Friday, December 12, 2014

The Royal Flatiron Quinfecta

The Flatiron Quinfecta - linking together all five numbered flatirons on the East side of Green Mountain - had gone from a distant dream to a conceivable reality over the past year. This Thursday with Kendrick poised to flee Colorado after the next snow storm we were able to set an outing for the Quinfecta. Kendrick had completed the link-up once before, having the namesake of an Ultimate Direction Pack (I here this is in fact one of his lesser accomplishments), Peter Bakwin guide him for some new routes before finishing it off himself. Given we would have no decorated veteran "scrunbler", we figured it would be prudent to tackle the route in descending order so as to not be route finding on tired minds and legs.
The 3rd Flatiron from the South either on the Royal Arch or the 5th Flatiron.
We weren't sure how long it would take exactly, but we figured we could make it back down before dehyrdation set in (deliberate foreshadowing). So, despite putting together a small pack for the day, I left it in the car. We jogged up to the Royal Arch which is the most proximal to the base of the 5th Flatiron. Figuring to get a quick warm-up we quickly scrambled the 5.0 East face of the Royal Arch (thus making our Quinfecta royal). A few minutes later we had made the short bush-whack up to the base of the 5th. We scrambled the East Face, North Side route I can't remember too many details which means it went smoothly - which I do remember. The one thing that did stand out was the fabulous North Arete which I found  to be beautifully airy as well as engaging while not presenting too much difficulty. The downclimb went easy enough, we scrambled down a bit of the face then popped off onto the ground.
Kendrick a few feet below the summit. Please excuse my thumb.
Downclimbing the 5th (Photo: Kendrick)
Next up was the fourth, we chose the standard East Face route. Its composed of three discontinuous chunks of rock. We navigated the moss and lichen forest at the base before quickly finishing up with the first chunk. Then came the route finding, you're not supposed to go all the way to the second piece's summit so we traversed off to the base of the third chunk. We then were deposited into a miserable, miserable gully (repetition very much purposeful). With a trickle of water down the center we kept our feet on bits of ledges along the walls, often caked with lichen. This lasted far too long and was quite unenjoyable and a smidge difficult. Leaving the gully we found to our displeasure more thin holds amongst several cracks which we used to finally gain the summit. Though the downclimb was a walkoff, the summit of the fourth is practically aligned with the summit of Green - we had a long descent to the base of the 3rd. Lumbering down the access trail (the term trail is used loosely here) we straddled logs, post-holed in snow, dodged icy talus and shimmied down miniature faces. Needless to say, I will not be returning to the 4th for a while.
Finishing off the gully on the second piece of the 4th (Photo: Kendrick)
Summit of the 4th, looking at the 5th. The Royal Arch can be seen somewhere in there, I believe right above the sun flare.
Takin' Care of Business, a Roach Top 10, on Green Mountain Pinnacle we passed on the descent. Quite the chimney.
Top o' the 4th. Face should describe how I felt about it. (Photo: Kendrick)
Finally at the base of 3rd, we had spent about 90 minutes ascending and descending the 4th, 3 hours on the day. We realized that we were going to be really thirsty and hungry by the end. We ascended the 3rd, happily on a familiar and less technical slab, in a hair under 20 minutes. Not terrible considering how we (or at least I) was feeling at this stage. The downclimb went smoothly in 23 minutes. After the short grunt around to the North side of the rock I was ecstatic to know there was no more uphill. Well, running that is; though there was still that pesky 2,000' or so of scrambling left.
Kendrick on the top o' the 3rd
SW Chimney downclimb on the 3rd (Photo: Kendrick)
Getting to the base of the 2nd we labored up not even caring about our route. We've both done  the Freeway route enough times to scramble it completely mindlessly. This was quite handy now that dehydration and lack of calories was really setting in. We left the Freeway route about half-way up in favor of gaining the true summit via Free for All. Ascending a gully to the Northeast corner of the Pullman Car, we traversed around to its South Face where after sailing through a sea of pine needles we climbed a few ledge sytem before rolling around onto the East face of the Car. I was happy to finally gain a legit summit of the 2nd, but I won't be doing this route for fun anytime soon (or ever again).
....Aaaand the sun is behind the mountain.
With the end in sight we powered (bumbled more like) down to the base of the 1st. Kendrick suggest we could do the North route if I didn't feel like doing the frictiony first pitch. I feel quite comfortable on the Direct East Face of the 1st after making a point to practice it, and I would not have any asterisk next to this Quinfecta. Given how completely far off our time goal we were at this point we went slow as sloths up the face, enjoying the company of a several other soloists. Eventually we stepped through the last notch and onto the summit - only 20 minutes from water. We downclimbed in less sloth-like fashion than we ascended though I know I still was feeling quite sloth-like. Gingerly jogging back down I was happy to check this behemoth day of scrambling off my list.
Good ol' climbing butt-shot of Kendrick on the final moves before gaining the North Arete. Camera angle makes it look vertical, but its definitely not.
Summit of the 1st. Zero flatirons in sight or left to climb!
Done! Well, pretty much. (Photo: Kendrick)
I'm very happy to have accomplished this goal, but I scrambled a few routes that I will not be returning to in the near future; namely: the 4th Flatiron and Free for All. The fourth while probably not as hard technically as the first (if you're on route) is a far cry from fun fluid scrambling. Free for All is wildy exposed - not something I want to regularly solo - and also a discontinuous mess. My favorite part about scrambling the flatirons is having my entire body engaged in nature while still getting a great workout. I'll still regularly scramble the 1st, 3rd, 2nd (Freeway) and likely will add in the 5th at times for the cherry on top of a Royal Arch run, as those lines are awesome.
Another pitch of 5.4-ish scrambling along the North Arete of the first. Photo: Kendrick
Feet from the finish. Feeling like this. Really do please click that link, I had that scene stuck in my head for the last 2 and a half hours. Photo by Kendrick
Route was a hair under 10 miles with about 5,800 feet of gain, so yeah, it was mostly "hills". It took us 6 hours 39 minutes (including stops) - a full 4 and a half hours longer than the FKT - but with practice it could go much faster. I probably won't practice it though. I'd rather do "Royal Quartets" skipping the 4th all together and enjoying my precious Freeway. 

I linked all the routes we did to their description on MountainProject, just for fun if someone wanted to read more about a route. I might add more pics if I get some from Kendrick who took a bunch.


  1. Man that sounds like an epic accomplishment. You look totally exhausted in that last pic. Next time take some gels lol.

    1. Or the easy solution is to get faster, so I don't even get hungry or thirsty! haha