Sunday, December 30, 2018

Winter Flatiron Top Ten

Danny Gilbert taking a breather high on the First Flatiron around 7:30 p.m.

Roach's Top Ten Flatiron climbs hasn't attracted a lot of attention, but it should. Though one could argue over the choice of the routes, this collection is high quality, varied, and spread nicely along the entire length of the Flatirons. Doing them all in a day is daunting. I have no idea how often it's been done, but all of the ascents that I know about was documented in this trip report by Danny Gilbert. Most of the time it's done as a point-to-point (and for some reason almost always strictly north to south) to avoid the 6-mile hike back to the start. Danny upped the ante the first time he did the Top Ten and finished where he started. Darren Smith followed suit and set the FKT in 6h28m.

A long time ago (10+ years, I think, I need to find that trip report) I tried the Top Ten, alone, in January and, after scaring myself silly when my rope got stuck on the North Face of the Maiden, decided not to solo, for the first time, the North Face of the Matron. Hence, I only got nine done. Cleaning that up had been in the back of my mind ever since.
Danny high on the first section of the Fatiron. 
Doing the Top Ten in winter is harder than you might first imagine. First, because it must be done in late December or January. February and March are out because the Third Flatiron closes after January 31st. So, you're pretty much guaranteed a cold, dark day. My good friend Danny Gilbert and I made it a goal of ours this year and then didn't get it done in January. The first few days of winter were semi-reasonable temperatures but family commitments precluded us from giving it a go until the 29th, which happened to be the coldest day of the winter season.

I'm known among my partners for being particularly wimpy in cold weather. So, what am I doing trying this? I can't explain that sufficiently even to myself except that it's a challenge. I aspire to climb big mountains and it's cold up there, so I better train for it, right? But, still, I'm not suited to it. My hands and feet have poor circulation and I need good gear to survive and still suffer. Danny knew this and still wanted to team up with me. I might not be the worst partner for this, since I know the climbs pretty well, but I'm a long way from being the best. Maybe he needed more of a challenge himself. Layton Kor, one of my climbing heros, was famous for doing first ascents of very difficult routes, with neophyte partners. He succeeded not because of his companions, but in spite of them. This is basically what Danny did.

Rapping down off the Maiden
The night before the weather forecast was for 13 degrees the next morning and not rising about 15 degrees for hours. My son Derek, who had been interested, said he was out. I sent a text to Danny telling him about our doubts. His response: "We can do it!" No easy way for me to back out. When I arrived at Chautauqua Park the next morning it was 8 degrees. I figured we'd just be going for a long hike. Danny really wanted to at least give it a try this year (since it was on our list of goals) and if we failed, we'd just try again in January.

I wore my Keen Mountain boots - soft-soled, warm boots that I used to climb Aconcagua - and would change into freezing climbing shoes at the base of each route. Danny did the entire day in his scramblers. With my wimpy feet that wasn't an option for me. I brought a down jacket and wore it most of the day. I brought big down mitts and wore them at the start and whenever I needed to warm up my hands, which was frequent.

Our plan was to close the loop - to start and finish at Chautauqua. Why make it harder? Danny. We planned to climb up each route, which sounds obvious, but frequently people do this link by climbing down Stairway to Heaven because it climbs south to north. Why make it harder? Danny.
Danny leading the first pitch on the Matron
 So, we started by hiking about six miles south to the Fatiron, which is east facing and we hoped it would be climbable by the time we got there. This allowed us to hike during the dark and the coldest part of the day. We chatted non-stop and just hiked. We were carrying two 30-meter 7.8mm ropes, a rack of five cams and five slings, harnesses, belay/rappel devices, food, two liters of water. I wore a 30-liter pack to give me room to carry my huge boots when necessary. We were not going light. It was too cold to go light for 12+ hours.

We navigated well and arrived at the Fatiron after 1h35m. I switched into my climbing shoes, kept on my down jacket and we scrambled upwards on great, dry rock and in the sun, though it was still very cold. At the top of the first section we set up a rappel from the anchors and I went first and noticed that the ropes didn't reach. The terrain at the end of this rappel is very overhanging and the ends just dangled. We moved the rappel down to a horn near the edge of the overhang and it worked great.

At the top of the Fatiron we experienced very strong, biting wind. We'd meet these conditions on the top of each route and it would be so brutal at times that we questioned whether we could continue. Each time we'd arrive back on the ground in a miserable state. I'd switch back to my boots, pull on my down mitts and we'd hike on, and each time, we had recovered enough by the time we got to the next climb to head up once again.

We made the short but complex hike/scramble over to the Maiden and Danny discovered that movement in his scramblers without Microspikes was not only slow, but dangerous. He'd wear them continuously (not on the climbs, of course) for the rest of the day. We roped up for the Maiden, as we would on the Matron, the Backporch, West Chimney, and Friday's Folly. We soloed the rest: Fatiron, Pellaea, Stairway to Heaven, First and Third Flatirons.

Me nearing the crux of the Pellaea
I led and we simul-climbed from the start over to the East Ridge. We both stopped enroute at the Crow's Nest to ditch our packs. Danny had to stop a couple of times as we traversed the north face in order to warm his hands. We both climbed in light pile gloves and conditions here in the shade of the North Face, with temperatures still below 20 degrees and winds about 30 mph, were nasty to say the least. Danny worried if he was forcing me to stop in a bad position, but before each tricky section I'd make sure I had enough slack to continue to the next rest stance. I was out of slings at the belay on the east ridge and stopped there. I was surprised to hear moans of pain from Danny wafting around the corner. I was gratified by it, somewhat, though. At least I wasn't the only one suffering. From previous experience on winter 14ers with Danny, I'd have thought if Danny was in pain from the cold, I'd have already been left for dead.

When Danny joined me on the ledge, I ran the rope up to the top while Danny suffered the screaming barfies as his hands thawed. At the top the wind was ripping and it was desperately cold. I pulled my down mitts out of my pockets and pulled then on while we set up the rappel. Danny went down first and barely made the Crow's Nest because the our purple rope got blown around the rock and got stuck. He got down, but couldn't free it. I'd have to do it.

