Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Queen Anne's Head Climb

So, since we cut our backpacking trip short, we decided to do some climbing on Tuesday since Dan still had the day off. Dan picked out a great route he wanted to try on the First Flatiron. We were psyched to be able to give it a shot on a weekday where there would be fewer people.

On our way out the door, we thought to check the weather. We seem to be in a bit of a wet pattern and the forecasters were predicting rain and thunderstorms at noon and then all afternoon. Great. Dan's plan of 4 pitches plus another 300ft wasn't really going to work. On the way to Chautauqua we discussed alternative climbs and decided on the 4-pitch route up Queen Anne's Head, a pinnacle next to the Third Flatiron.

After quite a bit of bushwhacking off the Royal Arch Trail, we finally found the bottom of the climb. We set off at 10:00 with blue skies. Pitch one was great and even included a tricky traverse move without handholds. Dan found a great, flat(!) belay spot and then went on up. The second pitch was also a lot of fun and ended in yet another flat(!!) belay spot. We were both loving the climb. Then, as Dan was heading up pitch three I asked him if he felt the rain drops. Nope. As he built the anchor and I climbed up, I asked if he heard the thunder. Nope. When I met him at the third belay there was a big crash which he then recognized as an oncoming storm. It started to rain a little more. And the thunder sounded closer.

Well, we were 80 feet from the summit and going down was really not an option. Dan led the pitch very quickly and started to set up the rappel as I was climbing up. The rain was still dropping intermittently and the thunder was getting closer. He was incredibly chivalrous and let me rappel down into the 1911 gully first. I found a safe spot and quickly got off the rope. He rapped down and we were both safe on a few boulders.

However, the adventure did not end there. The book described a few options for the descent. One included rapping down to where we were and then climbing up the last few pitches of the Third Flatiron. Dan went to check it out. It was not going to be easy and the rock was getting wetter and wetter. The other option was to walk and rappel down the gully. Based on the conditions, we decided that was our best option.

Dan slung a boulder for our first rappel which got us into a field of ferns. Well, ferns and gigantic poison ivy plants. They were waist-high and soaking wet. It was also hard to see what we were stepping on--dirt, rock, or oblivion. We made it to a big tree with a rope--evidence that someone else had rappelled from the spot. We backed up the rope and set up another rappel. There was one steep rock, but then the rest of the descent was like going through a jungle of brush. We reached one more big tree with another rope and set up our final rappel. It was about 40 feet and on regular-old-rock. It was nice to be on the ground again. Throughout the entire descent the thunder stopped and the rain really didn't come down hard. We were actually able to follow a climber's trail back to the Royal Arch Trail.


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