 7:30 to read and sleep.

My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and I started the stove for a cappuccino and to make Derek an eggs and hash brown dehydrated breakfast. Derek and I were off at 6:15 a.m. We waited that long on purpose so that we could go sans headlamps.
Traversing to the Bowling Alley in the fog
Going up the initial gully on the regular route up Little Bear, we passed five people. On the traverse to the bowling alley we passed six more. We were in a dense fog and once we passed people it wasn't long before we could no longer see them. We couldn’t see more than a hundred feet ahead and it made it difficult to determine the route, though we did find cairns to direct us. At the base of the fixed lines, we caught another party of three, and just above them was a party of four that were bailing. The lines were soaked and the slope was running with water. With the steep rock, the obscuring fog, and the soaked conditions, I didn’t blame them at all for turning back. Yet we continued.

We had no problems getting up the lines and then moving left onto drier rock. This got us a bit off route, though we weren’t that sure because of the fog. I climbed us into a dead end on a precarious ridge with death falls on either side and vertical, soaked rock above. We retreated back down fifty feet and traversed hard to our right, regaining the route. We thought we were the only ones on the upper mountain at that point, but on the summit we found three climbers huddled in an alcove, hoping to do the traverse, but waiting for the weather to clear.
Starting the traverse
We tagged the top and then continued right into the traverse. The only time I had done this traverse I had climbed up nasty verglas to get to the summit of Little Bear and then found the traverse to be bone dry. I expected it to be dry again, though I don’t know why. We were in a cloud.

This traverse is spectacular - extremely exposed, 4th class, but with near constant death fall potential. We started off okay, but then it was so wet that I couldn’t trust my feet, certainly not with my life and I made sure I had a secure handhold at all times. We went right over an intimidating gendarme and then it started to spit, part snow, part rain, part sleet. I called a halt to don our shells and to re-assess. We were climbing in gloves, which were now soaked, freezing our hands. The clouds rolled by with impressive speed. We could see a long way to the south, down to the town of Blanca or Alamosa, but we never saw Blanca or Ellingwood Point or more than a hundred feet along our traverse. To our right was solid fog. To our left, down to the basin where we camped, we could generally see to the ground, but not much along our ridge. We stood there for 25 minutes with nothing improving. Cold now, I called it off. It would have been very stressful for me to do this with a regular climbing partner, but with my 18-year-old son wearing running shoes, it would have been so stressful as to make me sick with fear. It wasn’t worth it. It was too dangerous. We retreated, passing the other three who were starting across, though one in their party looked way over his head. I don’t know if they made it, but I hope they turned around.
Retreating back to camp
We carefully climbed back to the summit and found three other climbers there. They had planned on the traverse as well but had already aborted. Good call. We should have done that. We carefully descended the wet route and passed two other parties, one of three or four and another of just two climbers. Our hands were still very cold and we descended mostly with balled-up fists. At least until we got to the fixed lines and used the ropes, despite soaking and freezing our hands further. Once down these and off to the side a bit, we were out of any rockfall danger and our hands slowly warmed up.

We reversed all the way back to camp, and the weather on top of the peaks stayed the same - socked in, windy, cold. We initiated a rockfall descending the final gully, though neither of us were standing on the rocks when they went. We must have loosened them and they went 20 seconds later. They didn’t hit us and no one was below, but they went down an impressive distance.

As we crossed the final talus slope we met a couple going up with a small Husky. The dog was in a climbing harness and they carried a rope to belay the dog to the top. People are crazy… The dog walked so quietly, like a cat.
Descending the final loose gully to camp
At camp, as expected, Sheri wasn’t there. The plan was for her to meet us at the saddle between Blanca and Ellingwood Point at 10:30 a.m. I figured we’d take two hours to do Little Bear (it took us 1h40m) and then two hours for the traverse (we aborted but spent 45 minutes going out, waiting and coming back). Derek stayed in camp, but I immediately headed up in search of Sheri.

I was casually hiking up the trail when I caught a group of five. I said hello and we exchanged pleasantries. Then one of the guys says to me “What kind of pants are those?” I immediately cringed. I was wearing my Dwight-Schute-mustard-colored Prana pants, a respectable climbing pant but one that seemed to clash massively with every shirt I owned. It wasn’t just that, though.

