High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Gerry Roach's Top 10 Flatirons Classics in a Day with Peter Bakwin

Well, I guess it’s better late than never. I started writing this shortly after Peter and I completed this little project on 11/26/2016, but somehow never got around to actually finishing it. So it goes…

Here's a link to the Strava route in case anyone cares:

(The first three paragraphs were written in December 2016. Everything else was written in January 2018.)

It’s always funny how one project inevitably leads to another. Peter Bakwin and I have been working together off-and-on all year on our individual pursuits of the Longs Peak Project—a year-long endeavor to summit Longs Peak by a different route each calendar month. For our November ascent I called in sick (cough, cough…) to take advantage of the last decent weather day before the long-term forecast went to shit. After a longer-than-expected ascent of the North Face in less than ideal conditions we found ourselves once again casually making our way back to the car on the all-too-familiar descent trails. 

Peter now had twelve consecutive months of Longs Peak ascents via twelve different routes and I had eleven months. With only one month remaining between me and a successful completion of the LPP it only seemed logical to start thinking about the next project. Eleven months into the LPP I had almost become annoyed with North Face descents. So, I knew my next project would likely not involve Longs Peak. 

Without really thinking I blurted out that I’d been tossing around the idea of climbing Roach’s Top 10 Classics in a day. To my surprise, Peter seemed to think this was a good idea. So, what exactly are Gerry Roach’s Top 10 Flatirons Classics? I’m glad you asked. Here they are…
  1. 1st Flatiron—Direct East Face (5.6)
  2. 3rd Flatiron—Standard East Face (5.4)
  3. 3rd Flatiron—Friday’s Folly (5.7)
  4. Green Mountain Pinnacle—Takin’ Care of Business (5.5)
  5. Ridge 1—Stairway to Heaven (5.3)
  6. Backporch—East Face (5.6)
  7. Pellaea—East Face (5.5)
  8. Fatiron—East Face (5.5)
  9. The Maiden—North Face (5.6)
  10. The Matron—North Face (5.6)
So, the next weekend we began with a three-day scouting mission in which we climbed nine of ten routes (all but the east face of the 1st Flatiron, which we have both climbed over 100 times). Prior to our scouting weekend I had only climbed four of the routes in Roach’s Top 10. 

Our scouting looked like this:

Friday 11/11/16: 3rd Flatiron (East Face) > 3rd Flatiron (Friday’s Folly). 
Notes: This was a short outing after work. I climbed FF twice: once on lead and once on top rope. Peter climbed twice on TR.

Saturday 11/12/16: Backporch (East Face) > Pellaea (East Face) > Ridge 1 (Stairway to Heaven) > 4th Flatiron (East Face) > Green Mountain Pinnacle (Takin’ Care of Business) > Stairway to Heaven (again, but we downclimbed)
Notes: I led Backporch through the crux, then we simul-climbed. We soloed up to just below the crux of Pellaea then I placed a #2 or #3 to anchor Peter while he belayed. I then led the short crux and placed a janky #000 in a flake (there’s absolutely no way this piece would hold, but it provided a little comfort) to pull the few thin moves. After that we just went ahead and simul-climbed to the top. We climbed up Stairway to Heaven to get to the 4th Flatiron. We climbed the 4th Flatiron because it was in the way of GMP. I “led” TCOB, which is basically soloing it since there’s one shitty cam placement about 3/4 of the way up. 
Peter makes his way up the 4th Flatiron
Sunday 11/13/16: Fatiron (East Face) > The Maiden (North Face) > The Matron (North Face)
Notes: We soloed the Fatiron with two rappels. I led The Maiden’s North Face then we simul-climbed the east face. The east face is a breeze and can easily be soloed. I led The Matron and we simul-climbed as soon as I reached the end of the 35 meter rope. Peter decided that during our attempt at the Top Ten in a Day I should bring him up to me at the top of the North Face then we should either solo or simul the remaining East Face. 
Downclimbing to the Crow's Nest on The Maiden (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Peter enjoying some air on The Maiden's rappel
Nice view of The Maiden
My turn to enjoy some air on The Maiden (Photo: Peter Bakwin)
Sunday 11/20/16: Pellaea (East Face) > The Regency (El Camino Royale) > Royal Arch (up East Face, down West Ridge) > 4th Flatiron (East Face) > Green Mountain Pinnacle (Takin’ Care of Business)
Notes: There was lingering snow on the ground. So, we decided on another short scouting day. I roped up and led the short crux of Pellaea again. Next time the rope will stay in the bag. I tweaked my back rappelling with a backpack and shrugged it off. We scrambled The Regency, Royal Arch, and 4th Flatiron because they were all on the way to our second objective of the day, TCOB. I led up TCOB, placing my one janky came nearly at the top, and brought Peter up to me. We rapped to the ground and then I could barely crawl back to the car because my lower back hurt so bad. 
Peter on The Regency during a perfect November day
After throwing out my lower back I did absolutely nothing for the next five days; hoping that it would feel better. It didn’t…

