The north aspect of Hallett Peak is one of the great rock faces in Rocky Mountain National Park. On the Third Buttress there used to be the Northcutt-Carter route, of Fifty Classic Climbs of North America
fame. The Second Buttress hosts fine lines like Better than Love
and Culp-Bossier--by many considered superior to the Northcutt-Carter even before a rockfall obliterated the lower part of the latter in 1999. The First Buttress cannot compete with the other two, but with the Great Dihedral, offers an elegant, very enjoyable, moderate climb.
From the base of the First Buttress.
From the Bear Lake Trailhead
, follow the trail to Emerald Lake. This trail is the most popular in Rocky Mountain National Park. Expect to meet crowds on your return trip. Go around the lake in clockwise fashion and boulder hop to gain a shelf above the south shore. Follow a faint trail and scramble up talus, aiming for the lowest point of Hallett Chimney, which separates the First Buttress from the Second. It took us 75 minutes to reach the base of the Great Dihedral, without risking any speeding tickets. The Great Dihedral starts directly to the left (east) of Hallett Chimney. It climbs a spur leaning against the lower half of the First Buttress.
The route can be climbed in two long pitches with a 60 or 70 meter rope.
On the first pitch.
There are a couple of reasons, though, to break it into three pitches. First, the route entices the climber to "sew it up." Unless you bring a very large (heavy) rack, you may run out of pro on the first pitch. Second, a belay at the start of the dihedral proper, provides, as suggested by George Bell, an excellent photo op. We decided not to forgo this opportunity; hence, this description comprises three pitches.
This Dihedral is Really Great.
P1: Go up and left to a platform at the base of the dihedral (25 m, 5.6).
P2: Climb the dihedral for about 35 m to a series of ledges (5.7). The first ledge has a fixed piton. A few meters higher there are fixed slings around a block. If you want to finish from here in one pitch and you have a 60 m rope, belay at the higher stance. This pitch is the reason why one climbs this route. There is a nice (hand and fist) crack on the left face of the dihedral that affords lots of opportunities for protection.
P3: Follow the dihedral/chimney, which, unfortunately, is not nearly as good as in the previous pitch. Climb slabs and broken rocks to the summit of the spur, half way to the summit of the First Buttress (5.4). Excellent views from here of the upper headwall and of the Second Buttress.
The Third Pitch.
From the top of the spur where Great Dihedral ends, several routes continue to the top of the north face: Standard Route (5.5), Finch Route (5.8), Center Route (5.5 or 5.6 depending on the source), Magistrate (5.7).
It is also possible to scramble down directly to the base of Great Dihedral. Turn left (east) and aim for the grassy, broken terrain at the center of the lower First Buttress. This is not exactly a "walk-off," but judicious choice of your line will keep the difficulty at Class 3. There is plenty of loose rock, so pay close attention to your footing. I wouldn't want to be on this descent route below another party. Angle right (east) to reach a narrow, scree-filled gully that crosses the face from near the col east of the First Buttress to the base of Hallett Chimney.
Bring a standard rack. The crack on the left face of the dihedral eats all the pro you are willing to throw at it.
The guidebooks by Bernard Gillett and Richard Rossiter are good sources for the climbs on Hallett Peak's north face. See also Mountain Project