Normally I write a “year in places” post, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent much of this year at home, in Colorado and other states of the American West (WY, UT, CA). A look back on the year thus involves a bit less horizontal distance, and a lot more vertical!
Most of these climbs involve 5-10 miles of hiking in addition to the technical climbing. This isn’t Europe, and you can’t ride the telepherique to your objective. Here, you gotta walk.
Climbing Blitzen Ridge, RMNP (with a few pointers for beginners)
I got interested in climbing the Blitzen Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer, after several acquaintances asked me if it was a good beginner alpine climbing objective. (Alpine climbing here defined as remote & technical rock climbs in the high mountains). On paper, rated 5.4, the climb seems quite approachable.
This photo was taken above 4,000 meters on Long’s Peak, after a climb of the Notch Couloir, June 2020. My partner and I had dawdled on the way up, and we got caught up high in a light afternoon thunderstorm. Deciding our best option was to wait the storm out, my partner and I stashed our ice axes, crampons and other metal gear fifty yards uphill, and took refuge in some small talus “caves.”
In reality, my boulder was barely large enough to provide shelter. My legs, pulled up into my chest, were still getting wet. My partner, a few yards away in a better cave, described themselves as on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
I shot this photo on my 35mm film camera. The storm soon passed. We summited an hour later.
“Dr. Tony Fauci would be so pissed if he could see us,” the climber to my left says. He imitates the USA’s top Coronavirus expert, a well known figure in recent days: “‘You’re all the way out there, on the side of a mountain, and you fuckers still can’t stay six feet apart!?’”
All three of us at the anchor laugh.
We’re in tight proximity, for sure. Me, my climbing partner, and a stranger are in what’s called a “hanging belay”: literally hanging off the side of the Diamond, a huge alpine wall in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. There is no ground below us — just thousands of feet of air.
A few pieces of climbing gear stuck into cracks in the rock and some short nylon tethers are all that keep us from dropping to the glacier below. We aren’t all attached to the same gear — but our anchors are built around each other, at the only possible stance. The wall is too smooth and vertical to spread out much.
We are climbing the same route, chasing each other up. There are two climbing parties in front of us, and one behind. It *is* a bit ironic: we are more remote than most people will ever get in their lives, and yet… our new acquaintance is right. Dr. Fauci would not approve.