Just dropping off the top of the Maiden was scary because my hands were nearly numb. I wore just my pile gloves in case I had to manipulate something. I rapped down until I was the furthest from the rock - probably thirty feet away from it, getting blown around in the wind. I wrapped the rope around my leg three or four times and then hauled myself down the rock via the stuck purple rope. Just before I got to the rock the rope pulled free and I swung wildly away, spinning 170 feet off the ground. I was penduluming so far out to the side, that I didn't think I'd hit the Crow's Nest, but Danny was able to pull me in when he grabbed the ends of the ropes.

Me climbing up Stairway to Heaven
The next rappel went a lot smoother and we rapidly warmed up once on the ground and out of the wind. On the climb, I thought we had to abort, but now back on the ground, I was at least willing to hike over to the Matron. We descended down to the bridge trail and took that over to Shadow Canyon. We dropped some weight just off the Shadow Canyon Trail and headed up to the Matron. It was Danny's turn to lead and he did a great job. We simul-climbed the 3 or 4 pitches in one and met our nemesis, the wind, at the summit. Two rappels and we were down. I carried my pack to the summit because I had to carry my boots. The only routes I didn't carry my pack on were the Pellaea, West Chimney, and Friday's Folly.

We now told ourselves that we just needed to hike back to Chautauqua and we'd be done. Yeah, we had to do seven climbs along the way, but at least we were headed towards the finish. We'd taken about five hours to get the first three climbs done. It was going to be a long day. We were a bit worried about the Pellaea since it is a thin, delicate climb that seems harder than the 5.4 rating. We once again stashed some gear at the trail junction low in Fern Canyon and headed up with just one rope in the pack.

The climb went surprisingly well. It was the only climb of the day that I climbed bare-handed. The rock had been in the sun for quite awhile and conditions were good. Of course the summit was pure hell, but we weren't there long. We hiked down, retrieved our cache and headed towards Dinosaur Mountain. We had previously arranged some aid from Sheri at the Mallory Cave/Mesa Trail junction and she did not disappoint. She brought us more water, Gatorade, Frappuccinos, hot chocolate, cookies, sandwiches, nuts, etc. She also brought me my gaitered running shoes and I swapped them for my mountain boots. Later, I almost regretted this choice, but it worked out.
Bushwhacking over to the Royal Arch Trail
We trudged up the Porch Alley trail to the back side of the Front Porch and dropped some gear. Then headed around the north side of the Lost Porch and up to the Back Porch. It was my turn to lead and once again we did it as a single pitch. Two rappels off the back side, with the second being the freakiest rappel start in the Flatirons and then back to the gear. We took the newly-formed path (from the latest Tour) down into Skunk Canyon where we found some nice tracks in the snow (probably put in my Peter Bakwin and Justin Simoni) and headed east to the base of Stairway to Heaven. Getting up this long climb was tiring and very cold on my feet. We downclimbed off to the west via Danny's route, which I'd never done before. It's pretty neat, though a bit lichen rich. I was thankful to be back in my Crossovers and we did the bushwhack over to the Royal Arch trail.

The trail was very icy and I was now wearing Microspikes continuously as well. I was dreading the long, complicated, nasty hike to Green Mountain Pinnacle and it delivered on all my fears. Yet, that was nothing compared to the climb. With our light fading fast, Danny headed up into the chimney with 40 mph wind ripping through it. The rope paused for quite awhile I wondered if Danny was bailing. That just shows that I have more to learn about Danny. He doesn't bail, unless his partner forces him to (I've done this to him before). Eventually the rope snakes out and comes tight on me and I start to climb. Once in the chimney it is so cold that my primary goal is movement upwards and I care very little about falling. I'm on a toprope and I know I'm safe, but I'm so cold and only the summit will bring me relief. I'm wearing my down jacket and don't want to rip it against the opposing wall of the chimney. It's a concern, but not my primary one. I fight my way to the top and not a word is said between Danny and I. We both immediately untie our ropes and lower them down the wall to the ground.
Executing one of my twenty shoe exchanges
Back on the ground, I'm thinking that it's over. No way I can climb another route in that wind. I have to bail. Danny can sense my mindset and says, "That was nasty. Seven down. Three to go," assuring me that he isn't thinking about stopping. I stay quiet and resolve to not speak up until I get to the base of the next route. No use in quitting here. Either way we are following the same path for the next 30 or more minutes. We pack up and are moving quickly. It sucks descending, but we're careful and don't stumble. A short ways above the trail we stop to eat and drink a bit more. I'm warmer now, but a long way from comfortable.

By the time we get down the Royal Arch Trail, I'm warm again. We mistakenly go by the bushwhack up to the base of the Third Flatiron and call an audible to go do the First Flatiron next. That way we don't waste the vertical climbing up to the base of the Third. We can link right to the bottom of it from the First. We trudge on in the darkness, feeling every foot of vertical. At the base of the route, things look serious. Each of the tiny edges holds some snow. Just a dusting to be sure, but maybe enough to make them slippery. I mention the conditions and Danny just agrees. I wonder to myself if it is prudent to head up, solo, in the cold and the dark, with my current level of fatigue. Is it worth the risk? I let Danny go first to test conditions. He's just in scramblers. I have climbing shoes. If he feels solid enough my pride will force me to follow. He does and I do.
Our one support stop - thanks, Sheri!
The next two hundred feet, we both agree, demand our complete concentration. Once above forty or fifty feet the chances of surviving a fall are nil. We encounter minute patches of ice occasionally and call them out. The higher we go, the easier things get. We opt out of the slot and head to the ridge, thinking our packs might make things tougher and we just want the easiest way to the summit. We stop once to rest. At the top the wind urges us to go straight into the downclimb instead of messing with the ropes and freezing.

On the ground, we know we'll complete it now. We just have to get to the base of the Third. The East Face is long and we're wasted, but it's well featured and we'll be fine. At one point we weren't sure exactly where we were, but just continued upwards and nailed the route that is ingrained in my hands and feet. We stop a ways below the summit to put on our harnesses out of the wind. At the top we immediately set up the rappels and descend. Danny goes first and deals with the inevitable tangle on the intermediate ledge below. I follow and then we stress when the rope won't pull. It must be tangled with the other rope. Danny uses superhuman (well superBill anyway) strength to pull the ropes down. I try to help.
This is what the Third Flatiron looked like at 8:30 p.m.
Danny sets up the next rappel, dropping one line and then tossing the coil that I gave him of the purple rope. Unfortunately, that coil developed into a massive knot. Danny then made a horrible mistake. One I made early in my climbing career with near fatal consequences. It was similarly dire for him. In his fatigue and haste, he rappelled into the knot.

