Eldorado Marathon

By Bill Wright (bill@wwwright.com)
Written July 1999; Trip date 7/11/99

Recently my friend, John Blackberries, did a marathon climbing day at Lover's Leap in California. He even prepared a fixed rappel line to speed up the descents. His goal was to do 3000 vertical feet of climbing - an "El Cap" day. He succeeded wildly and it inspired me to finally try my own marathon day at Eldorado Springs Canyon near Boulder, Colorado - where I live. I had thought about this feat for a couple of years but had never tried it.

I couldn't find a partner willing to go for the entire day.so I lined up two! I didn't have a specific goal for pitches or vertical feet or routes. It was a bit amorphous, but I know I wanted to climb most of the day. My regular climbing partner, The Trashman, would take the morning shift and Homie would take the afternoon shift. The switch was scheduled to occur between noon and 1 p.m.

I met Trashy outside of the park at 4:50 a.m. and we consolidated into my car because he didn't have a permit to park in there. We drove into the canyon and surprise, surprise, we were the first car there. We geared up in the parking lot. We would both do every approach, every route, every descent in our climbing shoes. I was wearing a pair of original Fires that had been resoled about 7 or 8 times. These were my comfy shoes for long, alpine days. Since the crags are distributed throughout the canyon we wouldn't have benefited from a fixed rappel line and didn't do a single rappel all day. We had to downclimb (usually 4th class and some actual 5th class) off of every climb.

We left the car at 5:10 a.m. and headed for the recently dreaded (see recent Rock & Ice magazine) Calypso on the Wind Tower. Most of the approaches are fairly short, but the approach to Calypso took us less than 5 minutes. Trashy led off on the first pitch (5.6), climbing by feel in the dim light. He moved quickly nonetheless and soon I was climbing. A quick change over and I headed up the Reggae variation (5.8). Reggae has some nice, steep climbing on it. I ran out most of the rope, combining the next pitch. Trashy finished things off to the summit. The first route had taken us 34:01 (39:01 from the car). We downclimbed the descent and made our way over to the start of the Bulge on the Redgarden Wall. This took 12 minutes.

My turn to lead and I put the first two pitches of the Bulge together in about 9 minutes. Trashy followed the led the third, and normally the crux of the Bulge (5.7). I found this pitch a bit tricky. I hadn't done it in a number of years. I led the 5.9 variation finish and then across the slab to the gully. Trashy followed and this route was climbed in 45:58. We descended again, but this time back to the car for food, water and some larger cams.

Now we did the 100 yard approach to Werk Supp. The descent, break and approach had taken just under 20 minutes. We had been going for 1:56:41. Trashy led the long first pitch (5.8) and I followed quickly. I led the awkward and a bit burly crack which is the second pitch (5.9) and then I combined it with the last pitch of March of Dimes (10c). Of course, I fell off this desperate technical edging/finger pumper pitch. Damn! I got it the second time and setup a belay. Trashy cruised it! He should have been leading. We did this route in 55:40. We definitely lost some time with my fumbling around.

We descended back to the car once again. After the food and water, we took a fanny pack with us containing the guidebook, some food, and a liter of Gatorade. We had a relatively long hike over to the West Ridge and this descent, break, and approach took us just under 40 minutes. We were headed for Handcracker Direct - one of the best crack climbs in Eldo.

Trashy put the first two pitches together in fine style. These are both 5.9 crack pitches and involve turning bulges and roofs. I found them quite hard following. I put the next three pitches together. I know this sounds ridiculous, but that's how Rossister lists it in his guidebook. The first is a 5.7 approach pitch to the crux, 10a overhanging hand crack, and then some 5.6 climbing to the summit. Trashy followed without problems. This route took 54:41.

We downclimbed off the back side and over to the west face of the Redgarden Wall. We had planned on doing Grand Giraffe, but that was in the sun. We opted for the Yellow Spur because it was in the shade. We started up this route less than 15 minutes after topping out on Handcracker Direct. Trashy led the 5.9 first pitch over the roof. I put the next two pitches together and caught up to another party. Willow and Mark from Albuquerque offered to let us pass before I even finished the pitch. They were very nice and we chatted amicably while Trashy followed and then put the fourth and fifth pitches together. I followed and then led the beautiful sixth pitch with the 5.8 traverse to avoid the 10b direct finish. This traverse is very runout and exposed, but the climbing is excellent. I tacked on the seventh pitch and final, which is he unprotected 5.6 arete. Trashy topped out 1:11:55 after he started - a new record for me on this route.

We did the long 3rd/4th class slab descent and took a break at the base of Tagger on the Wind Ridge. Eventually, Trashy led the very technical, continuous, and tricky first pitch (5.9+). Before following, I tightened up my floppy Fires in an effort to get more control for the next pitch. I led the second pitch over the big roof (10c) and once again fell off it numerous times. Damn! I've done this route four times now (led it three times) and I always get my ass kicked. I just can't do this route.maybe I should give up. I combined the third pitch up to the walk-off ledge, but the combined drag, heat, and ass kicking made this section feel hard. I was dripping in sweat. Trashy cruised this pitch! It was supposedly the first time he hadn't fallen off it. He was climbing great today, but this was it for him. This route took us 1:06:53.

