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Thursday, 23 October 2014

Free Solo Climbing the Flatirons - Page 2

Written by Nicholas Ducker
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A few days had passed and I hadn't been climbing outside since the Flatirons expedition. A few of my housemates and I had been climbing at one of the local gyms a few times since. It was at one of these gyms that Matteo stumbled upon a guide book that illustrated another route that ran directly up the guts of the Second Flatiron. It dodged to the right of the huge granite block known as the Pullman Car, which is home of the true summit and spits you out at the exact same place we had ended up before. The route was graded 5.0 and looked much more heroic than the last climb, sending you straight up the middle of the Flatiron, instead of skirting the Northern (right hand) ridge. It was interesting information and I went into town the next day and bought the guidebook for the house.



I had no intention of actually free-soloing the Second Flatiron again that day as I had already made arrangements with a Mountain Project user to climb the Direct East route of the First Flatiron with ropes in the afternoon. The idea was to recon the route in order to see if it was even a good idea to free-solo the route. It was graded at 5.6, which was well within my abilities but still requires care and there were enough variations to the route that getting lost mid-climb was a real concern. Unfortunately an hour before I was meant to meet my climbing partner, I got a message detailing that they would not be able to make it and that we should reschedule for another time, which we did. I unpacked my bag and sat down, then decided to repack my bag with just my shoes and chalk and free-solo the same route on the Second Flatiron again, as Briana, another of my housemates, was going for a hike there anyway and I was just pumped to climb something. As we were about to leave, Matteo got home from work and suggested that I climb the other 5.0, called Dodge Block, that he spotted and was in the book I'd just purchased. We briefly flicked through the book and found the route. I barely knew anything about this route other than the guidebook said it was a 5.0 and seemed to give me fairly decent directions up the climb. I figured I'd work it out when I got there and I put the book in my bag then jumped in the car with Brianna up to the trail head.




I hiked up the trail with Brianna and her friend Nate, till we came to a cross section where they decided to do a shorter loop because of time constraints. I said farewell and continued up the trail on my own till I arrived at the base of the Second Flatiron, where I started my previous climb. On the hike up I'd been tossing up the idea of climbing the new, unknown route. I had scant information other than a guidebook. I was by myself and there was a thunderstorm due at 5pm, though by the time I reached the base it was only 1:50pm. Standing at the base I figured that if its 5.0 then the line will be obvious enough and the climbing secure enough that it should be a breeze. As per the guidebook, I hiked up and left of the face, past a grove of trees to my extending up a gully to my right, to rib of rock where the guidebook claimed the route started. I was to summit this rib and step down and right to another rib which would take me up all the way to a tree just below the Pullman Car. From there I was unsure where the route went, the guidebook line seemed to indicate that I head directly up and right of the tree, then hug the left wall of the Pullman Car. The book claimed that this was easy slab climbing to the top, though I remembered looking at it from my previous climb and thinking it looked rather involved. I figured I would just climb up and work it out when I got there. This was my first error.




I took my hiking shoes off and put my climbing shoes on and started to climb. I immediately noticed that the rock was much more mossy, gritty and slightly steeper than the rock I had been climbing on previously. I had a bad feeling, but figured it would pass when I got a bit higher into what would surely be better rock. A mere 15ft off the ground my left foot slipped and I almost slid down to what surely would have been a broken ankle. I cursed under my breathe and the bad feeling washed over me again. I looked down and considered down climbing and calling it quits. I resisted, mostly due to pride, and decided to push on, half confident in my route finding ability and that the climb would improve as well as my mental state. This was my second error.



I gained the summit of the first rib and found the start of the second. The rock quality thus far had not improved and I had to check the guidebook several times to make sure I was on the right track. The route line drawn on the picture seemed vague and the description seemed cryptic. Standing at the base of the second rib, I knew I was on the right track, yet the climbing seemed harder than 5.0 and I was struggling to find a rhythm. I looked at the grove below me, recognizing it from the base. I could put my hiking shoes on and probably scramble to the bottom safely, but what does that make me? Surely I'm not going to bail off a 5.0! Feeling slightly apprehensive I started up the second rib towards the tree just below the Pullman Car. This was my third error.



The rock quality on this rib was a lot better, but still not great. I was in a very exposed position, almost directly in the middle of the Flatiron, with the giant block that is the Pullman Car looming ahead of me. I knew that in order to bail, I would have to down-climb the entire rib. This was something I was sure I could do, but would take me a long time and would feel even more insecure than the climb up was turning out to be. I kept on climbing, focusing on my breathing in order to keep the swelling feeling of anxiety at bay. What If I'm on the wrong rib? What if the storm rolls in early? What if I have to down climb and I slip? What if I slip right now?  I kept breathing in and out and climbed on, making sure each foot was solid and my position as flawless as I could get it. I still felt off kilter, I wasn't climbing in sync with the rock or myself. Thoughts of drawn out rescue operations, thoughts of being stuck on a rock face, unable to move with terror entered my mind. Still I climbed on. I arrived at the tree and looked at the next section of climbing.


(Page 2 of 3)
Last modified on Tuesday, 13 January 2015

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