Monday, July 6, 2009

Sharkstooth Trip Report

I was fortunate enough to be able to enjoy a perfect June weekend in the Cathedral Spires, on both the Sharkstooth's "NE Ridge" and the Petit Grepon's "South Face" routes. As the Petit is well-known and often climbed, I won't go into too much detail about it here but will instead focus this trip report on the more remote Sharkstooth.

We called to get our bivy permit for the Sky Pond bivy sites the day before we were to embark on our journey. Big mistake! We waited too long and there were no sites available which forced us to come up with an alternative: the Sharkstooth. So we stayed at the Gash bivy sites, up the Andrew's Glacier way; a relatively decent bivy site under a massive boulder with lots and lots and lots of really good alpine bouldering around (and single-pitch AND mini-routes aplenty as well). We started our hike early Saturday morning under full packs and a starry sky.

It took us 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach the Gash bivy boulder, with the trail being completely under snow from the Andrew's Creek Campsite on up (passing under Zowie on Otis's South side). We quickly organized our climbing gear, hung our bivy gear from the boulder via piton, and took off for the base of the "NE Ridge," a 5.6 that's fun and worthwhile. Overnight temps didn't reach freezing so we were able to ascend the snow towards the upper Gash without crampons (though we were wearing our La Sportiva Trango S EVO boots). It took us 45 minutes to reach the base of the route, by this time it was already 8am and I was feeling a little nervous about the weather.

Large, misty clouds were ripping over the Continental Divide over our heads and pouring over the Andrews Glacier to our north. The weather had turned quite nasty the day before and I predicted it would repeat here as well; I totally stressed out for no reason because by the time we reached the summit at 10:45-11am there was barely a cloud in sight. Aside from a few initial wet ledges and cracks, the climbing was dry and the rock only got better as we got higher up the route. The summit of the tallest peak in the Cathedral Spires isn't very big but it ended up being a very comfortable spot to enjoy the rad views of everything below us. Winds in the 15-20 mph range had been licking us all morning as we raced up the route, racing in part to stay warm and otherwise because of my fear of lightning. However, once the winds died down, the temperatures quickly soared and our top layers of clothing started coming off.

Three long rappels with two 60-meter ropes from fixed anchors (all anchors have at least one piton) took us into the Gash col proper where we donned crampons/ice axe and descended the steep snow back towards our bivy. There's currently about 200 meters of snow on the north side of the Gash and it's a bit steeper than Lambslide...we took it very easy as it was quite wet by this time (noon). Eventually we reached the talus again, packed up our gear, and hiked/glissaded back down the valley, reaching our boulder at 1:30ish. FUN!

We saw no sign of avalanche activity but did notice a few rocks loosening around the valley (one softball-sized rock whizzed overhead as we were on the first pitch). Also we could see where larger boulders had fallen and slid down, leaving meteorite-like tails in the snow. On a slope just above our bivy, there were actual, legitimate crevasses (though they weren't on an actual, legitimate glacier)! Anyway, it's the first time I've seen that in Colorado. Below are some notes I took for this trip report:

- Roundtrip time from bivy-to-bivy: 6.25 hours

- NE RIDGE Pitch 1 & 2: The first couple pitches are admittedly a little scruffy (especially pitch 1, ie, mossy, ledgey, wet), probably due to there being a few variations for how to start the route. However, as I mentioned before, the climbing gets better as you get higher. There's currently a Black Diamond purple #.5 Camalot stuck on pitch 2. Reaching the belay above the second pitch was a little cruxy, a steep, rounded lieback with thin feet.

- NE RIDGE Pitch 3: I believe this is usually the crux pitch of the route. After stemming a fun, left-facing dihedral above the belay, you'll want to exit right to
another, thinner and smaller left-facing dihedral. Small wires and TCUs protect this fun bit of climbing that increases in difficulty as you approach a small roof. You're going to turn the roof on it's left but there's good face holds out right. I climbed up these holds, reached into the undercling at the roof, and then moved left around the roof...really just one tough move. Due to the weather, I passed the standard belay and moved well into pitch 4 before building an anchor on a small but suitable ledge. There was a fixed nut here but we cleaned it (and then lost it again the next day, go figure).

- NE RIDGE Pitch 4: As previously mentioned, I'd already climbed roughly half of the standard pitch 4 so it wasn't long before I reached the base of the standard 5th pitch, a huge ledge with bailing potential. There is an "offwidth" on this pitch and though it's true you can't really protect it until you're 30-feet up, the climbing is still only 5.5. Above the offwidth crack, the ridge narrows and you'll reach yet another terrace in the ridge before the next steep bit. I belayed here.

- NE RIDGE Pitch 5 (or 6): Be careful at the step down at the narrow part here as the rock suddenly becomes very slick--and then just as quickly returns to normal once you're past this part. This pitch is easy, the easiest of the climb, and took us to just a few feet below the summit where we managed to get our boots back on in the lee of some rocks.

- I thought finding the first rap anchor would be a challenge but it wasn't hard to find. A short but exposed scramble takes you to another ledge southeast of the main summit area. At the southern end of this ledge are three pitons equalized with a pinch on new-looking cordelette. We didn't follow the guidebook beta but just kept rappelling straight down with two 60-meter ropes for 3 raps. Easy, straight-forward descent although there is loose rock to be cautious of as you pull the ropes. On the last rappel, to avoid pulling down loose rocks, I pulled from across the least we were out of the way, the pull was easy, and the rope didn't get stuck on the numerous ledges.

- Overall, a fun route on a great feature on a spectacular peak. There was some run-out climbing but it's on easier terrain. For the most part, the rock is solid and the gear is good. A Black Diamond #3 Camalot is the biggest size I used but you may want to take doubles in some sizes.

- I was able to call out via cell phone from near the Gash bivy site to get a weather update. It's always handy to know where you can get reception in the Park (I'm on Verizon).

If you're headed up to the Sharkstooth and are looking to glean some beta, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at I'm always happy to help! If you found this trip report helpful or if you would like to see more trip reports like this one, please let us know. Likewise, if you'd like to join me for a RMNP climbing/skiing adventure, you can e-mail and request me. Who knows, maybe you'll find yourself in one of our trip reports!

Andrew Councell is an AMGA Certified Rock Guide and year-round CMS Guide and Estes Park resident

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