July, '02


Flirting with trouble on

 Hallett Peak...



    With a 2.5 mile approach on an easy trail, Hallett Peak (12,713) is the lazy man's alpine wall of Rocky. Like all alpine walls though, Hallett demands some respect. The protection is often less than ideal and the route finding can be tricky. I would get a chance to prove this later in the day.

    This was going to be Jason's first backcountry route and the biggest thing he had yet climbed. Just to be safe, we spent a rainy day at Vedaewoo the week before, practicing building anchors and escaping belays. Despite the practice, this was going to be a big step up for Jason. I had been showing him the ropes of trad climbing but he had only completed a handful of multi-pitch climbs previously. The longest of these being three pitches. For my part, this would be the first time I had attempted a 5.9 route on an alpine wall. The stage was set. We left Fort Collins at 2am and drove to the Bear Lake trailhead.

    Our intended route (Jackson-Johnson) shares the first pitch with the most popular route on Hallett (Culp-Bossier). Wanting to be the first party on the route, we left too early and had to sit at the base of the route for 30 minutes waiting for sunrise. After a short nap, we located our starting point and roped up for the first pitch.

    The climbing was fun right from the beginning. I had forgotten the guidebook in the car so I was navigating from memory. I knew the route climbed the left side of a giant yellowish flake about 500 feet up the wall. Picking a line up to the flake was straightforward. The climbing seemed a little harder than the ratings that I remembered from the book, but it was still fairly easy.

     Sitting at the belay on top of the yellow flake, the crux loomed above. I was anxious to get on with it, but I stopped and tried to scan the headwall above for signs of the route. Seeing nothing, I started up a right-facing dihedral which I knew was still on route.  80 feet into the pitch, I stood on a ledge below a steep headwall with no obvious way to go. There was a ledge down to my left but I would have to downclimb to get to it. The only other obvious option was a crack that led out over the exposed wall on the right. I took this crack. Gulp.

      This turned out to be the best pitch of the day. As soon as I  left the ledge, 700 feet of air appeared beneath my feet! The climbing wasn't too hard but it required you to trust your feet on small edges and smears. The crack was flared here and there, making protection slightly more difficult.  When I arrived at the first piton, I reached up to test it and it wiggled. With a small tug, I was holding it.    "Danger Will Robinson... Danger"   A few feet farther, I was able to get a good cam.

     The crack turned upward after 50 feet and a shallow right-facing corner took me to a wonderfully exposed pedestal of flat rock where I belayed.  Think "pizza pan" belay. The final pitch climbed over a series of small overhangs and then followed easier corners to the top of the wall. I climbed back and forth on slanting ledges below the overhangs looking for the easiest way. The overhangs were not as easy or as well protected as I would have liked,  but I reminded myself that this was Hallett Peak and it demands respect.  We were one rope length from the top and I was keen to succeed on whatever route we were now climbing.

      A few powerful but delicate moves got me to the easier stuff above and soon I was sitting on top. I watched the dark clouds drift around above us as I belayed Jason. I saw lightning several times but always at a distance. None-the-less, I was yelling to Jason to climb as fast as he could so we could get the hell out of there. He had a hard time on one of the overhangs and earned his wings before he met me at the belay.     Quickly, we packed and started hiking down to the rappel station. Our descent required one rappel and some down climbing. 45 minutes later, we were sitting at Dream Lake looking at the north face and pointing out where we had belayed and where the hard sections had been etc.  And so passed another great day in Rocky.

Back to Top

Awaiting the dawn at the base of the route.

Jason nears the top of the first pitch.

Jason approaching the belay at the top of the second pitch.

This is me leaving the 4th belay. This section was rated 5.6 but I found it engaging enough. 

The crux pitch. Higher up, I came to a ledge and did not know where to go. I got off route in what turned out to be a really fun, exciting variation.

Looking down from the pedestal belay. This must be one of the most exquisite belays in all of Rocky!  

Descending to Emerald Lake which is visible on the left edge of this picture.

Back at Emerald Lake with our route marked.

Back to Top