We had 4 days in Colorado on a long weekend trip. There was one goal, climb a route taller then anything else we had climbed before. To get the trip started we did some Eldorado canyon classics like the Bastille crack witch is an absolutely spectacular climb. With that 350ft climb under our belt the first full day we were very happy especially since routes in the south east typically aren’t that big. With weather not fully cooperating we saved rewritten for the best day. It was also going to be our last day but the weather looked perfect.
I had asked a friend about the approach and was told it was about 15 minutes. That was great news since the day was already going to be long. We have both done some multi pitching before although not this long, so it is quiet an undertaking. The night before we discussed who was going to lead each pitch and called dibs on the pitches we wanted. It worked out perfect that we would leap frog the whole way up with Michelle starting and me finishing. We were somewhat nervous but really excited.
That morning we woke up early and I grabbed some Starbucks coffee from the hotel lobby while she finished getting ready. We got in the car and headed for Eldorado canyon, and It really is beautiful there. After nervously loading our packs we took off to the base of the climb. Sun shining and not a cloud in sight, it was going to be a great day. After twenty minutes of hiking and not even in sight of the climb we realized that the supposed 15 minute approach was not even remotely close to accurate. It took 45 minutes in reality. Not a huge deal, we made it to the base thats the important thing. Just a little more tired then we expected to be. We racked up as we waited on the party in front of us.
Finally ready to start well over an hour after we intended to be on rock due to the additional hiking and wait time we hadn’t accounted for. Michelle was nervous for sure but also stoked. She’s always nervous to start but as usual after the first piece or two is placed she finds her grove and she moves quickly only slowing down for a moment in the crux. We opted to take a slightly harder variation to the first pitch. It looked like the gear was a little better but mainly it just looked a bit more fun. After all fun is what it's all about and I would recommend it to anyone. She sets up a top belay, I shoe up and make my way up to join her on the small ledge. The fist pitch is done with five more to go. We of course snapped a few photos to commemorate the moment.
Now it was was my turn to lead. The second pitch went off similar to the first. No harder variation just good quality smoothe climbing on perfect sandstone. Eldo really does live up to the hype if you're wandering. The party in front of us was still at the bolted belay but made room for me to jump in and set up an anchor. Michelle joined me on the ledge minutes later. it was an easier pitch so we were able to do it relatively quick. However were again playing the waiting game as the next two pitches were a bit harder and were causing a bit of a traffic jam. We took the time to take some more photos eat a snack drink some water and after the guy sharing the anchor left we both took the opportunity to pee. Not something you think about climbing single pitch but something to consider on longer trad routes. We also realized we were in full sun with no sunscreen. Not a big deal for me but with Michelles fair skin we both knew she was gonna look like a lobster by the end of the day. We were having to much fun to worry to much about it though.
The next pitch, pitch 3 was one that Michelle was super excited about. It was a wide chimney section with gear in the back. It was cool with me that she wanted this one since I struggle a bit more in chimneys. She moves up through it easily with a smile she can’t wipe off. I was stoked to be able to watch as she stemmed, giggled and wiggled her way to the top. However since she lead it that meant I had to follow with the pack. It made it a little tough but it was a learning experience for sure. I hung it below me from the belay loop on my harness. That helped a lot for sure. When I made it up to join her she couldn’t have been more happy. The day was going great!
The fourth pitch was the crux pitch and is a spectacular diagonal crack into a vertical finger crack. The traverse pitch as its known was the one pitch I was most excited about. It’s airy and exposed the gear is good but the swing potential is still pretty real. I really didn’t want to fall. I’m not sure if I was more nervous or excited. Either way I was up. We drank some water and she read me the pitch description for the twentieth time. I think I asked her to read it to me again after that even. I stepped out into the crack looking for good feet and a solid placement I soon jammed in a cam and continued, moving as fast as I could to try to avoid the pump. I made sure to place plenty of gear as I was worried about what the swing would be like if I fell, and all the way hearing words of encouragement from Michelle. When I hit the vertical crack and got in gear and a stance to rest I was so relieved. That was my first traverse pitch ever. Now I just had to continue up to build a belay at a tree the description said, but I couldn’t see the tree though. I kept climbing and continued to ask michelle if she knew were I was supposed to go like she could see it. At this point she couldn’t even see me, but luckily after some confusion I made it. I built a gear anchor behind the old dead tree and took off my shoes. Even comfy shoes hurt after a while. With Michelle out of sight and having to do the traverse with the back pack I was worried, but she had no problems and cruised through it like a champ thank goodness. After a while she joined me on the ledge and we noticed the sky was looking a little dark. It seamed odd sense there was only a 5% chance of rain so we didn’t worry to much.
