The Big One – Climbing the North Face of Hallett Peak, Part 2

August 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Mark belayed Eric as he slowly climbed the smooth headwall pitch. I ate some more food and drank a lot of water. I took some pictures, and danced around on our little ledge trying to stay warm and psyche myself up for what I was sure was the crux pitch, if not physically, than certainly mentally.

Eric leading the 6th pitch, the best single pitch of climbing I've ever done

As I started out the long, super-exposed pitch I told myself that I could do it. I would be slow, careful, focused on the rock, and completely ignore the air and wind and space all around me. As I moved out onto the face, I found it wasn’t as blank as it looked. It was covered in ledges and crimp holds, and even though it was vertical to slightly overhanging, the holds were all you could ever want.

It was 200ft of the most beautiful climbing I have ever done. As I flowed up the headwall, I felt strong, graceful, and wildly free. I could feel the space around me, and it didn’t feel scary or intimidating at all. I know it sounds goofy, but it felt like I finally had room for my spirit to expand. Room to finally let out a full breath, to finally relax into the line between the rock and the air, and slowly, slowly dance my way up the long, high, amazingly beautiful wall.

The lakes look beautiful in the summer sun

Throughout this climb, Mark and I followed together. Eric had us each on a rope, and he belayed us at the same time using a Reverso on the anchor. I climbed about 15 feet ahead of Mark for the whole route. It meant that if I slowed down, he would have to slow down as well, and for some of the previous pitches, I had certainly been the throttle control.

But on this pitch, I grooved. And I left Mark on the rock far below me.

When I reached the belay I was ecstatic and thrilled. I bounced around grinning like an idiot and yelling “THAT WAS AWESOME!!” over and over again. It was the single best pitch of climbing I can ever remember, and I let Eric know it. In fact, I let the whole world know it.

“I didn’t cry!!” I exclaimed proudly.

“Well… that’s good.” Eric replyed, sounding somewhat confused.

Mark was jazzed when finished as well, and the big grin that formed while he climbed seemed to be etched on to his face. It didn’t leave for days.

Kate and Mark having a blast on the big alpine climb

We were sitting at the base of the seventh pitch here, below several huge roofs, on the edge of a shear headwall, well more than 1,000ft in the air. I kept expecting Eric to say “Well, you’ve finished the hardest part.” But he never did.

Eric led the seventh pitch as carefully and gracefully as any other, though he had a lot more gear in under those big roofs. And he did pause for several moments, working out the moves. Mark and I were feeling so good, we cheered him on, and felt sure that those roofs weren’t as difficult to climb as they looked.

I was invincible at this point, of course, and I cruised up the pitch assuming it would be much easier than the last. It wasn’t.

The roof was overhanging. The world spread out below me as I worked up the steep, steep face below the roof, and then pulled with all of the strength I had left over the edge of the rock. I was at 12,500ft of elevation. There was 1500ft of empty air below me, and thousands more down to the lakes and valleys below us. And this was the actual crux of the route.

But, I pulled through cleanly. Eric had set a belay right on top of the roof, so we hung out and waited for Mark to make the moves and pull over the edge. He grunted and swore as he did, still smiling though.

Mark pulling over the final 5.9 roof, hanging over 1500ft of empty air

“That was way harder than you two made it look!” He blurt out when he reached the belay.

The last pitch was a short jaunt to the summit, with one little, easy route and a bit of scrambling.

Mark and Eric clean up on top of Hallets

And what a summit it was. The rockies rolled out before us, shining in the mid-day sun. We had climbed eight long pitches, and it wasn’t even noon yet. There is a true summit to Hallett Peak, but that was another half mile of hiking to the north, so we decided to skip it.

Mark and Kate on top of Hallets Peak - what an awesome climb

It was a beautiful day, and an amazing place to be enjoying it. Mark and I know that we don’t push ourselves very hard with our climbing. There seems to be plenty of low hanging fruit for us in Colorado. But on Saturday, we did something really great. Yes, it was guided, and yes, it wasn’t the hardest climb in the world by any means. But it felt good, we felt good, and it was a proud day for us.

Looking up at Hallets (left) from Dream Lake

We climbed the one on the left!!!!