Many years ago before I had stylish gray hair, back when I thought I wanted to be a rock star, I climbed the Sharkstooth. Later I discovered that snow was softer and has the benefit of requiring less talent to climb. Still, there is nothing like that sensation of solid rock under your fingers, feeling its texture, searching for that perfect hold, that makes me think I might climb the Sharkstooth again. Since I have stood on its summit, I will add this worthy peak to SP. I will not add any route pages, the memory of the climb is too far back for the necessary details, but I hope some other SP'ers will contribute more information and photographs.
The Sharkstooth is well named, the highest of the Cathedral Spires group of pinnacles on the rugged ridge that separates Loch Vale from the narrow gorge known as The Gash. It is just east of the Continental Divide in the Glacier Gorge area of Rocky Mountain National Park. When you see The Sharkstooth from the north, in The Gash below Andrews Glacier, you might think it did indeed come from the jaws of a huge Carcharodon carcharias.
The Sharkstooth has the distinction of being one of the few officially named peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park that has no walk up route. There are other peaks known to the climbing community, such as the nearby Petit Grepon, but The Sharkstooth appears on the USGS quadrangle maps, the authority on official names. The Aarps & Kingery book High Country Names makes no mention of who coined the name. I also have no information on a first ascent. The peak is not mentioned in the 1921 book Mountaineering in the Rocky Mountain National Park by Roger Toll. It was not on the climbing radar at that time.
The trailhead is at the Glacier Gorge (9,180 ft) parking area, near the end of the Bear Lake road, one of the main roads in the Park.
The construction on Bear Lake Road is now complete. The tiny old, familiar, and crowded Glacier Gorge parking area has been moved 1/4 mile down the road to a new, improved, larger, and still-crowded parking lot. There is now an additional 60 feet elevation gain required. Maybe you will be aware of that on the way out!
|Begin hiking towards Alberta Falls, continuing on about 2 miles to a major trail junction that splits towards Black Lake (left), Lake Haiyaha (right) and Loch Vale (center). At this junction continue straight towards Loch Vale and Andrews Glacier.
A Genuine Shortcut: Most climbers use an unmarked trail to reach this spot. It cuts 15-20 minutes off the hike and bypasses Alberta Falls and the switchbacks above it. The trail begins immediately after the fourth bridge, slightly more than 0.3 miles from the new trailhead. (The third bridge is a small, single log affair, I am counting that.) After crossing the fourth bridge, turn right and make your way up the slope. The path is faint at first but soon develops into a full-fledged, well-maintained trail. It joins up with the main trail 100 feet below the junction.
From the junction it is about 15 minutes to Loch Vale Lake. The views here are outstanding, and the Sharkstooth is visible to the west, though hard to spot and not looking much like a shark's tooth. Taylor Peak is behind and to the left of it, just barely visible behind the Cathedral Ridge, with the Sharkstooth being the high rounded summit on the ridge.
Continue hiking around the right (north) side of Loch Vale Lake. Go about 1/2 mile to another junction, where there is a marked sign. Turn right (north) here, into The Gash and toward Andrews Glacier. As you climb steadily into The Gash the views of the towering rock pinnacles and cliff walls on both sides are impressive. When you break out of the trees The Sharkstooth comes startingly into view on your left. It is 4 miles and 2,000' elevation gain to the base of the climb. If the hike has not quickened your pulse, then the site of the Sharkstooth will.
There route I climbed is the Northeast Ridge, rated 5.6, with a possible East Face variation start. Stealing a line from Gerry Roach, when I was high on the last pitch I'm sure I thought "5.6 my ass". But I did climb it, and quickly because a storm was moving in. Since I never could climb much more than 5.7, this really must have been 5.6, or else storm fear adrenalin turned me into a super climber for a few treasured minutes.
To reach the start of the climb, scramble towards the prominent col on the left (east) side of the tower. Do not climb all the way up to the col, unless you are after the 5.4 East Gully route. The Northeast Ridge begins several hundred feet below the col. "Ridge" is a strong of a word for the bulge in the face that I recall. There are 4 or 5 pitches of roped climbing, with route finding being a major part of the day. In fact, if you ask me, Northeast Face might be a better name for part of this route, as there are not any clear ridge-like lines to follow. I also felt like much of the climbing was sustained 5.6, not just one or two moves thrown in to give the climb its rating. Maybe we were off route.
The rock is solid enough, but this is alpine Rocky Mountain climbing, so don't be surprised if something moves, and don't forget your helmet.
|The summit was surprisingly large enough to lounge around, have some food, and enjoy your perch. We didn't have that luxury however, as a fast moving storm to the west was spewing bolts of lighting and pelting us with hail as we set up our rappel. One person in our group began to cry (not me!) Three double roped rappels follow the East Gully down to the col.|
Again, I welcome additions from other SP members with better and current information. In lieu of that, here are two web locations I have found.
climbingboulder.com (Note that you can "Choose A Route" after that link which takes you to the main Sharkstooth page)
I'd consider this to be a summer climb, say from late-June to September in typical years, but people do all kinds of crazy stuff in the winter these days.
In summer be aware of the afternoon thunderstorms which can form quickly by noon and are a real danger. If you have the luxury of planning your climb when there is a nice high pressure system stalled over the region, then go for it. Otherwise make sure you are climbing at first light.
In winter the major concern is freezing your ass off in the Front Range's notorious wind. The final approach to the base of the climb should be studied for avalanche conditions.
Typical for Colorado, conditions range from the calm, beautiful high pressure in summer, to howling white-out blizzards in the winter. Or, the other way around.
The biggest weather summer hazard is the afternoon thunderstorms which can build with alarming speed and danger. These are common from May through September are are often fully formed by noon. The Front Range is also known for ferocious wind, especially in winter.
National Weather Service Longs Peak Ranger Station forecast, elevation 9420 feet. Of course specific mountain conditions vary wildly over small distances
Estes Park forecast, the gateway town on the east side of RMNP.
Weather charts data from the Niwot Ridge Meteorological site, located at at 11,572 ft (3528 m) on Niwot Ridge, 30 miles south of RMNP. This gives you an indication of recent regional high altitude conditions.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center, more mountain forecasts and current conditions, highly useful avalanche information. Operates in winter months only.
The Sharkstooth is within Rocky Mountain National Park, and all Park regulations apply. The Park's web site will have current permit and rate information. There are daily as well as annual Park passes. The annual pass is the way to go for anyone living nearby.
Note that no dogs are permitted on any trail in RMNP.
Backcountry camps require using designated RMNP sites. There is a backcountry campsite in The Gash named Andrews Creek. A PDF file can be downloaded at the RMNP Backcountry Site page. It is a nice location and maybe a 1/2 hour hike to the base of the climb.
It is also possible to bivouac right at the base of the climb in The Gash, following the RMNP bivouac guidelines. Here is a list of all bivouac sites in the Park. Since the Sharkstooth can be climbed from the Loch Vale side the bivy site in The Gash is not explicitly mentioned, but I did call the Park backcountry office to confirm that you can stay there.