The Spearhead Trip Report

Trail: The North Ridge, Class 5.6, ~11 miles, 3300 ft elevation gain

There are several climbs in RMNP that I have had my eye on and The North Ridge on Spearhead was one that a friend of mine, Greg Dooley, also happened to be interested in.  Our window of opportunity to go out and climb it together was reduced by the fact that I will be leaving for Peru in two weeks and Greg will be leaving for some cool routes in Canada as soon as I get back.  We talked about the climb for a bit and decided to give it a go on June 17th, 2006.  

I made reservations at the Glacier Gorge campground for the night before and Jen and I drove down with our regular assortment of car camping gear (huge tent, air mattress, down comforter, etc).  Greg met us at our campground around 7:00 at night and we all had a quick dinner and sorted out our gear.  The plan was that we would wake up and head to the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 2:30 in the morning.  Jen would stay at camp, sleep in, and meet us at the base of Spearhead later in the day.  We all carried walkie talkies to facilitate things.

After dinner we went to bed and awoke at 1:30.  I went through my usual routine of drinking a liter of coffee, followed by a liter of Gatorade and then eating a breakfast.  The breakfast was freeze dried Huevos Rancheros and ended up giving me no end of indigestion throughout the entire day. After getting ready we headed for the TH and arrived around 2:40 or so in the morning.  We set out immediately and made good time up the trail.  A party of three was also on the trail but they were heading for the Petit in Loch Vale.  So far, no one else ahead although we feared biviers might still beat us to the route. 

I tend to like climbing with someone who is stronger than I am.  This gives me the ability to back off pitches that are beyond my comfort level.  Unfortunately Greg is also faster than I am so keeping up with him in the morning made for a hell of allot of stomach problems (Damn Huevos Rancheros).

We made it up past Black Lake and into the valley by about 5:00 in the morning.  Along the way we passed two other guys going for the same route and a group of three who were headed towards Long's Peak but had been aiming towards McHenrys Peak.

Approaching The Climb, 1st Light, 5:00 In The Morning

We reached the base of the climb by 5:30 for an approach time of ~ 2 hours and 45 minutes.  The stats for the approach are ~2.8 miles to Mills Lake, ~ 4 to Black Lake, ~ 5 to the base of the climb.  We had slowed down considerably and decided to hang out below the climb for awhile as the wind and cold made the prospect of a pre-sunhit start objectionable.  After a time the two guys we had passed came up and they decided to wait even longer than we did (probably a good idea, it was freezing).  There was no one else and we ended up being the first party on the climb. We relaxed until 6 AM and then started up.

The Start Of The North Ridge (follow the slabs above Greg to the obvious chimney system)

The climb starts out by following a series of slabs up to a chimney system. We roped up and Greg lead a pitch from the slabs to the base of the chimney.  I can't rate the slabs as I HATE slabs but doubt there was much more than a few moves of 5.6 slab followed by 5.easy. 

I was feeling pretty crappy and Greg asked if I wanted to bail but I figured it was a combination of indigestion (damn Huevos Rancheros) and the cold coupled with a bit of fatigue from a fast early morning approach so I opted to lead a pitch and see how I felt.  The crack/chimney system probably wandered between 5.3-5.5 for 150 feet but was super fun and took pro just about everywhere.  By the time I got to where I thought the rope was ending I was in the sun and feeling great.  I walkie-talkied Greg to come up and he moved up quickly and took the next pitch (very short, I probably had enough rope left to do it).

Greg Leading Up A Section Before The Simul-Climbing

Right after the corner shown above the climbing became easy 3rd and 4th class for a few hundred feet, we coiled up the rope and ran up this section.

Easy Section, Looking Up To The Harder Stuff

After the easy scrambling we were faced with a section of slabs literally riddled with cracks.  We re-roped and I headed up angling towards the left.  My goal was to set a belay just right of the large barb flake which is the obvious rock formation on the left edge of the ridge shown in the picture below. Don't aim into the flake just follow the slabs up to it and contour over to it.  It looked obnoxious to climb under the flake. The pro from here on out was absolutely stellar and I threw everything I had into the wall.  I probably needed a third of the pieces I put in but I am still new at alpine trad leading and the exposure was increasing enough to make me like more gear.  By the end of the climb Greg was calling me a sewing machine.

About 150 feet up I thought I heard Greg yell 15 feet so I started trying to build a decent belay anchor in one of the less pro-friendly spots, after 10 minutes of fooling around Greg yelled, 'What are you doing, I said 15 METERS!' .  With 50 feet to go I thought I could just reach a good spot near the barb.  It turned out I needed about 100 and Greg had to break the lower anchor, climb up 50 feet and rebuild an anchor.  I'd say it might be better to do the climb from the end of the easy stuff to the top of the barb flake in two pitches as it was between 250 and 300 feet and probably 5.4 with a smattering of 5.5 thrown in.

Slabs And Cracks Galore Up To The Barb Flake

I set up a nice three cam anchor and hung out on a 9 inch wide ledge while Greg climbed up to me.  I felt bad about sewing everything I lead up because it kept Greg from getting into a good climbing rhythm but I didn't feel bad enough not to sew everything up.

