The Top Ten Flatirons in a Day - Type II Fun or Type III?
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Google Earth image of our track. Here’s a link to a Google Earth .kmz file with our GPS data.

Kevin on the E Face of the Third Flatiron, just after sunrise

Martin at the summit of the Third Flatiron

Martin climbing the W Chimney, Green Mountain Pinnacle

Kevin arriving at the summit of Green Mountain Pinnacle

Kevin at the summit of Green Mountain Pinnacle

Martin checking the GPS at the summit of Green Mountain Pinnacle

Kevin on the Mesa Trail on the way to Stairway to Heaven. On the skyline is the Backporch.

Kevin starting to climb Stairway to Heaven

Kevin at the top of “Like Heaven”

Looking back at another climber at the top of “Like Heaven”

Kevin downclimbing from the summit of Stairway to Heaven

Kevin at the base of the rappels on the Backporch

Kevin filling up with some much-needed water in Bear Canyon.

Kevin rapelling from the Fatiron

The famous overhanging pinnacle of The Maiden. The climbing is easier around the side.

Kevin climbing the N face of The Maiden

One more to go... Kevin on the way to The Matron (in the backgound, center).

Martin managing a smile near the top of the Matron

Finished with all ten! Kevin at the top of the Matron.

If you’re a climber you might have heard of the Fun Scale. There are three types of fun when climbing. Type I is climbing that’s just fun. Type II is fun in retrospect, even though it isn’t much fun at the time. And Type III isn’t actually fun at all, not even in retrospect. I’m not sure if our climb of the Top Ten Flatirons was Type II or Type III fun. Right now it seems like the latter. But it’s only a few days after the event, and maybe I’ll change my mind.

The list of Top Ten Flatirons climbs comes from Gerry Roach’s guidebook. Some Roach’s choices are a bit strange, but he’s the guidebook author, so I guess he gets to decide. Over the years a number of people have managed to climb all these routes in a single day. Inspired by a recent new edition of Roach’s guidebook I began to wonder if I was capable of doing the same. It would involve about 12 miles of hiking, over 8,000 feet of elevation gain, and roughly 40 rope-lengths of climbing. However, the hardest climb on the list is only 5.7, and most of them are much easier, so it seemed possible for an ordinary mortal. A trip report by George Bell provided further encouragement (see I mentioned the idea to my friend Kevin Smith, who’s a much better climber than me. Kevin was instantly enthusiastic about the challenge, and every couple of months he’d remind me about my suggestion.

The logical time to attempt this would be in late May or early June, when the days are long but before the weather gets too warm. However, many of the climbs are closed from February until the end of July for the benefit of nesting  raptors. Kevin and I decided we’d make an attempt in early August, as soon as the raptor closures were lifted, even though we’d be risking hot weather – a decision that was nearly our undoing.

Kevin and I met at 4:30am on Saturday August 7 at the South Mesa parking lot. The weather forecast seemed okay – a high in the upper 80’s, and only a slight chance of afternoon thunderstorms. We left Kevin’s car at South Mesa, drove to Chautauqua and started hiking in the dark just after 5am. Kevin carried a small rack and I carried a 60m 8.5mm rope. We knew from George’s account that a single 60m rope would be long enough for the famous free-hanging rappel from the Maiden, even though Roach’s guidebook indicated otherwise. Kevin carried climbing shoes and changed at the base of every climb. I wore Five Ten Guide Tennie approach shoes the whole day, so I didn’t have to change shoes, but I probably didn’t save any time as I ended up climbing and hiking more slowly as a result. We both set out with Camelbaks containing a couple of liters of water, and Kevin carried a water filter, which turned out to be a vital piece of equipment.

We arrived at the base of the East Face of the First Flatiron just at the start of morning twilight. We climbed the route unroped, which I’ve done several times before, but it was difficult to see the small features on the initial 5.6 pitch in the flat pre-dawn light, and I had to climb very slowly and carefully. Fortunately the climbing got easier and the sky lighter as we moved upwards.

