As per usual, nothing quite went as expected.
From the start we opted for the “easier” option of not schlepping sleeping bags or cook stuff up to the cirque. The “easier” option meant two long round trip day excursions from Worthen Resevoir. Easy in some ways, harder in others.
The two and a half hour approach hike turned into five hours when we lost the trail early on. Caltopo had shown a trail mostly on the east and south side of Roaring Fork Creek. Naturally then, when we got off the trail, we searched in those directions, occasionally picking up cairns and worn paths suggesting that indeed a trail did exist there. We talked of the superhighway that we were missing; we thought it a pipe dream.
John Sims, a friend, had climbed a few undocumented routes to the left of the one in Kelsey’s guidebook and he sent a photo of two routes with a texted beta description:
“The white line is 5.9 the blue is 6.7ish [sic]. The meet [sic] after the first pitch on a pretty good ledge then go up a chimney that has a good .5-1” crack on the left side. After that go up and trend right on mostly fourth class terrain”
I think pride, or maybe a desire to exhibit low-key competency, stopped me from asking any more logical questions, such as “how much fourth class?” or “what kind of rack?” or “what was the descent like?” or “how long did it take you?” Just a waste of time, we could figure it out; it would be fine.
The plan had been to climb one of the routes on Sims’ buttress on day one, sussing out the approach, descent, etc, cache some gear and then walk out, hiking in the following day to climb the Giant’s Bite on the Big Red Buttress. After the five-hour approach, which we figured we could at least shorten by an hour by knowing more, we still thought it made enough sense.
We reached the base at noon. From the there it looked like we could scramble off the back side of the short buttress into a gully. Being on the short side of the solstice, daylight was limited. Starting up the six pitches of Giant’s Bite seemed less wise, so we went with the original plan of one of the two shorter routes. We could still cache our gear and be back at the parking lot before dark.
“Should we do the left or right?” Kat asks, looking up at the grey-white stone. Both look clean, doable, and appealing.
“They both go to the same place. How about the leader chooses?” I respond. “Do you want the first lead?”
“Sure, I’ll do the five-nine.”
From the ground it looks like a wide fist crack in a flaring slot. I silently wonder if we have enough #5 Camalots (we have zero).
Kat racks up and I flake the rope in the noonday sun. The east and north facing aspect of our buttress and route foretell of a soon to be shady climb. Kat squirms up the first pitch of fists and hands in a flaring groove to a good stance, just short of an overhang into a wider crack. A quick anchor and then I am on belay. The overhanging offwidth looks imposing, even for a supposed 5.9, and instinctively I scan for other options. To the left a lower angle finger crack fits the bill. We swap gear and I delicately smear the licheny face to the right. Two moves later I latch onto a good hold and scamper my feet up onto a small edge.
I climb the finger crack for another thirty feet and emerge onto a square cut ledge. Above a corner with a .5-1” crack exists; further inspection finds it guarded by some hollow flakes. I look right and find a ledge/ramp leading around the corner, then an upward corner system with some hand cracks. I hem and haw and waste a few minutes on indecision before settling on the latter option. I work up the cracks, huck a loose block into the snow filled gully, and gingerly tap and test. Above as the expected rope drag gets bad enough, I find a perfectly positioned perch. An anchor, a quick exchange of words, and Kat is on belay. A bit wandery but not bad climbing, I think as I strain to pull in the rope as Kat moves upward.
Before swapping leads, we both don puffy jackets and drink some water. Kat leads 150 feet of low fifth class and fourth class climbing, on mostly clean, steep-enough rock.
Two long pitches of mostly fourth class, interspersed with at least one A0 move and some fifth class rock put us at the top of a small tower/buttress. We peer over the edges and scout around. A slung block with some taped closed carabiners indicates our next move.
“Well, guess we will see where a 70 [meter rope] gets us” I say. Kat ventures downward into the unknown. In true “I reallllly really want to know what has been found, but don’t want to yell across the mountain” fashion, I eagerly await any form of communication. Pretty soon a “rappel off” reaches my ears and I again refrain from asking what was found. I tip-toe downward not wanting to disturb the loose rocks littering the ledges. Once down and around a corner, I see Kat sitting in the gully changing shoes.
Situated on a good ledge, I pull the rope. To my surprise the unexpected happens: it comes down all the way and doesn’t bring any of the loose rocks with it. I coil the rope, down climb, then sit and change shoes.
“Simpler than I expected” Kat says. “Wonder what this gully will bring?”
Kat explores the snow/neve/scree interface. “Sure not kicking steps in this” I hear as I finish tightening my shoes. We move higher up the gully, end run around the thin patch of old snow/ice and pick our way down the loose scree.
Watches read 5:30 by the time we are back at the packs. Not quite as low commitment or short as expected. We eat a little and we drink a little. “Yeah, we probably should have opted for carrying sleeping bags up” Kat reflects as we stuff things into our packs. Thirty minutes later we decide that caching gear for another ascent tomorrow limits our options. In keeping with the theme of the unexpected, we did not know we would successfully find the superhighway on the descent and be back at the parking lot another mountain adventure richer by 9:15.
Featured Image: Leg Lake from up on Sims’ buttress.