A good beginner alpine route. [The] first half is forgettable, but the last two pitches are perfect for their grade. Stay to the left of the ridge to find the last two pitches.
Expect 8-10 pitches depending on your rope, your belay spots.
From Charles Vernon: To approach Spearhead, park at the Glacier Gorge junction trailhead and hike up the trail about 5 miles to Black Lake. From there, head east up an unmarked trail to tree-line, then contour over to the base of Spearheads NE face. The [North] Ridge route begins at the NW corner of the mountain. Be careful to chose the correct line at the start; parties have gotten off-route here onto much more difficult terrain. Look for a pronounced groove above a slab. Climb up through that and continue up easier grooves and slabs for several hundred feet, angling to the left. At that point you should reach the very crest of the ridge, and the prominent flake/pillar of the Barb should be visible down and to your left. These initial pitches are often simul-climbed, but most parties rope up here. Climb a shallow corner on beautiful rock right of the crest, traverse somewhat right and head up more cracks and corners to a belay (5.6). The final pitch head for an awkward, acute dihedral, also 5.6. The route-finding can be confusing on the upper ridge, although many lines are probably climbable. Mountaineering judgment is essential. The summit, a short [scramble] up to your left, is absolutely spectacular and totally worth a visit if the weather is good. Descend significantly to the southwest, to avoid getting cliffed, down slabs and scree until you can contour around to the base of the climb.
This is a fun climb in a great setting. The route finding is tricky in several areas. Look from below for what appears to be some kind of chimney above a slabby area. The steep chimney comes on the second pitch, and is easier than it looks since there are a lot of stemming possibilites. The middle third is lower angle and slabby, it doesn't matter much where you go here. On the top third as the angle increases, you will probably be forced right of the crest, and then find an easy ramp which leads left back to the ridge crest. The final pitch with the 6" crack goes straight up from the ridge crest. Don't be too worried about the crux 5.6 offwidth. In fact you can reach past the wide part to good holds above. You don't actually have to do any OW moves. There are also several other ways to do this last pitch, of similar difficulty.
Try to find the 5.8 start to the left of the usual start... Great dihedral with good pro. Highly recommended. I remember climbing off the ground, angling left across a slab, through a slot/chimney, then stepping left to a belay ledge below the corner. Make sure you do the final scramble to the spectacular and precarious summit.
Obviously there are several ways to skin this particular cat. We started by climbing a slabby area, trending left to a series of 3 fairly vertical chimneys offering excellent 5.4 and 5.5 climbing before reaching the slabby area. From the slabby area we kept to the left until reaching the Barb Flake. We also stayed left at the Barb Flake, with an excellent 5.6 traverse out over the face, up through a slot, and then slightly right to a very nice 5.5 hand crack. A short third-class section then led to the 5.6 OW mentioned by George. Other than the middle slabby section, I thought all of the pitches we climbed were excellent for the grade, and you can't beat the summit.
Jake Martin-- After the third pitch, when climbing up and left to the top of the Barb Flake, many options obviously exist, although climbing the cracks/gully/chimmney that are the backside of the barb flake protect well (use caution--many of the flakes are loose!) When reaching the apex of the barb flake, sling a huge horn (a good belay) and head up the thin , exposed crack/hand traverse. Watch rope drag here. Also, when I climbed the route (9/24/01), there were several new looking pitons at the top of the pitch before the belay. I am not sure if the last pitch was OW or 5.6, but many great options exist here to make the summit. DESCENT NOTE: The guidebook describes the descent as "northwest corners", but it seemed like to me the descent was southwest in nature (from the summit block). A great route.
I'd have to recommend staying out of the Barb flake/gully. The slabs to the right are bullet granite, 5.2-5-4, with enough pro. You'd need a chisel to find a loose rock there. Have to reiterate what others have said about the spectacular summit--I've scrambled up the descent route several times just for a day hike!
RE/descents: the most common does trend SW, but there is also one that heads SE.
By Tony B From: Around Boulder, CO Feb 19, 2002 rating: 5.75a15V+MVS 4b
This is what George and I did that fateful day after retreating from the Chief's Head. I recall distinctly simul-climbing the whole route and placing 11 pcs of gear. I believe the ascent took us just under 1 hour. It's like a high-altitude granite Flatiron. Your experience may differ.
By Ernie Port From: Boulder, Colorado Jul 21, 2002
Did this route and agree that route finding is somewhat subjective in a few places but still interesting. On P4 rather than going around a block to the R as Roach describes, I stemmed over the block which was slightly overhanging but had a nice seam up high (9ish) and was more fun for me and not too difficult to protect with .4 cams. One of the airiest summits anywhere. Very high on the WOW!!! scale.