Danny had to climb up a bit to release the tension on the rope and free the knot from his device, while keeping himself on rappel. He did this and then tried in vain for quite awhile to untangle the knot. He couldn't do it because he needed the end of the rope, which was snagged below him! He was screwed. Then he came up with an idea. He'd complete the rappel on just the unknotted line. But before he could implement this strategy, his headlamp died.

He shouted up his plan to me and I fixed the red line. He felt around in the darkness to switch his rappel device out of both ropes and onto just one. After awhile he called up again, "Okay, I'm on red and will descend." Except that he wasn't. I yelled down, "Red is slack and purple is weighted." Profanities ensued. Apparently Danny cannot tell the difference between red and feel.

After what was probably the most stressful time in his climbing career he was on red and descended safely to the ground. He freed the stuck end of purple and I hauled it up to untangle the knot, which did require pulling through the end of the rope. By the time I was on the ground my feet were nearly numb and I was frigid. It was my lead, but I didn't want to epic so close to the finish. I wimped out and decided to toprope it instead. This proved pretty challenging, but once again the cold drove me upwards with little regard for falling on a toprope. Danny went up after I got down and we packed up for the final time.

The hike out was slow and icy, but mainly because I didn't want to hurt myself so close the finish. The time mattered not. By pure coincidence we finished in 15:59:19. It was a bonding adventure and we embraced once we were on easy ground. I'd never have made it without him to keep the adventure rolling and to never even consider failure. Great partners help you achieve great things.

As we neared the trailhead Danny said, "That's one adventure I won't be repeating." I wholeheartedly agreed.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

No Sighting the Yellow Spur

I've done a few climbing routes (Yellow Spur, Bastille Crack, First Flatiron, etc.) so many times that I've asserted, jokingly, that I could climb them blindfolded. Of course I wasn't serious and it was only an indication of how well I knew these routes. I knew each hold, each foot placement, and the exact sequences of moves. But seeing someone climb a route that they don't know, without sight, is something altogether different.

Erik and Connor just above the first-pitch roof
As I watched Erik Weihenmayer, a world-famous blind adventurer/writer/speaker, feel his way up the 5.7 third pitch of the Yellow Spur, I calculated that it was the equivalent of climbing 5.10. He can't see the better hand placements near to where he's crimping a micro-edge. He can feel with this hands and remember the foothold locations, but mainly of the larger sizes. If the footwork is subtle edges, he has to smear. A move that a sighted climber can quickly execute and get off his arms and back onto his feet, takes Erik much longer. Yet, he's climbed the Naked Edge. He probably has 5.13 climbing strength, as does his business and frequent adventure partner, Connor Koch.

I teamed up with these two to climb the Yellow Spur. I met Connor earlier this year when a small group of us Minions scrambled by him and his buddy on the First Flatiron. He knew of the Minions and we got to talking and he amazingly remembered that I knew Erik, as we'd done one bike ride about five years ago (on his tandem). I'd been hooked up with Erik via our mutual friend Hans Florine, but after that one outing we fell out of touch. Connor got us back together.
Connor Koch at the top of the third pitch
We met in Eldo at noon. Already that should have been cause for concern. It's dark at 5 p.m. this time of year. I packed a headlamp. Connor forgot his. Erik...well, he didn't see the point. The trail was hard-packed snow and ice. I pulled on my Microspikes and Erik pulled out a cheap off-brand pair, which I think were Connor's. Connor just skated along with the agility of a young person.

Watching Erik hike along a very technical, rocky trail, coated in ice made me wonder if he's truly blind. I said as much to him and he came clean. He can see, but will only admit to it until after he retires from climbing, kayaking, bullet catching, etc. He knows he had good thing going. Erik taps along with his trekking poles faster than any of the tourists in Eldo. He didn't trip. He didn't fall. He didn't stumble. I think I did all three.

Erik isn't perfect though. He has terrible fear of heights. He only climbs because of the huge advantage he has of not being able to see. Think of all those poor acrophobic sighted people. Probably potential world-class climbers like Erik, if it wasn't for their damn eyes. Sure, one could use a blindfold, but they'd undoubtedly be hounded by cries of cheating, akin to those from using oxygen on Everest.
Erik belaying Connor on the fourth pitch
Also, I'm pretty sure Erik is terrified of bears. Connor hikes along in front of him holding a bell in his hand and periodically rings it, apparently to assure Erik that no ursine creatures are nearby. Connor will occasionally give directions to Erik about the upcoming terrain: "off-camber slope here", "funky rocks ahead", "branch on your right - watch your head." But not for everything. At one point I noticed a big boulder in front of Erik and asked Connor, "Aren't you going to mention that?" "No," he responded, "you can't coddle him too much. He'll figure it out."

Indeed Erik does figure things out. He never asks for help to do anything. He know exactly where all his gear is and how to use it all. When we stopped to spike up, he peeled off the pack, reached directly into his pack, pulled out the spikes, felt around for their orientation, pulled them on and had his pack back on practically before I did. Gearing up, we just hand him the end of the rope and he ties in. He cleans gear, anchors at belays, sets up and rappels without any assistance, pulls the rope, coils, etc.

While he never asks for help and hardly ever needs it, he is appreciative of any information you give him. He never says, "I don't need help." Never says, "I can do it on my own." He doesn't need to assert his independence. When you've done what he's done (he kayaked the Grand Canyon and the film made about this just won the Grand Prize at the Banff Film Festival), you don't need to tell anyone what you can do. Instead, he's thankful and appreciative. He makes you feel good for helping him. When I climbed with him on one pitch, I gave as much direction as I could (frequently getting his rights and lefts reversed), but his speed of climbing seemed independent of my instructions. When I paused to clean a piece of gear, he'd climb up into me. If he doesn't get any hints about the terrain, he just keeps climbing. It might take longer to search out a solution, but I never heard him once ask for a tip.

