Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Third Flatiron!

Last Friday I had to run down to Boulder to pick up my new (used) skis. Well, I hate to waste a trip to the front range so Brent and I cooked up the idea of climbing the Standard Route on the Third Flatiron. According to the guide book, this may be the best 5.4 route in the world. This route has been on my list for many years now. The route itself is really easy. In fact, I have seen a picture of someone climbing it in roller skates! The draw of this route is it's length. The guide book lists it as 8 pitches long and I think the route is roughly 800 feet of elevation gain. Pretty long route, especially for these current short days. For conservative estimates, we tend to allow about an hour per pitch on route we have not been on. So the plan was set for Brent to pick me up at 6am and hope our fingers don't freeze off. The weatherman predicted a high of mid 30's and some clouds but no wind! Oh, and this faces due east so it goes into the shade around noon, making it pretty cold.

As usual, Brent showed up at 6:10 and we were on the road by 6:15. We rolled into the parking lot at about 7:10 and boy was it frosty! The sun was supposed to be up at 7:18 but with all the clouds out east, it didn't matter. We donned the packs and headed out into the frosty dawn. Soon we encountered the most scary aspect of the whole day: icy trails. I spent quite a bit of time regretting not bringing my shoe chains. Unfortunately, I left the camera on the kitchen table so all I have to show for the day is these crappy cell phone pics. It looks like I need to clean my lens! Here is Brent on the icy approach. It looks mellow but the trail part was pure ice and falling in those boulders would probably leave a mark.

We arrived at the base of the climb, racked up and cast off, leaving right at 8am. I took the first pitch and headed off into a sea of rolling pink granite. Trip reports on the web talk about people doing massive runouts and placing only 4 pieced on a pitch. Being a sissy, I was pretty skeptical that this was true or reasonable. However, it was true. The climbing was so easy and secure.10 minutes and three pieces later I was at the huge bolt marking the first belay. I clipped in and yelled off belay. Brent looks a little confused and yells back that I still have half the rope left. Allrighty! Lets see if I can get to the next belay and wrap these two pitches together. 2 more pieces and another 10 minutes and I find the next belay with 2 feet of rope to spare. I back the huge bolt up with a cam, and call down to Brent. He runs up the slab, cleaning the 6 pieces of pro in 200 feet of climbing. Two pitches in a little over a half an hour! We were rocking! Now if the sun would just burn off the clouds.
Brent takes the rack for the next pitch. After a bit he find the bolt marking the next belay. Since he still had about half a rope left he also decides to try to wrap two pitches into one. Unfortunately, the second half did not go quite as smooth. Since there is no distinct path, it is hard to find the bolts marking the belays and he kind of got a little lost looking for the next bolt. And then he ran out of rope. But after a bit of simulclimbing and traversing around he finally landed on the bolt and brought me up. By this time the sun had burned through the clouds and we stopped shivering.
The rest of the route was pretty much more of the same. I managed to wrap the next two pitches into one. Then it was a short wandering pitch for Brent and finally my last pitch to the summit. The last 30 feet to the summit did grab my attention. It turned into a fairly smooth slab with no options for gear. This bit of the route does get an R rating but it went fine. Here is a shot of Brent pulling up to the summit.

We reached the summit right at noon. The summit of the Third Flatiron is pretty spectacular. You literally tower over the plains to the east. It is small and exposed. In this picture you can see the First Flatiron just to the right of my hand. The summit we are on is similar but smaller and higher.

And here is a shot looking east.

Sorry there are not more pics. I was hesitant to pull out my phone during the climb because it is kind of hard to hold onto sometimes. Anyhow, the excitement was not over yet. It takes three somewhat short but still exciting raps to get back to the ground. The hike back to the car took 2.5 more hours because of the treacherous icy conditions on the trail. Brent was literally crab-walking down the trail for a good half mile.

We got back to the car with that proud summit feeling and met Molly at Mountain Sun for some burgers and brews to celebrate. Being an relatively new Colorado resident I am still enthralled that we can get on an 8 pitch route in January. In Iowa, the cold made it hard to climb 50 feet!