Gambit - Shirttail Peak

24 Jun 2001 - by Larry Desaules

I hope I'm not ruining this place by talking about it... I believe this is the best 5.8 route in Eldorado Canyon. I also think it would be rated a 5.7 if it was 6 miles north, in Boulder Canyon. I guess it depends on whether you think strenuous crack routes (with a few overhangs thrown in) are relatively easy or relatively hard. It is tuesday, and my legs are still sore. But if you are confident at the 5.7 level and want a beautiful "high mountain" experience close to home, I suggest you try this stellar 4-pitch route.

Gambit takes you to the top of Shirttail Peak, the highest point in Eldo. The climbing and views from the top are the best.

Peg and I went up there yes, on a SUNDAY, and we didn't see anyone. We hiked up the Rincon Trail at the W end of Eldorado Canyon, arriving at the base of Shirttail Peak about 0800. From the car, it was about 30 minutes of easy hiking.

The skies were clear and there was a fresh breeze blowing out of the west. The best part about Shirttail Peak this time of year is that most of its south face is in the shade until about 11:00.

We used a 60 meter rope (a 50 would've been fine) and a pretty standard rack: one full set of Stoppers, Camalots to #3, tricams up to blue, and a handful of small - medium Alien SLCD's. I use small stoppers and aliens more than any other pieces on my rack; there's always a small crack somewhere.

I also carried 4 full length slings, 7 runners, 2 cordalette, some extra biners.

On my back was a camelback with 2 liters of water and my lunch. Peg also had 2 liters of water, lunch, raingear in her camelback.

P1: Starts off as an easy warmup, from just left of a big tree. It goes up some blocky, slabby terrain, some cracks, some face, then up next to a right facing dihedral. There's good gear placements on the left face and in the bottom left crack. Soon, you get to a spacious ledge with a large pine tree growing on it.

P2: This is the crux pitch, 10 feet directly east of the big tree. It starts up an overhanging blocky section on the right side of a dihedral. This is overhang #1:

I got my feet up pretty high, hung straightarmed, placed a good #5 stopper (probably still there, sorry Peg!). I set that sucker tight, as I did not want it to budge as I moved up, and didn't have time to mess with it after I sunk it and realized it would be a bear to get out. After that, I reached way up in front of me with my right hand, then immediately got the left hand next to it on some chalked up sandstone "lips". I stem'd out to good holds, then got my hands higher. There's chalk everywhere, but I don't think you need to be moving all over the place. I worked my feet up, then was over the top, in some blocky cracks. I climbed up maybe 30-40 feet, placing some gear, toward overhang #2:

It is intimidating. I got a good rest, saw some positive hands in front and up underneath, good feet way out to either side. Again, all I needed here was to get up into it a bit, place a stopper with a long runner, then I move my feet up. I got more good hands, moved the feet up again, stem'd way out. At the top was a slot for the second stopper, maybe it was a #4. I slotted that, again with a full length runner, and cranked the final moves to get over it. There is an overhang like this on the top of the 2nd pitch of Long John Wall (West Ridge) but this one is more involved, more fun.

I skipped the optional belay, stepped around right, placed a traverse piece, long runner, moved right again, around a big block, carefully got into the 40 foot left-diehedral crack. It is easier than 5.8, but eats gear and is not difficult at all until you get to.... overhang #3:

The crack angles vertically up about 40 feet, then to the left, up under the rocky overhang. I placed my last two beefy pieces, using a full length runner underneath and a quick draw on the upper piece. I was taking no chances, and did not want to have any rope drag or pull a piece going over the top. With my feet again stem'd out to anything available, one hand jammed up under the overhang, the other crimping something on the left face, I looked down and thought, "holy shit! That is some freakin' air!"

At least if I fell with this much rope between Peg and I (about 150 ft), I was going to have a nice cushy twang, nothing to hit. No worries, I climbed over the top to the big ledge and belayed Peggy up.

P3: Over to the right (SE) side of the ledge is the start of the next pitch. It's a huge bulging block with a fixed pin on the upper left side and an offwidth on the right, with vertical flat rock faces on either side. This is an interesting obstacle. I clipped the pin, came down, went around right, placed a #3 Camalot up high. After trying different maneuvers, I two-handed the sloping holds on the right side and liebacked up, planting my R foot on the R face, then after a move I stemmed my left foot out to "something", maybe it was the left face. Once up high enough, I reached back and unclipped the pin. Onward and upward, I made my way around to the right, which begins the huge upper S Face.

I followed a right facing diehedral for a while, then it ran out and I was in the steep crack-filled section of blocks, seemingly piled on top of one another. From here to the top, it seems that if one rock pulled, the entire top of Shirttail Peak would crumble and fall to the depths below. Moving up this steep section is very similar to the top pitch of Rewritten, if you've ever been there. After rope drag had its way and rain began to sprinkle, I decided to seek shelter in one of the roof'd belay spots about 50 feet from the top.

P4: After Peggy made it up, the weather started becoming a concern. Lightning was regularly hitting the peaks 4 miles away, the clouds were becoming black, rain was spitting. And it was only noon. We transferred gear, flaked the rope quickly, and I started up to complete overhang #4. Although "easy" by the standards set earlier, this bad boy tricks you into complacency. I remembered, "this is where Brett broke his leg.... Oh man, please let me get through this."

Five minutes later I was on top, the highest point in Eldorado Canyon. I quickly belayed Peggy up.

This is a beautiful summit. From here you can see westward to the Divide, Devil's Thumb, Eldora, all the Indian Peaks. The Flatirons are to the north, Mickey Mouse Wall to the south, including, of course, the ski train tracks, with freight trains running regularly through all the tunnels.

The descent I chose: Scamper to the north a few hundred feet, locate a large pine tree to the west to which you downclimb. You can't see the rap slings until you're right on it, but you can see from the rocks that many have been down this path. Three raps and you're at the bottom, at least the area where you traverse W into the gully. From there is matbe 50 - 75 down to where the packs are. Be careful of your footing here and keep your helmet on: there is lots of loose rock here and above.

There is a walkoff descent, down a loose gully to the west. If you have time and aren't worried about lightning, you may opt for this. It's detailed in the Rossiter guidebooks.

Keys to success on Gambit: Start Early. I recommend 7am or earlier. Drink and snack a lot: I consumed 2 liters of water while climbing/rapelling, finished off a liter at my pack, ate a PB&J bagel, 2 "nutrition" bars during the climb.


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