Peter Spindloe led me up this route on 8/18/02, 20+ years after I first climbed it. It remains one of my all time favorites. The bivy sites are among the best anywhere. A Dutch couple from Boulder joined us for much of route and made for enjoyable companionship. The pitch above the Barb Flake is just super at its grade. The summit is truly one of the most interesting I have been on in Colorado. Its very unsettling to look straight down the face from the backside of the top block! As described in the overview notes, it is important to trend left to avoid cliffing out on the descent.
By Leo Paik Administrator From: Westminster, Colorado Aug 11, 2003
For the 5.8 start, there is a double crack version that may replace the arete on 5.7 pitch that is fun but might be 5.8. Also, don't stretch out that pitch because you rope will catch on that monster flake of the belay. Chews up those nice, thin, double ropes....
By Leo Paik Administrator From: Westminster, Colorado Aug 17, 2003
Hmmm, I know this is a "classic" but 3 stars seems misleading. Maybe, just maybe, for its length or position at the end. IMHO, seems that in the difficulty range, NE Ridge of Sharkstooth is better, the old Northcutt-Carter was far better, South Prow on Sharkstooth is equivalent, S Face of Petit Grepon (save 10 feet in that dihedral - for difficulty) is better, S Face (with the S Face finish, 2B from Rossiter's) of Zowie is better, Love Route of [Hallett] (save the 5.9 pitch - for difficulty) is equivalent, & Stettner's to Kiener's is better.
Route finding warnings on this climb may be a little overblown. Check out Feaver's pic of the face below. If you want the easiest passage locate the prominent left anglilng crack system over the lower third of the face. Start the climb up the left side of the slab below this and into the left chimney at the bottom of the crack system. Up the crack system and then anywhere up the flakes above as it's all pretty easy. Higher up the ridge crown forces you to the left into the crux pitch, not a lot of other options possible, at 5.6 anyway.
Went up to do Syke's, but there was a very slow party on the route so decided to see if we could make the North Ridge interesting. The route we did follows an obvious weakness and broken crack system from the bottom to the top (see picture below). It is a good option if Sykes' isn't available and you are not feeling 5.11 or 5.6.
We did the climb in 5 long pitches (all 185-200 ft), but it is probably a good idea to break up P1 and P5 in to 2 pitches each due to rope drag. P1 was done as one due to poor belay protection at the bottom of the 5.8-5.9 section.
P1: I believe this is what is described as the direct start. Begin up the dihedral about 100 ft right of the face. Angle left across an unprotected slab to a steep finger and hand crack. Work up the crack (9) to another slab, then move up and left across the slab to below at the base of some clean broken flakes (185 ft. 9).
P2: Go straight up the flakes into a wide crack and stay in or near the crack for about 190 ft. (7).
P3 and P4: 5.5-5.6 ground. Try to stay in line with a shallow crack system that turns into a short fun hand crack on P4. (370 ft.)
P5: As you head up the shallow cracks and face look up for a wide left angling crack. You want to head toward the right, or lower end of the crack. From this feature move up right via stemming and finger crack (5.8). At the top this feature head left to the continuation of the crack system. Work up more hand and finger crack on excellent rock (5.8) to top (see picture below).
Soloed this today again and I can't say enough good things about this climb. If it's within your ability, I suggest to do it. I tried the Dr. Dan version as suggested above and found no move harder than 5.7? The direct start begins down and further left of the standard start and is definitely 5.8.
Did this route recently and maybe am missing something, but seemed like an awful lot of work for a minimal amount of quality climbing. The first 3 pitches are forgettable, the middle section is class 3 scrambling. Then you get two or three pitches of reasonable climbing, (the last being very good) and then it is back to scrambling again to get to the summit. The downclimb is a bit long and tedious as well though I suppose that comes with the alpine experience. I guess it is what you are looking for. If you want to hang out in a spectacular place, it doesn't get much better, just don't count on stellar climbing.
Did this route last week. The biggest bivy cave, or as the rangers call it ,"the hotel", is a few hundred yards due south of the small pond on the shelf. Thoughtful people have even built some additional stone walls around it to try and keep out some of the wind. After a relatively comfortable night, and an evening of watching shooting stars and satellites go by, we made our way up to the base of the climb which was not that hard to find. After the third class gully managed to get off route too far to the west and ended up one some pretty run-out but moderate rock, but still a little disconcerting. My partner led a tricky long 200 ft traversing pitch to get us back on line (we think) and then i finished it off with a variation (another party was on the main line) that probably was about 5.7 or maybe one move of 5.8 which landed us promptly on the final scramble section. Easy scramble to the summit. There is what looks like an easy direct class 3 gully down to the lake on the west, but don't be fooled. It will cliff you out. Instead find cairns that lead you south west along the ridge. Thus it is farther back to your bivy then you might think. Just something to factor into your time. A fun, but long day. In terms of route-finding, basically if you are comfortable with leading 5.6 and dont' mind some run out you will eventually find you way up by following your nose. All part of the alpine experience!
