Spearhead North Ridge

Next day we drove back to Estes Park, got our bivy permit, and hiked up to Glacier Gorge, past Black Lake, about half an hour from the base of the North Ridge of Spearhead. All the bivy sites we saw are technically illegal, since they were all on vegetation. We found a semi sheltered place, and set up our bivy. I had never been up Glacier Gorge before, and the place actually blew me away. The Spearhead and several of the surrounding peaks have steep walls that drop down to several lakes. We met some climbers who were descending, and it turned out everyone had left after the long weekend, so we shared the whole place with only a herd of elk. The wind kept howling all night, and at first light we were up, only to decide to catch a bit more sleep.

We finally got going a little before 7, and were climbing by 8, which is when the sun finally hit the North Ridge. Victor did the leading on most of the climb, which was good because I was feeling a bit queasy from the start. I seem to require more acclimatization to altitude than most people. The North Ridge is a really esthetic line when viewed from afar, and affords some fantastic alpine views, but the climbing gets really interesting only on the last 2 pitches. Still, it was awesome to be that high up.

We failed to follow the line in the Rossiter book. Although it seemed like we followed the topo, the climbing on pitches 5 and 6 differed from the book description. Rossiter mentions a square ledge at the top of pitch 6, which is followed by climbing a left facing dihedral. We didn't see anything like a ledge, just some slings around a flake, and no dihedral. We were following a crack to the right, one of several variations to the route. All of these lead to the same feature, a dihedral / chimney that affords passage halfway through the North Ridge headwall (the North Ridge being more like a face than a proper ridge). Victor really didn't like his belay at the top of pitch 6 so I set out to find another belay, and in fact I climbed most of pitch 7 in the process. The moves are nice, the rock is solid, and the climb really lives up to its reputation. Victor led the exit (8th) pitch, and picked the wrong dihedral which made the pitch 5.8 instead of 5.6.

The descent was a bit more involved than we thought, there is an obvious path down, which gets to be not so obvious later down. When it got really steep, we traversed west and downclimbed a rock step in the next to last gully, to then rejoin the trail. By the time we made it down to our bivy, it was 4:30, and we made it back to the Glacier Gorge parking lot at about 8:30. I was exhausted, and it was obvious that our plans to do Sharkstooth and Keyhole Ridge car-to-car were not going to happen.