The only time another guy had ever made a comment about the pants I was wearing was when I met Chris Weidner and Alex Honnold in Eldo to climb the Diving Board. That morning I was just supposed to be climbing with Chris when the night before he called and asked if it was okay if Alex came along. Hmmm, is it okay for the most famous climber in the world to join us…Yeah, that will be fine. I was leaving for Europe to climb the Eiger with Homie in just a week and I had gone to REI and spent an hour searching for just the right summer alpine rock climbing pants. I found just the pair, a two-tone brown/black, tough, water-resistant pair and I wore them that morning, to test them out. When I jumped out of my car, all excited to climb with these famous climbers, Alex took one look at me and said, “What the heck are you wearing?! Are those waders?” I was immediately crestfallen. My prized Eiger pants immediately denigrated to fishing pants.
Sheri hiking out from Lake Como
Hence, when asked about my pants, I was thinking “They are ugly and this guy is telling me so.” I answered sheepishly, “Ah, I think they are Prana pants.” The girl next to him then said, “Prana makes the best pants for men.” I then said, “But the color is so ugly,” and she said, “I like the color.” Well, that didn’t go as expected.

A little further along, before I really started to climb, I spotted a blue rainshell-shod woman descending. I recognized the gait right away. It was Sheri. She didn’t notice me and stopped on a rock to rest and drink, but only to delay getting back to camp and not finding us there. She had hiked up to the saddle and immediately froze, so she couldn’t wait for us. She descended very afraid for us, hoping we hadn’t tried the traverse. She didn’t want to return to camp and just sit there worrying, so she delayed. Then she spotted me. She hugged me and said, “I’m so glad you didn’t do the traverse!”

We hiked back to camp and told her about our climb and she told me about her morning. Back at camp, Derek gave his version. The conditions were still chilly and we were indecisive about what to do next. I didn’t have a strong opinion either way, as I’d done all the peaks. Derek wanted all the 14ers, of course, but he really wanted that traverse and knew he’d have to come back for it. Hence, he didn’t need the peaks now. We decided to get warm in the tent for a bit and see if the weather would improve.

We did crossword puzzles, drank hot drinks and napped a bit, as extremely powerful thunder rocked the skies above and hail started to pelt the tent. We snoozed some more. At 2:30 p.m. we finally swung into action. We decided to pack up and hike out. The hike out went smooth and we found our FJ waiting for us. By the time we drove down the road, we were out of mountain mode and decided to drive home and relax watching tennis on Labor Day.

The trip wasn’t a rousing success and in fact was marked more by driving incompetence than anything, but Derek did climb one of the harder 14ers and his total now stands at 41. Seventeen to go.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Petit Grepon and Pen Knife with Derek

Derek on top of the Pen Knife with the Petit Grepon in the background

Derek's evolution as a climber continues. Seeing reports from Kyle and Cordis of climbing the Sharkstooth in Rocky Mountain National Park, Derek told me, "I think this should be next for me." Derek really hadn't done any alpine rock climbing before. We'd recently done the Keyhole Ridge and Kiener's Route on Longs Peak, but the climbing there is minimal and easy. We'd done the Grand Teton, Gannet, and Granite, but again, the rock climbing was easy. The toughest climb he'd done was the Durrance Route on Devil's Tower and he did that when he was thirteen. While he's climbed hard in the gym (11d), he hadn't even explored the more classic routes in Eldorado Canyon. But the Sharkstooth wouldn't be sufficient. I decided we'd go climb the uber classic South Face of the Petit Grepon, and then possibly tack on the Sharkstooth afterwards.
Derek in his college dorm. He starts classes at CU's Engineering school on Monday
Derek had moved into his dorm at CU the Tuesday night before and I picked him up outside of Kittredge Central at 4 a.m. I brought him a pack and a bag of clothes and we drove to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and were hiking by 5:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes into the approach we passed a party of four headed to Zowie. I'd climbed the spire many years ago with the Trashman. I should do that again. On our way out we saw climbers near the summit of Zowie and I wondered if it was this same party.

Besides these four the only other people we saw on the 4.5-mile hike into Sky Pond were three guys in sleeping bags directly on the rock-stepped trail! We had to go off-trail to get by them. They didn't seem to even have pads and they were sleeping in a particularly awful spot with much better locations just a hundred yards lower. Bizarre.
Derek climbing on the Petit
At the lake we ran into a team wearing harnesses and helmets. I assumed they bivied up there, since they were geared up so far below the route, but they had hiked in. We found out later that they were headed for the Southwest Corner, but at the time I thought they were competition for our route. I didn't worry much about it, though. We weren't in a hurry and hopefully everyone would play nice.

