“This is the kind of climbing I like!”
-My pal Brian, pitch 2, Saturday, February 19
The East Face of the Fatiron is anywhere from 2 to 8 pitches of climbing, and is rated somewhere between 5.4 and 5.6 R, depending on who you ask. If you ask Colorado mountaineering legend and guidebook author Gerry Roach, he would tell you that it’s one of the Top 10 climbing routes in the Flatirons. You can see the city of Boulder from every belay spot, and from almost all the east face climbs in the Flatirons, to your left and right are views of these giant chunks of fountain sandstone that look like steamships ran aground up onto the sides of mountains.
The rock here is solid and low-angle, if sometimes hard to protect. If you’re OK running it out a little bit on some 5.4-5.6 terrain, there are dozens of routes to pick from. Royal Robbins once famously called the East Face of the Third Flatiron “the best beginner rock climb in the universe.” It’s 6 or 8 pitches of 5.0 to 5.4 to the summit, with fixed eyebolts at most of the belays. The First Flatiron’s Direct East Face is next door and another 10 pitches of 5.4-5.6, and receives most of the traffic when the Third is closed for raptor nesting from February through the end of July. To say these two formations are popular would be like saying Americans mildly enjoy watching the Super Bowl. I have rappelled off the top of the Third with 16 other people on a fall Sunday, and climbed the First in a cold rain and seen other parties on it.
Aside from these two climbs, though, there are places to find solitude, and hone your adventure climbing skills, sometimes before you’ve even found the rock you’re looking for. At worst, some of the rock can be slick and dusty with lichen, with no decent protection for a while. At best, there are 5 different handhold/foothold combinations for each move you can make on slabby sandstone, rock that feels like it was made to be climbed, another jug here for this hand, another jug there for that hand, and hundreds of feet of it until you run out. You run out of breath not out of fear, or making hard moves, but because you’re climbing so damn fast.
That’s what we had last Saturday on the East Face of the Fatiron. We were completely by ourselves on the south end of the Flatirons, just warm enough to climb in long sleeves, no gloves, and flying up the rock. I told Brian, this is the kind of climbing that feels like when you used to climb trees as a kid — no ratings, not difficult, just pick your line and enjoy moving upwards with your arms and legs, and forget about whatever’s back on the ground for a few hours.
- Climbing Boulder’s Flatirons by Jason Haas
- Flatiron Classics: Easy Rock Climbs Above Boulder by Gerry Roach
- Rock Climbing The Flatirons by Richard Rossiter