Bill Briggs' Flatirons Top Ten Classics Notes
October 13, 2001
The forecast for Saturday, October 13 was for a warm, but windy day. From the start, the forecast was accurate. As I approached the First Flatiron, the sunrise was obscured by clouds in the east, and I could see the leading edge of wind clouds perched on the Continental Divide to the west. As I reached the summit ridge of the First Flatiron, I was blasted by a warm wind carrying snowflakes from many miles to the west! I made the first of many careful descents as the wind swirled around the exposed prow of the Flatiron.
It was a quick link-up to the Third Flatiron. As I climbed, the sun finally cleared the clouds in the east and set sail into a clear morning sky. I was on the summit less than an hour after leaving Chautauqua, in bright sunlight, which was as fast as I had hoped. The descent to Friday’s Folly rappel was quick, as I scrambled over the most familiar rock that I would see that day. The cold fingers that I had worried about on Friday’s Folly the night before were not a concern; the round trip from the ground lasted about five minutes.
I set out for the link-up to Green Mountain Pinnacle via the high road above Needle’s Eye and Willy B. It is a dense trailless route, but it certainly is quick and efficient. The actual link-up, without rope coiling and shoe changing after Friday’s Folly, took about 20 minutes. Green Mountain Pinnacle Chimney was a quick exhilarating route in running shoes, bringing me to the high point of the day. From the back of the Pinnacle, I headed up toward the top of the Fourth Flatiron, then traversed along the west side of the skyline ridge behind Schmoe’s Nose and Hippo’s Head. Having done this section in reverse several weeks before, I started a descent towards the summit of Stairway to Heaven. After several hundred yards in thick forests, I looked uphill and saw a summit that looked enough like Stairway to Heaven that I realized I had to check it out. I hiked and scrambled about 300 feet to the summit, which overlooked Skunk Canyon! I was on Satan’s Slab, but I could look down and see Stairway to Heaven.
I lost 5-10 minutes with this route finding blunder, but it was better missing the Stairway to Heaven summit altogether. The descent of Stairway to Heaven was the least inspiring climbing of the tour; and in fact, the route, either up or down, is the only questionable route on the Top Ten list. I hit bottom in Skunk Canyon and started up immediately towards Back Porch. The trailless approach went quickly and I found the start of the route in the thick north-facing forest. The climb, in running shoes, went quickly, and two rappels brought me to the ground. I began to realize the amount of time required for rope management.
I set off running for the firs time of the day down Dinosaur Mountain to the Mesa Trail and Bear Creek, where I had stashed a gallon of water. After a quick refill of my Camel Back, I headed up towards Fern Canyon at a walking pace. The approach to Pellaea took longer than I had hoped, but the exquisite climb went smoothly. I ran most of the way to the spring on the Mesa Trail below the Maiden, at which point I headed up over unknown ground towards the Fatiron, the only climb on the tour I had not done before. It proved to be a beautiful slab climb, deserving Top-Ten ranking. I left a sling on a horn for the short rappel between the two slabs. I rappelled from the summit of the second slab - watch that pointed dead tree at the foot of the rappel!
It was a short scramble to the west ridge of the Maiden, where I changed shoes and dropped my pack. As I descended to the Crow’s Nest, the wind was gusting around the towering spire. The climb was exposed, but secure with good holds the entire way. At the summit, I cast my ropes over the edge and watched them swirl in space below me. I decided to tie the ends of the rope to my waist, then squirmed over the edge for the wild ride down. The round trip time from the Crow’s Nest was about 14 minutes.
The link-up to the Matron was quicker than I expected as I pushed up the final approach of the day. There were two parties on the North Face route, but I managed to climb around them without attracting any untoward remarks! The east ridge was in shadow, but I stepped into glorious autumn sunlight on the summit. The last two rappels of the day brought me to the ground, where I changed shoes for the final run. I needed about 40 minutes to run out Shadow Canyon to the South Mesa Trailhead. It was 1:40 in the afternoon, 6 hours and 31 minutes after I left Chautauqua. In the forty years of wonderful days I have spent in the Flatirons, this one was certainly among the most memorable.
|First Flatiron||0:14||0:14||0:17||0:31||Warm wind blowing snow from Divide; cloudy sunrise.|
|Third Flatiron||0:11||0:42||0:10||0:52||Bright sun finally.|
|Friday’s Folly||0:09||1:01||0:04||1:05||5 minutes round trip from base.|
|Green Mt Pinnacle||0:24||1:29||0:03||1:32||Good bushwack route above Willy B.|
|Stairway to Heaven||0:33*||2:05||0:11*||2:16||Bad route finding to summit; summited Satan’s Slab, lost 10 minutes.|
|Back Porch||0:14||2:30||0:05||2:35||Good direct bushwack route out of Skunk Canyon.|
|Bear Creek||0:22||2:57||Water stashed at stream crossing.|
|Fatiron||0:43||4:14||0:21||4:35||Slow ascent with rappel between slabs.|
|Maiden||0:16||4:51||0:14||5:05||14 minutes round trip from Crow’s Nest. Windy rappel.|
|Matron||0:35||5:40||0:13||5:53||Two parties on North Face|
|South Mesa TH||0:38||6:31|
* Downclimb Stairway to Heaven.