The Flying Buttress
5.10 YDS 6b French 20 Ewbanks VII- UIAA 19 ZA E2 5b British
Avg: 3.7 from 183 votes
|Type:||Trad, Alpine, 6 pitches, Grade III|
|Page Views:||39,498 total · 149/month|
|Shared By:||Charles Vernon on Jul 6, 2001|
|Admins:||Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac, Tyler KC|
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For additional information about raptor closures, please visit the Rocky Mountain National Parks area closures website.
General NPS climbing regulations for RMNP posted here.
2022 update/warning: note that a massive rockfall has significantly altered the third pitch. All or part of the two most common variations are gone. It is apparently still possible to climb the pitch in the 10a/b range staying on the right side of the rib and possibly merging back with the middle variation. However, it is worth considering avoiding this route for the time being.
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 and in fact Richard Rossiter does describe it that way in his latest guide. This description covers the most common variations. The route can be as easy as 5.9-, and still very high quality, by staying left on the first two pitches and right on the third, although the 10c direct start is probably the best pitch on the rib.
As mentioned, the route follows the rightmost of about three rock ribs that protrude from Meeker's north face. The long, broad gully leading up to the saddle between Long's 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 (the left gully is the classic Dream Weaver couloir). From the meadow with the privy below Chasm lake, hike up talus slightly SE to the rib. Rack up at the base of some long 3rd & 4th class scrambling which leads up to a smooth prow, laced with cracks & seams, where the route begins. This is the direct start.
To access the easiest start (5.8), it is necessary to scramble or do a short easy easy pitch up around the corner to the left (east) from the smooth prow. Establish a belay above a large flake, and ascend the rightmost crack system on the east side of the rib past a piton, through a fun, easy chimney, and finally up a moderate slab to a good belay ledge (about 130'). This is a really good pitch; however, the direct is even better. It takes an excellent 5.8 hand crack on the right side of the smooth prow itself and then traverses left through a juggy dark band to pick up a beautiful left-leaning finger crack/seam (sustained 5.10 on micro-nuts). Continue up the slab mentioned above to the belay.
P2. Continue directly up the obvious line on the prow (5.10a at first, then easier), eventually trending left onto the east side of the rib with some moderate run-outs and finally traversing past a piton and up to a good belay ledge. A fun, slightly easier (5.9) variation starts up the dihedral just around the corner to the left. If following that line, continue on the left side until merging with the direct line. (150 feet).
P3. This is a tricky pitch: head up left on the prow to pick up a 5.8 crack which becomes a left-facing flake. [edit: this is now gone] Double-runner any pro in the 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). This option is great climbing but is borderline R as it relies on old fixed gear that is difficult to back up. [edit: it appears it's still possible to start up the right side of the buttress on this pitch and still reach some or all of the fixed gear on this variation. Rossiter describes a 10b variation further right which is also an option.]
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 also protects better. [edit: it appears this variation is completely gone] Either way this is an absolutely spectacular pitch.
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 three-inch crack in the corner, exit right past a pin, and continue to the top of the rib, being mindful of rope drag and loose rock (5.8). There are easier variations to the right. Pitches 4 & 5 can be combined with judicious run-outs and/or use of runners
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, attractive 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.
This is probably one of the fastest grade IIIs in the Park and is also a bit less committing as it appears that a quick retreat could be made down to the left or right from the rib with one rope.
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).