Mountain Climbing in Colorado

A tribute to Rocky Mountain National Park

"Colorado... Come for the girls, stay for the climbing."    — Brad B.
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The Climbing in Colorado page has been split in many parts spread on 6 pages:

Sunrise on Chasm Lake as seen from the base of the Diamond

Mountain Climbing

Right: Sunrise on Chasm Lake as seen from the base of the Diamond Image available as a free wallpaper

Whoah, we can see the mountains from home... was my first thought upon moving here. And not some small mountain, but Longs Peak, a pyramid shaped 4300m high peak. Reality got to us later. They are 'small' ! Yes, with Fort Collins on the Great Plain already at 1500m, and roads going up to 3000m even in winter they immediately shrink in perspective. Also the lack of glaciers and big rivers (at least in those parts) kind of make them seem barely more than day hikes. For instance, if you look at Gran Sasso, a 'small' 2900m peak in central Italy, from the east, it shows as a huge 1600m face. Let's be fair: the Diamond face on the east side of Longs Peak is one impressive piece of rock. It will be for later.

So far we haven't seen many ascents that will require multi day climbs and/or approaches that are so common in the Alps (a day to go to the refuge, a day for the climb, a day down...). No refuges at all in those parts and tents don't seem too welcome with signs on parking lots always reminding you that you need to register to camp, and that you need to reserve your camping spot 6 months in advance, and that you can't sleep out of the official spots (even if those are set only for hikers commodity and not for climbers).

Sunrise on Mt Hallet, RMNP

Sunrise on Mt Hallet, RMNP

Culp-Bossier, Mt Hallet, RMNP — III 5.8 8 pitches

Right: Sunrise on Mt Hallet, RMNP Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

Boh, instead of bitching about ugly cars and inedible food, maybe I should contribute something, like a trip report. Among the many routes we climbed in Colorado, one stands out, the Culp-Bossier up Mt Hallet in RMNP. A long route on a rock which I found quite different from the usual granite. We started the approach with Brad and Lisa who wanted to climb the Great Dihedral on that same face. Being slower than them on the approach, we took a wrong turnoff and ended up at lake Haiyaha loosing 30 minutes to get back on the trail. Bad move considering that this route is a classic and that 2 other parties arrived at the same time than us at the pink rock bands where the start is located. One party started the harder Love Route and the other was a guide with 2 clients.

Jenny's white helmet visible halfway up the 2nd pitch of the Culp-Bossier, above the roof.

Left: Jenny's white helmet visible halfway up the 2nd pitch of the Culp-Bossier, above the roof.

We took off as quickly as possible to stay ahead of them. The rock is good, but this is a mountain climb, not a hike in the park, so I don't really fancy 5 people at each belay... Halfway up the first pitch I'm already calling Jenny to have the guidebook description read to me for the Nth time. There is a large easy ramp on the left and it looks so much easier than going straight up as the guidebook says... The face climbing is steep and intimidating at first. And there are some short runouts between placements. The 2nd pitch goes through a roof that looked impressive from the bottom but that offers us large holds. On the 3rd pitch I hesitate: straight up one of those hard cracks or to the right ? I follow the easy friction climbing on the right and then back left on loose easy rock. Are we off route ? Well, soon enough I find chalk again and crossing left we arrive on the right end of the large grassy ledge. It's sunny and we can see Brad and Lisa as two tiny figures on their route. We are about halfway up.

Jenny arriving at the great ledge, 4th pitch.

Higher pitch on the Culp-Bossier.

