Summer, '00

This is one of the oldest pages on In an effort to keep some perspective, I have left anything from before 2000 in it's original format.

The Spearhead (12,575 ft)  |  North Ridge 5.6

            This past Sunday, Lisa and I had another grand adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park on a mountain called The Spearhead. It was our third attempt to climb this monolith. The first attempt was months ago when there was still a fair amount of snow in the park. We carried crampons and ice axes and mentally prepared for a little snow on the route. Well, "a little snow" looked a lot more intimidating when we hiked in and saw that the snow was sprinkled over the entire length of the 1,000 foot North Ridge. We decided that good alpinists make smart choices and that we were not up to the challenge of the North Ridge under those conditions. We bailed and climbed the east face of Thachtop (12,668 ft) instead.


Thachtop’s East Face 

Our next attempt was only two weekends ago. Again, like good alpinists, we got up early. My alarm went off at 1:10 am; at which point, I drove the 1.5 hours to the trailhead. We were hiking by 3. On that attempt, we hiked in 6 miles to the base of the climb by headlamp only to watch the sun come up and reveal the storm clouds that had taken up residence directly above us. (The picture below shows the clouds on that day.)


  1. Two climbers at the base (the black dots)
  2. The location of the picture “Pitch 4”
  3. I am standing on these outcroppings in the picture “The Last Pitch”

 This particular route is not a good place to be when everything gets wet, but more importantly, it is a really bad place to be if there is any lightning in the area.  We were disappointed and decided to wait for a while and see if the clouds moved on. Unfortunately, they did not and, after a couple hours at the base of the Spearhead, we bailed and hiked the 6 miles back to the truck. I should note that it was still great hike and a fun day. Glacier Gorge is stunning. I should also note that the clouds eventually blew away and left a beautiful sunny day. We should have climbed! Oh well, live and learn.

            Perhaps the funniest thing about us finally getting up this rock is that we did not plan to climb the Spearhead this weekend. We had chosen a much more ambitious route on Long's Peak called The Window. However, the night before the climb, a good friend of Lisa's (Bob) called and said that we may want to reconsider climbing the Window as it snowed 2 inches the day before at elevations above 13,000 ft. Lisa's friend Bob is a Senior Mountain Guide at the Colorado Mountain School and generally bad ass. Despite our excitement to climb on Long's that day, we knew Bob was right and that the Window was probably beyond our abilities in those conditions. Alas, a last minute discussion put us back at the base of the Spearhead as the sun came up on Sunday.

            The weather was beautiful. A little cold and a little windy, but it was September so that was to be expected. On the approach, we passed two parties of climbers that had bivied at the base of the wall. (To bivi, means that you hike in the night before the climb and sleep at the base so you can be up and climbing at first light) Despite the fact that we have never bivied, Lisa and I are almost always the first ones to the base of the climb on these alpine climbing days. We boost ourselves up psychologically by telling each other that they are all slackers and are not suffering properly. After all, alpinism = suffering. It means that you get up at an ungodly hour and suffer for many hours on the approach, dealing with whatever Mother Nature throws your way, for that one moment when you are high on the mountain and you look out and the world seems as much a part of you as your hands or mind and you are inspired.

            The good weather got us excited and we started racking up for the first pitch.


 Racking up

  Remember how I said it was a little cold? Well, the first pitch looked pretty easy so I decided that I would just climb it in my nice warm mountain boots instead of my rock shoes. The pitch went easily and I was shortly 180 feet off the deck, setting an anchor and belaying Lisa up. This is where I made a mistake. I had led up to a vertical section of the wall that was about 12 feet high. Since it looked like I would be on a ledge when I finished the vertical section, I decided to continue up in boots to the ledge and see if I needed to change into my rock shoes. I worked my way up the first 12 feet only to find that I was not on a ledge. Instead I was on a sloping ramp that got steeper as it went higher. Still, I didn't think the situation was too out of hand. I found a small crack (less than .5 inches wide) and placed my two smallest pieces of protection and equalized them. They did not inspire confidence but I though they would hold a fall. Then I started up this ramp in my boots.

