Sunday, May 06, 2012

First Flatiron with the Koskis

Photos Map

Today I took my sister's entire family up the First Flatiron. Sheri and Derek came along as well and proved quite valuable in helping out with the climbing. I decided on the First Flatiron as an objective since it is so iconic and it would be cool for them to say that they'd climbed it, as it is so visible from all over Boulder. The problem was our group was large: eight people. And we only had one climbing leader: me. So, I opted for the shortest route on the rock, which is the 5.4 Southwest Face, the usual downclimb off the First, if you are soloing it. This involves a pretty long hike, gaining about 1500 vertical feet, but everyone was a strong hiker and there were no complaints as we chatted up the trail.

At the base, everyone put on a harness. I have tons of harnesses and everyone got a reasonable fit except for Sami, but she was a trooper and didn't complain at all. It fit good enough to be safe, though not perfectly comfortable as her leg loops were too big and sagged down.

I only brought two 60-meter ropes, as more would be too much of a pain, but it did require a bit of simul-seconding (more than one second climbing at the same time on the same rope) for our first-time climbers. Also, this face was taller than I remembered and with the downclimb tree gone the route is longer and traverses more. I had to break up the route into three pitches to minimize the simul-seconding and this made for a very cramped first belay. I had climbers strewn all over the rock, some clipped into my anchor and others just clipped into other climbers, who were in turn clipped into the anchor.

First up was Gabi and she did remarkably well. I expected her to be the most afraid of the three girls, but she was probably the least afraid! She was very relaxed and climbed extremely well. Next up was Sami, who is generally the most fearless of the girls and she seemed pretty nonplussed by the climbing. The youngest, Missa, 12 years old, came next with Derek close behind to give any guidance. That took care of one rope and Derek dragged up the second rope behind him. On it were Kraig, carrying a pack with drinks and food that we never used due to a cold wind blowing, Brookie, and Sheri. Everyone had some trouble at a particularly awkward step around section where you had to cram yourself into a crack or swing out onto a face without much for footholds. Only Derek and I took the latter option while the others opted for the more secure but awkward crack. Kraig had it particularly tough with the pack, but he never complained and got through this section with hardly a pause. Sheri also did very well, but she is quite experienced with roped climbing.

While climbing the face we did have five people downclimb past us, including my friend Kirk. They were all cool and waited on us somewhat and climbed by carefully and watchful of our newbie climbers.

I dashed up the second pitch to an big eye-bolt anchor and a lot more space. This pitch was mostly easier, though steeper and airier, but it did have a hard section at the start that gave some of the girls some pause, but none more than Brookie. She was really second guessing her decision to do the climb and called for more tension on the rope. The problem was that she was tied to Kraig above, and he wasn't at my belay yet. He knew the score and hung on particularly hard, bracing for Brook to possibly weight the rope. I had them both on belay, but Kraig would have been pulled off the rock and sideways a bit if Brook had really fallen off. Thankfully she got it together and moved up, allowing Kraig to reach the safety of the eye-bolt and me to put Brook directly on belay.

Brook then made it the rest of the way without much trouble. Everyone shivered at the belay, as we were all in shorts and all wishing we had long pants...and down jackets! Sheri climbed so fast that Brook commented on the rate at which I pulled in rope but thankful that we'd be moving soon.

I led up to the summit, up the final steep headwall and they followed one by one. Here I could put some direct tension on each climber as they were close to me and directly below me. Everyone did great, though Missa took one look at the wall and said, "That's impossible to climb." And she did it. Derek and Kraig cruised it easily, like they had it wired, but neither climbed it before. Kraig had been climbing with me a couple of times before, but long ago, and Derek had even climbed the First Flatiron twice before, but by different routes. So Derek has now climbed the First Flatiron by three different routes. Sheri easily climbed the last section, looking very relaxed. She has climbed quite a bit but the last time was a couple of years ago.

After photos on top, it was time to lower everyone 100 feet down to the ground. Derek went first to demonstrate to everyone the proper technique. Sami went next and started absolutely perfectly, without any fanfare, but lower down she got to a tiny ledge and stood on it. Now she had to lean back all over again and it was tougher now because she wasn't as close to me. She sucked it up, though, and set a great example for the rest of her family.

Missa was next and she also did great at the start, but then had a moment lower down where she got frightened for just a bit. Descending is frequently the scariest part of climbing and it was for all the girls, but with good reason. Leaning back on a rope over a 100-foot drop is so unnatural that the body and mind rebel against it. I was so impressed how quickly they all went over the edge and how well they all did on the climb in general.

Kraig went next and it was routine and easy for him. I expected Brook to be the toughest, but she did amazingly well. She was completely composed and, while maybe not exactly relaxed, very much in control. Getting lowered like this is the ultimate act of trust in the person on the other end of the rope. I was glad they all trusted me enough to get them down safely. Sheri descended easily, as she has done this quite a few times before.

I packed up the second rope and the gear and then rappelled to the ground. We had a great time hiking out, chatting as we went. I think the first Koski Klimb went well and hope to do a few more of these throughout the summer, though possibly with more support climbers or break up into two separate groups.
What a great group. The weather was cold and windy the entire time, but there was no whining, no complaining. The climbing was steep, scary and new to them, but there was no freezing up, no requests to go down. Everyone was super positive and super pleasant! It was one of my favorite days in the Flatirons. Love it!

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