Left: Jenny arriving at the great ledge, 4th pitch. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

Right: Higher pitch on the Culp-Bossier. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

The next 2 pitches are easier but way more runout. I sometimes go for more than 20 meters with no pro on those 5.6 pitches. And the route traverses right again. Soon enough we are back on a large crack system but the usual Colorado summer weather pattern is coming at us: large clouds are moving in from behind the western col, we hear rumblings and then definite thunder while a couple drops of rain fall nearby. I don't care about the belays anymore and run the last pitches to the end of the 60m rope. I hardly notice that the last 2 pitches are harder and more exposed as we both run up the large crack. While on the last pitch we hear Brad calling us to get the hell out of there. Fortunately the summit is sheltered by a tiny roof so we have time to relax a bit and eat our sandwich before hiking down to the single rappel where our friends are waiting. And as usual, by that time the weather is already clearing...

Base of the Diamond. Stetner's ledges are the large right facing dihedrals on the left of the picture.

Me belaying Brad on Stetner's Ledges

Stetner's Ledges + Kiener's

Left: Base of the Diamond. Stetner's ledges are the large right facing dihedrals on the left of the picture.

Right: Me belaying Brad on Stetner's Ledges

While Jenny was away in vacation in Italy in August 2000, I had my first 'almost' climb of the diamond. We did Stetner's ledges which climbs up the base of the face and then Kieners which follows the easy terrain just next to the left border of the Diamond.

The approach from the car is long, a good 3 hours, but it is entertaining to pass all the hikers going up for Longs Peak, and particularly those who are on the wrong trail. The sunrise came as we were above Chiasm lake and we stopped to take pictures, fill the water bottles and look at the route.

Getting to the start of the route itself was not easy: the hard packed snow had to be carved with rocks since we had neither crampons or axes. Brad took the lead on the first pitch but I kept pressuring with: "faster, faster" so he let me lead most of the pitches after that ! I was worried about the usual Colorado weather which usually craps out in early afternoon, but it turns out I was wrong.

Brad arriving on the 3rd pitch of Stetner's Ledges

A view of Lamb's Slide from Kiener's

Left: Brad arriving on the 3rd pitch of Stetner's Ledges Image available as a free wallpaper

Right: A view of Lamb's Slide from Kiener's Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

The last two pitches of SL are a maze of options: I change crack system several times to try to get the easiest one and also the easier to protect. There are some pitons and stuck gear in different parallel dihedrals. And I do my last belay on two double-zero TCUs. Brad almost freaks out when he sees that and insists on taking the lead after that ! A few more meters and we are on the grassy and exposed Broadway ledge.

We move right on Broadway a little bit and pass under an almost completely dry Notch Couloir to the start of the second route of the day: Kiener's. Two fairly easy pitches and then we remove the rope and put it in our packs. The rest is just a scramble, even though the last move of the route is right above the Diamond itself and very exposed. We spend half an hour relaxing in the sun on the summit as we meet some of the lost hikers from the morning.

Sunrise on the Diamond.

A large angle view of the Diamond of Longs peak, Colorado

Left: Sunrise on the Diamond.

Right: A large angle view of the Diamond of Longs peak, Colorado Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

A marmot guarding the base of the Petit Grépon

Crux of the Petit Grepon.

Le Petit Grépon

Left: A marmot guarding the base of the Petit Grépon

Right: Crux of the Petit Grepon.

The Petit Grepon, a smaller copy of the Chamonix one, is one of the most distinctive summits in RMNP, featuring several 5.7 ~ 5.9 routes to a very narrow summit. The fact that the summit is as narrow as a lightning rod probably convinced all the other parties to start very early on that day in order to avoid the daily lightning strikes... We were apparently quite late judging by the number of parties already on the routes.

We passed a party on the crux of the south-west ridge while the clouds were already gathering. A couple minutes later and I'm running up the final pitch as the thunder is rumbling between the valley walls. It'd have taken only 5 more minutes to do the easy final 20 meters of 5.6 to the summit, but we cowered down and rappelled off...

Brad in front of Mt Alice, Rocky mountain National Park.

Mt Alice
A two hand trip-report

Note: G for the part written by myself, B for Brad.