We climbed with two 70-meter ropes. That's one giant potential mess and it motivated me to belay only at ledges. I led the first pitch, which is incredibly circuitous. It goes like this: up twenty feet to a roof, traverse 90-degrees to the left underneath it to some jugs, then turn 90-degrees again to go up, above the roof turn 90-degrees back to the right and traverse the lip, then up 45 degrees to the belay at a tree. Pulling almost 500 feet of rope up that was arduous, but watching Erik cruise the burly 5.9 roof with minimal vocal help from Conner made it seem fun.
Connor and Erik climbing the last pitch. 
I linked the next two pitches (5.8 and 5.7) and set up a belay from four cams. Following this nearly 200-foot stretch took some time, though probably about average for most climbers of the Yellow Spur. I watched the sun get closer to the very high horizon and regretted leaving my headlamp at the base of the route. That was dumb. When Connor and Erik arrived I suggested we switch to the easier finish, up Icarus. They were both game and we avoided a mini-epic. We did a short traverse pitch over to the Red Ledge below the upper part of the Dirty Deed Chimney. Connor led a long pitch here up the route called Daedalus. He belayed from a tree 200-feet up and Erik and I climbed up to him.
I led a short pitch to the top of the wall, intersecting the arete descent from the top of T1 (where the Yellow Spur ends) and immediately descended left to the notch and the rappel anchor there. From there we did a 70-meter rappel back to the Red Ledge, then traversed north on the Red Ledge to the bolted rappel anchors at the top of the second pitch of the Dirty Deed. Another rappel here (less than 60 meters) put us back on the ground, just as it got dark.

What a great mini-adventure with two incredible people. We hit it off well, but I think these two would get along with anyone. They are just so positive, so pleasant, and so very capable. We vowed to return and start a bit earlier in order to complete the entire Yellow Spur. I'm going to talk them climbing with a hundred foot rope and do a bit of simul-climbing, if necessary.  I suspect that won't bother Erik in the slightest.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


My best friend Mark Oveson moved away from me. Moved away from Boulder. Moved away from Colorado. It was traumatic. Even for him! Alas, he moved to a super cool location: Provo, Utah. Super cool if you're a Mormon, which he is, since it is 95% Mormon there. Even better, at least from an atheist-climber perspective, is that he lives one mile away from a 22-pitch 5.11a sport climb. TWENTY...TWO...PITCHES! This route is called Squawstruck because it ascends the south face of Squaw Peak. While I vowed to visit him often and keep the bond of our friendship ever strong, when I heard about this route, I felt the bond needed immediate strengthening. So I booked my flight.

I booked my flight despite not having a partner for the climb. I hope Mark will eventually climb it with me, but he wasn't ready for it. Truth be told, I wasn't really ready for it. Mark solved both problems by not only supplying a partner, but a rope gun of the assault weapon level that most states want to ban and Utah celebrates. Here the weapon was Jared Campbell.

If you don't know who Jared Campbell is...well, that's okay. Time to learn. He's the hardman's hardman. His full CV of bad-assery would fill volumes and put sufficient wear on my keyboard. He is at the very pinnacle of the outdoor/adventure athlete hierarchy. Climbing? 5.13, thank you. Sendero Luminoso? Yes, please. He won Hard Rock. He's finished the Barkley...twice. He's linked a week's worth of the toughest Zion slot-canyon descents in under 24 hours. He started the RUFA series of races and is the RD for the Salt Lake edition. He's superman in the mountains. He's Stefan-Griebel-esque. But most important in this particular situation, is that he's Mark's friend. Mine too, now. 

I flew out Friday night, taking almost exactly as long to fly, house-to-house, as it would have taken me to drive. Delta Airlines. Not a fan. Because of my late arrival (to bed around 1 a.m.), we decided to do the climb on Sunday. That left Saturday to hike up Y Mountain with Mark and two of his daughters. Mark and his wife Trish, being Mormon and all, are fecund. They have three of each (just two genders in Utah - it's almost like visiting a foreign country). 

Doing anything with Mark's kids is an exercise in humility. JD (short for Jelly Donut, at least to me. Geraldine to others, like her parents, siblings, and everyone besides me) is the second fastest freshman cross-country runner in the entire state of Utah. I guess because she's only the second fastest is why she stays so humble. You wouldn't even know she ran by talking to her, but looking at her long legs you'd notice potential. And she sucks at running compared to her ability on the piano. Or singing. Or really useful things like memorizing the digits of pi (she knows 200). 

Along with JD, Alice joined us. I used to think that Mark's daughter Mallory was the sweetest, friendliest, happiest person I'd ever met, but she's downright surly compared to Alice. Alice is recently back from an 18-month mission in Italy. She's now fluent in Italian. I'm barely fluent in English. Along with a bunch of community service, Alice tutored kids in Italian! She re-starts at BYU in January, studying Applied Math. You go, girl.
Jared leading the first pitch via headlamp.

We started early, from Mark's house because he lives at the base of Y Mountain. It's called Y Mountain because there is a giant Y painted on it. Before the Y it was just called Mountain, so it's much easier to identify now. The Y is for Young. Steve Young, I assume, since he was a star quarterback at BYU and the 49ers and is in the Hall of Fame. So, you know, probably deserves to have a mountain named after him. A classic first date for BYU couples is to hike up to the Y, which is less than halfway to the summit, but the trail up to the Y is wide and smooth and ridiculously steep. Alice says it is a true test of whether you have any chance of being a couple. If you hike together to the Y without any whining, then there is hope. If not, break-up immediately. Alice has done this more than once. If her prospective suitor can't keep up with her and not whine about it, she cuts them loose. Reminded me of my wife's rule with suitors asking her to play tennis. If you didn't beat her, you didn't get a date. I squeaked out a victory. Lucky for me. And for Danny and Derek! 

It took us two hours to hike the 3000 vertical feet to the summit. Mark continues to have serious pain with his now-fused left ankle. An amazing mountain endurance athlete before the infection in his ankle, Mark is still searching for a solution. Yet, he never complains about it. Never offers up any excuses. He just guts it out. And then limps for a few days. Ugh. I wish I could help him solve this problem. But I can't. 
Jared following a pitch low on the route.
The rest of the day I spent eating, watching a movie, and reading. Now if you asked the members of Mark's family what I was doing they'd say: eating, watching a movie, and sleeping, but they just don't know that when I read a book it looks a lot like sleeping. No fault of theirs. Just inexperience with my unusual ways.

Jared arrived at the house around 10 p.m. He was bigger than I thought he'd be. A little bit taller than me. He wore shorts and his calves revealed the fact that he can climb 40,000 vertical feet in a single day. I didn't want to stand too close to him for fear that anyone else would be comparing us, but I did try to suck in my gut a bit, just in case. 

