The Flying Buttress is one of Rocky's alpine classics, and is unique compared to the typical big faces and pinnacles throughout most of the Park. It follows a steep and narrow rib of rock (the west-most of several on Meeker's North Face), presenting moments of sudden exposure and fantastic belays on the narrow rib itself. There are so many variations that about 3 separate routes could be described; in Richard Rossiter's guide about 10-12 people are credited with various FAs and FFAs. We took a line often called "Variations on a Theme", which I will describe, pointing out other major variations from time to time.
As mentioned, the route follows the right-most of about three rock ribs that protrude from Meeker's north face. The long, broad gully leading up to the saddle between Longs and Meeker lies to the right, and the rib itself is bound on either side by smaller gullies that hold some snow for most if not all of the year. From the ranger cabin, hike up talus slightly SE to the rib. Rack up at the base of some long third-class scrambling which leads up to a smooth prow where the 5th class begins.
The easiest line takes the right-most dihedral on the east side of the rib and finishes in a chimney for a 150 foot pitch. We started in an excellent 5.8 hand crack on the right side of the prow itself. This line traverse left through a juggy dark band, then picks up a beautiful left-leaning finger crack (sustained 5.10). Continue weaving back and forth across the rib for another 40 feet to a good belay ledge.
P2 - Continue directly up the obvious line on the prow (5.10a at first, then easier), or a great variation takes the dihedral just around the corner. If following that line, continue on the left side until exposed 5.9- moves lead to a fantastic belay ledge with 2 old bolts (150 feet).
P3 - A little tricky: head up left on the prow to pick up a 5.8 crack and flake. Then traverse right beneath the obvious roof past an old bolt, and climb around the roof on the right past pitons, with great exposure, 5.9-. Continue up the much easier prow and run out all the rope (60m rope handy to reach a good ledge). The obvious three-inch crack (5.9+ jugs) through the left side of the roof is probably the best way to do this pitch, though, and may be the most spectacular part of the route.
P4 - Continue easily up on the right side of the prow for 60-100 feet to a belay beneath the final steep corner.
P5 - Climb the hand/fist crack in the corner, exit right, and continue to the top of the rib.
Unrope here and scramble (3rd-4th class) across the exposed top of the rib (staying right where it rears up briefly). This brings you to a horizontal break on Meeker's north face. One can continue to the summit via low-5th class to the east, or take one of several steep 5.10ish lines on the 200 foot wall above (seldom done). Most parties head west to 4th class scrambling (or snow sliding) back to the base.
Special Considerations: the route goes in 4 pitches with a 60m rope; done this way it is one of the fastest grade IIIs in the Park (of 8-9 that I have done). The climbing on the 5.9 pitches is not very sustained. 2 ropes is probably overkill on this route as it is possible to make a quick retreat down either side of the rib at almost any point (looks like one or two rappels, with a number of fixed anchors); one 60m rope is certainly enough, though trepid parties with a mere 50m might want to toss in a trail line.
If you do go to the top of Meeker (west summit is the highest), the descent is made from the Loft (the broad saddle between Longs and Meeker): from there head east and down to a well-cairned ledge system that bypasses some cliffs (this point can be reached fairly directly by scrambling down from the summit of Meeker). The ledges deposit you at 3rd class scrambling or possibly snow sliding (not the same as the descent from the top of the rib).
Standard rack with extra thin gear (including rps) to do the direct first pitch.
|By J. Thompson|
From: denver, co
Dec 28, 2001
A great route. You can easily do any of the different variations from pretty much anywhere on the route- they all start from the belays. Be aware that the bolt and pins on the 5.9- section (p4) are all suspect! It is solid (not tricky), yet exposed, climbing through this section, so if you're at your limit BE CAREFUL! This is a route you should do!
|By Leo Paik|
From: Westminster, Colorado
Mar 14, 2002
If you decide to climb the right side of the prow finish, know that it can be painfully cold on that side! Even in the heat of summer. Especially if you belay there for a bit. Feel what rock?
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Jun 10, 2002
When I attempted this route, we got lost and ended up rapping off in a storm. At that time the only guide to this climb was the first edition of Gillett, which only had a blurry photo of the route and equally worthless topo. The routefinding is a bit tricky considering you are on an arete. Our mistake is now in the guides as one of the pitch 2 variations!
|By Bernard Gillett|
Jul 11, 2002
The most interesting of these comments is made by George, when he complains of the "equally worthless topo" in the first edition of my guide. There was no topo for the Flying Buttress in that guide...which may tell us something about why he got lost (just having fun, George).
