We drove twenty miles off I-70 into the northern part of the San Rafael Swell, out to a small, primitive, 8-site campground in the middle of nowhere. The most striking climbing objective here is Bottleneck Peak, whose easiest route is a 5.11 fist crack through a roof. That wasn’t on our list for this trip. We were interested in Assembly Hall (5.10) and Window Blind Peak (5.7).
|Our camp in the Swell|
After selecting a campsite and throwing up our tents, we wandered over to chat up the only other people in the campground, an older couple. They noticed our plates and asked where in Colorado we were from. When I responded with “Boulder area”, they asked, “Do you know Max and Charlie Nuttelman?” I couldn’t believe it. “Yes,” I said, “Charlie happens to be my main climbing partner this year.” And then he said, “Are you Bill?” Crazy. In the middle of nowhere. This was Jeff and Sandy, good friends of the Nuttelmans and they related the news of Max’s son being born just the day before. Cool.
The next morning it was chilly and our route lay in the shade, so Homie and I let the boys sleep a bit. They boys are prodigious sleepers. After we got home from this trip, Derek would sleep 13 hours one night! That’s amazing to me, but Arthur slept 16 hours! That’s nearly the equivalent of three nights’ sleep for me! I guess that’s when kids do the most growing. Apparently Arthur is going to be seven feet tall.
|Scrambling up the bowl above the first 5.10 pitch, headed for the second one.|
Locked and loaded, we hiked cross-country towards the main bowl on the north side of the peak. Scrambling up a wash and passing a short cliff band with the help of a fixed line, we arrived at the base of the route. A steep, short cliff barred access to the upper 2nd and 3rd class bowl. Two cracks on the right, rated at 5.10, allowed us to gain the upper bowl. The cracks protected well and were slightly less than vertical. I figured it would be cruiser climbing, but they were an awkward width and the rock was extremely sandy. I’m fine with a 5.10- rating here, but after Homie climbed it clean he said, “That can’t be 5.10. I can’t climb 5.10.” Arthur took a fall following it, but he’s very new to crack climbing. Still, it couldn’t have been that easy. Derek got this pitch clean as well.
|Homie and Arthur on the main summit|
We scrambled hundreds of feet up to the upper headwall, where a bolt-protected 5.10 pitch awaited. There were six bolts (the seventh is a belay bolt) on this 130-foot pitch, so it would be massively runout if that’s all the gear you used. I carried a substantial rack and was able to get in more gear, though lots of it in questionable rock. This is sandy, adventure climbing.
I picked my way up the pitch carefully and found at these two sections pretty challenging. I set up a belay in broken, scrambling terrain above. Arthur and then Homie came up next, both utilizing the gear as handholds. This is well within Arthur’s free climbing ability, but the climbing is strange and the rock quality so suspect that he didn’t want to risk a fall. Derek tried to free the pitch and nearly did. He took just one fall and didn’t pull on any gear.
We were able to scramble the remaining distance to the main summit, where we found a summit register. Much to Arthur’s dismay, though, this wasn’t the highest summit and with Homie the highest summit isn’t just a bonus, it’s a requirement. We traversed the plateau to the southern end and I fixed a rope so that we could rappel down into the notch. It wasn’t obvious how we were going to return, as the rappel was overhanging and the climbing looked difficult and dangerous. We had one ascender with us and could use a prussic knot if required.
|Arthur rappelling into the notch between the summits|
From the notch we climbed a short, very loose cliff and then found a secret passage up to the summit. We relaxed here, enjoying the view and snacking. We reversed back to the notch and I roped up to lead us out of there. My first thought proved too difficult and dangerous and I traversed right on easier and more solid rock. I gained a ledge and found a short squeeze chimney on the right that allowed secure, if physical, climbing back to the main summit. I was impressed how well the others did with their squeeze technique.
|Derek on the highest summit with Window Blind Peak in the background|
We scrambled back down to the top of the 5.10 headwall and found rappel anchors off toe west. A double rope rappel put us back at the base of the wall. We scrambled down to the two-bolt anchor atop the first wall and were soon back on the ground, eating again.
|Belaying the others back to the main summit|
Just before we arrived back at camp, we went by a sizable sandstone boulder. Arthur is on the climbing team at the Denver Movement gym and had been primarily bouldering for training, hence he couldn’t resist trying a few problems. The rock quality was suspect, but we found and did four unique problems to the summit, ranging from 5.2 to probably V2. It was a great way to end the day and there was lots of laughing going on as we all demonstrated our heels hooks and drop knees. Even Homie topped out the boulder.
|Homie squeezing back to the main summit|
|Derek doing the same|