We got up at 5:30 a.m. and I started having a bowl of cereal when Mark walked into the kitchen offering to make me eggs and bacon. Dammit, Mark! Get up earlier if you going to be offering such service. That just meant I had cereal and eggs. He even bought donuts for me to take up the climb. Lack of fuel was not going to be a valid excuse. 

Mark walked the start of the approach with us before we peeled off to scratch and scramble our way up a very steep, loose slope. If it wasn't for Jared having the GPS coordinates in his mapping app on his phone, I'd still be looking for the start of the climb. Shortly into the approach, wanting to see more of the terrain for route-finding purposes, I bumped up the intensity of my Fenix headlamp. If this headlamp worked like its specs said it does, it would be so awesome. Alas, it doesn't. The headlamp promptly died and wouldn't turn on at any intensity. That was after a full charge the night before. I'm done with this headlamp. This was my second one. Both lemons. I had to do the rest of the approach with my phone as my light. Scrambling up this tricky terrain with one hand was probably the most dangerous part of the day.

We were at the start and it was still dark. Jared offered me the first lead. It's 10b - a stiff grade for me...when I can see. I'm not known for my night vision. I'm known for my lack of night vision. I declined and Jared styled the first pitch via headlamp, scanning for the bolts in his beam. I followed easier than I expected and wondered if this whole climb was overrated. Or if I was stronger than I thought. Nope and nope.
Jared heading up the 10c pitch by the cave at the start of the crux tier.
The second pitch starts with the "Leap of Faith" where you jump from the slightly detached pillar we had just climbed to the wall behind it. Or you can just make a two-foot step across and avoid the jumping. Jared and I both watched a video of this jump on youtube. We were a bit dumbfounded by it now. I scampered up the 5.8 pitch to the top of the rock and we hiked up to the next band.

Squawstruck is 22 pitches long, but the pitches are not completely contiguous. They are broken into six separate tiers, with some short hiking between. We hiked up to the next tier and, in an effort to move faster, Jared then linked the next three pitches in a massive 200-foot lead, climbing pitches of 5.9, 10b, and 5.9. Impressive. I followed and found the climbing super fun and was pretty comfortable on it. I was working, but not on the verge of falling off. My confidence built.

Image result for squawstruck topo
Squawstruck (22 pitches, 5.11a) on Squaw Peak
I led pitch six, at 10c the hardest pitch yet. It went well. I was breathing hard, but hung on. Cool movement and nothing tricky. Jared linked two more pitches (two 10a's) and we did a small hike to the next tier. The next tier had three pitches: 5.8, 10a, 5.8 and we pitched it out due to the their length. We were moving pretty continuously and didn't have time to savor any belay ledges, of which most pitches had. The follower quickly moved into the next lead at each change-over.

We then arrived at the true meat of the route. The next tier was five pitches long, all 5.10b or harder, with three 10d or 11a. Jared led a 10c and I followed clean and led a 10c/d. All good. Jared styled the crux pitch to a near hanging belay. It looked tricky as Jared had paused there a bit and sussed things out. On my turn I climbed easily up to the crux, which is at the very end of the pitch. There I was stymied by what I thought was the cryptic nature of the climbing. After trying two or three ways, including using Jared's beta I concluded it was more than cryptic. It was hard. Too hard. The crux moved involved using a desperate 2-finger flared jam (yes, a finger jam!) and a terrible sidepull and then moving the left foot up very high to a bullshit foothold. No way. I couldn't touch it. Just too steep on too bad of holds. It seemed way harder than anything we'd climbed up until then. After a few falls, I had Jared take me on tension, and then reached up again for better holds.
Jared at the hanging belay at the top of the crux pitch.
This started a downward trend of performance for me. The next pitch was rated 10b and it had a committing lock-off move on it and I couldn't find good enough footholds to pull it off. I hung on a bolt to rest before finishing that pitch. The pitch after that was rated 10d and probably was the hardest pitch on the route. It started a bit to the climber's right, at a second two-bolt anchor. I had apparently belayed from the rappel anchors, with the chains. Normally there is just one anchor of course, but for ease of rappelling there are two or three spots with duplicate anchors. The wall above the anchor was considerably smoother than anything we had climbed or would climb - just tiny, tiny holds. Jared ticky-tacked and toe-tapped his way up this section and remarked, "Dang. That's pretty hard for 5.10." When it was my turn, I just grabbed the first two draws. I'll be back to this route, probably multiple times due to its proximity (to Mark) and the mess I've left behind.

We did a short hike up to the last tier which consisted of six pitches: 9, 10c/d, 10c, 8, 9+, 10a. I scampered up the first pitch without much trouble, but my feet were starting to kill me. So much so that it was affecting my climbing. At each belay I had to pull them off immediately. Unfortunately, as soon as I put them on again, the pain resumed without delay. 

The next pitch, the 18th, started with a short, but severe roof. It was awkward to get up the eight feet to the start because the roof was completely undercut, but the undercut was only three feet high, so in trying to pull onto the bottom of the undercut my head hit the roof. It wasn't too bad, but awkward. Turning the roof required getting the feet up really high and locking off for one move. Jared cruised it and said, "At least the holds are good." I didn't agree. I couldn't do it. On my first try I failed the lockoff and the rope stretch put me back on the ledge ten feet down. On my second try I got into the same position and yelled up "Take!" I knew he couldn't hold me there completely, but I wanted all the help I could get. I then deadpointed for the draw over the lip and barely caught it. From there the rest of the pitch was pumpy but doable, barely.
Jared updating his social media at the summit of Squawstruck.
At the belay, I knew it was my lead. We'd been swinging leads up until here, but I didn't think I could do it. I was consistently getting my ass kicked on 5.10 since the crux pitch. Jared bailed me out and led a brilliant pitch that went up and left and then hard back to the right. The pitch description in the online guide is apt: "...then back right on desperate and tricky holds." As soon as Jared finished this section he called down, "That was really cool. You're going to love that sequence." Sure enough I did, but I was also glad I wasn't leading it, as once I started to traverse back to the right I was on the ragged edge of falling off clear to the belay. The crux was at the start of the traverse right, but as the moves got gradually easier, my pump built. Some of the climbing was really cryptic. The feet are pretty good here, but widely spaced and the handholds so marginal that it required a lot of balance and body tension. Super neat climbing.