As long as spelling has been mentioned here, it's GILLETT. Two t's at the end, no final e (an error was made in the printing of the first guide).
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 12, 2002
You're right Bernard, there was no topo in your 1st edition (I always wondered why your last name changed between the two editions!). All we had was a xerox of that photo with the top of the Flying Buttress in the clouds, and the description. I think it's generally bad taste to blame guidebook authors when you get lost. We got confused, but at least came out of it unscathed. In the mountains, it's amazing how often screwing up gains you a "new variation" or even a "new route"!
|By Bryson Slothower|
Aug 8, 2002
So anyway, back to the route... The 5.10 first pitch described is awesome but seems stiff for the grade and requires some precise RP work to make it safe. The gear is all there but hanging off the 10.c finger locks to fish in tiny nuts gets to be very difficult. The 5.9+ roof on pitch 3 does go through a 3" crack but never does one have to jam it. Every hold is a jug through this section, and the gear is perfect. If the fixed gear going around the roof is as suspect as everyone says, I'd suggest going straight through the roof, the moves are gymnastic and the exposure is huge, good stuff!!!!!!!!!!!
|By Bill Wright|
Aug 9, 2002
I agree with Bryson in that the direct third pitch over the roof is highly recommended. It is steep and burly, but the holds are huge and no fist jamming is required. The position and exposure are excellent and it keeps you in the sun. Fun stuff.
|By mark kerns|
From: golden, co
Jul 15, 2003
"Eric the rep" and I climbed the buttress and a version of the direct finish the first week of July. We started up the .10a "Dick Rochester" version, but after 80 feet, we traversed right for about 20 to 30 feet past a large flake and into a big right facing dihedral. We climbed up the dihedral for about 60 feet and then out onto the right hand wall for the rest of the rope length, belaying at the top of the dihedral in one looong pitch. The climbing was great, probably 5.8 or so, and a lot better looking than the wet, soggy corner above us. I had enough shite in my eyes at the end that makes me wanna claim FA, but I know better.....anyways I do recommend this as a great alternative to plowing straight ahead after the initial .10a corner. mk
From: Sacramento, CA
Jul 25, 2003
For the time-conscious, here's a breakdown of our day that you might find helpful for planning purposes. Of course, some parties will be faster, others slower due to fitness, climbing ability, weather, conditions, etc.
6 am - begin hiking from Long's Peak parking area
9 am - start climbing the route
1:15 pm - top out
2 pm - back to base of route and packs after descending walk-off gully to the west
4 pm - back at car.
|By Guy H.|
From: Fort Collins CO
Aug 21, 2003
There is another fun 5th pitch variation that is 5.9. About 25 feet to the right of the large right facing dihedral with a fist crack, there are a set of bail slings. Directly above these bail slings is a steep overhanging corner with a mini roof at the top. There is a fixed nut with an orange sling in the finger crack. The corner looks 5.10 from below, but hidden positive handholds and feet appear at all of the right moments. The crack at top of the overhang eats ropes, so place some gear to redirect the rope or belay.
By climbing this variation and some of the thinner variations on the lower pitches, you can leave the #3 Camalot at home.
|By Holly Barnard|
Aug 2, 2004
Personally, I felt like going thru the roof at the 3" crack was very hard. It felt more like solid 10a to me. For someone shorter, weaker, and having less skill than others, such as myself, it required a a lot of lock off strength. Once you get the left hand "jug" and can get your feet up a little higher it eases up a little, but I found it to be pretty tough to move off of the rail. If this grade is near your limit, prepare to really have to power thru it. A #3 Camalot protects it well if placed high in the crack, which can be strenuous while locking off on the rail below it. I think a #3.5 would fit better if placing lower in the crack.
Other 5.9 sections on the route are pretty tame and very unsustained. Walk off was easy and straight forward down the gully to the west (we didn't summit).
|By Shane Zentner|
Sep 16, 2005
Route finding can be a bit tricky on this thing. Both topo's from both guidebooks were somewhat confusing. Expect to get off route a few times. Fun climbing in a great setting.
|By Clint Locks|
Jun 13, 2006
At the risk of stating the obvious, the numerous comments regarding route-finding difficulty and 'endless variations' beg another comment: extend slings whenever possible...on pitches 2 and 4, especially. That'll make your experience so much more enjoyable.
