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First Trip, First Climb - Boulder Flatirons

In 1997, on my first actual climbing trip, Victor and I stopped in Boulder to begin our trip. That led to the first trip report as well, which follows.

Victor is very good, but in Romania protection consists exclusively of fixed pins, so that left it up to me to do the leading. As I've only led (and actually only climbed) very easy routes at the Gunks I wanted a decidedly gradual approach. Our first climb was going to be the classic East Face route on the Third Flatiron, then we would try something harder. Climbing the Flatirons was totally fun for me. They are giant low-angle slabs, very friction friendly. On the routes we did, there are plenty of handholds, although it got runout at times. Leading pitch after pitch after pitch was a new thing for me, and I liked it a lot. The East Face route seems like a great climb to take a novice on. At 5.2 or less, with bolts at the belays and a nice summit, sure beats another toprope at the crag, or at the gym. The one caveat in this scenario is that one must be competent to manage the retreat. The retreat question was very pertinent to us on this trip, as it pretty much rained every afternoon, although it was impossible to predict for how long.

For our first climb, wanting to add to it, we decided to start from the lowest point of the Third Flatiron, and join the East Face route after three pitches.

Victor before the half hour hike in to the 3d Flatiron

After two fourth class pitches the climbing got a bit steeper, and as I was nearing the "junction" with the East Face route I noticed two parties on said route, another party on the neighboring East Face - North Side route, and a whole bunch of people waiting to get on the face. This was midday on a Thursday. So much for climbing classic routes.

Thinking ahead too much, I promptly ran out of rope. Another party got on the North Side route, and it started raining. After welcoming Victor at the "hanging" belay, I decided to climb to the first belay of the North Side route, and then wait and see about the rain. The North Side route climbs the right side of the face (the classic route goes up the middle). Crossing ropes with yet another party that was getting on the classic route, I got to the said belay, put on my windbreaker and stared to worry about the rain.

Turned out the party ahead of us did not intend to climb the North Side route. They crossed over to the middle of the face, thus leapfrogging some of the climbers on the classic route, in a "Flatiron Freeway cutoff" maneuver. The rain stopped, the sun came out and the way above was clear. Climb on !

 After the 5th pitch, Wisconsin climbers on the classic route (the face is not that steep, but steeper than it looks here, due to some photographer tilt)

The crux pitch of the North Side route comes at the level of the "CU" which is painted on the face, and visible from Boulder. Not only does the paint not help with the friction, but there is also no pro. The guidebook says there is a 5.7 move with a 50 foot runout at the top of the "U"; this being way above what I climb, I veered a bit to the left which still looked hard but had some more pro. Still, I ended up doing a move over a small bulge, about 40 feet above the last solid piece (had a tricam in a pocket midway between, but that wasn't going to hold anything). I think fear made me concentrate even more on the move I had to make and since it wasn't overly hard, it didn't get any more exciting than that. I guess this makes it only the "good" fear stage. I would hate to get to the "bad" fear stage 40 feet above my last placement.

Three more pitches above that, we reached the summit, which was quite full of people, but still quite a treat. Some charitable souls had set up their ropes on the rappel route, and were directing traffic so as to ease the summit traffic jam. Their charity, however, did not extend to us as well. Either they didn't like the way we looked ... or they simply got tired of the whole world rapping on their ropes ... or maybe they didn't like people having yelled belay commands in a strange language they didn't understand. Who knows?

The Third Flatiron rappel route, seen from our descent from the Fourth Flatiron

For better or for worse, three single rope raps followed. The last rap is done off a different bolt than the one you arrive at, which afforded me the pleasure of traversing a narrow and exposed ledge while unroped (but still clipped in to some slings we girth hitched together to cover the short, but rather unnerving distance).


Having confirmed through actual experience that I like climbing one long route much better than climbing several short ones, the next day we attempted the East Face of the 4th Flatiron. According to the guidebook this climb is done in 10 to 12 pitches and "has an alpine feel to it". Similar to the North Side route on the Third, it also goes at about 5.4. The Fourth Flatiron is really made up of three distinct blocks, and after the third pitch, we spent some time wondering if we were on the first or second block. Because of our late start, we bailed after 5 pitches (from what we concluded was the top of the first block) and the route looked like it required more route finding above.

This climb was quite a contrast to what we had done the day before. After the first two pitches which take you away from the tourist trail that goes to Royal Arch, there wasn't a soul in sight. Too bad we didn't get a chance to climb to the top. The retreat was pretty easy, basically down through the forest until you hit the Royal Arch trail, and it gave me the chance to get some nice shots of the Third.


List of Climbs

  • Third Flatiron East Face - North Side (5.4 ***)
  • Fourth Flatiron East Face (5.4) - first 4p only

Colorado Summer
Rocky Mtns NP
Home
1996
1998