Wednesday, May 20, 2009


So the Foxes came to town and that means a lot of partying, very little sleep, and excessive amounts of climbing. For those that don't know Jim and Julie (and fam, now!), they are a great couple we met back in Iowa a few years ago. Jim and I climbed a ton together back there. We went at least a full year of climbing outside every week, rain or shine. This is quite a feat, considering how cold it can get in Iowa! Many 5am starts in subzero temperatures.

Anyhow, with Jim in town I wanted to do something pretty big. Jim is a solid trad climber and we have had lots of fun climbing together at the Red in KY (where they currently live), but we have never been on anything longer that two pitches. We had talked about doing some alpine stuff in the park but after getting some beta from a local guide we decided to switch our target to something in Lumpy. When looking at Lumpy ridge from town, the climbs with the longest approach are on the Sundance Buttress, so naturally, we had to climb that. Plus it is the most imposing looking buttress on the ridge, except for maybe the twin owls. The classic route up the buttress is a 6 pitch 5.9 called Mainliner. Perfect! I had been eying this climb for a while now but it is pretty committing so it was nice to have a partner that was pumped to get on something big.

We set the alarms for 4:30 am and then made the poor choice of partying until after midnight. The wake up was painful but we managed to be at the trail head by about 5:15 with a belly full of oatmeal. Here we are getting ready for the hike

We cruised along the Black Canyon trail, passing the familiar turns to the Book and the Pear. After about an hour we arrived at our turn to Sundance.

Up to here the trail had been pretty flat but after the turn, you were rudely reminded that you are in the Rockies. Another half an hour of hard hiking ushered us to the base of the buttress, where it was surprisingly cold. The hike and late night was not agreeing with Jim so I got to take the first lead. Here is Jim at the base of the climb as we are getting ready to start.

The route started with a hard layback right off the deck but then quickly eased to fun climbing with good gear. You can see the starting crack on the far right of the picture. It has been a while since in have lead trad on such steep rock but the holds were good and you could get pro anywhere you wanted. Unfortunately, even with Eli's great description of the route (here) I still managed to get suckered off route in a crack that blanked out 15 feet shy of the belay. Looking down, it was obvious that I should of traversed to the left much lower but now I was committed. Up looked hard and runout so I focused on a delicate traverse to the good holds about 12 feet to the left. Unfortunately, this zig zag path was going to cause some serious rope drag plus put Jim in a serious position if he were to fall following the traverse. The only way to avoid it was to run it out as much as I dared before putting in some gear. Fortunately, the holds were good and I managed a fairly respectable runout. After a bomber nut and an airy traverse back to the right, I arrived at the first belay ledge, a tiny stance just above a roof (just visible in at the top of the picture). To me, this felt like a long pitch. I would guess it to be pretty close to 50m.

Jim climbed up and cursed his way thought the traverse. He spent some time at the cramped belay ledge trying to gather his cookies. The altitude, partying, and long hike was conspiring against him but a power bar and water brought him around, and once he started the second pitch he began to find his rhythm.

Pitch 2 started out on low angled rock that was loaded with good crystals making the climbing easy. After about 50 feet it gets steep again and you have to pull through a steep but short crack to gain a series of small ledges. Eli's page said to go 100' to a ledge but in retrospect, I think we should of gone further. Our first belay might of been lower than his. Anyhow, Jim found a nice ledge at 100' and brought me up. By this time, I had the whole body shivers going. Full on convulsions from the cold. All I could do was sit there and watch the sun slowly creep towards us and hope the cold wind would die down.

This ledge put us at a crack that leads up to the famous stem box. After some head scratching we realized that we must of been too short on our pitches because Eli's page describes this as part of the second pitch. Even more glorious that the stem box was the sun hitting the rock about 10 feet above the ledge. I re-racked quickly and jammed my way into the to warm embrace of the sunlight. The stem box was some pretty cool climbing with awesome small nut placements. It would probably be tough if you were short, though. I wished I had done some stretching before getting into it.

I set a belay at the base of a steep hand crack leading into a left facing corner, which matched Eli's description of pitch 3 and brought up Jim. This pitch felt pretty short, probably less than 100'. Here are some shots of Jim coming though the stem box.

And rolling up to the belay

Jim took the rack and tackled the steep crack in style. We both agreed that this was the crux of the route. Here is Jim working it

After about 100' he set a belay on a nice sloping ledge and brought me up. I took the rack and headed off, hoping to get to the top of the route. After about 30 feet of moderate climbing the difficulty eased. But then I ran into the final crack. A wide flaring crack. I took off into it but only had one big cam left. I managed to get about halfway though it before I had to place it. I kept scooting up hoping to find some smaller stuff that I could protect but it became obvious that I was going to need some more big stuff to protect it. So I down climbed it, set a belay and brought up Jim. Here is a Jim joining me at the belay. He is still a bit cold.

Jim quickly made his way up the flaring, wide grunt fest and gained the easy slabs above. He lassoed a tree and brought me up. Victory! Here we are pumped to be on top

The descent was as advertised, exposed 4 class steps. I sure would not want to do that in the rain. The hike out was long and hot with a nice surprise, Molly was waiting on the trail below the Pear to cheer us on. Then it was off to Ed's for fish tacos and a cold brew. What a day!

Stats for the nerds out there. Approach took us 1.5 hours. My watch died during the ascent so I am not sure of the rest of the times. We left the TH at 5:30 am and were back to the car around 4pm. For a rack we had double cam up through the blue and a good selection of nuts. This route has awesome nut placements throughout.

Ski Vid

A few weeks ago Brent, Molly and I headed up into the snowy back country of RMNP for some skiing (Molly and I) and snowshoeing (Brent). Simply put, we had a blast. We just got a fresh dump of snow and the weather was perfect. You could not ask for a better day. We did the usual Flattop tour up the Flattop trail for a bit then coming down the easy north-east slopes to join the trail that goes to Notchtop. Here is a vid I made of the trip.