I strung the next two pitches into a monster 200-foot lead so that I didn't have to lead the final 5.10 pitch. The 5.8 pitch went pretty easily but my intense foot pain had me moving slowly. The 5.9+ penultimate pitch had two desperate sections. I found a way around both of them and traversed back into the line above, each time having to skip one bolt. Apparently, I was visibly desperate, as Jared called up some encouragement at one point. Or maybe he was just urging me on to climb faster, as this long lead took forever. My feet hurt and I was getting really tired. I belayed on a small stance and immediately whipped off my shoes. I had just two draws left to clip in.

Jared soon joined me and even he took a slight break from his shoes here. It was the only time he took his shoes off after following a pitch and before his next lead. He was pulling them off after each lead though. Climbing shoes hurt.

The final pitch seemed a bit contrived as a clearly easier path led straight to the top. Instead, the pitch moved out to the right in order to turn a 2-foot roof and then a bulge above. The description is once again right on: "Keep climbing up then right over some roofs with depressingly small holds." One of the bolts on this pitch was drilled straight up into bottom of the roof. It seemed like the first ascensionist wanted to just try placing a bolt like that. Given my state of fatigue and that I'd barely led the 5.9 pitch before this, I was surprised not to fall off this one.
Squaw Peak and Squawstruck
The relief in pulling off my shoes equaled the joy in topping out this route. Huge thanks to Tristan Higbee (hey, I wonder if he is related to Art Higbee of the Higbee Hedral on Half Dome...), Thomas Gappmayer, and Christian Burrell (probably not related to my friends Buzz and Galen) for the ridiculous amount of work that went into establishing this route. What an incredible contribution to the local climbing community. Without Jared, I'm not sure I could have ascended this route. I'll find out in the future. I hope that by standing in a sling I can do the crux. Either that or I'm going to have to get a lot stronger.

Jared and I hiked the 4-mile, 3000-foot descent trail back to the parking lot. We chatted about his family and mine, but most exciting was that we chatted about future climbs together. This was encouraging, as my biggest contribution to this climb was giving Jared belay practice. I hope it happens, but I won't hold him to it.

Being the dumbest, slowest, weakest person in the group could be depressing, but not with this group. It's sort of like being the slowest Minion - you might still be pretty smart, fast, and strong. Might be. No guarantees. But being around them is a bit inspiring and I'm hoping some of it rubbed off on me. 

Thanks Mark, Jared, JD, Alice, Mallory, Trish, Spencer, and Jason for being such gracious hosts. Every one of you is welcome at my fire anytime. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Tour de Flatirons: Stage 5

Full Results

What a finish to another incredible Tour. While we had consistently the largest fields this year, today was by far our smallest field, due to weather issues and rescheduling twice. But it was worth the wait. The conditions were nearly perfect, with the extra moisture on the trails, particularly the Woods Quarry trail, providing better traction than when completely dry.

Kyle, like on every stage, went to the front and stayed there. He finishes as only the second person in the 15-year history of the Tour to win all five stages. And he did it convincingly. From stage 1 on, everyone else knew they were racing for second place, even defending Champion, directionally-challenged Cordis Hall and Oats, who ran the day before in much wetter conditions.
Me starting up the Hammerhead.
Jason Gory Killer, handicapped all Tour by having to run stage 1 solo, worked his way up the standings and he finished with a really solid second place in stage 5. He'll likely finish 4th overall in the Tour, but final results aren't in because so many still have to run this stage.

Logan Newguydanus finished third in the stage and will finish second overall in the Tour -- an amazing feat by a rookie and one only matched by Matthias in his debut. Ryan Franz, third in the 2014 and 2015 Tours returned to the podium this year and he finished third in the stage.
Kyle leading the field, as usual

With only 13 scramblers at the start it wasn't hard to determine my competition: Sonia (of course, as always), Corn Muffintop, and JonO. Sonia has been my shadow on all the approaches and generally stays right with me until I either get someone between us or do a fast downclimb or rappel. I've been able to get away from her before the run out. So far, anyway. My biggest rival is really Muffintop. I beat him in stages 1 and 3 and he returned the favor in stages 2 and 4. Generally we were just one place apart. He proclaimed at the start, "I have but one goal. Beat Bill." He had just rolled his ankle on the warm-up, so maybe I had chance. I'd been finishing in front of Jon as well, but we were all super close in our fitness.

The four of us were quickly gaped by the rest of the field. Muffintop led us, but we were all close. A minute or two before the talus I went by Muffintop, but didn't open any gap at all. All four of were within ten seconds of each other. When we hit the Regency the order was me, Muffintop, JonO, and Sonia. Muffintop pulled out a small towel, wiped off the bottom of his shoes and offered it to the rest of us. I wasn't falling for that ploy and pressed, getting a gap at times, but then they would close it down. JonO moved into second place early on the Regency and at times I was holding him up, he was so close behind me. 

I was redlining, but I was now getting close to the summit of the Regency. I knew I had to be in the lead for the West Face of the Royal Arch, as that was a bottleneck. I figured I was could be the slowest runner on the way out and knew I needed a lead if I had any hope of avoiding last place. I had a moment to think about that and thought if I did get last, it would be my first last place finish in a Tour stage without also making the podium.
Derek downclimbing from the top of the Regency with Colin just below him.
I stayed in front by the barest of margins. I felt JonO could have passed me if he really wanted, but if I went any faster, I'd puke. At the top I engaged the only thing I can do faster than my main rivals: downclimb. I don't have the fitness to gap anyone on the run up, the scrambling, or the rundown. All Tour the only advantage I'd get would be in downclimbing and rappelling. There my superior weight was a slight advantage. I gaped JonO on the descent, was a bit slow through the slot, and tried to get out of site on the Royal Arch. No luck. He closed the gap on me. 

Just as I arrived ledge to go through the tunnel Colin downclimbed off the Royal Arch. I followed him up the slags and through the arch and immediately felt another climber behind me. It was Derek. I had got in between these two and I hoped I didn't cause Derek too much time. He'd later report that it was only a few seconds and he caught Colin on the run over to the Hammerhead.
Topping the West Face of Royal Arch

I still had to climb the West Face, though. It went smooth for me and JonO was just twenty feet behind me. I downclimbed fast, though, as usual, and could see David Glennon and The Mountain downclimbing below me. I pushed to increase my lead over my chasers and ran a really good descent over to the Hammerhead. By the time I came through, all the hikers on the trail were well versed about getting out of the way of runners and I wasn't impeded at all. In fact, I was encouraged by a number of the hikers.