By Tim Judkins From: Salt Lake City, UT Aug 21, 2005 rating: 5.64c14VS 4b
Climbed on 8/20/5. Dr Dan has a great photo below, but it's a bit misleading. His P1 starts as for the classic route, but takes a crack right of the slab. P2-P4 in his picture are the classic route (not harder than 5.5). Our "classic" route is based on Rossiter's guidebook. There seemed to be a lot of variations in the 5.6 range.
I'd give it 3 stars for the setting, length, and rock quality. The moves aren't as aesthetic as you can find 40' off the ground in Eldo, but this route gives you 100's of feet of quality climbing/scrambling on the way to the best summit around (I haven't been on the Petit yet).
Our semi-athletic team made it car-to-car in about 10 hours, with about 2.5 hours for the approach. It was nice not carrying bivy gear. Try to get done early, because it doesn't look easy to retreat from.
Speaking of retreating, we found a rope (fixed/mangy) along with some nuts and biners that someone used to bail off the route. Check the lost and found page if they belong to you.
Tim, reflecting his true generous nature, only posts our find of the rope and gear, but neglects to mention the troubing loss of his convertible pant's left zip-off leg somewhere along the descent. Fellow readers, I implore you to return this lonely piece of nylon to him, should you chance upon it. The poor guy was inconsolable once he realized he lost it.
Our semi-athletic team was slowed considerably by 3 factors. 1) Tim's athletic and I'm not. 2) On the hike out, Tim threatened to set fire to the new hiking mascot I had strapped to the outside of my pack. This forced me to stop and hide the mascot in the depths of my pack. We lost at least 30 seconds due to this. His aggression was most likely due to the loss of his pant leg (inconsolable...).3) Also on the hike out, we paused to answer questions from day-trippers like "How will we know we're at Black Lake if there's no sign for it?" We promised to bring this obvious oversight to the attention of the Park Service. Another loss of a minute or two.
Best of luck to future parties. Don't worry about route-finding; the various slings and nuts left in the rock will help direct you to the summit. That is, if you're able to find Spearhead at all without a sign....
On 7/30/06 our apparently very unatheletic team did it in about 15 hours car-to-car but included at least an hour of dorking around on the summit. We also missed the correct descent and floundered down the most miserable talus slope I've ever encountered. We were able to follow Roach's description to the letter (though we combined is first three pitches into two and divided his last pitch into two).
Did this route today, and I believe we were the only party on all of Spearhead. I guess going up during the week can have its benefits. We did what sounds pretty close to the Dr. Dan variation, and this added some very enjoyable and challenging climbing to the North Ridge and makes for a far more direct line. I give this climb 4 stars for its superb location, the quality of climbing, and the overall alpine experience. Yes, it's a hump, but that's part of the experience!
By the way, the only downside to the whole experience was the dowclimb to the SW and then down the horrific scree gully. It seemed to work best to stay along the bottom of the cliff bands (when present) to help one in balancing and preventing any scree surfing.
By Merlin From: Grand Junction Apr 23, 2007 rating: 5.64c14VS 4b
Don't let the rating dissuade you, there is no 5.7 (or 5.9) on the standard route. The 5.7 rating derives from one fellow who took a different route. I climbed this when I was still scared of 5.6 leads and felt it was easy. There are a couple (and one hugely exposed) moves of 5.6 though followed by a whole lot of easy and well protected climbing.
Fun climb in a beautiful setting but not (IMHO) worth repeating.
Climbed this route yesterday, and it was all around, a great climb. We simulclimbed what would probably be equivalent of the first four or five pitches, and then angled right on the steeper slab area. This put us below a left-angling, large flake. After about 25-30 feet of this large crack/flake, we made a 5ft. undercling traverse left, which put us directly below a super sweet 10 ft. finger crack. This was our second to last pitch, and unquestionably the finest. The finger crack maybe went at 5.8 or so and provided several spectacular locks on thin feet. Also. while seconding (while simulclimbing) I ended up missing the main chimney on the left side of the slabs of the first pitch. I went straight up the left side of the headwall to where the first belay typically is. This was certainly harder than 5.6! Finally, the summit should not be missed!