From: Menlo Park, CA
Jun 3, 2007
Climbed this last summer and on the approach saw a team flying a pirate flag from their portaledge high on the Diamond. Nice! The 5.8 to sustained 5.10 finger crack described by Charles is immaculate. Be sure to bring tiny cams and RPs. This start makes the route one of the best I've done in the park. It seems relatively quick for a Grade III and has excellent rock, nice exposure, and really fun climbing. A must do!
|By Byron Murray|
Aug 26, 2007
In regards to the roof on P3. I highly recommend the roof if you are feeling strong. I've done the route before by going around to the right which offers great exposure but horrible rope drag. I did the roof clean by getting my left hip into the wall to place a #3 cam high in the crack. I then fired up with a left heel hook and a knee bar once above the crux. The shelf where you would like to put your feet below the crux is not safe. The rock is rotten and ready to fall off. I did not even touch the shelf with my hands. With this new added feature I would call the roof a 5.10.
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 13, 2008
Climbed this route on Wednesday, July 9. What a GREAT day! Did the route itself in a little less than 5 hours with three people climbing on doubles. Great route for three since every belay is a huge ledge. If both seconds climb at the same time, you don't lose much time.
We started P1 about 6am and topped out a little before 11. 1 hour hike back down the slabs to the packs. Car to car in 12 hours.
Great exposure, great views and fun climbing. That crux roof pitch is great!
|By Kat A|
From: Bart and Lisa Ville, CO
Jul 19, 2008
The first pitch variation taking the 5.8 handcrack to the 5.10 finger crack is SUPERB! My favorite section of this route.
From: Glenwood Springs CO
Dec 7, 2010
This route was super fun; however, I kind of screwed up that 5.8 traverse near the top. I clipped the piton, but instead of traversing, I went straight up to the top. This was actually super fun exposed and hard climbing but not fun for my second who ended up aiding across the traverse. And be careful, the bolts at the achor for the traverse were super loose and pretty sketch looking, that fist crack roof is so sick, why not jam it its perfect fists?
and if you haul ass, you can do this car to car in sub-10 hours.
|By Jim Amidon|
Mar 21, 2011
Super fun route, a must do in RMNP....
|By Nathan Hoobler|
Jun 28, 2011
We climbed Dreamweaver yesterday and noticed a single rope hanging from the bottom of the Flying Buttress. Looked like a escape? Hope everyone was okay!
|By Jonathan Stickel|
From: Golden, CO
Aug 15, 2011
If you want to climb the 5.8 crack on the right side of the prow at the start, but you do not want to commit to the 5.10c finger crack, it is possible to traverse left below the finger crack on a narrow ledge and down climb (short ~5.6) to the bottom of the 5.8 dihedral on the East face. After fumbling around for a while, we found this to be a nice variation!
|By Andy Hansen|
From: Longmont, Colorado
Jun 25, 2012
rating: 5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a
Climbed the route today 10 hrs. car to car. This is a pretty good route because of the position mostly. However, there are a few sections that merit the "great" status. The 3rd pitch roof crux in particular. Like most before me have stated, the route finding is tricky but possible new and mostly fun variations seem to abound on this one. Here's how we did it:
Pitch 1: 5.8, Start up via the original route through a large flake on the left side of the east face. From here move easily through blocky ledges and negotiate a way up to a flake, liebacking to the left. (Allison Variation in beta photos) When this seam shuts, step left into a better crack. This is a great 5.8 move. Follow this up through a few hard moves and then onto a large grassy ledge WAY left of the east face. 190 ft.
Pitch 2: 5.10a/b, Above the grassy ledge, looking north, is a large, ominous roof. Below this roof is a nice corner crack that goes from thin hands to hands to fists. In the Rossiter guidebook, a variation climbs the face to the RIGHT of this crack. The rock here is sort of chossy. To the right of the roof is a chimney slot with no feet. Negotiate this and then follow a low angled hand crack past the two bolts and belay below the obvious roof. 185 ft.
