Eight Easy Pitches on the Third Flatiron
August 9, 2003
Ever since we moved to Boulder three weeks ago, the Flatirons have been looming over us tempting us with their enigmatic, vast expanses of rock. To be a climber living in sight of something like this and never to have laid hands on the rock is simply unbearable. The Third Flatiron is one of the largest and more impressive in the entire range and the Standard East Face route (5.4-ish) is described by all and sundry as the "best beginner climb in the solar system." We were left with little choice. It was a moral imperitive that we climb the third as soon as possible.
The awesome Third Flatiron soaring above the trees on the approach from Chautauqua. Click on the image and note the two tiny, dark dots on the summit. Yep, those are people.
Chataqua was already crowded when we arrived at 8:30 am. The hike up was hot and the day bright and sunny. We found the climber access trails easily enough and sweated our way up arriving at the East Bench without incident. As predicted, a line of climbers could be strung out along the inclined, highly-featured face. The route was pretty obvious. Fortunately, the rock is big enough to accomodate many parties at once and the nearest group was already a pitch ahead of us. We geared up in a leisurely fasion and I set out upon my inaugural Flatiron climb.
The going was definitely easy. The first pitch lead up and left past a large eye-bolt, across a chute and up over easy rock to a second huge bolt where I set my first anchor. The route is rated 5.2 or 5.4 depending on which guidebook you choose. While there were a couple of marginally challenging spots, most of the climbing was decidedly fourth class. Any locally difficult patch could be circumvented by moving left or right ten feet. Unlike the previous friction leads I've done (Stone Mountain in NC comes to mind), face features are copious and varied. Protection is definitely sparse in many spots, but the climbing was so easy, I felt confident in only placing two or three peices in each pitch.
After the traversing of the first pitch, the route headed upward for four more pitches over consistently easy, pleasant rock. Just challenging enough to keep your attention focused, but no scary stuff at all. The exposure was high and the views fantastic. Peregrins and an unidentified large hawk of some sort kept doing flybys. Slightly farther above, human-piloted gliders would occasionally swoop over the rock startling humans and raptors alike.
Things got more interesting with Pitch 6 directly above the giant C of the "CU" painted on the rock (and the last of the six giant eye-bolt bellay stations). I lead up and over an unprotected bulge to a large ramp. Above this (pitch 7), I lead over more moderate rock and then set up a adequate but unlovely bellay on the huge chockstone wedged in the Gash, a giant 2-pitch chimney splitting the face. After conciderable rope drag, Amy arrived and I started the last pitch.
Pitch 8 is arguably the crux and the place where the route really deserves a 5.4 rating. After traversing north for about ten feet, I started up an especially blank face wishing I hadn't used the #1 Camalot back there in the anchor. Half way up, sweating profusely from the pure friction and exposure, I slung a huge protruding plate with an inadequate sling and continued for the top. Yee ha! Finally pulled up over the edge, anchored in and brought Amy up. Great views and a nice breeze but the weather was getting threatening and a few raindrops were felt. A large hawk landed not more than ten feet away and screamed at us breifly before losing its courage and flying off to pick a fight with one of its own kind.
The rappell back down was arguably more challenging than the climb up. Details had been a bit sketchy and I'm always most nervous about rapping off a peak for the first time. For the record, the set of huge eye-bolts on the summit will drop you over a bulging face to the south about 48' to the South Bowl. From there, a second 54' rap puts you on a precipitous ledge near a single bolt (the top of Friday's Folly (5.7*)). It's 140 feet down from here! If you're using a single 50' rope as we were, head west (left as you face the rock) about 20' to a pair of large bolts and drop nearly 80' down an overhanging face to a pile of large rubble perched precariously on the West Bench. The farther west you manage to go, the shorter the drop. Be sure to tie knots in the ends of your rope!
Much relieved to be on the ground again, we changed into horizontal shoes, coiled the rope and headed out. I didn't have much of an idea how to proceed, but a faint trail headed north from the West Bench and down some 4th-class scrambling. This proved to be the crux of the entire adventure as it was steep, dirty and quite exciting. Eventually, sore of foot and thirsty, we descended a steep tallus field, retrieved our pack from the East Bench and hiked out in the hot afternoon sun.
The climb more than lived up to its billing and I feel relieved to have tasted Flatiron rock in such a gentle manner. Thanks to the great topo and description in Rossiter's Flatirons book, not to mention the online beta at climbingboulder.com, the ascent was easy and pleasent. I look forward to more in the near future!