We reached the summit of the First Flatiron just as the sun was rising, and from there it was a short rappel and quick hike to East Face of the Third Flatiron. Looking up the Third Flatiron we were surprised to see another a couple of climbers half-way up the face, even though it was only 6:20am. We knew it was a popular climb, but we didn’t expect to meet anyone else that early. We caught up with them just before the summit – we were climbing unroped again – and they were nice enough to let us go first on the rappels. They also waited for us to complete the next route, Friday’s Folly, which tops out at the last of the Third Flatiron rappels.

Next we headed down to the Royal Arch trail and up to Green Mountain Pinnacle’s West Chimney. The trick with this climb to stay close to the edge of the chimney. If you start too far inside then the climbing is much harder and there’s no protection, as I discovered when I tried to lead this a year ago. At the time I backed off, which is embarrassing for a climb that’s rated only 5.5. This time I found the correct start and didn’t have any trouble.

From the Green Mountain Pinnacle we hiked down to the Mesa Trail by way of the Woods Quarry trail, then headed up Skunk Canyon to the base of Stairway to Heaven. This is mostly a third- and fourth-class climb with a few 5.3 sections, and again we climbed it unroped. We made a short detour to the summit of “Like Heaven”, a spectacularly exposed pinnacle half-way up the route. The most difficult part of Stairway to Heaven was the downclimb from the summit. There’s a tree with rappel slings, but we’d left our rope with our packs at the base of the climb in order to save weight. I’d probably have been faster if I’d rappelled instead of downclimbing.

The first five climbs had gone quickly, but we’d now been moving for over four hours, the day was getting warm and we were starting to feel tired. Back at the base of Stairway to Heaven I drank a couple of mouthfuls from my Camelbak and was surprised to find that it was now empty.  Fortunately Kevin had some water in reserve, as we had one more climb ahead of us – the East Face of the Backporch – before we’d get to a water source.

On paper it looked like it might be possible to get from Skunk Canyon to the Backporch by heading up forested slopes on the south side of the canyon, but we chose to stay on trails and headed up by way of the Mesa Trail and a faint trail up Porch Alley. We roped up for the Backporch, which Kevin and I agreed was an odd choice for a Top Ten climb: the rock is suspect in places and quite scruffy, and the route is a somewhat convoluted. There’s also an awkward semi-hanging rappel on the descent.

By the time we got back to the Mesa Trail we were both thirsty, and where the trail crosses the creek in Bear Canyon we stopped for a long break to drink and refill our Camelbaks. From there we continued on the Mesa Trail to Fern Canyon and up to the East Face of Pellaea. Kevin took the lead on this climb, which is run-out and quite sustained for the grade (5.5). The climbing felt about a grade harder than it should have, and I was moving quite slowly.

From Pellaea we descended down Fern Canyon back to the Mesa Trai. By now it was mid-afternoon, the sun was beating down, and it seemed a lot hotter than the weather forecast had promised (we later found out the high was 96). Earlier in the day we’d been able to break into an occasional jog on the trails, but now we could barely manage to keep on walking. We labored up open slopes to the base of the Fatiron, where I found a patch of shade under a small overhang. For a few minutes all I could do was sit there and pant.

We climbed unroped up the East Face of Fatiron. Mericfully the sun was starting to move behind the rock and parts of the face were now in shade. From the top of the Fatiron a short hike and scramble across boulders brought us to the start of the Maiden’s North Ridge. From this angle the Maiden looks quite intimidating, and in my exhausted state I was beginning to feel slightly dizzy. At this stage all that kept us going was the thought that if we gave up now we’d have to come back and repeat everything we’d done up to this point.

We roped up at the “Crow’s Nest” where the North Ridge of the Maiden meets the traverse of the North Face. Kevin took the lead on the traverse, which involves some tricky route-finding in order to keep the grade at a moderate standard. We inadvertently took a couple of harder variations, which are rated 5.7 but at this stage felt more like 5.9. By the time I’d finished following Kevin across the traverse I was so tired that I didn’t even want to lead the easy pitch that follows, so Kevin continued leading to the top.

