Hallett Peak - Better Than Love

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

August 27, 2005

Dave Svilar, Jared Vilhauer


Our route in red.  (8 pitches)  See the giant rock scar at the base of the face right of our climb?  Yes, good.  That would be one of the "50 N American Classics" that was significantly altered several years ago.

It would be hard to argue with the fact that my physical appearance had been deteriorating for some years now.  My hair loss has been well documented, but until now my energy level and actions were not following the lead of my hairline.  That would be until the late August of the year 2005.  For the second time in my life I had signed on for a real job.  Not the type of job that I could quit and not the type of job that would be terminated by melting snow or lack of tourists.  I was obligated to show up five days per week for nine straight months in order to teach science at a place called Rocky Mountain High.

I can't think of too many things that disgust me more than obligations.  I can usually see them coming from quite a distance and therefore, have become quite adept at avoiding them.  Most people have to work real jobs, so that can't be considered too surprising.  But, what I didn't see was signing an 11 month lease with a female.  After spending most of my life carefully negotiating my way out of relationships it had come to this - I was living in sin.

Luckily Jared who does a better job than even myself of not getting roped into unpleasant jobs and relationships was hungry for the north face of Hallett Peak.  Other than Longs, the north face of Hallett is Rocky Mountain National Park's most recognizable feature.  Tourists flock by the busload to a Bear Lake which is basically an average-looking lake with the very impressive Hallett looming in the background.  Many famous, moderate routes litter the face including our objective, a route named Better Than Love.

Sleeping in would have been nice, but Jared came by the new apartment before 5 a.m. and we were at the trailhead a short 1.5 hours later.  This would be considered an alpine climb, but the short approach on a partially paved trail makes it feel more like a day at the crags.  To further degrade the face's alpine feel a group of boulderers and their oversize pads spent a good portion of the day below our route.  We took our time meandering up the trail, stopping frequently to pick our line from a distance.

1. One of the many lakes on the approach (Hallett in background) 2. Dave fiddling with camera near the base of the route.  (photo by Jared)

Temperatures were warm in the sun, but just to remind us that this was indeed an alpine climb the shade crept upon us with a cruel shiver.  By late August temperatures in the park start to drop, which is especially noticeable when the sun disappears as was the case for most of our climb.  From my limited climbing experience in the park, routes tend to be steep, but well featured, making even a 5.8 climb seem impossibly steep.  The crux came on the second pitch, and felt even stiffer than its grade due to numb fingers, and a surprising lack of the aforementioned features.  Pitches three and four rambled over easy terrain to the base of what Jared and I took to be the route's best pitch.  This fifth pitch followed a left facing corner with easy, but steep and exposed climbing.  For the first time on the climb I could really feel the exposure below me, and as we approached a roof that blocks the summit this sense of exposure was further heightened.

Speaking of the roof, as Jared belayed me up to wear he was anchored directly below the intimidating feature, a storm seemed to form out of nowhere.  Lacking the punch of earlier season storms this series of clouds graupled on us for 25 minutes and quickly passed on towards Estes Park in the distance.  At one point we considered the extremely unappetizing idea of rappeling into the Hallett Chimney on our right (one rope), but luckily, Jared was insistent on going up.  This proved to be the correct decision, because even though the rock was slightly wet the climbing was easy.

1. Dave did not climb between Jared's legs (photo by Jared)  2. Jared checks the route description  3. Jared climbing the 5th and best pitch  4.  Looking up at the corner of the 5th pitch (photo by Jared)

Both of us felt a great sense of accomplishment upon summiting, mainly because Jared and I rarely make it up anything.  Most of our excursions end in nothing but a nice approach to show for our efforts.  However, my sense of accomplishment due to climbing was soon to be surpassed by another sense of accomplishment.  Sometimes when nature calls there is nothing to do but answer.  Promptly.

"Jared.  Got anything resembling toilet paper in that pack?"  Sorry.  I rummaged through my own rucksack, and found various other necessities, such as a calculator and a map for a hidden corner of the Cascades.  'Not to worry' I thought to myself, 'just a short rappel and scramble, followed by a couple miles back to the parking lot.'  While not necessarily pleasant, hiking without toilet paper has never been considered cause for emergency.  This kind of rationalization was okay when I lived with my mom, but now I found myself in entirely new and uncharted territory.  I lived with a girl.  Would it really be okay to go home to my lady without wiping?  How would I be received?  This was no time to find out.

Something had to be sacrificed.  I searched my meager belongings looking for the weak link, the disposable item.  My Duofold shirt was the obvious choice as it was already reduced to mostly threads.  A sudden sense of loving attachment washed over my being as I imagined a future without my favorite Duofold hiking shirt.  The trip to Africa, summits in the Cascades, and long trail runs...  My shirt was always there.  By this time the damage was done.  My bowels were emptied in one massive and glorious display.  Slowly and purposely I removed my favorite Duofold shirt, and with heavy heart, tore it in to three even strips.  I'll stop there, but note that my favorite shirt found its final resting place just above the last pitch of Better Than Love.

As we made the relatively straightforward descent my mind could not stay away from the Duofold shirt.  It had made the ultimate sacrifice, literally going down in a blaze of glory to preserve my relationship with a girl.  As feelings of guilt persisted I began to take solace in nature's one ultimate rule: everything lives and everything dies.  We all have our season, from the great dionsaurs to my favorite Duofold shirt.  Most shirts end up in the garbage, or if they're lucky the Goodwill.  My Duofold shirt met a final and very decisive ending and will be forever preserved on a stupendous perch atop one of Rocky Mountain National Park's great landmarks.

1. Jared rapelling  2. Dave on rappel shortly after sacrificing his favorite shirt.  The look says it all.  (photo by Jared)

Miraculously, by the time we reached the parking lot my grieving had subsided in time for Jared and I to have a beer.  Soon enough I returned to my life full of obligations, my misery slightly eased by memories with Jared on Hallett.

-written December 2005

Take Me Home