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

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