In 2013 Bill Wright climbed all 53 "Roach Flatirons Classics" over Labor Day weekend. His very detailed and engaging report is here:
At the time this pretty much boggled my mind. Just learning and remembering where all these routes are among the myriad of rocks in the Flatirons is a major accomplishment. I also appreciated the approach. Bill had the long weekend, but started Friday after work, putting in a few hours of scrambling that evening, and then continued on until Monday evening, for a total elapsed time of 71h47m. In short, Bill just wanted to get it done over the long weekend and used the time he had, utilizing parts of 4 days, with 3 nights in between for rest and recovery at home. He also engaged many friends to make the project more fun. Great style. But, it also left a lot of time on the table. Being first has its advantages!
I've been an endurance runner for many years, but as I get older and slower mixing in more scrambling kept things interesting and fun. I started learning the link ups, and working out efficient ways to enchain these rocks. A few years ago I did the northernmost 29 Classics in ~10hr, and began to think the 53 should go in 2 days. I could practically cut Bill's time in half! Well, I tried that in 2019. I did 34 climbs in about 16 hours the first day, but then was too worked to even get up the first climb on Day 2. I needed to get much fitter for climbing. So, over the winter I started climbing in the gym a couple days a week. Unfortunately, the gym closed for a couple months because of the pandemic. Then in July I injured my back (OneWheel accident), and was out for another 3 weeks. So much for climbing fitness! I started to think 2 days was maybe impossible for me, and at least no fun. So, I scaled back my goal to 53 climbs in 53 hours.
I loved working out this project. I had to get better at something (soloing), I had to figure out how I wanted to handle each climb, and what gear to use. I had to learn remote nooks and crannies of the Flatirons. I like puzzles! Just one example: These gloves I found at McG's Tent Sale were a total game changer. With this much climbing your fingers get very raw. I use the gloves for every 4th Class or 5.EZ climb, and for all the bushwhacks (where you often use your hands). They are incredibly durable.
Rules: You can climb up or down. You only have to do any piece of rock once, even if it's on more than one climb. So for example my technique for the First is: Coming from the Spy, climb a short way up the N Arete, then DC Bakers, then climb the DEF back up to Bakers and the N Arete (note that in Roach's description the DEF and N Arete are the same from here up, so once you have finished the DEF you have also finished the N Arete). I believe these rules as stated are consistent with what Bill did.
Style: The best style is the one that suits you. I did this entirely "self supported". I stashed water at 3 locations prior to my attempt, and I ditched my climbing shoes for later retrieval after the first climb (Satans). I climbed everything alone. I drove myself to and from the THs. This suits me as I am naturally very comfortable by myself, and I don't have to rely on, or adjust my schedule to, anyone else. I worked out techniques for each climb that suited me.
So anyway, I got a leisurely start at 8:51am on Monday. I started with Satans Slab, and wore climbing shoes for only this one climb out of the entire project. It's just much more relaxing and less strain on the fingers. I stashed the shoes to pick up later. The link up for Day 1 was as follows:
- Satans Slab
- Angels Way (DC)
- Achaean (rap off)
- Backporch (rap off)
- Frontporch (DC)
- Dino Rock
- S Dino Egg (rap) (note the 'shwack from Dino to the Egg is horrible - very bad if you are sensitive to PI)
- N Dino Egg (rap)
- Freischutz (2 routes)
- Fi (rap)
- Fiddlehead (rap)
- Onoclea (rap)
- Pellaea (rap)
I rap when I can because it saves energy. Energy is more important than time! It started raining during the long 'shwack from Seal to Fiddlehead, and I had to take a nap under a rock waiting for the rocks to dry out. Rain started again minutes after I got off Pellaea.
On Day 2 I started before 5am and climbed the Amphitheater Classics + the Spy in the dark. I had stashed water behind the Third and the Fifth.
- First Pinnacle
- The Slot (top rope)
- Second Pinnacle
- The Spy
- First - Bakers Way (DC)
- First - DEF
- First - N Arete
- Second - Freeway (DC)
- Second - Dodge Block
- Third - Standard EF (rap)
- Third - Fridays (rap, someone had left a rope on the rap, which was handy)
- WC Fields (scramble to the top, rap down the upper face then DC the lower part, and climb back up with self-belay on the hard part)
- Queen Anne (rap)
- Third - EF South (rap off the Dogs Head since the upper part is the same as the Standard EF)
- Third - Winky Woo (DC)
- Morning After (rap)
- Hammerhead (DC)
- Fourth (first 2 pieces, then Challenger & GMP, then the 3rd piece)
- GMP (rap)
- Fifth - N
- Fifth - S (DC)
- Stairway (DC)
- Tomato Rock
Day 3 I got up early to get it done. This had me climbing the Slab in the dark. Which is a terrible idea. You can get totally lost on that rock in the dark! The last 4 climbs are among the best in the Flatirons, and include 3 of Roach's Top 10. Nice way to finish.
- CSC - SE Ridge (DC)
- CSC - S Face (I dc the SE Ridge to the top of the S Face, rap, and then climb back up with self-belay, then finish the SE Ridge)
- Tiny Tower
- Fatiron (rap)
- Maiden (rap)
- Matron - EF
- Matron - NF (I solo the EF up to the top of the NF, rap, and climb back up with self belay, then finish the EF)
Finished at Cragmoor at 11:17am on Weds. According to Strava it's 40 miles with 21,300 feet of elevation gain. Bill said 40 miles with 25,500 feet, and 243 "pitches". I guess no more than 10 miles of this is on trail?
- Calf sleeve or tall socks are vital for PI & all the scratchy stuff!
- Gloves (see above)
- UD Fastpack 15
- 30m rope (8mm or 9mm)
- CAMP skimo harness (2oz)
- ATC and Micro-8 (use the micro for 1 strand raps on the 8mm)
- Ascender (for self belay)
- A few things for setting an anchor on the Matron NF, and for engineering a weird "directional" rap on CSC SF to make it 30m
- 4mm pull cord
- LS TX3
Finally: Thanks to Bill Wright (and Gerry Roach) for inspiring me once again!