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The Flying Flatiron recently became attractive during my quest to become a stronger lead climber before my upcoming expedition. Roach mentions there’s a 5.6 overhang off the ground and another 5.5-5.6 crux up top along with a steady dose of 5.3-5.4 climbing. Sounds good, just one more thing, and pay attention it’s important, stay right to avoid the numerous overhangs in the middle of the face.
A.J. and I set off from the Shanahan Ridge Trailhead around 7:45am under overcast morning skies. Don’t worry; they’re the same annoying type of clouds from the California surfing days. They’ll burn off in an hour or two.
Hiking up North Shanahan Trail we’re thoroughly shocked at the number of people out early this morning. We expected solitude more or less, although the trail is connected to a neighborhood, but there’s dozens of folks enjoying a stroll or a run in the cool morning weather!
The Flying Flatiron framed by the trees early in the hike with the Devil's Thumb hovering above
When we reach the Mesa Trail the crowds being to fade and soon we’re focusing our attention on periodic views of the Flying Flatiron, Fatiron, Maiden and other beautiful rock climbs. They draw us onwards as we pass the South Shanahan turnoff and quickly begin looking for the proper ascent drainage towards the Flying Flatiron.
Maiden and Fatty
Upon reaching a clearing below the Flying Flatiron we begrudgingly leave the lovely trail for the horrendous bushwhack we can no longer ignore. Branch dodging leads to carwashes(wet fern fields) and lovely boulder hopping in the now present sunshine, not the lovely travel we had earlier but it happens, frequently. When we get another glimpse of our intended target we discover we’re too far north and begin forging a direct line southwest through a much appreciated grove of pine trees to the base of the Apostle.
Knowing we had to get to the Apostle’s south side to access the Flying Flatiron we begin traversing feet below the rock face. Some more bushwhacking combined mossy dirt sliding off beneath our feet complicate our travels, it’s frustrating both of us. When we finally reach the southwest corner of this Flatiron we notice this IS NOT the Apostle. We still have to hike uphill to the Apostle and around it before hiking to the Flying Flatiron. Bummer!
Right as I am preparing to resume the uphill slog towards the Apostle A.J. asks if I want to climb this unnamed Flatiron and the Apostle to reach the Flying Flatiron instead of continuing the hike. You bet!
Being two steps ahead of me with his new plan, A.J. is quickly ready to start up the unnamed Flatiron while I’m lacing up my rock shoes. With holds and fairly easy looking climbing scattered across the face we agree to free solo this first Flatiron summit and exchange information along the way. I finish lacing my shoes and throw my pack on just as A.J. announces that the climbing isn’t difficult but the red ants are mildly disturbing, red ants, crud! As I engage the face the red ants are visible but they aren’t problematic and certainly don’t want any part of me. Ten minutes of 5.0-5.2 climbing and we’re on top this tiny Flatiron. The Apostle is really a stone’s throw away. Roach lists that as fourth class so we decide to continue with the ropeless plan for that also. This one is twice as long yet the difficulty does not increase as we agree with the fourth class or a possible low fifth rating. From the Apostle’s plain summit the tree-dotted Flying Flatiron dominates the view sending chills down my spine. Here we are the main course is served.
This is what we came for
Alright, in an attempt to cut down on my useless ramblings(probably a futile one) I’ll try to provide basic information on this “new” route.
P1: We started right at the base of the 3-foot 5.6 overhang. A practice attempt to find which holds I want to use went smoothly. With my bulky pack it was a different ballgame as I am flustered upon cresting the darn thing and the rock began to spin in front of me for 30-60 seconds. Freaky to say least. After that the difficulty decreases(5.2) but the steepness and runout nature of the pitch get the blood flowing. I find a crack to place a #2 tri-cam around 75 feet. That is it. A well-positioned tree around half a rope length(60m rope) provides an excellent belay station exactly where the angle relents.
First Pitch Glare in the Sun
P2: Maybe it’s the steep nature of P1 or something else entirely but this pitch, especially being laid back, certainly felt the easiest to us, possibly 4th class or 5.0. I am able to run a full 60m rope length and pro placements are abundant.
