From Colorado Springs we headed up to Bolder to climb in the Flatirons. We Parked at NCAR and hiked up to Seal Rock with the plan to climb the East Face/North Side. From the description it seemed like a multi-pitch climb that wouldn’t be too difficult but would give us an idea of what climbing in the Flatirons is all about. The hike was about 1.8 miles with 1100 meters of elevation gain. We followed Mesa Trail south, but after the turn off for the climber’s trail, the path became less defined and we had to do some searching once we reached the rock. We finally found the start of the climb and realized that there is no clearly defined route. One of the descriptions we read stated “follow the path of most assistance”. We went straight up, where the climbing was easy slab but protection was few and far between.
There were two pitches to get to the ridge and then a traverse to the climber’s left. From there, someone that was rappelling down the route pointed to a flake to our left and told us that was the route. I wanted to lead on the flake to our right, it looked better protected and I could see a good route up to the top from there. The left route went out of sight, but we were told that the climb went that way and we wanted to stay on route.
I started climbing. The flake provided good placements and protection, so I placed a cam about 20 feet up and kept climbing. The flake and protection brought me farther and farther left. My belay rope had flopped off the flake and gone behind it, causing really heavy rope drag.
I dragged myself up the rock until there was so much friction that I couldn’t go any farther. I set up a multi-point anchor and belayed to other two climbers. On the crowded belay ledge we realized one of my biggest fears about trad-climbing: I had climbed us off route and into a corner with no easy way up. Looking to the right, I realized that flake lead to easy climbing and was definitely the actual route. We couldn’t traverse back to the right because there was no protection placements or holds between where we were and where we needed to be. The only direction we were able to go was down. Two of us climbed down to the traverse pitch while on belay from the anchor above. Once both climbers were safe they belayed the last down climber from below. The sky had gotten darker and clouds rolled over us so we decided to cut our losses and bail. On the traverse pitch there is a tree with a rap anchor. We rappelled on that off the opposite side of the rock that we climbed. This 15 foot rappel lead us to a walk off route.
This taught me a valuable lesson: If you are the one lead climbing, trust yourself and what you can see.
The East Face/North Side of Seal Rock was an awesome climb. It is a little bit of everything and had comfortable belay stations for practicing three party climb transitions. It starts off as easy slab and should end with easy vertical climbing, if you stay on route.