I found Sheri at the base of the Hammerhead. As I started up the rock she gave me some encouragement and told me Derek was rocking it. I finally had a decent gap, but it had hurt. I was fading a bit, but gainly steadily on David Glennon above me. Below, it wasn't JonO, but Sonia. And she was gaining. Dammit woman!

I caught David at the top of the Hammerhead and he stepped aside for me to show him the fastest descent, which was down sharply to the north on steep blocks to two huge logs. I was careful here, but quick and gapped David. Jumping off a small ledge further down I slipped and fell back onto my butt, coming to stop straddling a big tree. I had to roll onto my back to swing my leg around it. Back on my feet I zipped down, getting a nice lead on David and hopefully on my rivals.

Halfway down the Woods Quarry Trail, I stepped aside on a switchback and David went by. I stayed as close as I could, using him as a pacer. I was pushing things harder, at least for my limited agility and wimpy ankles. I ran harder down the rocky portion of the Kohler Mesa Trail, keeping David in sight and closing on The Mountain. I hadn't seen him since the Hammerhead. Also, when David caught him, The Mountain knew he was under pressure and he upped his effort. I didn't lose ground, but I didn't gain any more. 
JonO starting up the Hammerhead hot on Sonia's heels.
On the lower switchbacks, thinking I was safe from all rivals and only wondering if I could catch The Mountain, I suddenly see Muffintop on the switchback above me. He even waved at me! A shirtless, Rayban wearing Corn Muffin was bearing down on me. David, a switchback further down, called out encouragement, "Yeah, Bill!" I think he was surprised I was still in sight. I pushed again and was nearly spent by the time I hit the wide flat trail. I eased a bit to avoid puking and thinking there was no way I could hold Muffin off. He came out of nowhere so I assumed he was going much faster than me. When he didn't come by halfway down the road, I switched my mindset. It was now too close to be passed, I upped my effort and my stomach turned. I dry heaved a couple of times. I knew if I could get to the singletrack I'd be nearly impossible to pass. 

The Mountain (in the lead) followed by David Glennon, Sonia, JonO, and Muffintop on the left. I must be behind the tree.
I got the turn and didn't hear footsteps, but the effort had been too much and I hurled a little. It was well worth it. I held off the Muffin by 20 seconds, which was a lot more than I thought I had. It was desperately important too, because with my finishing place, we ended up tied on points for the Tour, both with 92 (Kyle won the Tour with 5 points). The tiebreaker is total time. Muffin had completed all five stages in 5:08:32. I did them in 5:07:46. That'll do. All that for what will probably be around 20th place. We all have our battles in the Tour...

David Glennon chasing me at the start of the Woods Quarry Trail

Derek's report:

Goals for the day we’re to beat Erik S’s wet and solo time and beat Colin mano-a-mano. I beat him on the Angels Way stage but only due to route error, so I wanted a legit victory. He had been up at Longs Peak this morning doing crazy ice things, so I thought I had a shot!
I stayed right on Colin for a ways running up the approach, but eventually left him to try to bank some time for when he got to the rock. Once we were there, the train of scramblers ahead of me were going left, so I just followed them even though I’d never gone that way before. Just so much easier than finding a route myself.. haha. Colin and Stefan said the same thing and followed me that way.
Stefan and Colin caught and passed me at the one section of the left variation that was tricky. I wanted to stay high at the traverse into the slot/chimney, but it was too thin. I waved the others by and they descended just a bit before it got easier. I fell in line.
Stefan stretched a gap on Colin and me and caught DG at the summit. They both downclimbed the face to the easy walkoff while Colin and I went over the top. We both got by DG a little bit later with no issues (DG is so cool about that).
Stefan has a nice gap given his ridiculous downclimbing abilities and Colin gapped me just a bit up RA. We were basically together at the West Face though. I stopped here for just a tiny bit and felt a wave of nausea come up. I was working hard!! I’d have to keep it together if I wanted to stay with Colin.
Downclimbing RA, we were right together but what would you know: my dad got right in between us! It was actually pretty cool and it slowed me up maybe 3 seconds, so no big deal.
I caught back up to Colin on the RA trail and he tried to wave me by but I said no. I knew I’d be ahead of him for 10 feet once we started uphill, and that would be too demoralizing! So I stayed on his butt.
He gapped me just a bit on Hammerhead too, as usual. I caught up to him right before we hit the trail again and now I started thinking about my final move.
Colin gifted a slight error a bit further down Woods Quarry and I capitalized, passing him and trying to push hard before he could get on my wheel. He even made a noise of effort to keep up. We were close for a ways but I stretched my gap and didn’t see him again.
Near the Kohler Mesa junction I caught a glimpse of Derek #2 (“hey number 2” —Scrubs :)) and was remotivated! I pushed hard down to Skunk but didn’t seem to reel him in at all... huh... it was almost as if HE was pushing hard too!! Unfair!
I kept pushing but came up short. He got me by 30ish seconds.
Goals were 2/2 today!! Erik’s 50:something wet solo time is super impressive though...

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Tour de Flatirons: Stage 4


I love scrambling on Dinosaur Mountain because there are so many great rocks so close together. Stage 4 of the Tour took place there and linked the most rocks we've ever done in a single stage: five. We started with Tiptoe Slab on the Front Porch and then ran over to Der Zerkle and did Sunnyside II which leads directly to the East Face of the Hand. After the tricky downclimb (an exposed, awkward ramp or a super tight, on-your-belly tunnel) you're at the Fi Fun on FI in just a minute. From the summit of FI we had our only mandatory rappel (Front Porch was fixed with two lines as well and people split on downclimbing versus rappelling). Once on the ground it was not much more than a minute before we were scrambling up the South Ramp of the Box. After a neat downclimb to the east, then north, then west, it was a long run back to the start.

Kyle ran off the front, crushed everyone and won the race. Same old, same old. But things were interesting and exciting back where I was racing...