Right: Brad in front of Mt Alice, Rocky mountain National Park. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

G: Dring... Dring... Hello ? It was a tired Brad calling on sunday evening to say that he just had an epic with his girlfriend on Mt Alice, in the backend of the Park. Rain, hail, lightning, fear and whatnot. In other words he had just left 5 cams and a bunch of stoppers on a retreat and they were mine if I wanted to go get them. Otherwise he would just give the info on rec.climbing and let them sort it out. I told him: "Hey, why not go pick it up next saturday ?", "No fucking way I'm going back up there. Good night". Having never left more than a couple slings on a climb, I tried to let my sense of ethics towards gear rub onto him: "Gear is booty that you find, not bailing gear that you leave", but I didn't have much success with that.

Lisa next to the waterfall on the approach to Mt Alice, early morning.

Right: Lisa next to the waterfall on the approach to Mt Alice, early morning.

B: First of all, it was ONLY 3 cams... and a few nuts... and some slings... and some biners... oh all right, it was a lot to abandon. That being said, I was in full-on slacker mode and not even $300 was enough to motivate me. It had been a fun but tough weekend. In order of significance... I had strained my relationship with my girlfriend by taking her to Alice on her first backcountry climb. We had been stormed off the mountain in what Koren thought might be the end of us. I had left more gear than I could afford to leave. The dual role of being a good boyfriend and handling all the logistics of the climb had taxed me mentally. And I had just hiked 8 miles with a hefty pack. I felt spent!

That's me on a 'variation' of the first pitch, about 5.8. The headwall is visible on the left.

G: No way I was gonna leave a whole bunch of Camalots up a route like that. 17 miles walk in and out ? Bah, if we jog it should go fast. Jenny is still nursing her knee, so on Monday I give a couple phone calls to the FC locals to see if anyone's willing to go there in a day. Not being too successful, I call back Brad in the evening and he's more mellow: "Yeah, maybe in a month or so, after I forget what it was like...". By wednesday he's more like: "OK, we'll go". And on thursday it's: "Let's go tomorrow, otherwise there might already be someone on it when we get there on Saturday".

Left: That's me on a 'variation' of the first pitch, about 5.8. The headwall is visible on the left.

B: During the week, I had forced myself to get excited about climbing Alice in a day. It was a struggle. I tried the "come on, you want to be a tough guy" thing and still I felt the seductive call of Lumpy and its 30 minute approach. The fact that Guillaume gave me the full-on guilt trip about leaving my gear helped. When he realized he couldn't find anyone else to climb Alice in a day with him, he refused to accept my slacker attitude. Honestly, everyone seemed to assume that I would go back for the gear except me. Even my non-climbing friends at work asked when I was going back. When I told Lisa that we were going back, she put the final nail in the coffin by immediately asking if we would like a third. No problem. Lisa decided to hike in and camp at Thunder Lake the night before so I "casually" asked her if she would take the ropes. Being Lisa, she accepted of course. (READ: Brad is lazy and Lisa rocks!)

G: So he manages to send Lisa up ahead with the two ropes on thursday evening (I wonder what kind of arrangement they have...), so we can start the hike very light at 2am on friday. Yawn... We wake her up two hours later, in a few minutes she's out of the bivy bag and we are all hiking up next to the lake, up the forest, up the side of the waterfall, and across the final boulder field. The snow that gave Brad some trouble last WE to get to the base is still there, and hard as ice. We start much further to the right, on easy rock, just as the sun hits the summit. Brad takes the first pitch while Lisa fixes the large gash carved into her leg by a falling boulder. We join him at the base of a slab with a closed crack in the middle. He's placed a friend 5 meters up it, and I'm already complaining that he must have backed off when he figured out it was too hard. "No, I called and you said I didn't have enough rope. Your lead."

