The Potato Chip - Fried At Last!

By George Bell (

Written May 1995; Climb date 5/6/95

The Potato Chip is one of the most spectacular pinnacles in Eldorado State Park. Many times I have marveled over it's wafer thinness while hiking up to the Rincon Wall. Last Weekend (5/6/95), Wayne Trzyna and I decided to do the long hike in to climb it.

For May it was cold and windy, but at least the sun was shining. The past month had been very wet and we were eager to get on some rock at last. As a warm up we headed up to Shirt Tail peak for a route called "Serrated Jam Crack (5.10a)". From the name, this route sounds like a vicious Yosemite-like meatgrinder crack, so of course I wanted to climb it.

Wayne quickly led up the first pitch to the base of the afore mentioned crack. This route faces southwest, so that morning the belayer froze in the wind and shade. As I led off on the second (crux) pitch, my fingers were wooden and numb and I kept stopping to warm them up. The crux in fact is not a crack at all, but a sustained series of dicey face moves with good pro. The crack itself is not hard but contains 60' of fun crack moves. A beautiful pitch in all, and one that Wayne (who has climbed a lot in Eldo) had never even done before!

At this point we could either rap off or continue two more pitches to the summit of Shirt Tail Peak. We decided to continue on the last two pitches of Gambit, a classic Eldo 5.8 route. Far below us in the bottom of the canyon, some kind of "climbing festival" was raging. We had noticed the booths being set up as we parked. A loud speaker blared reggae music much of the time, interrupted by occasional event announcements. Considering we could hear this all clearly from the highest point in Eldorado State Park (Shirt Tail Peak) this seemed a bit excessive to us.

After descending back to our packs, it was time for lunch. Wayne commented that there was nothing better than lying in the sun when you knew you should be climbing. I had to agree. Meanwhile the loudspeaker blared on below, and I caught that "A Carabiner Seminar" was meeting in 5 minutes.

"What the hell do you think 'A Carabiner Seminar' is??" I asked Wayne.

"Who cares?" Replied Wayne.

This pretty much summed up our opinion of this climbing festival. It seemed any serious climbers would rather climb than listen to a cheap marketing ploy.

Eventually we decided we had to climb some more, and the spud wafer was right around the corner from us. I decided we should go up and have a look at it. There are only two routes on the Potato Chip - a 5.12 sport route and a convoluted route rated 5.10b/c. The first was way out of our league, but the second sounded like a good challenge for me. What Rossiter doesn't mention is that you can also hike to the summit of the Potato Chip. I was quite disappointed to discover that it is not the difficult pinnacle it appears to be from the Rincon Wall. In reality it's just a huge prow of a flake that thrusts out from the upper part of the West Ridge.

I am always apprehensive about leading a 5.10. Rossiter says nothing about the rack, and so I mulled over ours - mumbling to myself about what would be appropriate to take on the dreaded Potato Chip.

"How about salsa?" Wayne suggested. "Or bean dip??"

Although the "regular route" is only about 50m long, you need to break it up into three short pitches. The first ascends an easy gully which Wayne lead in his sneakers since his new rock rock shoes were hurting his feet. From here you launch out on the dead vertical Potato Chip Nordwand, ascending a 40' long diagonal crack. This crack varies a lot in width, from six inches to a half inch, and not continuously. Some convenient face holds at the bottom avoid any ungainly offwidth moves, and you then pass a section of fist jamming. The last 6' of the crack are definitely the crux, where the crack is thin hands with footholds hard to come by. At my limit, I barely squeaked by the crux and grabbed a bomber hold at the top to complete the flash. Wayne had more difficulty following this part and pronounced it a really hard 5.10.

From this point you do a short pitch with one scary move across ledges on the opposite (South) face of the chip. This takes you to the summit, or more accurately, up to the rim from where you can simply walk up to the summit.

It was about 4:30 as we hiked out past the Rincon Wall. It had been a great day of climbing but there still was time left for something else. We were quite surprised to see Over The Hill free, so we walked on up and climbed it. It went quite quickly as both of us had climbed it before (Wayne many times). Having done 10 pitches that day, we felt sufficiently tired and walked out. Plus the spud had been conquered!

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