Rocky Mountain High: Glacier Gorge Odyssey

Wednesday morning, order 230am (roughly)"dude, sickness I forgot my harness..." Brad and I were inside my shitty tent, bivied at 11500 feet in Glacier Gorge, rain fly flapping in the wind and the sound of alpine streams filling the silence in between gusts.  We had hiked in around sunset and went to sleep around midnight with BIG plans for the next day.  I woke briefly from my slumber and was greeted by Brad, who was apparently wide awake.  All he said was, "dude...I forgot my harness."

I told him we should just discuss it in the morning..."manyana mang, manyana," and back to sleep I went.  The next day brad fixed himself up with a nifty webbing harness, not ideal for the family jewels, but good enough to avoid Death.  With that in mind, we headed up to the base of Spearhead and fired off The Barb (III 5.10c). We were able to simulclimb up to the crux pitch, and then simulclimb the remainder of the climb which follows the North Ridge (5.6). (following the crux pitch) gaining the north ridge (gaining the North Ridge of Spearhead)

This climb felt easier than the Spearhead's other classic route, Sykes Sickle (III 5.9+), which I had climbed last summer with Buster. (Buster, not feeling so hot on our c2c ascent of Sykes Sickle in Summer 2008) Brad and I simulclimbed everything up to 5.8, and knocked out the route in about 3 hours.  After a quick lunch down at our bivi site, we decided to head up to the massive wall on Chief's Head's Northwest aspect and climb Birds of Fire (IV 5.11a).  By this time, Brad had obviously forgotten about his slumdog harness.  There was a 150 foot steep snowfield at the base of the wall, so I kicked steps with my trail runners and belayed Brad up to the base of the rock wearing his Tevas.  Strong winds, cool shade, and routefinding errors thwarted our afternoon attempt before Brad even made it to the first belay.  We both agreed that we had enough fun for one day, so we decided to call it quits, head back to our bivi site, and drink the beers we had hiked into the backcountry. (the plush bivi site we moved into after my shitty tent broke in the wind) The next morning we woke with the sun and after a quick meal, blazed up the boulder field and the steps we kicked to the base of the Chief's Head. [youtube]3kySh9IPrkg[/youtube] Birds of Fire is a spectacular bolted (mostly) line up the center of Chief's Head's Northwest face.  If you don't feel comfortable running it out for 25-35 feet on 5.10 slab, you should not climb this route.  Thats not to say I feel comfortable doing such things, but I managed to keep from pooing my pants and/or falling on lead. (looking down the 1st 2/3 of Birds Of Fire) Brad held it together on the crux 5.11a pitch.  We hit the route at the sunny stretch of the day, and at the perfect time of the year, because a couple weeks later the sun's arc will no longer grace  this vertical sea of granite.  High winds made it chilly, but the sun kept things pleasant.  The route climbs for roughly 1100 feet in 8 pitches, and has bolted belays except for pitch 1.  It took us roughly 4.5 hours up and another hour to rappel, which we did using the 60m lead rope and a 60m tag line. (rappelling Birds Of Fire) That night we hiked out of the park, all the while talking about what we were going to do next week, when we'd be back with 2 harnesses, more beer, and the beta we needed to SEND. Fast forward one week...Brad and I hiked into Glacier Gorge in the late afternoon and found a nice "bivi suite" at the base of the Spearhead.  We discussed our plans for the next day over some delicious gulash (dehydrated Idaho mashed potatoes, salami, tuna, avocado, cherry tomatoes, cheese) and beer.  Some inspirational bedtime tunage blasted from my backcountry speakers.  We woke at first light, and after breakfast, skirted around the Gorge to the base of Arrowhead Peak.  Brad started up Ithica (IV 5.12a) and blasted it in 5 pitches, linking the first pitch (5.8X), with the 2nd pitch 5.11a. The slaby 5.12a crux was not too bad, and the rest of the route featured steep dihedral climbing, often with sparse pro in between vegetated seams. [youtube]I2mpb677UAI[/youtube] We scrambled to the summit of Arrowhead and then descended the 3rd class ramp back to the top of the 1st pitch of Refugium (III 5.10a).  I lead the route in 3 pitches, simulclimbing as much as possible. We then scrambled down to the base of the mountain, and back to our bivi site for a quick lunch.  That afternoon we hiked across the snowfield at the base of The Spearhead and started up Stoned Monkey (III 5.12a).  Stoned Monkey was quite the funky monkey.  We started off by simulclimbing up to the base of a 5.9 corner. I climbed the corner until it petered out, and convinced myself I was off route since all options looked hard and unprotected.  I brought up Brad, who boldly lead out across 25 feet of delicate and steep slabiness with no pro, risking a serious pendulum into the dihedral. he then went straight up to the base of the crux pitch..dun dun dun!.  This was no one move wonder 5.12a, this was a classic Rocky Mountain Finger Seam (RMFS), which went up through dead vertical slab for 40 feet or so.  Brad took a nice whipper somewhere in the middle, and after several more attempts, decided to just aid the pitch for the sake of time.  Luckily I was belaying him on a Gri-Gri, because somewhere along the way, a piece blew, and Brad took a 30 foot upside down fall...oops!  Without hesitating, he jugged back up and aid-monkeyed his way to the top of the pitch and then one more sweet 5.9 pitch to the top of the route. (Looking down the face of the Spearhead) Shaken but not stirred, we scrambled back to camp and celebrated like stoned monkeys in the alpine.  It had been a day of vertical rambling to remember. We woke up around 9 the next morning, refreshed but still beaten up from the 17 pitches on 2 different mountains we had climbed the day before.  After some brief discussion and motavation, we decided on climbing Obviously Four Believers (IV 5.11a).  This turned out to be the best route I have done on the Spearhead, with varied climbing, awesome positions, and in Brad's words, "the best hand crack in Colorado's high country."  That night we hiked out of the gorge and drove the 1 hour back to The Front Range.  All in all, these 2 trips into RMNP set a new standard for summer Alpine rock climbing.   While c2c ascents are good for training, when time is limited, or in winter when conditions are rough, bivis in the high country are far more enjoyable and let you get a lot more climbing done.  If you know the approach, then do it at night to avoid the heat and the summer hikers.  Bring Ibuprofen to supplement the beer and rum.  If you see other climbers/tourists on the way up, tell them you heard (Insert: the route they are thinking of doing) is soaking wet, or that the trail they are hiking on is closed for "Mud Falcon Nesting," unless of course, the climbers/hikers are attractive members of the opposite sex.  In such an event, simply show them your Khram and offer them the coveted position of camp cook.  If a pesky park ranger should ask you for a bivi permit, tell them all the gear on your back is merely training weight for Gasherbrum XXIV, and if they persist, beat them silly with a rock.