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.
As the Coronavirus crisis was mounting in the US, we were in Southeastern Utah, near Moab, rock climbing the impressive desert towers that dot the area.
My climbing partner was a Swedish woman, Anna, a full-time climber who lived on the road. A “dirtbag”, we say in the climbing community. Without a permanent home, remote desert was about the most socially-distanced she could be.
I had a home; but amidst the mounting anxiety, I’ll admit: I wanted to escape. Lockdowns had not yet begun in the USA. But I read the news everyday. Italy closed. France closed. That omnipresent graph, always growing. It was coming.
Last month I took a short trip to Europe to see my buddy Shawn. After three years living in Budapest, Shawn’s finally moving on. But he wanted one last little European hurrah, so we planned a climbing trip.
But not to Spain or Italy or Greece or any of the other world-class Euro climbing destination. Nope. Shawn chose Bosnia.