With S. Costello and Karsten Schnatwinkel 9/16/07. This is a good alpine climb in a great setting. We did (I think) the 5.8 start which felt easier than the grade. Simulclimbed the slabby stuff on the next several pitches. Rossiter describes the second-to-last pitch as "a great pitch" and indeed it is...not difficult but the abrupt arrival at the edge of the ridge and the awkward moves above it are not to be missed. This pitch alone is worth the considerable effort involved in doing the route.
Numerous variations on the described route are possible. Be creative.
Our party of three made the car-to-car trip in about 12 hours, with 4-5 hours on the rock.
By Kyle Douglass From: Golden, Co Oct 11, 2007 rating: 5.64c14VS 4b
On the 6th pitch there's a nice 5.8 crack to the left of the route, short and sweet.
Bill Wright and I did this on 7/25. We then continued up and onto the North Ridge of Chiefshead. This is a very obvious link-up; we were shocked there is no mention of it anywhere. Spearhead is essentially a protuberance of the Chiefshead North Ridge, so once you get all the way up there, you might as well keep going. "Spearchief".
Chiefshead N Ridge is broken up by talus slopes, but the headwalls turn out to have excellent climbing. The lack of continuous 5th class rock may bother some, but hey, this is what alpine routes are usually like. The climbing is steeper and stiffer than Spearhead but more discontinuous. The position is always terrific, and it all works better if you know how to simul-climb. Getting off Chiefshead takes effort, which IMO, adds to the overall experience.
We'd rate what we did on the upper ridge 5.7/8, and it's possible to make it much easier by major zig zagging. A little under 10 hrs car-car.
By Curt Nelson From: Fort Collins, CO Aug 2, 2009 rating: 5.9-5c17VIHVS 4c
I did the Dr. Dan variation with K.T. on 7-29-09 in less than desirable weather conditions. It seamed like the line to take. From my understanding we started RIGHT of the standard route to the way obvious hand crack that is 5.9 or so and can be a little wet making it pretty exciting... One pitch through the chimneys at easy 5.7, 400 feet of simul-climbing at 5.5 - 5.6. And the last pitch with a spot of .8 going right over a bulge than traversing left to a great finger crack - 5.8. Just like the picture. Good route to the top.
By kevinnlong From: Boulder, CO Aug 22, 2009 rating: 5.64c14VS 4b
That alternate dihedral start (left of the normal route) felt pretty sandbagged at 5.8! However, the pro was excellent...I would highly recommend it.
By Alex Abramov From: San Diego, CA Sep 21, 2010 rating: 5.64c14VS 4b
Good route. We climbed it on 7th Sep, 2010. Windy day! Car-to-car 12 hours. The route finding is a little complicated. The crux pitch is brilliant and exposed. See video about almost every pitch.
By B Conchie Jul 17, 2011 rating: 5.64c14VS 4b PG13
We climbed the route on July 12th setting out from the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 2.15am. There was a lot of packed snow above 10,000' which made the going slow and trail finding tricky in places, but we arrived at the base of the climb just after dawn. The start is obvious because of the worn rock and bare patches in the grass - get this bit wrong and you probably shouldn't even be up here. Looking up at the tightening chimney above you probably hope the route doesn't go there...but it does and the pitch through the chimney is excellent and well protected. That's more than can be said for the slab leading up to it. We encountered running water across wide sections of this first pitch, but this really wasn't a big problem because the rock is so rough and friction is great...even when wet. Top 3 pitches were outstanding. I think we were a little right of the correct line leading up to the final pitch, but this didn't really matter. The top pitch looks a little improbable from below but is really very straightforward. The crux crack/groove seemed to pass very quickly and had great protection.
The descent certainly requires care. Stood at the top of the climb looking down the west face you will see a large, flat block/boulder with a steep track leading down. Drop down this track and then traverse horizontally left (looking out) over the boulder for about 200yds and connect with a definite trail that heads down to an easy downclimb. There is a lot of loose rock on the descent, so be very careful if parties are above or below. We were done by 12.30pm, stopped for lunch, took lots of photos and were back at the car by 6pm. Great weather. A great climb. By the way, we are just a couple of old farts having fun, I'm sure these young rock jocks could do it in half the time.
Starting the top pitch.
Looking up the route from our descent. Straight up the chimney and obvious crack above.
About to begin the difficulties on the final pitch.
Partner Joe and I climbed this ridge but stayed @ 70' to the right of the normal route. (North Face / North Ridge) This was a good line and had a few more 5.7 moves as well as an exposed 5.8+ chimney to squeeze through near the top of the climb. Weather was threatening all day but held out just long enough for us to get off the summit. Sometimes things actually work out. Great day!