B: The first 150 feet is only 5.5 so I solo up and place a piece at the beginning of the difficult climbing. I make some bouldery moves up into a crack and place a piece. After yelling down and hearing that I only have 30 feet of rope left, I down-climb, build an anchor, and bring up Lisa and Guillaume. It is obvious right away that Guillaume and I have differing opinions about the lower half of the route. I started up this crack because it looks like a great pitch. Guillaume wants to take the path of least resistance until we are to the route proper. Eventually, he traverses right to another easy pitch that he solos. I will feel vindicated later in the day. :)

G: I give it a half hearted try but it looks hard, hard to protect and it also smells like a first-ascent-waste-of-time: "I don't mind doing this kind of thing, but at the end of the day". Me and my big mouth. So back down, traverse to the right, and up very easy ground. Some more grass where he recovers his first stopper and we are at the base of the route. Brad's promise was that he'd let me lead everything he'd already done last WE. Including his screw-ups. "The guidebook says to start on the right, but why don't you do the direct dihedral, it's nice". When he gets to the top of that worthy pitch he gets his second stopper and tells me that my placing the belay below the overhanging headwall is not a good idea: the route is on the slab on the right. It does look much easier than where I am. We run up the pitches. The climb is nice, all between 5.7 and 5.8, on mostly good rock, with the occasional loose block or lichen patch. And it's nice to find the belays already in place with two cams, a sling and a lock biner... Only problem is that all the pitches are exactly 60 meters and generated some rope drag.

B: Guillaume was suspicious when I told him that Koren and I had climbed the beautiful dihedral on the left instead of 5.6 chimney! After I voiced my contempt over his doubts, and he started up. After all, Guillaume was the guy telling me last week that he would "drag my sorry ass back up the route" to get my gear (all this in jest of course). I figured if I had led it with Koren, he should just get his 5.11-leading ass up there already. It really is a great pitch and should be the first pitch of the climb IMHO. Also, I should clarify that I did not think his belay was a bad idea but that the overhanging headwall looked a little difficult.

Brad and Lisa at the belay after the second pitch.

Brad stemming the fifth pitch, with Lisa close below.

Left: Brad and Lisa at the belay after the second pitch.

Right: Brad stemming the fifth pitch, with Lisa close below.

G: When we reach their bail point I can tell Brad would like to take over the lead. But by that time I'm in full leading mode and I sound to them like a dog with a tasty bone that's not for share. We take plenty of pics on a beautiful day. Comes the last pitch where the guidebook says: "Finish up on easy ground". Hmmm. There's a poorly protectable ramp, a flared narrow chimney or a short handcrack. I choose the handcrack and traverse above a huge overhang to get there. I place my first cam for quite a while before a slab that leads to that crack. The traverse is delicate, licheny and I can tell no one's been there before. I'm only 5 meters from the summit ridge, so let's just finish this off. I get to the crack and it's filled with dirt. The left side is smooth and my foot smears off all the granite crystals. I remove the dirt with my fingers and place a cam. I look down at the ledge way down and repeat the same operation only a meter higher. By that time I'm pulling on the cam, trying to reach the only hold, a flat rock sticking out of the dirt, a meter higher. It's a good hold, but it bends under my weight. At this point the crack flares and is unusable for either climbing or protection, but hope is in sight: it's a nice finger crack higher on the left. Quite higher. I inch higher, my feet breaking off all the tiny crystals, the rock bending under my hand, my left fingers playing the piano to reach the crack. Then, snap, I'm airborne and stop shortly by grabbing the cam's sling in my right hand. I haven't taken a fall in 7 years, and apparently I'm conditioned to never have my weight on the rope... Now that the rock is broken it makes for a better hold and I finish the last meter with much less profanity.