The climbing on the Hand and FI is a bit tricky and I expected to do well here and either drop my rivals or gain on climbers I'm not usual near, like David Glennon. I was wrong. Instead I raced two guys that I have buried early in past stages: Backpack Brian and The Spy. Of course Sonia was there too, but that goes without saying. The last time we had a techy stage I was able to stay up with Sir Crimps-alot, David the Near Great, David Glennon, and close to Ryan Marsters. I had hopes that this would be a similar stage. Dang it. Wrong again. My hopes never die. I guess 'never' is a long time, but one good result seems to fuel my hope for entire Tour.

As is my role these days, I soon led the last group. All four or five us battling it out to avoid the Lanterne Rouge. For this stage that included my shadow (Sonia) and Tony. Tony fell back before we got to the Front Porch, but I caught two others that would stuck on me like stink on a warthog: Backpack Brian and The Spy. Backpack is solid, obviously, as that is a requirement of the Minions, but still I don't like that he races with a chalk bag. It's not my natural aversion to chalk, but that he needs it to feel secure. If you need chalk to feel secure, then I think maybe you shouldn't be racing. Sure, for scrambling, but racing? These need to be easy enough where the crutch of chalk isn't necessary.

Regardless, I couldn't shake these two. Three. I didn't think I could match any of them on the run out  and I tried hard to gap them. I pushed really hard to the top of the Front Porch, then eschewed the fixed lines to use my secret weapon: super fast downclimbing. I put some space behind me, all three were on me before I got to Der Zerkle. The super steep trail up to the start of this rock nearly broke me. I think I got passed by Backpack or the Spy or both on Der Zerkle, but I got them back on the Hand. They fell in behind me and ended up showing them all my secrets on this rock. It fell to the descent, once again, and here I had another secret weapon - my exposed, awkward scoot section. I executed that blazed over to FI and before I knew it Backpack and the Spy were on me. Sonia was gapped, but these two were even a greater worry for the run out.

At the top of FI there was a queue for the rappel lines. I was thankful for the rest. I didn't have a gap on these guys, so having to wait for a line wasn't a disadvantage. Sonia closed ranks, but she'd have to wait for a line, so even though she was standing just feet from me, I was effectively at least 40 seconds ahead of her. On the rappel lines were DC and the Little Monster. LM rapped really fast and I grabbed his line, the one I knew allowed me to rappel right off the end of the rope once on the ground. I blazed down the line and caught DC. When he made a minor route finding error, I got in front of him and called out directions to follow me.

At the Box I was running scared now. I had a sizeable gap on all my chasers and needed to get out of sight. DC was on me, but I wasn't worried about him. I'd never hold him off to the finish, but having him in between me and others could only help matters. I scampered up the South Ramp on the Box and somehow dropped DC. I saw the Little Monster descending from the top as I ascended the last bit. I tagged the top and descended down and off the rock, only seeing DC as a chaser.

Halfway down to the Mallory Cave I stepped aside and let DC pass. I used him as a carrot and tried to keep him in sight. He didn't know that the descent via the climbers' trail against Der Zerkle was on course, so I once again got ahead of him there. I didn't hold him off for long, though, as he passed me before I could get down to the Mesa Trail. I suffered into the finish, looking over my shoulder for any chasers. None appeared. Once again, my only advantage was in the descents. It was enough on this day to avoid being the caboose, but I'm getting closer and closer to the tip of the tail.

Fun stuff!

Derek's Report:

Crazy fun as always. 56:50+1 (huge sorry to Dan and whoever was below me on the hand. Plate of rock dislodged, and I didn't even see/notice it when stepping). I was further behind the people I usually want to keep up with (Erik, Colin, Stefan, etc.), but everyone is so darn fast! I didn't have everything today, but it's so fun racing everyone who was around me (Mt. Vinson, DG, Sir Crimps, Corn Muffin).
I started out strong and actually feeling really good. Better than last NCAR stage. I crushed Front Porch, staying right on Erik's feet (I mean RIGHT on him, haha). Erik passed DG and I tried to but he got in front again when the angle eased up a bit. Stefan and DG got on the rap lines, while Erik, I and Colin right behind me did the downclimb. I probably did the downclimb in PR time but I probably still held up Colin a bit.
DG passed us again going up on the connection to Mallory Cave Trail. He said something like, "Downclimbing is unfair!" as he cruised by us. I responded, "Talk about unfair!" and Colin shot back, "You're not supposed to have breath right now!"
I hit a vertical wall on the hike up to Sunnyside. I mean a wall. I couldn't go uphill for the life of me. I kept Colin behind me for a bit, but he had so much breath he said, "How's school going?" and "How's Mom?" I couldn't believe it! I was absolutely maxed and dying. He passed me before the rock.
On the rock I had to hold off Dan V who was raging up to me. I did only to the Hand, where he passed me taking a better line. Also on the Hand we could all see Cordis, who was basically up with Colin... What?? I'll have to read what went wrong in his report. :)
Dan started gapping me while I now had to hold off Sir Crimps and Corn Muffin. I reeled Dan in a bit when Crimps got too close for my comfort, and then I almost caught up when I did the Hand ramp descent while he did the hole crawl. He got some more space on Fi though and Crimps and Cornmuffin were still right there.
At the top of the raps Dan and I had to wait for DG who was being careful getting set up with the anchor below him. I fully support! Dan got the fast rope and was right above DG on the way down. I knew Dan would likely get off the skinny rope first, so I waited on it. At this point Crimps was next in line, then Cornmuffin, followed by Marsters. I zipped down my skinny and was off.
I second guessed the way over to the Box (I went the right way originally, then backtracked and started going the wrong way), and ended up basically stopping until Crimps caught up and pointed me the right way. I followed him up the Box with CornMuffin now right on me. Vinson had passed DG.
I had Corn right on me on the descent and we caught up to Crimps with DG not far ahead. Crimps let me pass and then I caught up nicely to DG, basically right in time for him to miss the Der Zerkle climbing trail and for me to drop down it. He cut over quickly though and I was only ahead of him for about 20-30 seconds before I made a small mistake and he retook the lead.
As soon as we hit the regular trail I said "Bye, David!" There was a pause and then he came back with "Yup, see ya later!" :) I actually stayed pretty close to him on the more rocky part of the trail but by the time we got to smooth stuff he was gone and passing Dan. I closed on Dan until the same point, and then I tried hard on the rollers, but just couldn't bring him in. I had John A and Crimps all but beaten, though, which was good. Corn was pretty close to me heading up the last rock steps but I probably got him by ~30 seconds or something. Dan V got me by 34 too.
Super fun course. Hurts SO bad. :)