Once Greg came up, I handed the gear off to him and he lead the next pitch.  This pitch is really the crux of the climb as it forces you to do an awkward hand traverse on finger tips over the huge face of Spearhead.  There really are just enough fingers here to make it reasonable but traversing over this much air was scary. After the traverse there is an awkward mantle/knee push to get up to a ledge right before the right facing dihedral which looks overhanging from below. Greg protected the traverse very well and set up a belay right above it so he could have his eye on me while I seconded.  I was quite happy that he did this because the traverse was VERY AIRY!

After I reached Greg he offered the final pitch to me.  He was generous to give up the pitch but I was still a bit spooked from the traverse so I vacillated for ten minutes before deciding to take it.  Lucky for me.  This was my favorite pitch of the day and starts with a short face climb to a crack with two good spots for hands. Since I had stuck a pink tri-cam in one of the spots and was too short to reach anything else I aided off the tri-cam to move up.  I think allot of people move too far to the right to avoid the hand-traverse and end up starting this pitch from the right.  This is doable but would be harder climbing and thinner on pro.  The final pitches we took were old school 5.6 (felt tougher than allot of 5.7 I've done).

After this one move there was a large flake which I underclinged around to pass the dihedral on its right.  The climb then turned into a beautiful hand crack which lead up to an offwidth.  The face near the offwidth may be climbed but I actually like offwidths and grunted my way up it.  This was a pain as I always wear my full pack on alpine climbs but I managed.  Above the offwidth I scrambled up to a huge ledge.  I dropped a few hexes in to make an anchor and called for Greg to come up.  At this point Jen called me and told me that she was at Black Lake and asked where we were.  I told her we were almost done and to head up to the base of the climb.

Heading Up The Slabby & Cracky Pitch
(the route here goes left and right out onto a hand traverse over the face before aiming up and around the obvious right facing corner)

At The Top Of The Long Pitch

Greg, Looking Down, Just After The Offwidth
(notice the tiny climbers in the picture)

Greg Coming Out Of The Offwidth

After Greg came up we noticed that the final bit was mostly easy so he kept going and climbed past one 5.0 move, up some 3rd and 4th class stuff and then, after dropping a piece or two, climbed up a 5.6ish crack  before belaying me over to this section. This topped out above a notch between what must be the top of routes like Syke's Sickle and the true summit  From this point we unroped, packed up, and scrambled to the top.  The summit block is pretty small and requires some exposed scrambling to get to.  I climbed up on to it, made sure both feet were on it, then got right off.  We topped out at ~11:00.

Chiefs Head

The Summit Of Spearhead With Long's Peak And The Keyboard Of The Winds In The Background

Greg On The Summit, Arrowhead In The Background

As far as Front Range peaks go, Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker are my favorites to looks at.  As far as Front Range areas go, the basin around Lone Eagle used to be my favorite but now Glacier Gorge is.  With Pagoda, Arrowhead, McHenrys, Chiefhead, Longs, Spearhead, and The Keyboard of the Winds ringing this beautiful area it is hard to imagine a more spectacular setting with better climbing opportunities in Colorado.  I'll definetly be back up here for allot more routes. 

The descent was a bit annoying as I had left my boots at the base of the climb and had to go down in rock shoes.  The way down is pretty straightforward though, just keep angling away from the summit and follow the obvious trail (leaving when it is to loose) to the left of the cliffs.  At the base of the descent we contoured across some snow which was hard enough to be a bit unpleasant in rock shoes and made our way to the base where Jen was waiting.

Back At The Base Of The Climb

Jen & I

We all hung out and relaxed a bit before packing up.  Looking up we noticed that the party before us had still not finished the offwidth stretch, neither had a second party who began a few hours later.   There was even a party just starting up the route at noon so I hope they had good weather the whole day.


Spearhead, A Bit Farther Away

Hiking Out

The hike out was beautiful and pretty mellow.  I was pretty tired and the heat was sapping my strength so we took frequent breaks and made slow progress down. We also stopped for pictures at least ten times.

McHenrys and Arrowhead

Looking at Spearhead, Somewhere Between Black Lake and Mills Lake

We moved along slowly to Mills Lake and stopped for a 20 minute rest where I was bitten by mosquitoes around seven times.  This rest invigorated me enough that we could start moving again and Greg lead the way down an unmarked trail which let us off .3 miles from the parking lot.  Greg had plans to meet up with friends at Brainard Lake for a climb of Dicker's Peck and Navajo the following day so we hopped in his jeep, headed up to where Jen had parked at the Bear Lake parking lot, sorted out our gear, made tentative plans for Sharkstooth, and said goodbye. Our round trip time was about 13 hours.  That could be shaved down by a few hours but who really cares about the time it takes after you summit?  As long as your are on and off a peak before weather rolls in the way back should be pleasant.  It was good to get out on a peak with Greg again and I hope we manage a few more good climbs this year.  He is finishing up his PhD right now so hopefully that won't get in the way to much.

This was definitely a fabulous, moderate climb.  I'd reccomend it to anyone who likes alpine routes and is comfortable with the grade, exposure, and approach. We used cams ranging in size from a black Alien to a number 4 Black Diamond.  We placed each of the first four tri cams and the two largest hexes.  There was also a plethora of nut placements.  The only thing which served no purpose were small nuts.  I'd suggest people bring a bit of everything for this climb, it eats it all up.  

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