In an act of desperation, I decided to get a last minute (the day before Peter and I hoped to attempt the Top 10 in a Day) acupuncture/body work appointment with Brent Apgar to see if he could work miracles. Brent said that all of the damage appeared to be muscular and that if I attempted the route and things went wrong the worst thing that would happen would be me returning to see him in the same condition I was before. I can live with that.

So, I decided that if I woke up the next morning and felt OK I would attempt the linkup with Peter. If not, we’d call it off. Unfortunately, it would have to be a game time decision at the parking lot. 

I woke up feeling surprisingly good, but I’m a realist. So, I didn’t get my hopes up too much. We decided to just head towards the first route of the morning and take the day route-by-route as my back allowed. 
All goo mountain days start at or before sunrise
So, at 6:31am November 26th, Peter and I set off towards the 1st Flatiron. I really had no idea what to expect from the day with my back issues, but there was only one way to find out. Looking back, we likely could have left the Chautauqua parking lot about 30 minutes earlier, hiked up to the 1st Flatiron in the dark, and the sun would have been up right when we started scrambling. However, it was pretty chilly (maybe in the 30’s) at 6:30am and Peter isn’t a very big guy. So, we waited a bit longer to minimize the scrambling we’d do with cold hands and rock. 
Sunrise as we made our way through the talus en route to the 1st Flatiron
We soloed the 1st and made it to the top in about 18 minutes (Route #1)—a rather pedestrian effort. Throughout the day none of our times would be fast by Minion’s standards, but would be considerably faster than your average person. Scrambling with backpacks full of gear and water was a good way to keep the effort in check. Per usual, we downclimbed the standard 1st Flatiron downclimb, the Southwest Face, and were on the ground in a few minutes. So far, so good for my back…
First route of the day in the bag
Once on the ground we made our way over to the 3rd Flatiron’s East Bench via the usual shortcut. Again, we soloed and after the casual walk up the east face (Route #2) we rappelled down to the top of Friday’s Folly and set up a top rope. We took turns TR’ing Friday’s Folly (Route #3) while the other person belayed from above. This allowed us to bring less gear and to TR the route with just one 35 meter rope. After we both climbed, Peter rapped on the single rope then I tied our two half ropes together and rapped down. Three routes finished and the back was still feeling great!
Our scouting of Friday's Folly
With feet on solid ground we took the shortcut around the south side of the 3rd Flatiron down to the Royal Arch trail and followed it to the 4th Flatiron. Here, we veered off trail and began the steep grunt up to Green Mountain Pinnacle. The thought of scrambling the 4th Flatiron for our approach to GMP actually did cross our minds. Not really sure which way would be faster, but I know which one is more enjoyable.  

