First Ascents and Bushwacking

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Bernard’s slackline prowess on full display. Not really though
Today, we spent our second day with our stud Colorado guide, Bernard Gillett. For those who missed the previous update, Bernard is the author of four guidebooks detailing the climbing offerings surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park, and we’ve been staying with his family for two nights now.

 

The agenda for the day was “short” (Bernard had to get back home before 4PM to sing at Mass with his large Catholic family), and would take us to a secret new crag located in [redacted]. Bernard and his friends have been developing the crag for some time now, bolting routes and trail building. This is a very time-intensive process, but the reward was a beautiful 110-foot overhanging cliff with many bolted sport routes up and ready to climb–all to ourselves.

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Hiking well off the beaten path, with trusty Paul leading the way
Getting there, of course, was not so easy. Without the navigational help of Bernard (and his friend Paul, who tagged along with us), we would never have made it there (or back). Bernard described how he found the crag: he would scour Google Earth satellite imagery (along with public lands information) to discover sections of public lands that could be legally climbed, then spend days bushwacking through the woods trying to find it. This crag, the name and location of which will be released in the next edition of Bernard’s Estes Park guidebook, was clearly a special project for Bernard and company.

 

The approach, as I have indicated, was rather difficult, with complex routefinding. We began on the trail for another crag, but soon carved off the trail and began trekking into the backcountry. We enjoyed this hike for approximately three miles.

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Me belaying someone on the first ascent of “Anchor Down.” I added this picture because I look very muscular in it
Once we arrived, we warmed up on a short 5.7 route to get our wheels moving. While we were doing this, Bernard and Paul were drilling the final two bolts on a very special route–a brand new line thought to go at 5.10a (a very moderate grade for a cliff so overhung). Bernard set the line up just for us, because he wanted to give us the once-in-a-lifetime chance to nab a first ascent on a route that one day may become an Estes Park classic. It seems rather unfair that four visitors will now have our names and photos in a Colorado guidebook, but Bernard is just that nice. Matt went first, and all of us followed, making our team the official first ascentionists for “Anchor Down,” a four-star 5.10a climb soon destined to make us all incredibly famous. Bernard took a photo of all of us during the first ascent–at the top of this page, if you zoom in on the photo of the crag, you’ll see two tiny climbers and two belayers. That’s Matt climbing “Anchor Down” on the left.

 

After our hike out, I decided to attend Mass with the Gillett family. While in church, I was overwhelmed with a sense of happiness difficult to describe. I realized that the gifts that the Gilletts had given to us extended far beyond mere rock climbing. They were a reflection of genuine care for relative strangers, just “because.” There was no real logic to their genuine hospitality, home-cooked dinners or inclusion in family activities, but they made the decision to give our team an extraordinary experience. And so, as we prepare to leave for a month away from all our families, I wish to extend a deep “thank you” to the Gilletts for giving us family for two days longer. It was the best start to our trip that anyone could ask for.

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