Second Pitch Cruise
At the second belay station we are following Roach’s East Face Route(5.6) to the letter. Before starting up the third pitch I am reading Roach’s warning “Avoid getting too far south(left) into a gully system that leads to large overhangs above”(G. Roach, Flatiron Classics, p. 251) and decide screw it. We’re feeling adventurous today don’t feel like taking the easiest route from point A to B! Turning around I relay my intentions of heading straight up into overhang central to A.J. Smiling he says, lead it and I’ll follow, climb on. With that I start up into the heart of the overhangs, Overhang Alley to be precise!
P3: Starting by immediately slinging a tree I pop over the first overhang.
Harbinger of Things to Come
The view above could be sobering for a “normal” person but we are up for the challenge today! From there I go straight into the heart of Overhang Alley placing pro and climbing three overhangs of various sizes(5.3-5.5) before hearing calls of 25 and 12 feet. A big rock serves as a bomber belay station.
Into the Heart of Overhang Alley
P4: This pitch lacks the pizzazz of P3 but is slightly runout. A small overhang(5.3-5.4) around half a rope length adds some flavor. We receive another bout of good fortunate as A.J. is calling out the final feet on the rope as I reach the intended belay station at an enormous tree at the base of a formidable wall.
Pitch Four to the Tree
P5: Now how to finagle this wall? Straight on, of course; it’s the day’s theme! The initial defenses(5.2) go without a fuss but the upper part of the wall remains. I scoot along its base slinging a tree before making my way to a corner and seeing a 10-foot wide ramp traversing around the remainder of the wall. We’ll call that Plan B. Scooting back towards the tree I stumble across a solid hold for my right hand in the wall. After clipping into a #1 cam I find a suitable ledge for my right toes before swinging my left leg high on the wall and grabbing a lovely placed piece of quartz(for two fingers) just over the edge of the wall(5.7, 7-8 feet). Pulling myself over is exhilarating to say the least. From there the climbing is considerably mellower to the belay station.
Back Into the Abyss
Views of the South Wing are stellar from this vantage point! Anyone up for an interesting climb? That baby might be bigger than the First Flatiron!
If You Want to Climb This Puppy
P6: Starting up I can smell the top of the route as the Flying Flatiron begins to thin and the Devil’s Thumb is now dominating the skyline.
Cracks come in bunches and I gladly place more pro than normal to the base Roach’s 5.5-5.6 chimney. Technically this baby isn’t overkill but its exposed position and blocks which push you back ever so slightly give it that awkward, spooky feeling. Two cams at the bottom and two nuts just over the lip(10-12 feet high) take care of that problem. Whew, take a deep breath!
Not the Most Comfortable Place, Doesn't it Look Easy?
The arch is only 20 feet away. Two paths split here in the woods. One, the smooth, easy ledges which lead directly to the arch and two, the knife-edge ridge straight to the eastern base of the arch. Yes, we’ll take the path less traveled.
To the Arch! Note the Access Ledge on its Left
The Arch Twins
Me- Sorry no Goggles to Hide Behind This Time of Year
P7(The Arch- optional): Yes, we want to climb but the airy 5.7 ledge has both of our hearts racing. The skinny, but wide enough, ledge leads around the south side and I start up that way. Immediately my first “bomber” hold rips out sending more rocks than I’ve ever seen bounding down the southern ledges of the face. Oh man, what are we doing here? After recollecting myself, I set off on take two of the ledge checking every hold 3-4 times before committing to the next upward move. A thin crack along the base of the arch serves as an excellent place for right hand holds and to set pro every 5-7 feet. Once the arch relents, two large boulders present themselves and an easy crack brings you to the top of the arch. A.J. arrives quite happy to be on top while dreading the downclimb. A breathtaking descent brings us back to the base of the arch where we rap 30-40 feet off the north side.
Wanting to climb the entire Flatiron I scoot through a small hole between two boulders and re-join the route above the arch. An airy, 5.0 ridge leads me to the summit and back to A.J. right as he finishing coiling the rope.
The hike out? Well, it sucks! We got stuck in the world’s longest boulder field and didn’t reach smooth terrain until just before the Mesa Trail. Glad to out of bushwhacking terrain we shut it down mentally and cruised back to the neighborhood making it at 5pm. Another day well spent in the Flatirons!
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