Stairway to Heaven Toprope Solo – January 13

Me at top of approach gully
Top of approach to Stairway

I decided after my fun at Ouray last week during the fest that I would toprope solo on Stairway, and try to do a few laps at least. I hiked up the really bad condition approach gully – there is no snow so the scree and garbage rocks are just sliding all over, and down to the dirt in places. Really bad footing. Going down will be pretty tough.

I paused around the corner of the first shelf and put my crampons on, getting out a tool for self-belay on the way over the steeper spots, and headed over to the chains. I passed the usual chains over the little WI3 I normally set up on, and kept going to the next set, over the taller section left of the rock band. From what I remember seeing from the bottom, this was either high WI3 or low WI4 (Water Ice Ratings Explained).

Anchors at top of route
Anchors as per Petzl

I set up a real live official Petzl style toprope solo anchor (they sometimes have an intermittent link on the microcender page about toprope solo systems). I’ve messed with it some in the past, but this was the first place it just worked out (the two side by side bolts helped). I tossed the ropes down the route and rapped down. At the bottom of the route is a large sheet of ice runoff steep enough you don’t want to fall, going down about 100′ of trail, and I didn’t want to lose my pack, so I put in a screw, hooked my pack to it, and then suspended my somewhat empty pack on the ropes to weight them so they’d feed properly in my system.

looking down at the pack
looking down on gear and pack

I had some minor issues on the way up with the ropes being pulled under my feet, but my Microcender and Shunt fed nicely. Based on the amount of rope left over from each strand, I figure the route was about 90′ long. A bit longer than what I was doing in Ouray. At the top I had serious issues getting enough rope free to set up my old-school Petzl Reverso. The first 20′ or so of rappel was also very tough, but once I got firmly over the edge and vertical, I managed to slide down nicely enough.

rappel rig
rappel rig - shunt hanging

I unclipped the pack from the rope, and instead clipped in my Nalgene and bag of anchor gear. Maybe about 4 pounds of stuff. Warmed up for a few minutes, then took off again for a second lap. This time it was much nicer. Fed well, and I could switch from ascend to descend mode in only a few minutes, and sliding down the rope was nice and smooth. I decided to do a third lap, warmed up, then up I went. Had an audience for most of my climbing. A group came up during my first lap, and an unroped soloist came up during my third lap and said “Hi” on the way past at the clifftop.

looking at gear from side
Microcender and Shunt - close enough

There’s the promised gear pic from the side to more clearly show the Microcender attached to my belay loop, and the Petzl Shunt trailing on my rappel rig. You might see the Shunt hanging on my rappel pic above – faster transition to just let it hang out of the way as I descend. On my third lap I got really pumped in my left forearm. At the top as I crested the edge I actually swung with the right, matched and hung, swung with the right, etc. Really tired. Guess without the extra rest of belaying someone it’s pretty intense – need more workout sessions for my arms and hands I guess.

looking up the rope
route up the rope

At the top I freed myself from my system, then tied the two strands together with the classic Euro Death Knot, memorized a few times which rope to pull, then flew down. When I pulled the rope for some wild reason it decided to smack me in the face, knocked my glasses off, and they slid down about 30′ on the ice sheet. I pulled out and put on my sunglasses, packed up, then went down to get my glasses. They were exactly where I last saw them sliding. Nice.

route from the trail down
route just to right of belayer

On the walk out a group came around the corner (Millers Thriller?) and knocked some huge rocks down, and started yelling. I turned to look at it, and it was awesomely huge looking from my perspective. I was going to stand still and wait it out, but managed to slide down the scree and ended up on my face. Nice ending to the day. The rock stopped a ways above me.

Since I’m so slow sliding down scree that they passed me on the way down, and I talked to one of them who was in Salomon hiking boots. He recommended I try to get LaSportiva to replace my Batura with the new version, since I have a zipper tooth missing. Dunno – might do that if they still have the same last. The Evo last does not fit at all.

Anyway, tons of fun, nearly 300′ of vertical in about an hour. Good day.

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