The route went up and right and the farther I got away from those pieces of protection, the harder the climbing became, mentally and physically.  It would be impossible to explain what was going through my mind at that point. I was not finding any more protection and I could see now that it was going to be another 10 feet before I got a good stance and could place more protection. I was already about 10 feet away from my last protection. I did the math in my head. If I fell, I was not going to stop for about 40 feet. Still, I was FULLY committed. I could not reverse the moves I had done to get this far up without falling; at least not in boots. (Talk about feeling alive :) I made it another 4 feet before I slipped.

I was at a place where I could only stick to the wall if I had three points of contact bearing weight. Therefore, I could only move one limb at a time. When I went to move my right boot up to another small depression in the rock, my other boot came off and I slid down a couple inches until my finger tips caught me the smallest holds ever. (sloping fingertips)  I quickly and carefully moved my left boot back to where it had been and stood up again. I wanted to vomit. I was still in the same spot and I had already failed once and was lucky not to have fallen. Before I could think about it too much, I decided to try it again. This time, my left boot stuck like flypaper and I was up to the protection in a few moments. Just like that, it was over and I was safe and in a completely comfortable position again. Such is the nature of alpine climbing.

I climbed another 40 feet; then I realized that the rope had become stuck somewhere between Lisa and me. A yelling contest ensued. Lisa and Brad vs. the Wind. I could not pull it up and Lisa could not pull it down.  The best option was for Lisa to "prussic" up the rope to where it was stuck. I set an anchor and Lisa began to prussic up. (Prussicing is a way of climbing the rope itself instead of the rock.)  It is somewhat scary and I did not envy Lisa's task. None-the-less, Lisa is an absolute trooper in the mountains and she got it done with no trouble or complaint. Thanks Lisa. :)

            After all that, we were only two pitches up the route and I was not feeling good at all physically. Memories of the terrible Chinese food I ate the night before were coming back to me and my mouth was watering the way it does when lunch is thinking about making a return appearance. We were hanging from the anchor because that part of the wall was too steep to stand and I didn’t really want to lead the next pitch. (Again, enter my hero Lisa.) Lisa had just started leading and the Spearhead was probably not the place she would have chosen to lead climb. Despite her trepidation, when I asked her if she would like to lead the next pitch, she took the rack and started up without hesitation. I belayed her up while trying not to get sick and by the end of her lead I, was feeling a little better. I climbed up and met her at the next belay, which was finally in the sunlight! The terrain there was not technical so we were able to scramble up another 120 feet, unroped, to a nice ledge where we ate PB&Js.

            The next two pitches went by with relatively little trouble despite a distinct lack of protection possibilities. I was feeling better. The climbing was really fun, we were getting high enough on the route to feel like we were on a big mountain, and most importantly, the weather was holding.


Pitch 4

The end of this section put us right on the edge of the ridge we were climbing. The ridge we were climbing was rounded and quite wide but when we stepped up to the actual edge of the ridge, the rock dropped away for many hundreds of feet strait down. It was awe-inspiring. This was also the crux pitch of the entire route and it was much steeper than the rock we had been climbing up to this point. The most exciting part of the entire climb was the crux itself, which involved about 15 feet of climbing up a slot (18 inches wide and 10-15 inches deep) that leaned to the left right out over the abyss. There was great protection in the slot so it did not seem scary, just exciting. Since we were both climbing with a pack, we had to climb the slot facing inward. This meant that when we looked over our left shoulders, we saw about 900 feet of air between us and the ground. We had become part of the mountain and were inspired!!!

            After that pitch, we took another break and ate and looked out over the massive expanse of Glacier Gorge. Here we ran into some other climbers that had climbed a harder route on the steep face I described above.

            One more easy pitch took us to the top of the technical climbing.


The last pitch

When Lisa got to the top she was a little bummed that one of her gloves had blown off the ledge while she was belaying. Luckily, there was yet another party (one of the groups that we had called slackers) coming up a difficult route and the girl had seen the glove fall. She had pointed it out to her partner who retrieved it from a ledge and returned it to Lisa on the Summit. We took each other’s picture and headed down to the base of the Spearhead feeling fulfilled.


Enjoying life on the summit of The Spearhead

  All that was left was the 6-mile hike back to the truck and the drive back to town. We got to the car at 8:30 pm feeling somewhat exhausted.

17.5 hours 

12 miles

3000 feet of elevation gain/loss