This weekend was a never-ending supply of random latun and lessons to be learned.
We set our sights on Independence Pass to avoid the holiday crowds and get out-of-town. My friend Nicole had recently met a climbing friend through Climbfind who was going to join us for the weekend. He was down for whatever, which was perfect because we had no itinerary, except to try a multi-pitch climb on Monitor Rock called Troopers Traverse.
Friday afternoon we headed up to Independence Pass and camped at Twin Lakes. We got up early for the climb and headed to Monitor Rock. Nicole who hasn’t climbed a multi-pitch route and I were nervous to start the climb. I hadn’t done multi-pitch in almost a year.
Climbing with two groups worked out pretty well. As the second person to go up I always had someone at the belay station with me, which helped my mind from wandering off and kept me calm. After the third pitch we switched so Danny could lead and Nicole followed him. The wind started picking up and with extra rope drag we had trouble communicating making the last two pitches a bit less fun. Andrew followed behind Nicole, leading, and I sat on the last belay station alone for a while waiting for everyone to finish. The wind always seems to add to my exposure fear and the final two pitches felt more like type two fun. I cleaned the gear and hurried to the summit. At the top of our climb we snapped a few photos, took in the view and started the long double rope rappel down to escape the wind. The first rappel was around 210 feet which was as long as I’d ever done. Rappelling doesn’t scare me too much but with the wind gusts and not being able to see where I was rappelling, the start of the rappel was a little nerve-racking. The second rappel to the ground wasn’t nearly as long. When I was done, I was glad to have two feet on solid ground. However, it didn’t take long before Nicole and I forgot the fear and look forward to our next multi-pitch…which would come sooner than expected.
The rest of the trip was random and silly, we climbed when we saw some climbing, we bouldered when we saw some bouldering, we went to hot springs in Buena Vista, we kayaked down a snow field on the top of Independence, drove a little out of the way to see Aspen and reluctantly headed home late Sunday night.
Our second multi-pitch climb came two days later for the 4th of July. Danny suggested we climb the Direct Route on the 1st flat iron (7 pitches) and watch the fireworks from the top. We would rappel down in the dark and hike off the backside. Andrew, Nicole and I were up for whatever. Danny had climbed this route a bunch of times before including free soloing it, so we figured we could handle it. In our ridiculous patriotic outfits we headed up to the first flat iron. The plan was for Danny to lead and Andrew would follow, trailing two ropes up for Nicole and I.
The plan didn’t go so well. We started late, Nicole and I struggled with slab technique, the belay stations were small and the ropes were getting tangled. We also learned later that the direct route was further to the left of where we climbed. Danny was essentially free-soloing the route he choose because there was not much for gear placements. Andrew who is much more cautious promised Nicole and I that if he didn’t feel like we were safe we wouldn’t have kept going, still we struggled to enjoy ourselves. Four pitches into the climb we reached the top of flat iron, we still had 3 pitches of traversing the ridge before reaching the summit, but we had taken longer then expected and it was getting dark. We decided instead to hike around the back side to the second flatiron for a beautiful view of the fire works in the front range.
All in all the weekend was awesome, and we learned some valuable tips for climbing next time around.
Tips for group multi-pitch:
1) Most importantly research the route before hand, even though we were doing only a 5.6 and our partner had climbed it a dozen times before, we should have known what to expect and not relied solely on him.
2) Check the weather and the time. Group climbing takes a lot longer. We had perfect conditions both days for multi-pitch but we took longer than expected and would have had to climb the rest of the pitches in the dark. Be prepared with extra clothing, food, headlamps, etc.
3) Trust the people you’re climbing with, but be knowledgeable enough to know if something is wrong and don’t be afraid to speak up if it is.
4) Multi-pitch in a group is like being on a team. Each person needs to be on the same page or it will not go smoothly. If one person isn’t comfortable climbing in the dark, then the rest of the group should respect that. Be prepared if you need to bail.
5) Climbing with four people requires extra room at the belay stations for people and ropes, look for climbs with those options.
6) Make sure you have a system down for communicating to your partner while climbing.