Pitch 3: 5.9+, Fire up the crack and hallucinate a little bit. After the crack there's the obvious fist crack through the roof. Fire it and trend left traversing through thin cracks and seams. Belay on a chossy ledge near the north side of the buttress. 190 ft.
Pitch 4: 5.8, Traverse the north side of the buttress and when possible, move up through some more blocky terrain to a hand crack through a roof. This is sweet climbing. After the roof, a pin is encountered and some 5.8 balancy moves are required to move past it. After that, move easily up to a large ledge and voila, you've sent. 200 ft.
|By John Korfmacher|
From: Fort Collins, CO
Aug 30, 2012
If this climb doesn't get your heart rate up, check with your doctor...you may be dead. Exposure every step of the way, and if you like wild, strenuous (albeit well-protected) moves over a lot of air, this route is for you.
We initially tried to Allison variation on P1. The corners, though attractive, are compact, lichenous, and not easily protected, and we settled for the standard 5.8 start.
I was a bit surprised at two aspects of the climb. First, there are some significant (though not huge) runouts. The traverse at the end of P2 sticks out in my mind; it is not terribly difficult but has only an old piton for pro about 2/3 the way across. Tread carefully. Also, there are a remarkable number of huge, detached blocks with no visible means of support. Disconcerting, but not especially dangerous...hey, they've already been up here since the Pleistocene and they haven't fallen down yet...right?
|By Neil Wachowski|
From: Fort Collins, CO
Jun 30, 2013
The p2 10a variation gets little mention, but I thought it was worthwhile. The initial 10a bit is short, and climbing on the prow after is cruiser and fun, but the subsequent section on the west face is the most noteworthy IMO. Route finding can be tricky, since the holds and cracks are hard to see, but there are a lot of options. I took a path consistently up and right to a notch on the ledge, using mostly face moves with the occasional jam. It felt consistent with the 10a rating, mostly due to the pump factor from placing enough gear for your second to prevent a swing. Dead vertical with awesome exposure and climbing.
Jul 15, 2013
Really great route. The direct start is to .10c what the Southwest Corner of the Saber is to .10a. Yes, there are no moves harder than .10c, but I counted 2-3 .10c cruxes, the gear is quite finicky, and there are no real rests once the difficulties start. In other words, it is fantastic.
We got lost on pitch 2. MP says to follow the obvious line up the prow, and Gillett says "step right" to the West side. After looking at the West side (dead vertical and huge exposure), there was no way I was going to pass that up. Thus, after the .10a section directly up from the belay and where a nice .8 handcrack ended I "stepped right" around the corner and followed the first good crack. Unfortunately, after about 15 feet it ended at a huge jug, with no obvious upward solution. It is possible you are supposed to climb up unprotected ground from there, but that is not clear. One crack further right went a little higher but petered out. Finally, there was a third crack about 20 of of traversing directly right that looked like it would go. However, we didn't feel like that was a "step right," and there is an .11 crack on Gillett's topo, which we weren't up for. "The obvious line up the prow" (after the .8 handcrack on the right side ended) was unprotected climbing, which didn't feel correct either. Ultimately, I downclimbed and went left, which was less interesting but straightforward. It was obvious others had gone that way based on chalk and lichen, and there is a pin at a little traverse that leads to the belay.
Finally, if you approach this in the dark for the first time (i.e. can't see it from the trail and only generally know where it is), the easiest way to find it is to stay on the Chasm Lake trail until you hit the signs for the privy and a new wagbag station. Leave the trail there as it turns right to go to Chasm Lake, and continue straight up the gully following the stream and keeping the Ship's Prow (which you can see against the night sky) on your right. It looks like you will be blocked by cliffs in the dark but is actually mellow.
|By Eric Sjoden|
Mar 28, 2014
I led the Allison variation described here couple years ago. The gear fades away as you are forced to traverse right at the end of the pitch. This traverse consists of slopey 5.9 holds that are covered in thick, crumbly lichen. I am posting this because if you are looking for a "mellow" alpine 5.9 pitch to lead - this pitch probably isn't for you, and it would likely be safer to do the 5.10 crack that can be better protected. If you blow the traverse (again, flowery lichen you are standing on and clinging to) and the RP down and to your left fails (likely), you will definitely get hurt.
As it gets cleaned up, and I think it certainly deserves some traffic, it will be a great pitch.