The Spearhead via North Ridge (5.6)July 24-25, 2011
"This climb reminds me of why I started climbing in the first place. It is fundamental. It is magnificent. The climb takes place on such solid rock that you feel like you are touching the soul of the earth. Touch it. Climb it!"
-Gerry Roach from his RMNP Guide
Although Gerry often includes poetic musings in his guidebooks, this description seemed a bit more romantic than usual. When somebody with so much climbing experience talks so highly of a route it has to be a classic. In fact Gerry is not the only person who considers this to be a quality route. The north ridge of the Spearhead is considered by many to be the best climb of its grade in Rocky Mountain National Park and possibly in the country. The route follows a narrow face up a sweep of granite as it steepens into the sky. The climbing is clean and consistent with an easier section in the middle. This all combines to make a great moderate alpine experience. Also, the Spearhead sits much lower than its stately neighbors and seems to be surrounded by giants. Longs, Pagoda, Chief's Head and McHenrys circle around to form walls of rock all around and a better view is hard to find in RMNP.
After a successful ascent of Keyhole Ridge last weekend, Glen and I decided the Spearhead would be an excellent follow-up climb. Not wanted to do the long approach in the dark, we set out on a hot Sunday afternoon. The park was under full tourist invasion, and riding the bus was one of the trip's cruxes. As we neared Black Lake, we started running into other climbers coming down and were happy to hear we'd have the place all to ourselves. We found a nice bivy cave a mere five-minute walk from the start off the climb and settled in. The bivy was an excellent location except for the fact that is was home to another resident. A small mouse worked hard during the night to destroy our sleep by trying to eat my shoes and sleeping pad. Finally, after smacking it with a shoe, it gave up and we were able to snooze.
We got up early, brewed some coffee, and sauntered over to the rock. As we swapped leads up the rock it became obvious why this is a classic. Here are a few notes from how we pitched it out.
P1: Starts up runout slabs similar to Flatirons. Ends with a steep chimney and nice belay ledge.
P2: Steep ledgey climbing over a crack and belay at the base of a dihedral system.
P3: Over the dihedral and then over an easier chimney to easier terrain. Belay on right-facing cracks.
P4: Run it out up 4th class slabs to belay at end of rope.
P5: Cool finger crack up and belay when out of rope.
P6: Up steepening slabs to belay below "piano death block".
P7-8: We did the 5.7 variation that traversed right around the death block and up a steep dihedral to belay at a comfy ledge. The final pitch traverses left up another dihedral right on the edge of the face. The pitch ends with a short but awkward slot that deposits you on scrambling terrain below the summit block.
After topping out on the technical climbing, we unroped and scrambled over to the amazing summit block. The actual summit is a large boulder that overhangs the vast east face and is a dramatic perch above the walls below. We took turns scrambling up the exposed block and were amazed that the block actually wobbled slightly under our weight.
The descent was an uneventful slog down steep loose slopes. We arrived back at our bivy spot and were glad to see that our gear that we hung had been untouched by the local critters. A large marmot went by carrying her babies from one spot to another just a few feet in front of us. The trip had been a great success and lived up to our highest expectations. The route is fabulous and I highly recommend it to anybody looking for classic alpine moderates.