August, '02


Off route on Arrowhead Peak

with Koren


    After being stormed off of  Mount Alice with Koren on her first backcountry climb, I was hoping to make it up to her by taking her on a nice, easy alpine route. The east face of Arrowhead Peak seemed like a good option. The route was only 5.4 and the approach was not too terribly long. Yep, that route would have been the ticket...  if we had climbed it

    The approach passed quickly and easily. We left the trailhead shortly before dawn and made our way to Loch Vale. This is a trail that Koren and I know well, having traveled it many times. Koren had researched the nitrogen deposition in the lakes in this area a couple summers ago and I'd been climbing in this area for the last three years. 

    After hiking up Glacier Gorge for a few miles we turned west and scrambled up to the hanging valley of Shelf and Solitude Lakes on an unimproved trail. The trail was steep but the conversation was good. :) When we got to the rim of the hanging valley, we contoured south to the base of Arrowhead and what I thought was our route.

    The first two pitches were easy and we moved quickly. The climbing was fun and nothing seemed harder than 5.4. On the second pitch though, our view to the south opened up and we could see that we were not on the east face. We were on the northeast ridge!  Damn!  I didn't remember reading anything about this ridge but it looked like it was going to join our intended route at the end of the next pitch. When Koren arrived at the belay, we decided to keep climbing in the hope of rejoining the east face. The third pitch was more difficult than the first two but not too bad. It's hard to give it a rating since I was still climbing in approach shoes but I would guess it was 5.6. I should note that Koren did her best to keep this pitch exciting by knocking a microwave-size  block 500 feet down the north face!!

    When we got to the end of the third pitch, things didn't  look good. The ridge tapered down to a narrow fin of loose blocks leading to an overhanging spire which would require a rappel.  Beyond that, another narrow section led to the northeast face but left us a pitch below the easy climbing of our intended route. It was a spectacular position with 600 feet of exposure on the north side of the ridge, but it just wasn't going to happen. The climbing looked 5.9ish and the protection looked poor.  We had a very light rack and only one 9mm rope. We were prepared for 5.4, not 5.9. It was time to bail.

    As luck would have it, a gully appeared on the south side of the ridge at this belay offering a relatively easy way back to the base of the mountain. One free hanging rappel dropped us into this gully which was somewhat steep and loose. We built an anchor and I lowered Koren 200 feet to a shelf where the angle eased. Then I pulled the anchor and down climbed to her. We ate some lunch on this shelf before continuing descent. Another 200 feet of Class 4 terrain took us to the base of the mountain where we lounged in the sun for a while. We had given it a good try and felt happy with our day. 

    One the hike out, we found an old, tattered Bibler tent that had been exposed to the elements for a long time. It reminded me of my first winter camping trip on top of the Divide when I almost lost my tent in 50MPH winds. Ouch, this had been a $500 tent! We packed it up and headed down the trail with visions of good food in Estes Park for motivation.

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Enjoying the sunrise at the mouth of Glacier Gorge.

Hiking up to the hanging valley of Solitude Lake.

The start of the technical climbing.

Koren follows the knife-edge ridge.

One of multiple gendarmes which had to be negotiated along the ridge.

Koren on one crux of the climb.

A beautiful handcrack splitting perfect alpine granite. This is as good as it gets.

Koren approaching out last belay. From here, the climbing looked difficult and hard to protect.

Koren at our highpoint with Shelf Lake, Half Mountain, and the Estes Valley in the background.

The west face of Long's Peak as seen from Arrowhead. Koren and I climbed the 600 foot face near the top two weeks after this trip.


The southeast end of Glacier Gorge through a 28mm lens.  Long's Peak, the Keyboard of the Winds and Pagoda Mountain above Black Lake.

Rappelling into the gully on the south side of the ridge at the end of the third pitch.

Koren looking as cute as ever at the base of the mountain.  :)

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