Solstice Day

Our route on Hallett Peak

I returned to Denver at 10PM on Tuesday and had a message from my friend Kelly Cordes, someone whom I had been badgering about a day in Rocky Mountain National Park. At 6AM Wednesday morning we finalized plans, and I was soon speeding up Hwy 36 to his home in Estes Park. This was going to be my third-annual 'Soltice Day'. In the Northwest, it is amazing how much daylight we have around this time of year. Each of the last two years I have had long climbing days around the solstice. The first was a linkup of the Roan Wall and Salish Peak in the Central Cascades with Darin Berdinka. Last year, David Trippett and I climbed the The Chief, in Squamish, three times, with a total of ~50 guidebook pitches. This year proved a bit more mellow, but was still a lot of fun.

We started off with the Jackson-Johnson Route on Hallett Peak. The approach is a mellow hour from the car, and we followed an obvious corner system for the first pitches.

We only got lost on a couple of spots. Fortunately the face is covered in features, letting folks wander to and fro with relative impunity.

After a high traverse across a couple valleys, we set out on the route "TopNotch" on a peak called The Notchtop.

Racking up under blue sky...

The highlight of this route is a gently overhanging .11c finger crack, splitting a blank shield of granite several hundred feet up. I lead the outstanding pitch, but pumped out and hung just before the tiny crack opened up to a better size. Was I tired from the end of my third day of climbing? Feeling the altitude? Probably just lack of composure and gumption to punch it when I was feeling worked. I'll be back...

After a couple more pitches, the darkening sky began to crack with lightning and a sudden rain. We both had sparks flashing from our gear and a belaying Kelly felt a few electrifying moments as I raced up the pitch. We left all our metal gear under a rock, and traveled along the ledge to huddle in the rain. It was a shocking experience. Many bad lightning-themed jokes ensued. At one point Kelly turned to me and randomly asked "Hey, do people in Washington still wear shorts over poly- pro?" (He'd guided for AAI long ago) I was forced to tell him the embarrassing truth.

Eventually the storm moved on, and we bolted out of there. The descent was slowed by a covering of rain-saturated grass and lichen.

Before starting the climb, we had hung our packs from the wall, preventing attack from marmots. However, I apparently forgot to put one sock inside my pack, and we returned to find this:

Kelly and I both assumed that even the tiniest nibble on a Herrington-foot-infused sock would likely prove terminal for the offending rodent. Therefor, I would like to apologize to the folks at Rocky Mountain National Park because I apparently did 'Feed the Wildlife' and probably killed off a marmot in the process.

From the base of the peak, we slid, ran, hiked, and waded 3 or 4 miles down the snowy and stream-filled woods back to our car. A fitting solstice day, completed with margarita in hand by 11pm.

On Thursday June 30, 7PM at the REI in Boulder I am going to be giving a slideshow about new alpine rock climbs!

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