The First Flatiron is the most conspicuous of the rocks that grace Boulder's landscape. It is a huge sandstone slab which, at its highest point, measures approximately 1000 feet. A large number of routes have been traced on the east face and a few more on the other aspects of the structure. Among the latter, the North Arête is by far the most popular, both because of its quality, and because it is somewhat unusual by Flatiron standards: It is not a typical east face slab route, and it is not hard and overhanging like most routes encountered on non-easterly aspects in the area. Combined with the East Face North route, it provides a long, varied, spectacular climb of moderate difficulty, which Richard Rossiter describes as "probably the best 5.4 route in Boulder."
The arête proper can be reached by climbing the east face or by hiking and scrambling around the north end of the First Flatiron. In both cases, start from the Chautauqua parking lot and hike for about 0.6 miles along the Chautauqua trail to the junction with the Bluebell-Baird trail. At the intersection of the two, the climbing access trail leaves in the west direction. Follow the signs for climbing access to the First and Second Flatirons until the trail reaches a wooden bridge.
Across the bridge is the foot of the east face and the start for the Direct East Face Route. The reinforcement work to protect this area from erosion is a reminder of the popularity of this famous climb. Proceed past the wooden steps along a steep trail that follows the border of the face. Once past the huge dihedral/gully that delimits the northernmost part of the east face, find a convenient way to climb on the face for the East Face North route.
For the standard approach, go aroud the Flatironette (follow the signs) and bushwhack on the northwest side until a marked notch in the ridge. Since we climbed the East Face North route, this description of the standard approach is second-hand and should not be relied too much upon.
The East Face North route consists of three pitches on the face delimited to the left by the Northeast Gully. There is no fixed route, but the right side should be slightly easier and afford a few more opportunities to place protection. We stayed closer the the left edge of the face and encountered a very runout second pitch. The route ends about 30 feet north (right) of the start of the North Arête. Difficulties in the 5.2-5.4 range.
Walk on the west side of the ridge to the start of the North Arête route. From there it is four pitches to the summit.
Set up belay in a nice alcove and climb a steep stretch to attain easier terrain on the ridge (60 m, 5.4 initially, then easier). Belay at the base of a huge flake that forms a low overhang
. The opposite side of this flake forms the slot/chimney of the Direct East Face
Surmount the flake and gain the ridge crest. Continue past the notch where the Direct East Face route attains the ridge. Belay at the top of the next tower. (50 m, the initial move is 5.4 or 5.5, depending on where one passes the overhang; the rest is 5.easy.)
This is the so-called Quartz Crystal Pitch. Descend to a notch and climb a steep slab. The easiest line, but not the easiest to protect, is up the rib almost on the ridge crest. A large quartz crystal helps reach higher, more featured rock. Alternatively, stay further left on the east face, following a crease to the left of the rib. More technical, but affording a couple of placements. Belay past the next notch. (50 m, 5.4 initially, then, again, easier.)
The final pitch crosses another couple of notches to reach the summit along a right-trending ramp. Belay at the summit eyebolts. (35 m, 5.easy.)
Descend by rappelling westward from the eyebolts. A 60m rope suffices. The last part of the rappel is free-hanging to provide an exciting finish to an exciting climb.
From the base of the rappel follow the trail for about 100 feet. Turn left for the standard descent that will take you back to the wooden bridge where you left the trail and further on to the Chautauqua parking lot. Alternatively, turn right and descend the steep trail to the junction with the Saddle Rock Trail, and from there, continue to Chautauqua.
notes that retreating from the arête is possible at the end of the first pitch, where Baker's Way reaches the North Arête. Behind a rock in that saddle is a cable with a rap ring. A single 60 m rope will take you to the ground in one rappel.
A 60 m rope is recommended for the rappel. A standard rack is adequate. We used yellow and red Aliens and Camalots from 0.5 to 3. The route can be climbed year-round, but be prepared for strong winds, snow and ice on the ridge, especially in the off season.
This route is described in Gerry Roach's Flatiron Classics
, Richard Rossiter's Rock Climbing the Flatirons
, and Mountain Project