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Pathfinder is an acceptable adventure climb with some memorable sections of climbing, nice variety, and a significant volume of wandering and fuzziness. I like to think of this climb as the 5.10+ equivalent to the Russian Arete, both in terms of the character of the climbing, and the ratio of higher fifth-class to lower choss-class terrain.
From the campground, wander leisurely to the top of SOB Gully, enjoying the scent of sage, the dewy freshness on the bushes scratching your legs, and the peacefulness in the dawn air. Now trip and stumble down the dirt chute that comprises the trail into the inner gorge. By the time you reach the river, your coffee and oatmeal should be sufficiently digested, so stop for a minute, bite into a power bar, and marvel at the majestic walls surrounding you, the screeching of the ravens, and the poison ivy everywhere.
Head downstream and pass the first significant buttress (The Hooker Buttress) to just beyond the significant vertical gully that separates it from the next (The Diagonal Will Buttress). On the right side of this second buttress, head for a big terrace just down and right from the high point of the talus, and devise a way to gain this ledge- a R-facing corner (lower fifth class) works, as will a short stretch of 5.10 fingers (per the new guidebook topo).
P1. Climb a left-facing corner through poison ivy (5.8), and belay above the jog in the corner, or keep going to an equally uncomfortable stance above.
P2. Continue through some more poison ivy, and a short stretch of 5.10. Belay on a small stance below the steeper pegmatite.
P3. Climb the steep 5.10+ (or 5.11-) peg finger crack, then traverse right through bushes and blocks to a large detached pillar. Alternatively, one may combine these 3 pitches in to 2 long leads.
P4. Climb the 5.8 dihedral above.
P5. Jog right, and climb wider 5.10 to a good stance.
P6. Continue up the crack system past some 5.10+ thin stuff, and belay on yet another small stance (save some big gear for this anchor).
P7: Now tackle the short 5.10 offwidth crack through a bulge, and land on a large terrace for the belay. Here the nature of the climb changes from steep and burly to broken and swirly. This spot is where the FA party (and presumably others) bivied.
P8. Climb 5.7 or 5.8 off the right hand edge of the terrace, aiming for vagueness.
P9. Easier but equally vague climbing leads you towards a right-leaning ramp thingy.
P10. Climb the ramp, or in the vicinity of it, and belay below a dark, broken wall.
P11. Gingerly thread through some death blocks, then traverse left (5.7) a bit lower than you think to a chimney thing. Belay on top.
P12. Pick the twigs out of your hair, then head up into the land of the amorphous, passing some 5.8 if you are on route.
P13. Continue up, up, up, on vague fourth-class terrain and, hopefully, reach the rim.
To find the trail back to the ranger building, sniff your way NW, avoiding the gully on your right (which, if you are inclined to place a trajectory directly towards the trail, will inevitably greet you).
A medium-size rack (doubles from wired nuts to 3.5 or 4 inch); include two larger (5-6 inch) pieces. Lots of slings. Helmet. If the weather looks splitter a single rope is adequate. Bring food, water, extra clothes etc. in a small bullet pack, since hauling for the most part would be a nightmare, and the upper stretches would be impossible to haul (just hang it from a sling on your tie-in loop for the short stretch of offwidth up high) . Poison ivy block lotion is mandatory for the hypersensitive.
By justin dubois
From: Estes Park
May 17, 2005
We attempted this line in early May and retreated WAY low because of insane poison ivy bushes. If you are allergic, you better bring a priest, there seems to be no way around it.
By Vic Zeilman
Dec 20, 2016
I finally got to climb this thing this past October. The poison ivy was negligible to non-existent on the first few pitches; however, there was a sweet thorn bush the size of a coffee table you had to tunnel through head first (always a good time). The crux pitch felt like solid 5.11- to me, with tons of other chossy, bushy, and heads up climbing on moderate terrain to reach the rim.
It doesn't get more classically Black Canyon than Pathfinder, which is to say, it's not really classic at all by standard definition of the word. For those who are looking for a true adventure climb, however, this route fits the bill.