Kevin and I just got back from the west. Here is the trip report for our Colorado climbing experience. We learned a ton and I hope others can learn from our experiences. Pictures are available on my Facebook page. Search for me as Marshall Kuypers.
This trip is best described as a learning experience. This was Kevin and my first real attempt at multipitch climbing, as well as any climb with a reasonable (more than a mile) approach. We studied extensively before the trip, consulting reading material and other climbers in the club. We brushed up and practiced rescues, anchor building, and both read Freedom of the Hills cover to cover for new topics such as mountain weather. We set out with high hopes.
We hoped to climb in Estes Park for a warm up on the weekend, then hike in 5 miles to the 5.8 8 pitch South face of Petit Grepon. We would hike in the day before and hit the climb early. The next day, we would hike the 5 miles to the 6 pitch 5.8 Stettner's Ledges by Longs Peak. After reaching Broadway's ledge, we would traverse to Keiners route and finish to the summit. We would then descend on the cable route and finish up with a few rappels. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) our plans changed.
We arrived in Estes Park on the 17th. We set out for Lumpy Ridge to practice some small multipitch before heading on to our bigger projects. Our problems started at the trailhead. We were afraid of running out of gear, and so we brought everything under the sun. We had doubles of cams and nuts, as well as plenty of lockers, some hex, and tricams. We were considering bringing quickdraws and decided why not? There seemed to be no reason to leave them at the car. We also had neglected to check out the skinny ropes from the club, and so we were off with 130m of 10.5 mm deadweight. We set off with too much water, gear, and not enough conditioning. We totally underestimated the effect the altitude would have on us.
We arrived at the base of the 4 pitch 5.7 Osiris. The first pitch was a beautiful climb up a chimney, with thick vertical granite ribs on the outside. Kevin geared up and had a beautiful lead, although the gear sling he was using impeded his progress, and the surplus of gear began to slow us down. He arrived on a ledge and belayed me up. There were many times I thought I was going to suffocate. The bulky pack prevented me from climbing the chimney well, and whenever I got a high foot, the heavy pack prevented me from standing up. I burnt out my arms in the first 50 feet of the 140 foot climb. I got to the ledge and we realized our predicament. I figured Kevin could lead the rest and I could follow, albeit slowly.
A half pitch later, it was too clear that we simply had too much gear with us. We decided to bail, but first, we managed to get a rope stuck on the throw down. I rappelled down, unjammed it, and jugged back up. We were then able to situate the rope safely and exit the climb. On the way down, we clipped some rap rings in order to top rope the next climb over (5.9 George's Tree), which turned out to be my favorite climb of the trip. It was a flared finger and hand crack, which slanted rightward. It took intense concentration and repetitiveness, but was well worth it.
We retreated back to town and called up a few experts to discuss our options. We decided we needed smaller ropes or a pull line, and we needed to ditch the gear sling in favor of racking the harness and keeping slings around the chest. After much more thinking, we decided we didn't want to do our next climb with only one rope, so we would brave the extra weight.
The next day, after nearly hitting a black bear on the drive in, we arrived at the Rocky Mountain National Park. We hiked in the 5 miles to Sky Pond and bivyed under two boulders that formed a small cave. There were more mosquitoes than I have ever seen in my life. The hike up was steep and tiring, but beautiful.
We got up at 4:30 the next morning to blue skies, and lots of wind. We geared up and started the 8 pitch 5.8 South face of Petit Grepon. We opted to scramble up a steep gully and traverse over on a ledge to skip the first pitch in the interest of time. I led the second pitch, which was pretty easy climbing,and brought Kevin up. Kevin began the third pitch, but 30 feet up, we noticed the clouds rolling in. At 8 AM, the sky was already thick with rain clouds. They came right over the mountain and we knew it would be foolish tocontinue. Despite feeling great about the climbing, Kevin backed off and we rappelled down. Just as we hit the talus field, the skies opened up and rain started coming down. We had a wet hike out of the park, but we were 100% confident we had made the right decision. The previous day, some climbers had narrowly missed a lightening storm near the top of the climb. The rain made it treacherous to scramble over the talus field, and we were glad we weren't on the rock.
We had a relaxing hike out and reevaluated our options back in town. Kevin wasn't anywhere near 100% with a terrible cough and a healing sprained ankle. We had planned to climb Stettner's Ledges, a 5.8, 6 pitch climb on Longs peak. The weather looked terrible and we were beginning to grow tired of our lessons. We needed more conditioning, less gear, and different gear (thin ropes). We decided to try and get some good climbing in, instead of hiking the 5 miles into Longs.
We finished by climbing some granite spires North of Estes in an area called the crags. Kevin had some great leads on sharp granite crystals. As we were climbing, we watched a storm envelope Longs peak and were glad to be dry. Lightening started coming down on our ridge just as we were getting to the car.
After coming back from the trip, we learned a few unpleasant facts. A hiker fell 200 feet to his death while trying to descend from Longs peak shortly before we arrived in Colorado. It seems as though he got off route, and possibly was suffering from high altitude sickness. Over the weekend, a climber was on Stettner's Ledges (the route we were going to climb), when he slipped on wet rock and fell 20 feet, badly injuring both ankles. He was eventually helicopter out. Furthermore, Tuesday night, a climber was rappelling off of the diamond on Longs peak. She got off route and was unable to ascend to the next rappel station. She built an anchor and braved a storm until she could be aided by 4 park rangers. She reached relative safely around 3 AM on Wednesday. Had Kevin and I gone up to Longs, we would have arrived just as she became stuck. We would have joined the several other climbers preparing to assist in an evacuation at the base of Longs. People who were there reported 39 degrees, wind, and rain throughout the night. It would have been an interesting night. A few days ago, 16 climbers were rescued in the Grand Tetons when a storm hit. Several sustained injuries from lightening. One climber died. These were all reminders that climbing is dangerous and solidified the fact that Kevin and I made reasonable choices. We backed off when things looked imperfect, and avoided the storms that pummeled others. Accidents happen, and we knew our limits. I'm not saying that any of those people involved in the numerous incidents didn't know when to back off or that they made bad decisions. I just know Kevin and I had our level of acceptable risk, and knew our limits. If we had gone through with Longs, we would have been climbing in conditions that were worse than the climber that fell experienced. Even if you do everything right, mistakes still happen. We were not blinded by lust, and accepted that although we drove quite a long way to get there, that the conditions did not merit the risk.
We didn't summit the climbs we wanted, but this trip was still invaluable. We learned lessons the hard way, and will be incredibly prepared for our next trip. We both stayed safe and had a great time. We learned to condition more for our next trip, take less gear, get the optimal gear, and to back off when we needed to. We also learned that a 35 foot 5.8 in the gym is much easier than a 140 foot 5.8 at 11,000 feet, with a pack on. Lots of things are different on bigger walls, and now we know how to best prepare for them. The trip was great and we had some awesome experiences. I'd encourage anyone who gets the chance to pursue Colorado climbing. It's a whole new beast.
Let Kevin or me know if you have any questions. Thanks to the club for the material support and encouragement.
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