The famous free-hanging rappel and another long rappel brought us to the base of the Maiden. The day was now beginning to cool down, and with only the Matron left to climb I was starting to feel slightly more enthusiastic. We made our way down to the trail and hiked over to the Matron, taking another break to refill our now-empty Cambelbaks at the base of Shadow Canyon.

Kevin took the lead on the 5.6 pitch on the Matron’s North Face. Clouds has been drifting over and he was half-way up the pitch when raindrops began to fall. Surely we won’t going to be defeated by the weather at this stage? Luckily it was a false alarm and after a minute or two the rain stopped. At the top of the 5.6 pitch we swung leads and I belayed Kevin up the easy pitch that leads to the summit. Kevin held up ten fingers for the camera and even managed a wan smile. All Top Ten Flatirons! We finished the rappels just after 8pm – official sunset – and we reached the Mesa Trail just as the last of evening twilight was fading from the sky.

We both weighed ourselves at home after the event. I’d lost 6 pounds, even though I’d drunk about 7 liters of water. Kevin thinks he drank 9 liters and lost 4 pounds.

Time Interval Dist (mi) Elev (ft) Ascent
Descent Net Ascent
Chautauqua Park 5:01:38 AM


First Flatiron E Face Start 5:22:56 AM 0:21:18 0.83 6,434 803
First Flatiron Summit 6:01:37 AM 0:38:41 0.17 7,195 762
Third Flatiron E Face Start 6:20:10 AM 0:18:33 0.31 6,682 58 (571) (514)
Third Flatiron Summit 6:39:42 AM 0:19:32 0.10 7,170 489
Friday's Folly Start 6:48:33 AM 0:08:51 0.02 7,053
(117) (117)
Friday's Folly Summit 7:08:31 AM 0:19:58 0.01 7,123 70
Green Mountain Pinnacle W Chimney Start 7:49:35 AM 0:41:04 0.51 7,338 787 (573) 215
Green Mountain Pinnacle Summit 8:07:40 AM 0:18:05 0.01 7,419 81
Stairway to Heaven Start 8:58:51 AM 0:51:11 1.08 6,421 156 (1,154) (998)
Stairway to Heaven Summit 9:24:44 AM 0:25:53 0.18 7,025 604
Backporch E Face Start 10:28:07 AM 1:03:23 0.96 6,939 774 (860) (86)
Backporch Summit 11:16:09 AM 0:48:02 0.03 7,146 207
Pellaea E Face Start 12:55:08 PM 1:38:59 1.84 7,041 931 (1,037) (105)
Pellaea Summit 1:39:16 PM 0:44:08 0.06 7,332 293 (2) 291
Fatiron E Face Start 2:59:12 PM 1:19:56 2.08 6,839 653 (1,147) (493)
Fatiron Summit 3:54:07 PM 0:54:55 0.14 7,331 556 (63) 493
Maiden N Face Start 4:16:39 PM 0:22:32 0.14 7,245 54 (140) (86)
Maiden Summit 5:25:15 PM 1:08:36 0.04 7,374 185 (56) 129
Matron N Face Start 6:55:52 PM 1:30:37 1.19 6,983 557 (948) (391)
Matron Summit 7:44:25 PM 0:48:33 0.04 7,274 299 (7) 292
S Mesa Trailhead 9:17:13 PM 1:32:48 2.33 5,642 13 (1,645) (1,632)

Total - Climbing
6:26:23 0.78
3,544 (127) 3,417
Total - Not Climbing
9:49:12 11.27
4,786 (8,192) (3,405)
16:15:35 12.06
8,331 (8,319) 12

“Climbing” time is from arrival at the base of each climb to arrival at the summit. Kevin made a note of when we actually started climbing, which on average was about 5 minutes after we are arrived at the base. “Not climbing” includes rappelling as well as hiking. Elevations may be a bit inaccurate since my GPS estimates these using a moving average and it sometimes needs a couple of minutes to get a good reading.