We dropped our packs at the base of GMP and scrambled up into the West Chimney—Takin’ Care of Business (Route #4). I shimmied up the chimney, trailing both ropes below me, and placed the usual janky #1 cam about 3/4 of the way up for peace of mind. Once on top, I brought Peter up on TR and we used our two half ropes to rappel back to our packs on the ground. With the exception of routes #9 and #10, TCOB is probably the most potentially strenuous route on my lower back. It was a pretty big relief to get through this route with my back still feeling fine.
Takin' Care of Business (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Peter showing the way
From here, Peter led the way on a nice little shortcut over to the top of Ridge 1. When linking the Top 10 from north-to-south it makes sense to downclimb Stairway to Heaven. So, that’s what we did. After a short scramble up to the summit of Ridge 1 we began our descent of the route (Route #5). Stairway is a pretty painless downclimb that’s just slightly harder and steeper in a few spots than downclimbing the 2nd Flatiron’s Freeway route. This is probably the most questionable route in Roach’s Top 10 list, especially with so many other great routes in Skunk Canyon. To each their own, I suppose…
The short scramble to the summit of Ridge 1 (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Scouting out Ridge 1 (Photo: Peter Bakwin)
At the bottom of Skunk Canyon we bopped up-and-over the ridge to the south and Peter led another direct route to the base of the Backporch (Route #6). We roped up for this route. I feel that if we had got in a few more practice runs on this route we’d both be comfortable soloing it. Regardless, I led up through the crux, which required a short bit of simul-climbing to stretch the 35 meter rope that far. Once through the crux I just braced myself and hip belayed Peter up to me. We soloed the rest of the way to the summit. To get down we tied our two half ropes together and had two rappels. The first rappel is easy to get into, but it’s a little difficult to find the rap anchors for the second rap. The second rappel is awkward to get down into and free hangs for 80 feet to the ground. 
Peter topping out on Backporch during a scouting run
Now, all we had to do was pull the ropes and be on our merry way to route #7. I guess that would have made things too easy. Of course, our ropes got stuck on the second rappel. We yanked and pulled for 10-15 minutes from every angle you could imagine. I was able to scramble a little bit up the hill behind the Backporch and get a glimpse of the rope and how it was stuck. Somehow, the tails from the knot got trapped underneath the rest of the rope and would just tighten as we pulled on the rope from below. Shit…

As the last person to rappel, I was kicking myself for not checking that the ropes were untangled before rapping to the ground. This was my fault. Now, with our ropes stuck we had two options—call it a day and get the ropes later or one of us jug up the ropes on makeshift prussics to get them down. Peter was going to take one for the team and do the dirty work of jugging up the rope because of my back issues. However, Peter is a self-proclaimed non-climber and lacks much upper body strength. I had a feeling that if Peter got the ropes down his upper body would be too spent to climb The Maiden and The Matron later in the day. Since my back had been feeling great all day I decided to take the risk of throwing it out again in order to jug up and free the ropes. I’m considerably bigger and stronger so it just made sense for me to do it. 

I used two long runners (one for each hand) to form prussics and took the long tails of the runners to make foot loops. A third, shorter runner was used for another prussic that I attached to the belay loop of my harness. I was able to weight the third prussic and take rests while jugging up the rope. Peter put the loose ends of the rope through his belay device and kept the rope as tight as possible so that I could slide the prussics up it easier. I’m not sure how legit this setup is, but it seemed OK to me.

Jugging up 80 free-hanging feet on shitty gear in the middle of a long day certainly wasn’t anywhere on the agenda. The entire process was frustrating since the prussics didn’t really slide smoothly up the ropes. So, I had to stop to rest quite a few times along the way. With about 20 feet left to go I noticed that when I weighted the belay loop prussic to rest that all of the prussics would slowly slide back down the rope. This motivated me to grit my teeth and grunt through one last push up to the rap anchor. After a few minutes I reached the anchor, had the rope free, and was back on the ground. To our relief, the rope pulled easily. Crisis averted…

The entire ordeal from the summit of the Backporch to both of us being on the ground with the ropes unstuck lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. We basically lost an hour, but luckily my back still felt fine and I knew my upper body would be recovered by the next route. Now, the likelihood of finishing before dark didn’t look too good. During our scouting we were pretty slow on The Maiden and The Matron and we also roped up for the crux on Pellaea. If we wanted to finish before dark we’d have to climb these routes quicker…

We made our way over to Pellaea (Route #7) after the Backporch shitshow. Today, we decided to keep the rope in the bag and solo the entire route. Overall, Pellaea is a very easy route with just one “heads up” crux—a steep, thin bulge—that requires a few minutes of concentration. Keeping the rope stowed for this route probably saved us about ten minutes or so. A short rappel had us on the ground and descending Fern Canyon. We were able to enjoy a brief stretch on trail until we arrived at the Shadow Canyon-Mesa Trail junction. 
The crux of Pellaea. One of the few photos we actually have from our TTIAD (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Summit of Pellaea
Here, we veered off-trail and made our way up the steep terrain to the base of the Fatiron (Route #8). Fatigue from the day was starting to set in, but we just kept our heads down and slowly pawed our way up as we soloed the bottom section. A short rappel had us ready to cruise up the top section of the formation. I kept the rope tied around my waist heading up the top section so it would be quicker to set up the second rappel. 
Peter heading up the Fatiron during a scout