B: I gave Guillaume a little bit of a hard time for being a lead-hog, but the truth is, by this point in the day, I was enjoying the fact that I had no stress and there was a TR waiting for me before I started up the pitches. This meant that I got to climb right next to Lisa the whole route and we were having a great time talking as we climbed. Guillaume did a fine job on all the leads by the way; even the last one, which proved to be quite a bit more difficult than the rest of the route. At one point, I looked up to see little tufts of grass floating through the air from Guillaume trying to find pro. Shortly thereafter, Lisa and I looked up in disbelief when we herd him yell "falling". I will fess up here and say that Guillaume didn't really fall on the last pitch per se. Oh, he did peel off, and scraped his hand in the process, but he caught himself on a cam on his way down. I didn't feel his weight on the rope until after he stopped and I took in the remainder of the slack. Fortunately, only his pride was hurt and Lisa and I began our lament of how we were going to climb that thing. In the end, Lisa aided it and I barely managed to free it after I removed the only cam that would have caught a fall and used that hold. There are those who would have called it a "first ascent waste of time", but I thought it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Lisa on Mt Alice.

Start of the last pitch.

Left: Lisa on Mt Alice.

Right: Start of the last pitch. Image available as a free wallpaper

G: Brad is multiply happy: he's spent the entire day talking so much that I thought there were several parties behind us, he's got his gear back, he freed the last pitch (on second, after I reshaped it a bit) and he's seen me fall. Although I did not. Many hours and mosquitoes later I don't even have the strength to finish my beer back home, which is my definition of a good day.

B: I felt good about getting my gear back, but I was much happier about having spent a day with two good friends on a beautiful mountain route. We lounged on the summit for a little while and then headed down to Boulder Grand Pass and back to Lisa's campsite at Thunder Lake. Taking our time put us back at the trailhead just over 18 hours after leaving. I felt spent!

Spearhead seen from the end of the trail.

Syke Sickle, Spearhead

Right: Spearhead seen from the end of the trail.

Autumn is upon us. Last year the first snow was on August 31st. And this year it's not so much warmer: on friday we look at the forecast and there's ominous rain clouds all over the Park from saturday afternoon on. Well, think we can do the long hours hike in, climb 8 pitches and come back without getting wet ? We'll decide to try as we set the alarm for 2:50, the hardest decision of the next 24 hours.

Pitch 2 of Syke Sicle, just before getting in the sun.

Left: Pitch 2 of Syke Sicle, just before getting in the sun.

I manage to avoid the last few drunk drivers of Fort Collins and soon I'm doing speed records on the road to Estes. I take my vengeance in advance for all the RV tourons who will clog this road in the afternoon while talking about their shopping experience in Estes...

At 3:30 we are hiking up the trail, passing or being passed by other climbers: they are all going to the Petit Grepon, so we relax and slow down. While we take a breather at Black Lake, two older gentlemen pass us, directed at the North Ridge of Hallet. We catch up with them later and see several parties getting out from under bivy rocks. The trouble with doing classic routes like Syke Sickle, is that you always have to defend it against other parties. As soon as we pass their bivy, 2 parties start right on our tail, fast. Jenny always nice with others, goes: "run, get there first !". We've had 3 hours of hiking already, so it's easier said than done, and I see one of them gaining on me. When I'm only a hundred meters from the base I see he slowed down: he has a different target, further to the right. All is well.

Vertical panorama of the 6th pitch, right under the crux roof. That's the sickle. The traverse after the Keyhole of Longs Peak is visible.

I start up the pitch while Jenny is still sorting out the packs. After 30 meters she finally puts the ropes in the belaying device so I can do a very short 5.7 crux. Two parties arrive at the base of the route at the same time. I skip the belay and have Jenny simul-climb a little bit so we won't have to share the belay. The first pitch is one single huge flake, about 50 meters high, no thicker than 10cm. The end of the pitch reaches the base of a series of large ledges. We simul climb part of the next pitch as well, with a couple moves of 5.4, to get to the base of the wall proper.

The 5.10 crux slot through the roof.

Right: Vertical panorama of the 6th pitch, right under the crux roof. That's the sickle. The traverse after the Keyhole of Longs Peak is visible. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

Left: The 5.10 crux slot through the roof.

