Today's life risking adventure is The First Flatiron, da da dummmm.
We figured we needed an early start to get all three of us up the flatiron on Saturday but it was 9am before we left the carpark below, and another hour and a half before Levi went up the rock (video 3.8Mb).
12:35pm Looking down to Boulder
He was lead climbing
which gave him the incredible responsibility of going up ahead sans-protection and placing cams, tricams, nuts and all manner of small metal wedges into little holes in the rock for the safety of Sarah and I. Once each piece is in, he would then hook his own rope through it and then, if the worst were to happen, he would only fall as far past that point as he had climbed above it (since Sarah and I were belaying him from below). Sarah was the second climber, so she went along and cleaned
the route. Which meant she was taking out the protection and dragging a rope behind for me. Levi belayed her from above so she would only fall as far as the rope stretched. I came up last and could take which ever route I wanted to reach them since my rope was hanging straight down and didn't go through anything else. The fact that I wasn't carrying any extra clips or rope, and that I had seen two people go before me a real speed advantage. The first climb wasn't too bad, there were decent enough holes and the angle didn't scare me too much. We all tied in together at the first pitch and felt pretty good about the whole idea. Now we were up there, all ropes pulled in from the bottom and Levi set off above us. We were wedged in under a wall that forced us left across the rock face, it was also providing good grip for our magic climbing shoes
12:39pm Sarah climbing to our lunch spot
really can seem to grip to anything, they put my hiking boots to shame, pity that you have to wear them so tight you can't walk around in them. Soon Sarah was on the route and out of sight. I was left alone until I heard the shout from above.
1:14pm My scariest foot photo yet
I unclipped all the protection, hung it from my harness and began edging my way upwards. at the second pitch there was room to move around and we stopped for lunch. It had taken us three hours to get there, but we were only on the second pitch out of six so we really had to move. The climb to pitch three ended with some pretty terrifying climbing, I found myself
1:31pm Levi and Sarah stop for lunch
lying as flat as possible to fit my back pack far enough under a big slab so that I could make use of the hand holes under there, and then came the drop off. There was a five foot drop running almost directly up the rock, which we needed to go diagonally across. If I was mucking around on boulders anywhere else I would have just jumped, but when landing on a surface angled at about 60° and there being a huge drop at the bottom I had to be a little more careful about things.
When I got to the belay station I was a little apprehensive about the set up there. Even though I knew that each of the three devices that supported us could hold at least a tonne I really didn't feel like putting all my weight on them.
3:49pm Levi traversing from the third pitch
Levi reassured me and eventually I sat back in my harness and was able to belay him as he disappeared from sight almost instantly. A little while later he popped back into view traversing across to another drop off. It was another half hour at least before we heard him calling for Sarah to follow him. At that drop off she slipped a bit, but not very far, and it gave me advance warning that the lichen in that area wasn't entirely stable. When it was my turn I had to undo all the clips that I had been afraid to lean on. I really shouldn't have worried because they weren't going anywhere. I took a different route than the other two. I went across first and then up. Getting across was the hardest part of the entire day. I really had no idea of where my rope was secured, so had I fallen I would have been dragged sidewards off the little drop. I spread myself as flat as possible and with arms and legs outstretched, my face right on the rock, I edged across very slowly. I truly expected to fall at that point. There weren't any decent holes and I was pretty much just using the rough surface of the rock to grip on to. I passed the point where Sarah slipped very carefully and by now I could see the tree that the other two were waiting under (video 3.4Mb
). Levi had made it all the way there without any extra clips, quite a feat if you were to think about where he would have gone if something had happened. The station was another decent space to move around in, but we remained tied to the tree just in case.
From here we could see the ridge, and with the map we had we could identify exactly where we were. The climb started easy but the rope got caught near the top so Levi had to climb back down to untangle it and then get back into his safe spot before Sarah could set off. As I sat there and waited for them to call me I watched the shadow of the mountain get longer and longer below me, covering Boulder and heading towards Denver (which could be seen pretty well for a city that was about 40 miles away). Finally it was my turn and I got up there as quick as I could, confident that they would catch me, and mindful that it was about to get very, very dark.
7:40pm Sarah and Levi huddle together in our cubby hole above Boulder
We were all together by 7:40pm, huddled into a little open-topped cave on the ridge. I was glad to be out of the wind because it was another two hours before I left that place. Sarah and I waited together for ages before hearing Levi shouting over the wind. He had made it across the saddle and found the eye-bolts from which we were going to rappel to safety. During that time it got dark, and there was no moon. At one point I heard him calling to Sarah saying that he was coming down to her. I had a terrible feeling that something bad had happened and I would be watching sunrise from my seat. Both of the others had cool LED head lamps, but I was going to rely on a mini-maglite tied around my wrist. What worried me more than the dark was loosing feeling in my hand, so I kept myself busy by moving the cord around and checking for numbness. The wind was stopping me from hearing Levi, but finally I heard the magic words
"You are on belay"
I couldn't set off straight away as there were safety devices to collect first. I struggled with one of them for ages, even pulling some rocks apart to get to it, but I was getting tired and cold so I left it there and began my ascent. Since it was dark and I couldn't point my torch at my feet I just trusted my toes and let them find their own holes. I was on the ridge pretty quickly but moved slowly along it because of the huge risk of falling from that point. Once again I was struck by how easy these rocks would be if they were on the ground. I'd have been bouncing around like crazy. But at 10 o'clock at night, high above the lights of Boulder, I was playing it really safe. I was so happy to see their head lamps as I came over to the saddle, but the climb down to them was pretty hairy. I ended up leaving some equipment in the rocks above and belaying down to them. Then began the intricate operation of getting us all over the saddle and up to the eye bolts. We did that without incident and we gathered again at the very peak of the rock, the highest things around (apart from Green Mountain behind us). We tidied up the rope and knotted them together. We were about 90ft above flat ground on a vertical drop, and our torches could only just make the trees visible. I hurled the rope over and Levi was the first to step out in to the dark. Part of the way down the rope had tangled so he had to hang there and untie it while swaying in the wind. Sarah and I heard him cheer when he reached the ground, even though for Sarah it meant it was time for her to tie in, unhook and trust the rope. She did it without a problem and I was left at the top, what a view (video 1.8Mb
). It was midnight by the time I had all the pieces together and the ropes running through my harness. Well one of them was. I nudged around to the edge with my torch hanging around my neck. I leant over backwards putting my trust into the equipment and twang!
one of the ropes popped out. I could see their silhouettes, one came down, through my ATC and into my hand, the other went straight in to my grip. Panic! I was able to pull myself back up and to a point where I could sit down again. I double checked everything, even triple checked most things before trying again. Once I knew everything was right I rappelled to the 'sand-painting' as described by the guy in the climbing shop. The free rappel was amazing. I could see two bright spots below, and hear them encouraging me on as I went past the over hang and smoothly glided to the bottom. We were down, we could walk to the car from here (over an hour down the hill). Three cheers for our fearless leader Levi!
12:58am Back on the hiking trail at last
Our route up the First Flatiron
Our route along the ridge (done in darkness)