Making our way up the second piece of the Fatiron during scouting (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

On the Fatiron with our next objective, The Maiden, in the background

View of The Maiden from the Fatiron

Looking north from the Fatiron summit, I think. Cool arch in the upper-left 
Cool tunnel en route to The Maiden
After the Fatiron we had a short bushschwack over to The Maiden. Getting to the Crow’s Nest of The Maiden involves a short up-and-over scramble on typical Flatirons slab. We left our packs at the Crow’s Nest, roped up, and I led the traverse across the North Face (Route #9). I think I started with one really short pitch to a tree, brought Peter over, then went all the way to a little alcove just below the east face, which stretched the 35 meter rope to its limit. The supposed 5.6 crux is on the first short pitch I did, but in the few times I’ve done this route I haven’t been able to find anything that feels 5.6. The second pitch is basically a top rope for the lead climber as you do a descending 5.4’ish traverse that doesn’t offer much opportunity for pro to protect the follower. 
Peter making his way to the Crow's Nest on The Maiden
Once Peter got to the alcove we stashed the gear and soloed up the east face to the summit. Perhaps the single most spectacular moment of the Top 10 in a Day is rappelling back down to the Crow’s Nest—about 100 free-hanging feet onto a tiny perch! We gathered our gear at the Crow’s Nest and opted for a second rappel down the south face. I’m not sure if the second rappel puts you in a better position to get on the Shadow Canyon Trail, but it does eliminate the up-and-over scramble back from the Crow’s Nest. 
Peter doing one of the coolest rappels in the Flatirons
We descended some steep, lose talus and boulders down to the trail and followed it down to the southern-most fork before veering off trail one last time. It was about 4:30pm when we reached the base of The Matron’s North Face and the sunset was 4:37pm. So, we roped up, put on our jackets, and got out our headlamps. When gearing up I realized that I lost my ATC somewhere between the last rappel off The Maiden and the base of The Matron. Shit…
Peter descending towards Shadow Canyon between The Maiden and The Matron

Nice perspective on The Matron from a scouting run
Anyways, I led up the North Face as quickly as possible, but spent a little time placing an extra piece or two due to being tired. We opted not to simul-climb the North Face. So, I anchored myself to a small tree near where the North Face meets the East Face and brought Peter up on hip belay. From there we simul-climbed the rest of the East Face in the dark to the summit. 
Nearing the top of the North Face of The Matron during scouting (Photo: Peter Bakwin)
Two short rappels were all that kept Peter and I from an easy hike down into Eldorado Springs. Unfortunately, we only had one ATC between us. I did the first rap with Peter’s ATC and he came down on a Munter hitch. For the second rap we decided that he would go down first on the ATC, tie it to the end of the rope, then I’d pull it up and use it. We weren’t really in any hurry at this point. 
We stowed our gear one last time and began the 30+ minute hike down the Old Mesa Trail to my friend Jim’s house in Eldorado Springs. He treated us to some warm soup and a ride back to Chautauqua. Naturally, I headed to the West End Tavern on Pearl Street to have some food and a few drinks before retiring to the back of the Taco for the night. A well earned sleep…
Peter doing the second rap on The Matron during scouting
To this day, I still can’t believe that my back held up for the entire linkup and that I never had any problems/pain in the days following. Massive thanks to Brent Apgar for the work he did and allowing me to have this great day in the mountains with one of my favorite adventure partners.  

Roach’s choices for his Top 10 are just that, his choices. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his choices, but I agree with most of them. Anyone can easily substitute any of his chosen routes for routes that they prefer. However, his selection of routes does lead to a pretty impressive tour of the Flatirons. Mega-classic east face routes, chimney climbing, steep climbing, bushschwacking, and spectacular rappels all add up to one great day in the Flatties! 

