|By Kurt Johnson|
From: Estes Park, CO
Aug 15, 2011
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V S 4b
My wife and I just returned from a 4 day backpacking trip in the Park which was to include an ascent of Hayden Spire. After reading Rick's comment about the supposed 3rd class route, I figured he'd either gotten off route, or perhaps it was mostly 3rd class but with a short section of 5.0 or something along those lines. We had originally planned on doing the 5.2 route from Lonesome Lake, but for a variety of reasons we ultimately decided on the "3rd class" route figuring it would be more of a sure thing since Hayden Spire is such a commitment to get to, and who knows when we'd ever make it back there.
Well, Rick was right on. Had I seen his suggested rating of 5.6 ahead of time, I would have done the 5.2 route. I don't know if the Standard Route's 3rd Class rating is a typo in the guidebook or if it was given by someone who regularly free solos hard climbs and therefore anything less than 5.7 feels like 3rd class. Or perhaps because Hayden Spire is so rarely climbed (especially from The Divide), Rossiter, when he was compiling information for his guidebook, asked around and when he couldn't find anyone who'd actually done it, gave it a 3rd class rating based on third- or fourth-hand information (such as: "I heard Joe's friend did it years ago and I think he said it was 3rd class.")
I looked around for a long time and couldn't find anything easier than 5.6 climbing to the top. I realize 5.6 climbing isn't difficult, but because we hadn't planned on how much time it would take looking for an easier route (and never finding one) coupled with the fact that I brought a single twin rope to save weight (which when doubled cut our pitch lengths in half), as well as the time it took to belay my wife across the "Death Ledge" - we turned around a pitch from the top, because we didn't want to get back to camp after dark. And when I say a pitch, it would actually have been two with our doubled twin rope. Plus, it was difficult to tell how hard that pitch would actually be.
So, for anyone out there thinking about climbing the Hayden Spire's Standard Route, here's my description based on what I found. If perhaps I was off route and there really is a 3rd Class route to the top, I hope someone will correct me and submit it in detail. The two sentence description found both on this page and in the guidebook is only helpful if the route is both easy to find and true to its rating.
From the divide, hike to a saddle where the grass meets rock and what appears to be the first part of the summit tower. To the right (east side) is a notch where you can look down and left at very narrow grassy ledges with a ton of exposure. At first I figured this was the start of the route and was relieved when I found another way. That other way is a ramp to the left (west) which heads down about 50 ft. (possibly more) and leads to what I consider scattered sections of true 3rd class scrambling up and right to another notch where you can look down again toward Lonesome Lake. Just left of this notch, scramble diagonally up and left, topping out at a series of broad grassy ledges at which point you angle up and right to a saddle at the base of the summit tower.
Looking straight up at the base of the rock, you'll see a high-angled slab above which the rock overhangs substantially. To the left is a ramp which drops way down and appears to cliff out with nothing but vertical to overhanging rock above it. I suppose this ramp could be the route (I didn't scramble down very far), but it seemed improbable. To the right of the summit tower is a series of narrow grassy ledges which look similar the the ones I describled earlier: very exposed with death fall potential. This seemed like the route, and even though no move looked harder than 3rd or possibly 4th Class, slipping would not be an option.
The main ledge heads straight across for 200-250 ft. after which it appears that one would scramble slightly downward then back up again (with even more death fall potential) to a ledge on a large arete-like feature which juts out toward Lonesome Lake. I assumed at first that from there one would cut back left out of sight and continue on around the north side of the formation and then up to more 3rd or 4th Class scrambling to the summit. After a while, I questioned whether or not this was actually part of the route, and because it looked sketchy, decided upon the leftmost of 2 easy vertical sections of rock above the Death Ledge approximately 200 ft. from the saddle (or the start of the ledge). This short pitch turned out to be vertical, well-protected 5.6 which lead to a prominent notch where the slab of what I assume is the Northeast Ridge route meets up with the final pitch of both routes. Looking down from this notch, below the slab looked like easy, straightforward scrambling, and the slab itself had a grassy gully/wide crack on the climber's right side which made it look like more of a scramble than a climb. Either way, this supposedly harder route (the Northeast Ridge) appeared to be much easier in terms of climbing, exposure, and routefinding.
Above this notch looked to be one more pitch to the summit, but it was impossible to know for sure. Either way, the rock was nearly vertical, and although the climbing didn't look hard, it was still 5th class in every sense of the word. It was at this point at which I decided to turn around based on time constraints. Later, back on the divide, I could see that for us with our 100 ft. rope, it would have been two more pitches. We went on to summit Sprague Peak (15-20 min. from the divide at Hayden Spire) with its amazing, comprehensive views of every corner of the Park and made it back to our tent near Hayden Lake in time to make dinner and watch the full moon rise over the spires.