Solstice Day 4.0

( Check out our follow-up to this: The Inaugural 5-tower day!)

Three years ago, my friend Darin Berdinka got me up at some ungodly hour of the morning (night) and we drove from Bellingham to Darrington, WA for the 3.5 hour approach to our linkup of Roan Wall and Salish Peak. The day was unforgettable, and I distinctly remember looking at my watch at 9:30AM, 700' above the valley floor, realizing that my friends and roommates were sitting in class or just waking up, while I was in an entirely different world.

Since then, I've done a big day around the solstice, and this year was the 4th in-a-row.

This year, Josh Thompson and I climbed the Sabre Spire, the Petit Gripon, and the Sharkstooth, all in Rocky Mountain National Park. These spires are shown above. Excellent weather and perfect rock made the day a blast.

Long days always present a planning and logistical challenge, especially when dealing with some snow, and carrying all of one's gear up and over a route.

I went fully Jens-Holsten-style backpackless, with the 70m rope worn as a pack, and my harness (waist loop only) worn from the car. This method has been perfected by my friends Jens and Sol Wertkin for their single-day Stuart Range linkups, and it lets the leader climb packless, which is oh-so nice. For a day like this it was the way to go. Big pockets for snacks and a stocking cap for warmth certainly helped.

People have been climbing on these spires for a LONG time, as evidenced by the copious amounts of archaic fixed gear.

Random tip of the day:
When you have to clip shoes or a jacket onto your harness for a hike, or the climb, clip them in through the middle of the shoes, not the end. This will prevent them from swinging back and forth, or hanging down to low, and keeps them in closer to your body for climbing.

Here's Josh negotiating yet another rapidly-melting descent gully.


10 @ .10

Ah 5.10, the iconic grade of so many stellar climbs. The level was once considered impossible, and is now the namesake for a brand of footwear. 5.10 is attainable to the motivated weekend climber, but attention-getting and serious enough to inspire even the most dedicated. Routes at this grade in the mountains are 'the real deal.'

With summer around the corner, it's time to fill out the alpine tick list. So in no particular order, here's my personal list of the 10 best 5.10 routes in the Cascades.


Black Canyon

In the last couple weeks I've made two trips to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, climbing with some great folks. The older routes there have very soft commitment grades, but newer ones seem more in-line with reality.

First off was Trilogy with Jason Nelson. The route has 100 meters of low-5th climbing, then 5 plumb-line pitches of solid climbing from 5.10 to 5.12-, then a long pitch of mid-5th class to the canyon rim. We hauled a small bag, which was actually a fun way to do the route. It allowed us to have lots of extra clothes, no shoes on our harness, good food, and it was a vertical plumb line, so the hauls were easy.

Route Beta: The 'R' rated climbing on p1 is a traverse out to the arete. It involves some up-and-down shenanigans and wouldn't be too great to fall off for the leader or the second climber. However, it's probably 5.10-. The 5.11+ crux has bolts much closer by. The long crack on p2 is sustained 5.11, without any real definite crux. On P4 I hung in the flaking pegmatite crack below the bolt. The 5.12- crux is weird. We found the section up-to and past the bolt, to be easier than the start of the pitch. The pro is good either way, but I think the crux might be before the bolt.

Take a double set to #3, and one #4.

Jason on p1 arete - Weird angle, the haul line at right is pointing straight down.

Stemming out some cool moves on the start of p3 of Trilogy

With Nate Farr, I climbed Atlantis (fairly graded a grade IV). We found the day fun and long, but the route wasn't quite as high-quality as we'd hoped. It's not on par with the Scenic Cruise. However, running out of water on p8 (of 16) when the whole route is in the sun probably fried our brains a little.

The Atlantis Topo, courtesy of my friend Evan Stevens. If only our hand-drawn reproduction of this hand-drawn copy had looked so good after 16 pitches in-an-out of a sweaty pocket.

I'd suggest 1x blue alien, then 2x gear from green alien to #3 camalot, then 1x new #4 camalot. You can get buy with only 1 #2 ans #3 camalot, but it makes belays slower and more creative, so probably not worth the trade-off.

Nate on Atlantis:

Nate and I also climbed Journey Home. Journey's a great ~.10a climb for someone who is really confident on the grade. The first pitch has some major leg-breaking ledge fall potential, with the hardest moves right off the ledge boulder. A yellow alien placed in an arch up-and-right can partially mitigate the danger here. The subsequent 4 pitches were well-protected and excellent. We bootied a "fixed" nut from the route (sans nut tool) that I traded for dinner. Major dirtbag points. Bring one #4 for the OW on the last true pitch. It's worth having.

Finally, we hooked up with my friend Neil Kauffman from Patagonia for the climb "Escape Artist". Nate led the middle of the climb in one 280' pitch, so we did the route in 4 pitches with some scrambling afterward.

Last pitch on Escape Artist