By this time Homie had arrived and watched me floppy all over the big roof. We descended to meet him and to switch partners. Trashy and I had done seven routes and 25 pitches in 7 hours and 37 minutes. Trashy commented that we had done more than two normal days worth of climbing. It was 12:47 p.m. We went back to the car to eat and drink and switch partners. Trashy would drive my car out of the Canyon to pick up his car. Homie would take me out at the end of the day. Homie joined me in doing all the approaches in his climbing shoes. At 1:15 p.m. we started up the West Chimney on the Bastille. This three pitch route starts up the first 50 feet of Blind Faith and then breaks left along some loose flakes. This is very exposed climbing. Once again I combined pitches and did the second pitch also. This pitch has a classic 5.5 offwidth on it.

Johnny followed and I took over the lead again, as I would for the rest of the day. The next pitch is very steep and quite challenging for the 5.7 rating. John followed without trouble and we did the descent back to the base. This route took 46:36.

We had hoped to get on the Bastille Crack, but of course it was queued up two parties deep. Instead we hiked over to the West Ridge again and did the five pitch Long John Wall. I had only done this route once before we my friend, Opie, a number of years ago. The descent and approach took us a bit over 30 minutes. The first pitch of this route was covered in poison ivy and I had to climb the unprotected slab on the right. Once up to the roof, I was back on route. This first pitch is quite a tricky one as it goes left through the roof via an awkward slot, but then back right on unprotected face climbing right above the lip of the roof. I tacked on the second pitch (5.8) and brought Homie up.

I combined the next pitch and a half to a small stance. I wasn't sure I could make the next belay and didn't want to be caught on 5.8 liebacking with Homie simul-climbing the 5.8 roof below. Homie followed and I finished off the route. This climb has a lot of fun, hard climbing on it and took us 1:17:50. We were completely out of water now and I was starting to fade. We descended the backside and headed over to the west face of the Redgarden Wall. We hiked down to the base of the West Face of the Lower Ramp. We rested for about ten minutes and then I started up. Our plan was to do this pitch to the top of the Lower Ramp, then the first pitch of Rover to reach Ruper. Because of the traversing nature of these next pitches, my pitch combining days were over.

I led up to Ruper and Homie followed. We pulled the #4 Camalot out of the fanny pack and I started up this burly pitch. Ruper is a famous wide crack in Eldorado and it takes some effort. This was my 36th pitch of the day and I found it challenging as did Homie, but neither of us fell off. Next came the classic, exposed Ruper Traverse pitch. The skies were threatening rain, but we decided to continue. I led up to the Upper Ramp and Homie followed and then led across the ramp.

We planned on topping out via Upper Grand Giraffe since I had never done these pitches. These pitches would be the only new pitches of the day for me. This route works up a very steep wall and is quite runout. I led up over exciting 5.7 terrain and eventually got to a shiny single bolt belay. I continued up over hard, unprotected, vertical climbing. Thirty feet out, I found a succession of three old pins. I clipped the first in desperation. I couldn't clip the second because of the location of the pin's eye, but was able to clip the third pin. I backcleaned the first pin to reduce tremendous drag and led up to a small stance were I set up a belay from a couple of stoppers.

In a testament to how hard this climbing was, Homie called for tension three times in following this section. This was probably mostly due to fatigue and dehydration. He had much less water than I had and I was dehydrated. The next pitch was just as steep but the jugs were bigger and after 100 feet I topped out, completely exhausted. Homie followed and we completed this seven pitch route in 2:46:48 - by far the longest any route had taken us today. This was due to fatigue and no pitch combining.

We descended the slabs once in just under twenty minutes. We had planned on doing the Bastille Crack, it was open, and I knew it was high on Homie's list since he had never done it before. But I couldn't oblige him. I was too tired and thirsty. It would have to wait. I ended up doing 40 pitches of which I led 29. I had been climbing/hiking for 14 hours and 16 minutes. I had logged about 4600 vertical feet. We had done tons of 5.7 and 5.8 pitches, seven 5.9 pitches and three 5.10 pitches. Homie had done 15 pitches worth of climbing. Without any defined goals, I considered this a successful marathon day.

Routes done:

Calypso/Reggae (5.8, 3 pitches)
The Bulge/5.9 finish (5.9, 4 pitches)
Werk Supp/March of Dimes (5.10c, 3 pitches)
Handcracker Direct (5.10a, 5 pitches)
Yellow Spur (5.9, 7 pitches)
Tagger (5.10c, 3 pitches)
West Chimney of the Bastille (5.7/8, 3 pitches)
Long John Wall (5.8, 5 pitches)
West Face of the Lower Ramp/Rover/Ruper/Upper Grand Giraffe (5.8, 7 pitches)

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