Sunlight Spire! !

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This was something we had planned on for some time!

After a memorable Colorado 14er Finale and a day of rest, we were anxious to get after Sunlight Spire! We were enjoying the effects of a regimented (well, fairly) training program and a great climb on Maroon Peak and Devil's Tower...we felt confident!

WikiMapia Satellite Image of the Chicago Basin area

Hmm...that other objective...

On the third class approach, The Spire came ever closer and more imposing. We taped our
hands and roped up for a short 5.7/5.8 pitch and we were at the base of the summit tower.
We had the 45 foot 5.10 hand crack crux to finish...

The weather was good, maybe just a bit chilly in the shade for the belayer...

We did not reach the summit, this one'll require another go. For details, see the "Beta" section below. The short version is that I could not reach the crack well enough to get two solid hand jams and thus in effect, could not work my feet into the hand crack that is the key to the summit. It was a bittersweet day. While we did not make the top, I felt very privileged to get that close and stand (or hang) less than 50 feet from what I believe to be one of the most illusive summits in Colorado. The Spire has been the subject of many conversations amongst climbers in this region, and Debby and I both agree that there is no shame in making an attempt and getting “oh so close”.
With that said, it was our intention from the outset to summit.
It is glaringly obvious to us now what is required to climb this rock and I am convinced
that one or both of us will one day stand on top of Sunlight Spire.


This section will most likely appeal only to those with technical climbing
knowledge or to those who aspire to climb The Spire themselves.

I’d like to start by saying that although short, this is not a climb to be taken lightly. The approach, the altitude and the typical weather/conditions make this a climb that will see very few attempts.
Then there is the crux pitch itself.
I had good beta from George Bell (son of the first ascencionist)
and from Jeff Achey (first free ascencionist).
George Bell allowed as how it took him multiple attempts to reach the summit and gave it a
grade of 5.10a with perhaps no single move being more difficult than 5.9+.
Jeff Achey gave it a grade of 5.10c.

I am comfortable leading traditionally protected 5.10 routes and have followed/top-roped routes up to 5.11c. I had trained specifically for crack climbing prior to attempting The Spire. The crack routes on which I had climbed however, were routes in which one could get solid jams with all four limbs commencing with the very first move. This is not the case with Sunlight Spire. The crux crack is on a very clean face that overhangs slightly (approximately 3 to 4 degrees past vertical) and angles up and to the left. I am 5’9” tall with a pretty high ape factor (long arms) and I found it to be extremely awkward to even get into the crack. With that said, the crack was perfect for jamming. I’m certain that despite its angling and overhanging nature, once a climber with crack experience has
two feet and one hand jammed solidly in the crack it will go fairly smoothly.
I neither had the rack for, nor the inclination to climb it on direct aid.

A 5.10 gym/sport climber will, in all probability, fail on this climb. A 5.10 trad climber with little or no jamming experience will struggle and also most likely fail. This climb requires a solid
5.10 trad leader with experience at altitude, a resume of crack climbs and the
gymnastic style strength gained by climbing often and on diverse routes.

From a couple hundred feet below the saddle between Sunlight Peak and Sunlight Spire, look for and follow a class 3 ledge system angling up and to the right (east) toward The Spire.
In the photo below, the red line approximately marks the last part of the class 3 approach, the black line marks the 5.7/5.8 pitch and the yellow line marks the crux crack on the summit tower.
The blue spots mark our belays...

In the photo below, B1 and B2 mark our belays, R1, R2 and R3 mark fixed rappel anchors and F1 and F2 mark additional fixed protection...

F1 is a wired stopper that is stuck. F2 is an old rusty piton or bong (trust it?...hmm). I did climb up into the notch between R2 and F2 but at that point you are even farther away from the crack. George Bell asked me to keep an eye out for an old bolt that he believes was placed by and/or used by his father. I can only assume that is was F2, but it is completely beyond me as to how they would have placed it or even reached it. The resourcefulness of the climbers of that era never ceases
to amaze me. The photo below offers a different perspective on the
crux pitch and on B2, R3, F1 and F2. The distance between F1 and R3 is about 45 feet...

The Rack

The rack I took was a bit of a mixed bag. It consisted of…

                                         (1) #9 Metolius Curve Nut
                                         (1) #10 Metolius Curve Nut
                                         (1) #1 (gold) DMM 3CU (range 0.8” – 1.1”)
                                         (1) #4 Metolious (red) PowerCam (range 0.9” – 1.4”)
                                         (1) #1 (red) BD Camalot (range 1.2” – 2”)
                                         (2) #2.5 (gold) WC Technical Friend (range 1.3” – 2.1”)
                                         (2) #3 (purple) WC Technical Friend (range 1.7” – 2.6”)
                                         (2) #3.5 (blue) WC Technical Friend (range 2” – 3.2”)
                                         (1) #4 (Silver) WC Technical Friend (range 2.5” 3.9”)
                                         (3) single length runners (slings)
                                         (2) rappel rings

                                         approximately 20’ webbing

This rack was/would have been more than adequate. I believe it could be pared down further by leaving the largest and smallest cams behind. In essence, take a couple of large stoppers and 8 or 9 cams in the 1” to 3” range and you should be able to protect a free ascent quite well. If you have them, triple up on cams in the 1” to 2” range, as this is a perfect hand sized crack. One 60 meter light alpine single (9.0mm – 9.4mm) rope will work very well. Don’t forget some webbing and a couple of rap rings. If you plan on aiding the climb, you’ll need much more. On the other hand, Jeff Achey told me that when he climbed it in 1988, he had an “Outward Bound - issue” rack of stoppers and hexes and that he probably only placed 2 or 3 pieces. I would not be comfortable running it out like that on an overhanging crack, but then…I’m not Jeff Achey.

This is an open (unfinished) report.

Sunlight Spire is one seriously cool rock!!

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