Now is the 5.9 slab. I see flakes on the left and right, but the guidebook drawing goes straight up the slab. One small cam under a centimeter thick flake and I'm trying to decipher a smooth slab. One meter to the left is a corner, out of reach. One meter to the right is a hole. There's some chalk on two tiny crystals, but no feet. I start going up and right, smearing my feet on granite that breaks into tiny pebbles rolling under my rubber. Then I have a "WTF am I doing here" moment; a good question 15 meters above the belay with only a shitty piece. I lose a fair deal of sweat reversing that 5.10 move after the fear has settled in. Further down I can reach the ramp to the left, no pro but easy. The rest of the pitch is a piece of cake but my legs are twitching. With all the good cracks around here, I hadn't been scared on a runout in a long time.

Jenny arriving on the fake summit.

The next pitch is interesting, 5.8 on successions of flakes. This entire route is composed of flakes. Easy to protect, but just how good are they is the question you wonder about each time to start doing a layback. I remember a Yosemite hardman telling me years ago about a long thin flake he was doing, protecting mostly with stoppers and hexes; higher up he go pumped, put a cam in, rested his weight and... all his previous pieces fell out as the cam enlarged the flake... Or the story of Demaison starting a layback on a huge flake in Chamonix, when the flake started moving 50 centimeters away from the cliff he downclimbed and pushed it back in place before looking for another way up... All this to say that we climbed this route doing mostly pinches, not laybacks.

Summit of Spearhead, Longs Peak on the left, Chief's Head hidden to the right.

Left: Jenny arriving on the fake summit.

Right: Summit of Spearhead, Longs Peak on the left, Chief's Head hidden to the right. Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

We take some pictures of the parties to our right, face climbing some kind of tower that, seen from the profile, looks like puffed pastry. The party following us is way behind.

The next pitch has a funky sections where you start a right facing offwidth, the throw a foot to the right on the slab, then start traversing on the slab, then reach for another left facing flake after a few face moves. Plenty of chalk leads straight up to a dead-end belay right inside the roof. Here comes the test piece: 5.10 slot crux. There's a huge overhang on both sides of the belay, with a spit crack in the middle. It does look sick but there are a few pitons and the first few moves of layback protect very well with offset aliens. Changing from a layback position to a stem proves a bit awkward, but then what ? There's a roof above me ! I start backing out and then I notice that I can simply grab the left side of the roof which has by then turned into... a flake ! I didn't even need to use the two large Camalot we carried up here. An easy ramp leads to a sling belay, but I see that I'm above the bolt of the traverse, 10 meters to the right, so I backtrack a bit to be underneath it. It's a less convenient belay, but it will make for an easier last pitch.

My bloody face after a heated discussion with a rock.

Left: My bloody face after a heated discussion with a rock.

Jenny has to carry the pack up that thing and bitches a bit about my longer legs but solves it with some alternate moves. The exit pitch, if taken straight up to exit to the fake summit, is quite enjoyable. By then the sky has filled with dark clouds but we still have time to enjoy our sandwich and go up the true summit for a couple pictures.

Jenny polluting the little lake near the base of Spearhead with her climber's feet...

As we are walking back around the base of the mountain, going back to our other pack, it starts to rain and I remove my helmet and put my raincoat on. One minute later I'm seeing stars everywhere while blood gushes out of my forehead and nose. I think briefly that I've been hit by a rock, but I indeed ran into an overhanging boulder. A month ago I did the exact same thing at Devil's Tower, cutting a 5cm gash into my scalp after taking a piss under a tree and turning around too fast. I had to lead the route with a roll of toilet paper compressed under my helmet... It's not the exact same spot, but I'm getting sick of that ! Jenny who passed her CPR+ER a month ago jumps on the opportunity to put her knowledge in action... After 5 minutes the blood (and the rain) calms down and we start the long walk out. Why are hikers looking at me funny on the trail ?

Right: Jenny polluting the little lake near the base of Spearhead with her climber's feet...