Splits hh:mm:ss (Location: Split Time: Elapsed Time):
  • START at Chautauqua: 00:00:00 (6:31 am)
  • Base of 1st Flatiron: 00:21:22—00:21:22
  • Top of 1st Flatiron (Route #1: Direct East Face): 00:18:16—00:39:38
  • Downclimb off 1st Flatiron: 00:3:12—00:42:50
  • East Bench of 3rd Flatiron: 00:09:13—00:52:03
  • Top of 3rd Flatiron (Route #2: Standard East Face): 00:12:32—01:04:35
  • Both of us on Friday’s Folly ledge, TR setup, 1st climber on ground: 00:14:32—01:19:07
  • Both finished FF, on ground, gear stowed, and on the move again (Route #3: Friday’s Folly): 00:28:04—01:47:11 
  • Arrive at base of Green Mountain Pinnacle: 00:39:31—02:26:42
  • Climbed TCOB, rapped to ground, stowed gear, and moving again (Route #4: Takin’ Care of Business): 00:19:51—02:46:33
  • Arrive near top of Ridge 1: 00:26:11—03:12:44 
  • Scrambled to the summit of Ridge 1: 00:02:49—03:15:33
  • Bottom of Ridge 1 (Route #5: downclimbed Stairway to Heaven): 00:22:21—03:37:54
  • Arrive at base of Backporch: 00:16:45—03:54:39
  • Summit of Backporch (Route #6: East Face): 00:32:43—04:27:22
  • Both on ground, rope unstuck, gear stowed, and moving again: 01:14:46—05:42:08
  • Base of Pellaea: 00:40:00—06:22:08
  • Summit of Pellaea (Route #7: East Face): 00:13:00—06:35:08
  • On ground, gear stowed, and moving again: 00:07:04—06:42:12
  • Base of Fatiron: 00:44:44—07:26:56
  • Summit of Fatiron (Route #8: East Face): 00:25:42—07:52:38
  • On ground and moving again: 00:04:49—07:57:27
  • Beginning of scramble to Crow’s Nest: 00:07:27—08:04:54
  • Summit of The Maiden (Route # 9: North Face): 00:55:39—09:00:33
  • Rapped down Crow’s Nest/South Face and moving: 00:22:51—09:23:24
  • Base of The Matron’s North Face: 00:41:03—10:04:27
  • Summit of The Matron (Route #10: North Face): 00:57:47—11:02:14
  • Rapped to ground, gear stowed, and moving: 00:39:14—11:41:28
  • FINISH at Old Mesa Trailhead in Eldorado Springs: 00:33:36—12:15:04 (6:46pm)

Gear List:

  • Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35 
  • La Sportiva TX2 approach shoes
  • La Sportiva Cirrus Tights
  • La Sportiva Stratosphere long-sleeved shirt
  • La Sportiva Primus 2.0 Hoody
  • La Sportiva Circle Beanie
  • Smartwool no-show socks
  • Suunto Ambit watch
  • Julbo sunglasses
  • Black Diamond Spot headlamp
  • Black Diamond Couloir Harness
  • Black Diamond ATC Guide
  • Black Diamond Camalots
    • #0.4
    • #0.5
    • #0.75
    • #1
    • #2
  • Runners (x5)
  • Half Ropes
    • 35m
    • 30m
  • 1 Liter water
  • 2 Epic Bars

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Longs Peak Project (December) -- Keplingers Couloir

Disclaimer: I wrote some parts of this shortly after each summit attempt and other parts about eight months later. So, I go into a lot of detail when talking about some aspects and very little detail when talking about others. Sorry…

December 19th—Keplingers Couloir with Peter Bakwin (Bailout)

Car-to-car time: 12 hours 27 minutes

The weather had been absolute crap up to this point in December. With the forecast for today looking slightly less shitty I decided to take a sick day (cough, cough) and attempt to finish the project with Peter. It’s now August 2017 as I write this. So, the details are fuzzy at best. I remember the postholing being deep from the very beginning and the winds being fierce above treeline. Peter and I would walk for a bit, turn around, and our tracks would already be blown over. Around a thousand vertical feet from the summit we decided to bail. We could have made the summit, but we would have descended in the dark. I struggled throughout the day for some odd reason and honestly didn’t think I could ever make it back to the trailhead. When we reached the cars I was left completely wrecked physically and mentally. There have only been a few times in my short lifetime of mountain pursuits where I didn’t know for certain that I’d make it back to the car under my own power. This was one of them. Every step took every ounce of energy I could muster and it continued this way from the moment we turned around all the way back to the parking lot.
Peter dropping me like I was standing still...

