This is one of the oldest pages on piquaclimber.com. 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.
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.)
(The picture below shows the clouds on that day.)
(the black dots)
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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