As we hiked up to the base we spotted a party on the second pitch, high enough where they shouldn't be an issue. We geared at the very base of the South Face and I ran out all the rope and about fifty feet more to gain the very top of the first grassy ledge, with Derek simul-climbing below me. I didn't want to do much of that because Derek hadn't done much rock climbing all year, but it made sense here and I wanted to establish our position on the route. The two climbers we had seen at the lake had climbed up talus to our left and I wondered if they were trying to jump ahead by skipping the first pitch. I needn't have worried.
Derek just above the crux on the Petit Grepon
Derek followed nicely and I led another super long pitch that required about thirty feet of simul-climbing from Derek. I caught the party above us halfway through it and followed the second to the second big ledge above. This party was led by Spencer, a local transplant from New York, and his buddy Ken, who was out for a week of climbing from New York. They were cool and offered to let us pass a couple of times, but I declined, as they weren't holding us up and I didn't want Derek to feel rushed.

Despite the sun shining on us, it was chilly. Derek was completely climbing with his gloves on, as a chilly wind kept me in my pile sweater. I wore my gloves for the first pitch and the first half of the second pitch, but took them off for the steep 5.7 climbing.

The third pitch (for us) was 5.6 and not very long and we joined Ken and Spencer at the sloping belay below the crux pitch. Once again, they urged us to take the lead, but Spencer was leading at a reasonable clip and it wasn't a good place to pass. They took the 5.8 start that leads right off the belay and then back left. When it was my turn I went straight up, via a couple of 5.9 moves. Once I got footwork down, it seemed quite casual, but Derek noted this as the definite crux due to the flat, smooth holds. The climbing on this pitch is stellar: steep, well-protected, interesting. The normal crux is a couple of slippery crack moves with tricky feet. Both Derek and I solved this nicely, but Ken was left hanging from the rope.
Looking up the ultra-classic and very steep last pitch on the Petit Grepon
Derek and I took a break on the big ledge above and let Ken and Spencer get some distance above us. Spencer didn't find the Pizza Pan belay stance (difficult to find, as it's just around the corner to the left on the very arete), so I started up knowing I'd have that belay to myself. When I got there I felt the full force of the wind. I quickly put my gloves back on to belay. Derek joined me at the very crowded stance, but I was soon away. I met Ken, still belaying, just thirty feet higher. Spencer was nearly done with the pitch, but I knew Derek would be getting cold at the belay and decided to continue, doing my best to keep our rope separated from Ken's. They were fine with me doing this and it caused no problems.

I belayed in a sheltered, sunny spot just below the summit ridge. I watched Ken struggled and fail to remove two stoppers that Spencer had placed. He cursed stoppers and left them behind. Derek, following ten minutes later, removed both. The first in just a few seconds and the second one probably took him a minute. We returned them at the summit.
Derek approaching the Pizza Pan belay
The last pitch is airy, but easy and we were soon on top taking photos. Ken and Spencer took awhile setting up their rappel and getting down. In my experience this is where the speed difference is greatest among climbers. Some parties can take thirty minutes to do a rappel I can do in five minutes. Ken and Spencer weren't too slow, but I've witnessed some truly glacial rappelling on the Grand Teton.

Spencer offered us of his rappel line to us and we took it. I went down first, as Derek didn't know where we were going. Ken and Spencer were rappelling back to the base and they had double ropes, so their ropes didn't go to the notch we wanted. I was able to flip the ropes around the corner and safely make the notch. I put in a large cam here, clipped in, and clipped the rappel lines in as well. When Derek was halfway down and on the wrong side of the arete he called down to me, quite casually, "I assume you're giving me a fireman's belay." I was indeed, as this was a bit of an advanced rappel.
Derek belaying from the Pizza Pan
Once down we yelled down our thanks and I led off from the notch, not to the second rappel anchor, but up the loose, lichen-covered 5.6 pitch to the top of the Pen Knife. I did this for the first time with Mark Oveson just a couple of years ago and it's a striking summit when viewed from the notch between the Saber and Sharkstooth. In fact, it obscures any view of the Petit from there.
Derek nearing the top of the penultimate pitch on the Petit
On the summit we heard a yell from the party that had just descended from the Sharkstooth: "What's your phone number? I'll send you a photo of you on top!" Cool. Derek yelled it back. Then a party way over on the Northeast Ridge yelled at us to exchange photos. I yelled my number back and took some photos of them. We've yet to hear from either party.
Derek about to top out on the Petit
We rapped off and were grateful to be removing our shoes. We hadn't had much to drink or eat since leaving the car. I wasn't that thirsty or hungry on the climb. We could have eaten more, but we didn't. Here we finally ate and relaxed. We decided that was enough climbing for today and passed on an ascent of the Sharkstooth. We took the hike out nice and easy and enjoyed the incredible beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. Derek seemed energized to explore more of this vast park. Nearly his only experience with the park has been the Longs Peak area. Time for new vistas.

Derek standing on the tiny summit of the Pen Knife