Gearing up for the slop up Keplingers

The winds were pretty fierce. Not sure this photo really conveys that.

Bailing out in hopes of getting back to the "trail" before dark.

December 29th—Up/down Keplingers Couloir with Justin Simoni and Charlie Nuttelman

Car-to-car time: 12 hours 58 minutes

After bailing on this route with Peter I had accepted that my LPP was over. That attempt left me mentally and physically defeated. The last time I was that wrecked after a day out in the mountains was when I traversed all of the Elks Range 14ers in a single 44-hour sleepless push. I had zero motivation to get back out there and try Keplingers again. 

Fortunately, I have some amazing people in my life. Even though I had just met Mandy I think she could sense how important this project had been to me throughout the year. She provided endless words of encouragement and was the primary source of motivation for me deciding to give Keplingers another attempt. Once Mandy convinced me to give it another go I reached out to Satan’s Minions to see if anyone wanted to join. After the first attempt I dreaded the thought of going at this alone. I kept thinking back to how devastated that day left me and didn’t want to potentially experience that all alone. 

Unfortunately, with the holidays I was left with only one day that worked—the 29th. This meant that Peter couldn’t join for my last month of the LPP. Peter and I had teamed up to tackle seven of twelve months together for our LPP’s. We also climbed all of Gerry Roach’s Top 10 Flatirons Classics in a day on a whim; an idea I expressed to him during one of our “routine” North Face descents. Several years ago Peter took me scrambling for my first time ever on The Regency and Royal Arch. Eventually, he took me up the 1st and 3rd Flatirons one morning for my first ever ascents of those slabs. Needless to say, through the last five years Peter has become one of my most trusted adventure partners. So, it was a bit hard to go into this second attempt without having him along. 

I was lucky enough to get interest from Justin Simoni and Charlie Nuttelman. Justin is always pursuing some badass project(s) and Charlie completed the LPP last year with Bill Wright. Justin also joined Peter and I for our May ascent of Notch Couloir. So, I was happy to have these two great guys along for the day. The level of stoke these guys bring with them is contagious. 

After some emailing back-and-forth we finally decided to just go ascend and descend Keplingers. My heart was set on ascending Keplingers and descending the North Face where Mandy would be waiting to drive us back to the Wild Basin TH. I just kept thinking about how much effort it took me to slog back out of Wild Basin with Peter and didn’t want that experience again. The North Face was familiar and routine, dare I say. Charlie was against this idea. He had been caught up in an avalanche descending the North Face, which is about the best reason I could think of for wanting to avoid that route. The thought of ascending with Charlie and Justin then descending TNF solo had entered my mind as well. Eventually, I decided that saving 1-2 hours on my descent time by exposing myself to potential avalanche dangers just wasn’t worth it. Regardless of which route I descended I was going to have a pretty lady waiting for me at the TH. So, I might as well descend the route that has less potential to kill me and make sure I actually get to see her at the end of the day, right?

We decided to meet at the Wild Basin TH a little before 5am with the goal of hitting the trail as close to 5am as possible. On the 29th, Mandy and I woke up at 2:30am in Fort Collins and began slowly moving around after less than two hours of sleep. I began the process of “suiting up” in all of my layers, scarfed down somewhere between 500-1,000 calories, downed some coffee, and loaded my gear into the Jeep. Shortly after 3:30am we were on the road. I’m not sure what it is, but I love alpine starts. Maybe it’s because I rarely sleep more than 3-4 hours a night already? So, what the hell else should I be doing at 2:30 in the morning?
Early morning start.

Awesome sunrise as we neared treeline.
I still had my doubts going into the day; stemming mostly from my most recent aborted attempt with Peter. Mandy was quick to rid my mind of any negative thoughts. By the time we reached the Wild Basin TH my stoke levels were pretty high and seeing Charlie and Justin drive up made me even more excited. It’s an amazing feeling to have friends willing to wake up ridiculously early to enable you to finish some stupid project you decided to do way back in January. 

