Pellaea (5.5)

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 39.96577°N / 105.29002°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Half a day
Additional Information Difficulty: 5.5R
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.5 (YDS)
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 3
Additional Information Grade: I
Sign the Climber's Log


Pellaea is a small flatiron in the wild depths of Fern Canyon with a single route on it's eastern face. As such, it doesn't really grab the eye as a climbing destination, however Pellaea is on Gerry Roach's list of Top Ten Flatiron climbs, and rightly so! Unlike the impressive, long, obvious, and popular routes on the major Flatirons, Pellaea makes for a nice, casual outing of only three pitches and a single rappel. The climbing is sublime with a couple interesting moves and wonderfully airy positions amidst the soaring towers of Fern Canyon. It gets little enough traffic that there's still lichen on the rock in places, and you probably won't see another party all day.

Getting There

Pellaea is located in the depths of Fern Canyon on the north east side of Bear Peak. The most popular access for this area is probably the NCAR trailhead, though there are closer access points if you know your Boulder neighborhoods well.

From NCAR: Hike west on the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail and connect to the Mesa Trail. Turn left (south), descend into Bear Canyon, bear right and ascend the broad road. Turn right at the signed intersection for the Fern Canyon Trail.

From Lehigh St.: (This is a closer TH though parking is limitted.) From the intersection of Table Mesa and Broadway, drive west on Table Mesa. After .6 miles, turn left onto the long, straight Lehigh St. and follow it to the top of the hill. Park on either side of the road (if spaces are available) and hike north on the North Shanahan Ridge Trail to Fern Canyon.

For an alternate (and slightly closer) TH, turn right on Bear Mountain Drive just before the top of Lehigh and continue straight to a cul-de-sac and TH. Obey parking signs.
Fern Canyon FlatironsA field guide to Fern Canyon Flatirons

Fern Canyon is hard to miss. The entrance is guarded by the massive Slab to the south and the Goose Eggs to the north. Climb the steep trail up-canyon for perhaps a quarter mile. Pellaea and Onoclea (both types of ferns) are located on the Third Stratum. Rather than keeping count, keep going until you pass directly under a huge boulder to the right with a fierce-looking, overhanging crack directly off the trail. This is the Superfresh Boulder and the route of the same name is rated 5.12. Pellaea is the first large formation past Superfresh.

Route Description

Leave the trail at the base of the Pellaea slabs and follow a faint trail up the right side of the slabs. The standard start is to climb 50' up the loose pine needle trail to a large tree and start on the face about 20' below a small tree on a ledge. Starting lower makes it a more aesthetic, but harder line.

P1 heads past the small tree, up and toward the left edge of the formation. The crux of the entire route is a very steep, seemingly featureless gully below a tiny tree. It isn't featureless, but if you're not comfortable on tiny holds 30' above your last protection, you should probably get someone else to lead this pitch ;-). A nice horizontal crack system above the crux provides a good belay perch, or continue slightly higher to make the most of your rope length.

P2 is a long one. Climb the huge face by whatever means you like angling toward a huge crack and spacious ledge above on the left side of the face. With a 70 meter rope, this ledge can be reached from the first belay below even with a meandering route. With shorter ropes, you may need to get creative.

P3 is pure fun! Overcome a steep bulge on tiny holds on the left edge of the rock, then scramble upward on more moderate slabs. A final headwall can be overcome in several ways; sticking as close to the left edge provides an exhillarating, airy, finish to the route. The small summit has several huge potholes that make comfy belay stances.

Rappel from PellaeaCharles on rappel in the narrow Pellaea/Onoclea notch.
Descent: Traverse north 20' from the summit to the surprisingly deep notch between Pellaea and the taller Onoclea. Much as it seems feasible to jump from one to the other, don't do it! The gap is only about 6' wide, but it's much deeper than it looks! Deep in a gap near the notch is a mess of rappel slings (as of 11-06). There has been much debate as to the optimal descent line. We rigged to the west down a meandering dihedral which dropped us straight into the impressive notch. We subsequently had a great deal of trouble pulling down the rope. Draping the ropes over the top of the bulge might produce an easier situation. Or it might not.

Scramble west from the notch to easier ground, then hike south to the main trail.

Essential Gear

As with all flatiron climbs, a long rope will give you more freedom. A rack of stoppers and small and large cams is perfect. I remember placing Camalots number 0.3, 0.5, and 4 as well as a lots of nuts, a few tricams, and a pair of large hexen. The rappel is only about 60', so a single 50 meter rope will be fine there.

Red Tape

Like many flatirons, Pellaea and the other formations on the north side of Fern Canyon (see map) are closed for raptor nesting from February through July. See the OSMP Wildlife Closures page for current closures.



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