Quinfecta - Flatiron Overload

By Bill Wright (bill@wwwright.com)
October 1997

We met at 5:45 at Chataqua Park, the trailhead for climbing on the Flatirons. The Trashman [George Bell] and the Heelhooker [Wayne Trzyna] were already there when I arrived. After divying up the gear we headed up the hill at a brisk pace. Our goal today was to climb all five of the Flatirons that dot the east slope of Green Mountain. Each Flatiron is at least a thousand feet long. We zeroed our high-tek Avocet altimeter watches so that we could watch the build-up of total vertical, which we guessed would be over 6000 feet.

Above the Bluebell Shelter we made a route finding mistake and followed the trail towards the Third Flatiron. We wanted to start with the First Flatiron and do them in numerical order. A sign directed us back to the north and down before another sign got us back on track.

At the base of the First Flatiron we put our climbing shoes on and I took off leading. Our plan was to simul-climb the tougher Flatirons (1, 2 & 4) and solo the easiest ones (3 & 5.) I was feeling strong and set a fast pace. We raced up to the summit in one long pitch and arrived there just as the sun was rising at 7:05 a.m. One down.

We did short rappels off the back side. Short rappels were required since we only had a single 9mm rope with us. We worked our way along the south side of the First Flatiron clear back to the start of the route. Then we followed the trail down, across, and back up to the start of the Second Flatiron. This transition could probably be vastly improved by going cross country.

Once again I led the entire flatiron in one long pitch. The Second Flatiron is relatively uninteresting as a rock climb. The route we did, Free For All, is trivial for most of the way and feels more like a 3rd class scramble. The exception is the upper part of the route. Once you hit the feature known as the Pullman Car the climb becomes interesting. Getting around and onto the Pullman Car was one of the hardest section of climbing in the Quinfecta.

We arrived at the top at 8:20 a.m. As of yet we hadn't seen a single other climber, but it was now on to the extremely popular Third Flatiron where we feared a massive traffic jam at the summit rappels. We downclimbed off the back side of the Second Flatiron and hiked over the to Third Flatiron trail and from there to the start of the East Face route.

At the start of the route were two people of a three person party. The leader was at the top of the first pitch. We could see another party of three further up. We elected to solo this route because it was easy and because it would facilitate passing other parties. Passing on the Third Flatiron is trivial for a soloist because it is possible to climb about anywhere on this face.

I raced up this face. Partly to see if I could bury the Trashman and the Heelhooker, both generally thought to be very fit climbers and with whom I feel some competition. Of course when you are the only one who is racing, it makes it easier to win. I was also going fast because I wanted to get up and off of this most popular route with as little traffic problems as possible. And lastly, I wanted to complete the Quinfecta as early as possible since I had a dinner date that night and a 5K race the next day. I arrived at the top of the 3rd at 9:10 a.m. The Trashman was a few minutes behind and then the Heelhooker a few minutes behind him. It seemed we were the first party of the day to summit, although another free soloer shortly appeared.

We rapped off and took a break to eat and drink. We then descended down the south side of the Third Flatiron and across the gully up to the Royal Arch trail. We followed this right to the bottom of the Fourth Flatiron - the longest of the flatirons. This flatiron is broken up into three distinct sections were you can simply walk off into the woods at each break. We simul-climbed the first section with me leading, then soloed the middle section. The last section is the toughest and we started off soloing this also, but quickly got into a dicey situation. I dropped a rope down to the Trashman when he balked at a smooth section in the wide groove/crack we were climbing. From then on we simul-climbed to the summit and took a long break. The climbing was beginning to take its toll and we lounged on top gathering our strength for the final flatiron.

We arrived at the summit of the Fourth Flatiron at 11:15 a.m. We downclimbed off the backside about thirty minutes later. We bushwhacked down the south side of the Fourth Flatiron. Here the Heelhooker remarked that if he does any more climbing with the Trashman and I he's going to bring his machete. This descent is not pleasant as it involves the worst bushwhacking you can find in the flatirons. Or about equivalent to the easiest bushwhack you can find in the Cascades.

We arrived at the base of the Fifth Flatiron at 12:55 p.m. As we were pulling on our shoes the Heelhooker says to me, "What do you think? Summit by 2 p.m.?" "No, you silly sport climber," I responded. "We'll summit by 1:30 at the latest. None of these babies have taken us an hour to climb yet. It isn't going to start with the shortest one."

We soloed up this remote, rarely visited, but quite interesting flatiron. I hadn't climbed it before and thoroughly enjoyed the smooth slabs, occasional cracks, and the beautifully exposed hand traverse of the summit ridge. I'd rank this as my third favorite flatiron, after the Third and the First.

I arrived on the summit at 1:15 p.m. The Trashman arrived five minutes later and the Heelhooker summitted right on schedule at 1:30. We hung out eating and drinking the rest of our water until 2 p.m.; then the call of the beers was too strong and we did the single, overhanging rappel back to the ground. We hiked down the south side of the Fifth Flatiron directly to the Royal Arch where we found a big crowd.

The hike out was crowded with hikers. We arrived back at the car a little after 3 p.m. The entire Quinfecta had taken us 9 hours and 10 minutes, car to car. This could easily be reduced to under 8 hours. Under seven would be challenging. Soloing all of them would speed things up, but the 2nd and 4th both have sections where care is necessary. We did a double-take upon looking at our watches, how could the total be so low?? The exact figure was not recorded but was somewhere under 5000 feet total vertical gain. If you do all of these climbs belaying every pitch, though, this is around 40 pitches!

After bringing up the rear all day, the Heelhooker won the race to the beers. While the Trashman and the Heelhooker downed all sorts of uppity micro brews, I stuck with a traditional, hearty, cold filtered, dark beer: Stuart's (root beer, of course).

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