As we took off from the parking lot there was still some doubt in my mind whether or not we would summit. To be honest, I like not knowing if I’ll reach the top when I set out on the trail. There should be some uncertainty (even on easy routes like this). Again, the uncertainty likely stemmed from my failed attempt with Peter. I kept going back to that, but it’s hard not to considering how shattered it left me. Shortly after hitting the trail my mind was at peace and all of the uncertainty was gone. I was going to finish this goddamn project. There was no other outcome I’d accept on this day. 

Everything above was written way back in January. Everything below was written in August 2017. 

I don’t recall anything standing out on the ascent/descent. I remember the weather being rather nice and the effort feeling mellow all day long. The three of us took turns breaking trail, but the postholing wasn’t nearly as bad as when Peter and I attempted the route. The biggest thing I remember about the day out was looking at my watch as we neared the trailhead and getting excited at the thought of seeing Mandy waiting for me. I also remember thinking that we could sneak in under 13 hours if we hurried just a bit.
Charlie busting ass
Charlie and Justin making their way up

Not too much longer until the summit. (Photo: Charlie Nuttelman)
We've reached the top! (Photo: Charlie Nuttelman)

Traversing from the Homestretch to Keplingers (Photo: Charlie Nuttelman)

When the three of us reached the parking lot there was one pretty redhead who I barely knew at the time waiting on us with the kitchen of her teardrop camper wide open and lit up. She gave me a big hug and kiss then told us that she had hot soup, coffee, doughnuts, and champagne for us to devour—she’s definitely a keeper! 

Of all of the ascents I did during the LPP this one had the most memorable finish. Typically, Peter and I would take off our shoes in the parking lot, hop in the car, and ride back to Boulder in the most anticlimactic of fashions. It was great to have a short while to reflect on the day with Mandy, Charlie, and Justin while we warmed ourselves with hot food and drink. 

Mandy and I eventually got in the car and she proceeded to drive from the Wild Basin TH to Glenwood Springs. We had planned several days in the area that included a snowmobile ride to the Maroon Bells where she would photography sunrise on New Year’s Eve. We knew each other less than two weeks at this time and she already went beyond all expectations to help me achieve my dreams. What a woman…

For the most part, this is an attainable project for anyone with a moderate amount of mountaineering experience. It’s possible to do this entire project and never use a rope for any ascent (a rope is appreciated for North Face descents in winter). The difficulties arise mostly from the weather. If one is working a normal job for 40’ish hours/week it becomes a crapshoot for getting good weather days to line up with your days off. I guess that’s what sick days are for?

Words can’t really express the amount of appreciation I have for everyone who helped me along the way during this year-long project. You all know who you are…

Yay Champagne and hot soup! (Photo: Mandy Lea)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Longs Peak Project (November) -- The North Face

November 3rd—Up/down The North Face with Peter Bakwin

Car-to-car time: 7 hours 48 minutes

With the forecast on November 3rd looking perfect and everything after that in the extended forecast looking like complete shit I decided to use a sick day and try to get a November ascent early in the month. Peter and I decided to finally use The North Face as one of our routes after saving it all year.

We hoped for some decent snow conditions on the Cables section to make for a nice, easy snow climb. Unfortunately, snow conditions were quite terrible. The Cables section was slabby rock covered in a thin layer of shit ice with 1-2 feet of sugar snow on top—not exactly ideal for an easy solo. So, we decided to rope up even though we didn’t have any pro with us. We each had a harness, a personal anchor, and a belay device. I tethered my anchor around the lowest bolt while Peter climbed up a ways without pro. He eventually reached another bolt and tethered in with his anchor. I climbed up to him, continued up through the top of the Cables where I exited the slabs (crux), and tethered into the highest bolt to bring up Peter. After exiting the Cables we easily made our way up to the summit and into the sunlight. 

This would be our last descent of The North Face for the LPP, which was a great feeling. Descending this route had become a chore more than anything over the course of the year. A short descent/traverse over to the eye bolts, two quick raps, and then one last hike back to the Longs Peak Trailhead. The crap conditions on the Cables made this ascent take several hours longer than anticipated. Oh well…

Photo: Peter Bakwin

Photo: Peter Bakwin