Third Flatiron, East Face Regular

By: Jacob Wyatt | Climbers: James Burns, Joan Wharton, Jacob Wyatt |Trip Dates: August 31, 2002

Photo: Gary Clark

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It seemed too good to be true. We were actually alone at the start of the East Face that morning, and saw no one above us. On a warm clear morning … of a holiday weekend! My friends James and Joan, who were visiting me in Boulder, thought I was making a bit too much of the point. But since maneuvering the crowds is likely to be the crux of any outing on the East Face of the Third Flatiron, my enthusiasm was justified.

The hardest sections of climbing (and they are short and few) are somewhere in the 5.2 to 5.4 range, depending on who you ask. Most of the rest of the climb is between 4th class and 5.1. However, this route is likely to remind all but the most jaded of rock jocks that fun and fulfillment don't always correspond to pushing one's technical limits. We certainly found that to be the case.

I led off on the first pitch, which heads up and across the rock, passing the first (and last) protection bolt we'd have on the route, through a wide gully and up an overlap. I moved on to the first of several eyebolts that mark the belays for the first five pitches. The eyebolts are the epitome of bomber, and make the belays and leader switches (if you're doing so) very quick.

Two things become apparent on the first pitch. First, the climbing is relatively relaxed and moderate, and most of the positions you'll find yourself in along the way give easy no-hands rests. Second, there is often very little protection available. You'll be faced with numerous 40+ foot runouts. It's for this reason that the East Face, while a great beginner's climb, is probably not a good route for beginning leaders.

I quickly belayed James and Joan up to me. (Another nice aspect of the climb - because there's not a well defined path of holds, it's easy for the leader in a group of three to belay the other two at the same time, and let them wander up the face simultaneously.) James took the remainder of the small rack, and set off on second pitch; pretty much straight up the face.

Another thing becomes apparent early on. The eyebolts can sometimes be easy to miss. Because of the relatively low angle of the rock, and the waves of features, the leader needs to be sure not to climb too far. I did this on my first trip up the route, and can say that down-climbing is a little trickier than going up!

I took the third pitch, which was more of the same. It was during this pitch that we were passed by the first of two soloists we'd see that day. The East Face is a very popular rock among those who can deal with the challenges of the solo world (unfortunately, I haven't developed a head for it yet). It was also about this time that we noticed the queue of climbers forming at the base. We could count 5 people either on the first pitch or waiting to start (and the number would rise to over a dozen by the time we looked down from the top).

The fourth pitch, which ends at an eyebolt just below the lower left-hand corner of the giant "C" painted on the upper face, definitely has a bit of the "find the eyebolt issue." The rock becomes lighter-colored near here, and it's wasn't immediately apparent where the paint ends and the light colored rock begins.

Another easy pitch got us near the base of "The Gash" - a gully that bisects the top portion of the face, with the belay located near the upper right-hand corner of the giant "C." It's apparently possible to escape the route here and move through to the west face and the rappel lines, but some of the most fun moves are above this point. This belay has the last eyebolt we saw that day (other than the descent rappels).

The sixth pitch goes up and around a rock outcropping to the left, and follows a ramp back up a bit to the right. It's a shorter pitch than most others, but near the top of the ramp there are several good cracks (and a little alcove) that make a good belay stance. James, as is sometimes his nature, decided to skip this stance and run on to the next belay stance near the top, and just on the other side, of The Gash. There were no problems with this (other than communication), as he carefully used runners at the gear placements he found along the way.

After I gave James back the gear he had placed, he took off on the last pitch. The last gear hand-off was pretty much unnecessary, though, as the last pitch has just a single horizontal wide crack and a chickenhead sling opportunity for gear. At least that's all I saw when I led the pitch a month earlier. The chickenhead, though, is probably the most confidence-inspiring one you'll ever see. The last 20 feet of the climb are much smoother than the first 900+ feet, but once you make the first smear and get your momentum started, it's a cruise. From the summit, our descent was a series of rappels. As with the trip up, there are options on the descent, depending on whether you have one rope or two. Since the rappel anchors for the options are different, make sure you know which to use before heading down!

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If you can get your climbing partners out of bed early enough to begin just before sunrise, you'll be treated to an awesome sunrise and wonderful views throughout the climb. And unless you start early, be prepared for the crowds. It's hard for people to resist a climb this fun.