On routes that intimidate me I do my homework by making laminated printouts of the description, taking more gear then they call for, and making sure it’s all ready to go the night before the climb. After climbing in Alaska and Canada, Hallett Peak is not intimidating. I don’t write this out of arrogance, but rather to justify our procrastination. The morning of the climb, while driving to Rocky Mountain NP from a friend's house in Ft Collins, I surfed through summitpost.com and mountainproject.com on my Smartphone, hastily looking for last minute route info. That is, until the nauseous feeling took over from looking at that stupid little screen while on a curvy road.
Arriving at the trailhead parking lot we went to work. After doing this numerous times we had the dance down pat. Janelle preps food in the front of the van while I prep gear in the back. Then I take the mostly full packs to Janelle who then tops them off with the food and water. We button up the van, and are off.
I figured we would just take a standard adventure climbing** rack:
-#00-#3, double of #.4-#3
-light set of nuts (approx. 8)
-7 runners w/ a biner each
-3 lockers each
-ATC guide each
-one double length sling each
-one shared “cordellete”
-rescue gear (one prussik, one tibloc, small knife, bail biner)
-shoes, harness, helmet, chalk-bag
-5 pound SLR camera, extra card, charged battery
-Sterling 9.2 rope
-3 liters of water total
**adventure climbing: not knowing what you are getting yourself into due to poor preparation and planning. Hoping that you will have the minerals to pull it off.
We chatted with the rangers, glanced at the map at the trailhead (rounding out our route planning), and headed up the trail towards Bear Lake. The miles passed quickly with light packs and a relatively flat trail. Getting up to the base of the route, it was evident where the rock fall happened a few years ago. It wiped out the bottom two pitches of the climb, which severely downgrades the route's appeal. We roped up to the right (uphill) of the rock fall area. Looking up, there wasn’t a clear line or any visible initiators of previous climbers, at least not visible from the ground. To make matters worse, the clouds to the west were getting darker. Do we stay or do we go? “We have come this far, why not just finish it.” was my thought. Janelle was hesitant, but put me on belay anyway.
I tied in and “adventure climbed” (see above) up the first pitch. One hundred feet off the ground we felt the first drops of rain. Janelle wasn’t into it. Not wanting to be on an unestablished route (in the rain, on the cold shady side of a rock face) she suggested we come back another day. I yelled down, "maybe it'll just blow over." I hate bailing. I hate it more than being wet and cold. But reluctantly, grumpily, I made a quick anchor and rappelled to the ground.
Current Situational Equation: Janelle hates to epic + Mark hates bailing = Mark turns into a spoiled 2nd grader and puts on his grumpy pants and makes Janelle feel like a failure. I really wanted to get the route done that day. “Summit or plummet baby!”
Bailing turned out to be a good call because only an hour after we bailed the thunderstorm unleashed a cold blowing rain. It would have really sucked to be on the face at that time.
My brother was getting married in Indiana and our flight left Denver the next day, so this climb would have to wait. "But what if even more of the route crumbles while we are gone?", I half-jokingly kidded Janelle. The wedding was a great rest from the mountains. Hanging out with friends and family and answering the much-asked question, “Why do you climb mountains anyway?” and “Your videos scare me, you be careful up there!”
One week later, with my brother on his honeymoon and a lot of concerned relatives telling me that we are in their prayers (for which we are thankful), we flew back to Colorado.
Things were going better during round two. We picked up where we left off. After traversing quite a bit to get back on the original route, it was smooth sailing from there. Aside from the fact that Janelle had picked up a yuk-bug in the Hoosier land making her nose a non-stop leaky faucet, and taking her normally superhuman strength down to a mere mortal level. So I was the “rope-gun” for the route (I led every pitch), which was fine as I truly enjoy guiding people up climbs.
Reaching the top of the route allowed us to get the full view of the pervasive forest fire smoke we had been smelling, and even tasting, since returning to Colorado. It was eerie knowing that through all the smoke people were loosing everything they own to the wild fires. “70 homes burnt!” the headlines read. Although I was thrilled to have another route under our belt, it was sobering to think about the people that had lost all their material possessions. It made me think about just how insignificant climbing really is….
…but it is still so freakin’ fun, I can’t wait to get my hands on rock again!