Scott Patterson had put a post up on SP looking to climb something technical. I responded wanting to get a first taste of alpine rock in Colorado. Scott mentioned the Devil’s Thumb in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and it looked and sounded good to me. We planned to meet at the top of Rabbit Ears Pass east of Steamboat Springs, CO after dinner-time on the evening of July 22, 2005.
Scott and I met at the pass, tossed his gear in my good old Explorer and we continued east. Along the way, Scott pointed out many great mountains, as I am still learning the area. There is much to climb! After a distant view of Long’s Peak from US 40 we were in Fraser, CO and got our first glimpse of the Devil’s Thumb!
We continued on our way to Rollins Pass. The road to the pass is long and somewhat rough, but very passable. We arrived at the top just as it was getting dark and threw the sleeping bags into the field next to the vehicle.
This was the beginning of a long night. First, Scott spent a good portion of the night fending marmots from eating my Explorer. After that excitement died down, some more fun rolled up in a truck. Some folks decided to drive up to the pass and have a good time. Everything was fine for awhile because they were far enough away they weren’t noisy.
That’s until the shooting started. It sounded like a smaller caliber semi-auto carbine; but, whatever it was, they were putting some lead through the air! At this point Scott and I decided that 4am was a good time to start and began to get our belongings together. Scott’s comment about our new neighbors was that “they should shoot towards Denver; they’re used to it down there.” Before we left, we went over to them to let them know that we were heading towards the direction they were shooting and would appreciate it if they shot the other way. This involved dealing with a very unhappy boxer that wanted a bite of us and several drunk people. Good news was, we weren’t shot.
After all of that, we got on the trail. It was perfect. The temperatures were warm and it was a full moon. Hiking without headlamps we made progress towards the Thumb. As the sun started to rise, we crested a hill and the high fields in front of us seemed to be moving. We soon realized it was due to literally hundreds of elk slowly moving away from us.
Around 6:30am we arrived at Devil’s Thumb pass and got our first close look at the Thumb. We slowly made our way up towards the notch, inspecting the Thumb as we went. At about 7:45am we began to gear up for the climb. We had opted to take our own traverse to the notch as opposed to Roach’s route. Our line was more direct and looked interesting!
The route to the notch was not difficult, but as I led I made sure I protected Scott on this traversing, down-climbing pitch. Arriving at the notch, I belayed Scott over and we began our ascent of the Thumb proper.
The climbing up the Thumb was very easy on good alpine rock. As you spiral up the tower the exposure increases and adds significantly to the experience. I loved the exposure on the sharp end of the rope! About 2/3 of the way up the spiral, the rope drag was starting to annoy me, so I set up a belay and Scott followed on up.
The next pitch took us to the summit and the exposure got even better! The moves were easy, but big. Not the kind of moves you can do half-way to check out. We easily reached the summit and spent some time enjoying the exposure and view! Now came the hard part: getting down.
At the summit was a mess of webbing tied around a large block. We had read a recent trip report where the climbers had added another loop of webbing, so we decided that 5+ pieces of webbing were enough! I began the rappel, with the idea to find out if the rope reached. Well, of course it didn’t. However, there was another set of slings conveniently located partway down. At this set, I added another piece of webbing as the other slings were getting old. We should have tidied up the anchor by cutting the old ones, but decided to leave them. After this second rappel we were back at the notch.
The climb is a great climb with awesome exposure. Scott was an excellent partner! On the way back to the car we bagged Skyscraper Peak. A good day in all, we were back at the car by mid afternoon just in time for the storms to roll in.