She racked up and started up pitch 5, an easy pitch with only a few real moves. As she neared the end of the pitch clouds rolled across the top of the ridge that had been previously hiding them from our sight. It started to sprinkle as she set up the anchor. My stomach was in my throat as I climbed as fast is I could toward her. I wasn’t going to be pinned down in the rain in separate places. I didn’t want her to be in that situation alone not that I could do anything. There was no where for us to hide. I made it to the belay as the clouds broke and it started to really poor. We hunkered down in somewhat of a notch to get out of the wind as best we could. It didn’t help much though. She jumped on her phone and called the ranger station to ask about another way to rap off or get down quickly. I grabbed all the gear racked up in preparation to do the last pitch in the rain. We were both in fight or flight mode at this point but were still staying relatively calm. I think that it was great that we were able to stay so calm. It was a relationship builder to say the least.
We had different ideas about what the best plan of action was but our main concern was for each others safety. She at first refused to let me climb the last pitch in a thunder storm with lightning popping all around us. I didn’t want to be on top in a thunderstorm either, trust me, but we also didn’t have another way down. I googled the weather as she spoke to the ranger station and saw we were going to get a break in the storm. A break I wasn’t going to miss. We agreed that hitting the summit as the storm broke then getting off the top of that stone lightning rod before the next one hit was our best option. The rock was wet, it was still storming and there was no way of knowing how much time it would take us to climb out on the wet slippery rock. She was concerned about my safety but I was more concerned with hers as I took off up toward the summit. The rock was shielding me from some of the wind and rain as I worked my way up moving as fast as I safely could. Not gonna lie I was nervous. as I pushed toward the top I again could hear her words of encouragement being yelled up from below. Near the top I could feel the rain starting to dissipate. Move after move the rain slowed and as I pulled onto the top I could feel the sun on my face. The rain had all but stopped. I was so relived but could see the next storm crossing to ridge.
I yelled down “on belay” and she started making her way up. She made quick work of the pitch and we emediatly started packing up when she was comfortably on the top. After the gear was packed and the rope was coiled we took a brief moment to snag a few pictures and soak in the spectacular view. In the rush we didn’t grab any photos on the ledge in the storm. We both said we wish we did but at the time safety was our only concern not photos. Thats totally ok because neither one of us will ever forget the moment anyway. We had did it, we climbed our tallest route to date. That was our goal. Goal achieved! It was a crazy ride but we succeeded however the day was long from over. We still had to get down.
We read the description of the decent at least 5 more times and decided it was time to get off of this rock before the next storm hit. We followed the cairns as the description suggested but they were few and far between. We suck at directions anyway so that wasn’t helping. We stopped a few times along the trail and reread the directions to ensure we were on the right path. We started down a gully and after about a third of the way down came to a cliff. A less than vertical slab but no 4th class scramble thats for sure. We had obviously went the wrong way. As if the day wasn't crazy enough all ready this had to happen. We didn’t know where we made a wrong turn and could see this would eventually get us were we needed to be so we decided to keep going down. I set up a rappel and down we went. I recoiled the rope and again we hiked down only to find another section of cliff. At this point it wasn’t fun anymore we were tired wet and sunburnt, the gear was wet and heavy and the “trail”was slick. At this point we couldn’t turn around so we rappelled again.
By the time we came to an actual trail we had both had to leave behind our cordalette and we had done two or three rappels. At the base where the trail out of the gully met the main trail the sign read STEEP, LOOSE TERRAIN NOT A THROUGH TRAIL. Well we may have not meant to but we made a through trail out of it that day. It was one of the roughest days of our lives but still a spectacular day of climbing and a day we will never forget.
By Nathan Ross