The First Flatiron in all it's glory.
A year or two ago, I walked up to the base of the First to check out the climb and was somewhat shocked by the long, featureless chute that marks the first pitch. There is little in the way of holds, never mind protection. It would be a serious run-out 5.6 pitch that would test my nerves. We pulled up to the sunny face this morning and found a long line ahead of us already. But in the light of my more recent lead climbing experience, the first pitch looked quite mellow and I was much relieved. We waited perhaps half an hour while various groups ahead of us cleared out and we dealt with gear.
Indeed, the first pitch was pretty mellow. The first 30 feet was smooth and pure-friction, but the holds increased and I clipped three bolts on my way to an obvious tree about 60m off the deck. Fabio had suggested that he and Peter simul-second in the interests of keeping things speedy. I've never tried belaying two followers before, but it turns out to be pretty easy. Fabio loaned me his Kong Gigi belay device which, once I figured it out, was quite easy to use. Rope management was something of an issue, but Fabio and Peter came up pretty quickly. Peter was shocked and horrified at the lack of holds and arrived at the belay rather shaken. A good start for a first multipitch slab route!
Pitch 2 followed easier slab up toward a huge headwall. I headed up aiming for an obvious ledge, but ran out of rope shortly before it. The Gigi plate is easiest to use from below the anchor, facing up-route, so I was forced to do a semi-hanging belay from a large flake. The others came up and I gratefully shifted to a more comfortable position.
Pitch 3 was a bit of a change from low-angle slab. I went straight up a steep wall on chunky holds, through a gully, and onto the moonscape above. I ended up over a significant bulge from my belay and had to do quite a bit of yelling. Since I was towing two ropes over rough rock, rope drag was phenomenal. Fortunately, I found a good, spacious belay stance (big enough to pitch a tent!) and could bring the othes up comfortably.
Leading Pitch 4 up easy rock.
Peter on belay duty at the comfy P4 belay station.
P4 was a short pitch on more of the same, up a dihedral onto the top of the headwall. From here, the entire upper portion of the rock was spread out before us like an amphitheater. Various climbing parties were stationed here and there and ropes snaked back and forth as the popular routes crossed each other.
Fabio took over for the next three pitches leading boldly up the cross-hatched, light-colored rock to a small slot/cave belay perch for P5. From here, we could see a steep, smooth chute under a sharp edge heading up and to the left. Fabio headed up and spent quite a while out of sight. Occasionally, rope would be pulled up, but Peter and I spent a while shivering in the cave.
When we finally followed, we could see why progress had been slow. The chute was about six feet wide and quite steep and smooth. Gear placements were scanty up here and it was quite exciting. Technically, the first pitch is the crux of the route, but this one was a good deal harder, in my opinion. It was a very bold lead! Peter was rather excited about it and only got more excited when a hold nearly broke off in his hand. We emerged at the top of the pitch in a notch at the crest of the great rock with great views to east and west.
P7 was a short jaunt up onto a higher, sunnier position on the ridge while we waited for traffic to clear. I took over from there for P8 and lead mostly horizontally toward the summit clearly visible beyond. Except that it wasn't! I pulled up to the top of a crenellation and tower ahead, separated by a deep notch. Crap! The going was easy, but any fall would result in a long pendulum down one face or the other. With my last gear at the top of the last tower, I climbed down into the notch and took on the summit tower. To my amusement, there was basically no gear available here. The rock was steep and cold in the shade and good holds were non-existant. Did I mention that my ropes were stretched across 80' of air to the last tower behind me? Any fall would be rather nasty.
I pulled up the tower and gratefully placed a nut before pulling up to the summit... only to discover it wasn't the summit! Dammit! Another tower stood in front of me and, from all the shouting I could here coming from beyond, it apparently wasn't the real summit either. I set a good anchor with lousy positioning for belaying and brought first Peter and then Fabio up. Not knowing how many more towers lay ahead, I struck off up the third tower and discovered a fourth, separated by the usual deep gulf. Tower four was the bone-fide summit, however, and I could see people rappelling off. At this point, I was pretty tired and just wanted to be done. I set no protection and downclimbed the notch and then up a ramp to the summit. No more towers revealed themselves beyond. Hallelujah!
At length, Peter and Fabio joined me and we set about rappelling. The rappel from the Third Flatiron is quite messy requiring three separate drops, none of them with really comfortable ledges to start out on. The First was mercifully easy with a single, 100' drop down a steep to overhanging wall. We untangled the ropes yet again, rigged the two eye bolts, and rapped down uneventfully. The time was about 5 pm and we'd been on the rock for at least 8 hours.
Grateful to be back on non-technical ground, we hiked down the trail to the base, marvelling at the shear distance we'd climbed. Nine pitches is the longest climb I've ever done and most of those pitches were a full 60 meter rope length! We retrieved our gear back at the bottom of the rock and hiked back out to Chautauqua in the fading light.
It was a great climb with great company. I am impressed with the First, not just from sheer scale, but from the variety of climbing on the standard route. I could have done without all the crennellations on the summit ridge, but that's all part of the fun, I suppose. Fabio lead what I concider to be the crusx pitch boldly and without complaint. Peter had a great time on his first multi-pitch climb and everyone is re-energized to climb more rocks. Next up, the Seal, perhaps?