Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday, 10/18/08 Bear Peak in 4.5 hours

Bear Peak via the Keel and the South Wing
~7 miles
~3,300 vertical
Jeff Valliere and John Prater

Whenever I get off the beaten track (and even sometimes when I am on the beaten track) in Boulder OSMP, I often times marvel at how much adventure there is to be had in my own back yard. This most recent outing with John far exceeded my expectations.

John proposed scrambling some rock on the East side of Bear Peak, which on a day as perfect as this fine October 18th, I could not think anything I would rather do, so we started our adventure from the Cragmoor TH around 1:45pm. There are multiple ways to approach these rocks (all involving some bushwhacking and good route finding), but we decided to take the Shanahan Trail to the Mesa Trail, then South, crossed a minor drainage, up the log steps then departed the trail after we rounded the corner in the middle of a large meadow and made a beeline for the Keel. Once in the trees, it was tricky to find the actual base of the Keel as visibility is obscured and there is a LOT of rock that all looks appealing to climb once you get up in there, but John was well equipped with good beta and got us there spot on.

I put my climbing shoes on at the base and John just climbed in his running shoes and had no trouble. The bottom of the rock is a bit mossy and grungy, but all around not too bad. I would say the climbing is mostly high class 3, to low class 4 in spots for the majority of the way. There is some exposure in places, but there are multiple points to bail onto easy ground to the North (not that you really feel the need, but it is usually somewhat comforting to me to know the option is there).

The final 30-40 feet of the Keel is rated a bit harder (low 5th class we guessed, or very hard 4th). John easily scampered up and I attempted to follow, but the moves were a bit awkward and it was somewhat exposed, so he tossed me a rope and all of a sudden it became infinitely easier (amazing how much of climbing is mental). From this summit, the most logical way down was to down climb our ascent route. We observed the tree Roach describes in the Flatirons Classics book, but it seems to have deteriorated over the years as the branches on the lower half are sparse, thin and dead. The down climb was a little tricky, but I was glad to have John on the other end of the rope protecting my descent. Once I was down and in a safe position, he then put the rope around a flake on top where I then belayed his down climb and he of course made it look quite easy.

From the base of Keel’s summit block, it is an easy class 2+ scamper to the South to re-connect with solid ground. From here, we contoured South along the base of the North Wing, over a small indistinct ridge, then down toward the base of the North end of the larger South Wing. We put our climbing shoes back on and started up the rock that was covered with lichen, moss and algea. Immediately, it was obvious that this was going to be a test for me, as the climbing was certainly harder than the Keel and quickly became much more exposed as we gained elevation.
The Wings start higher than the summits of most Flatirons and by the top they are certainly by far the highest technical rocks around. Being so high on this rock is an amazing position to be in, especially free soloing. I did my best to just make very deliberate and cautious movements and tried my best to not look down between my feet, as seeing 1,000 feet of air makes me a bit queasy. John of course thought nothing of it and was talking my ear off the whole time, while I occasionally muttered out a requisite response.

I just followed John as he navigated the easiest lines and I took my sweet time. For the most part, holds were plentiful and the rock was good quality, but there were a few spots that certainly made me pause and think for a bit as the moves were a bit thin, or spread out, or the rock was a bit polished, or all of the above. Up, up and up we went, the rock seemingly continuing to infinity. There were a few tricky bulges where things steepened a bit and a few spots that required some reachy, stretchy lay back flake/crack grabs. 5 feet off the ground I would not have thought twice, but the mental hurdle to do that stuff as high up as a high rise building was a real psychological hurdle for me.

Eventually we topped out on the rock which was an easy walk off, maybe 100 vertical feet below the S. Ridge of Bear Peak, where we found awesomly unique views to the West of S. Boulder and the sun beginning to set over the divide. Although I had a very fun time on the climb, I was really excited to set foot on level ground. At about this time, a Fox News heli flew over to cover the Buffs game and circled around getting some footage of us. Not sure if it made the broadcast or not??

We continued on the ridge toward Bear, doing our best to stay on top. Most of it is class 2+ or 3, but some of the towers are 4th or 5th class, yet can be bypassed. We finally made the summit of Bear a few minutes after 6pm to watch the setting sun on this perfectly warm and calm fall evening. Bear had a whole new feel to it considering we travelled over roughly 2,000 feet of rock to get there (the Keel is roughly 1,000 feet, as was the S. Wing). It felt so good to put my running shoes back on and then be able to cruise the trail back to the car.

Technically, this was not that hard of a climb. John was speculating that the S. Wing was on average a bit harder than the 3rd Flatiron (aside from the summit pitch of the 3rd being a bit harder), maybe 5.0-5.2 sustained. He also thought it to be longer than the standard route on the 3rd , we were guessing that it was around 1,000-1,100 vertical feet of continuous climbing, but that is of course just a guess. It was certainly the most challenging and committing climb that I have undertaken. When I soloed the 2nd Flatiron last week, just about the time I was sick of the exposure, the route jogged right, got easier and the exposure relented. This climb however, just went up and up on steep rock and got really high really quick. Free soloing this stuff is very easy for climbers of John’s caliber, but it was a real mental challenge for me, it certainly is not for everyone, and I am not sure it is even for me.



  1. I did this outing again yesterday afternoon. Can't believe that was almost six years ago. I'd say it brought back memories, but I couldn't remember for sure which Wing we had climbed. I'm getting old. Finding your report, now I know, so I'm glad you wrote it (I'm sure I've got it written down somewhere). I did the North Wing yesterday so got in some new ground. The position on that S/SE ridge of Bear is so cool, especially after the fire.

  2. I'll bet you did it in half the time without waiting up for me.

  3. A little bit faster but not that much (4:16). Been a while since I'd done some quality bushwhacking like this outing had.