Spearhead - North Ridge

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

June 17-18, 2006

Dave Svilar, Darren Rainey


Please accept my apologies for a crummy route photo.  I left the good ones in my apartment (in Colorado) for the summer.

If I was hoping to take homefield advantage with my Colorado lungs then I shouldn't have planned to spend the two weeks prior to his arrival outside of Colorado.  I picked up Darren on my way back from Minnesota and within 24 hours we were camped at 11,500 feet in Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Both of us felt even more sluggish than usual, and to compound difficulties neither of us slept due to the annoyingly persistent wind gusts.  The result was two fairly experienced climbers making an easy route seem hard.

Two previous trips to conquer the north ridge of Spearhead (2004, 2005) had resulted in Jill and I taking the rack for long walks.  Nevertheless, you could have strapped an elephant to my backpack I wouldn't have complained about hiking in Glacier Gorge.  With the fever surrounding 14ers few in Colorado realize that Glacier Gorge consistently holds Colorado's most stunning scenery.  Spearhead's appeal lies in its location.  It sits alone from its massive granite neighbors like a quarterback surrounded by beefy linemen.  And, if Spearhead really was a quarterback, I wanted to climb it as bad as a prom queen.

Six pitches up the north ridge it seemed that I would finally be able to put this little peak in the bag.  Below our feet was a feature called the Barb Flake and several hundred feet below that was the ground, the only thing keeping us from taking a long and quick trip to the bottom of the face was a flake Darren had slung with 1/2" webbing.  Above us awaited the real meat of the climb, and probably what earns all the accolades we'd been reading about.  Everything seemed to be in place until we read the route description.  As can be the case with route descriptions I interpreted one meaning and Darren another.  I was reading one language and Darren another.  It turns out that I was reading perfect English and Darren perfect jibberish, but the only way to know for sure was to grab the rack and ... go up.

I climbed above the fearsome exposure like a wounded sloth doing all I could to make moderate climbing look extreme.  As I reached the top of the right facing corner and narrow seam Darren and I continued our disagreement.  "Dave, I'm sure it's off to the left.  I could see it from camp last night."  I don't know Darren, it's a 25 foot sloping hand traverse with no protection.  Looks scary.

Knowing my history for serving up cowardess when courage is ordered I began the sloping hand traverse.  Three moves out and one flimsy cam away from a 50+ foot whipper I reconsidered.  Smartly I backed off, set up a belay and pulled Darren up.  Darren took one look at what I will now call the death traverse and said, "No way.  It must go the other way."  Duh.

Unfazed by the fact that he had almost sent one of his climbing partners over the plank Darren led the final extraordinary pitch in fine style.  This put us above the technical portions of the climb and very near the summit.  A final scramble to the teetering summit block, a few pictures, and back down to our bivy.  We were both slowly deteriorating in the thin air, and if we needed any other excuses to cut our mini-trip short, the local varmit ate our dinner.  We made tracks for the car, but with a little more acclimation we would return.

Darren grazes amongst lush sub-alpine meadows.
Darren struggles for air as he ascends the gully above Black Lake.
Darren takes a stroll near the bivy.
Projectiles at altitude travel higher and farther due to a decrease in air related friction.
Glacier Gorge = photographer's dream
Misbehavior by the stove resulted in complete disassembly.  It was determined that all Dave really needed to do was bang it against a rock.
Darren simultaneously climbs and takes in the scenery while Dave simultaneously takes photos and belays.
After attempting to kill me on the death traverse Darren arrives at the belay.  Barb Flake hangs precariously in the background.
Dave tries to dislodge the summit boulder.

-written July 2006

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