This route is probably the best route in the popular Pony Express Area of the West Ridge of Eldo. It may be one of the best shorter routes in Eldo.
P1) 5.9, 80'. Climb the left most of the cracks in a large inset, starting just below a pine tree and ending at a pine at the base of a right-facing dihedral. Most of the gear is thin-to-fat finger sized.
P2) 5.11, 55'. From there, climb up the dihedral until it gets bare, then launch up and left though a series strenuous thin moves (11b/c) to get to the arete on the left, and up to a jug on the face and then back right to the corner (awkward). The gear is pretty reasonable and frequently fixed (small stoppers). There is one hard move (11a, balancy) remaining once you are back to the corner. What will be the crux for you depends upon your individual strengths and weaknesses. Going directly up the corner the whole way is thin stemming (5.11d) and is not as well protected.
To descend, rap to the rings above Iron Horse and then rap again to the ground.
The protection is reasonable at all times, but not necessarily great. The crux pro is several small nuts in a row, so take some small gear. There is most frequently fixed protection at the crux, but it can be transient and would best be backed up.
Pony Express epitomizes 5.11 Eldorado climbing in many ways: steep, funky, stemming, gear tinkering, short crux, frustrating secondary crux...a real beauty, and definitely one of the best West Ridge routes of this grade. The first pitch is also one of the best 5.9 leads in the canyon, well-protected, but quite short. Many people just do this lead and rap off. The original free version of the crux corner moves left out of the dihedral onto a steep wall at a tight finger crack; you actually use the arete for a move, then reach a good bucket, but with poor feet. The gear is good but strenuous to place. There is a good anchor atop P2. Watch for loose rock in the shattered maroon band up there. The direct dihedral was first free climbing by Roger Briggs, and involves rather wide and technical stemming at a slightly harder grade, perhaps 5.11d, unless you have been doing your yoga every day. It protects well with small wires and RPs. P1 and P2 can be combined into a single lead, or do Iron Pony to get up to the crux. This section of the West Ridge is a nice hang in the afternoon on those glorious autumn days, and can stay good throughout the winter; by the same token it is a good early morning spot in the summer. Can get crowded, so try to not monopolize the rap anchor.
This is a top shelf line! It is also a bit intimidating. I think I managed a pink tricam near the crux that was a good supplement to the small nuts. You can also get a great sling over the flake you reach for at the crux.
Important note for those who don't like wasps: it appears that some wasps have declared the Pony Express crack on P2 their home. Yesterday, 4.28.02, about 50 wasps were swarming in and out of the crack.
By Joe Collins Oct 14, 2002 rating: 5.11+7a24VIII24E4 6a
I don't think that it would be too wise to sling the jug as Tom suggests. The jug seemed a bit creaky to me. Even so the feet suck here and its very hard to stop and place pro. There is a fixed nut just below the crux whose quality really can't be judged until you're eye to eye with it... basically, it sucks... you can back it up with a #4 or 5 BD stopper in the pod just above. An awesome climb with a desperately hard crux!
By adam brink From: Boulder, CO Oct 17, 2002 rating: 5.11a/b6c23VIII-23E3 5c
Has anyone done the second pitch recently and are the wasps still there? I would love to hear that they're not.
I attempted to lead the second pitch of this climb today, and it appears that the wasps are back. I didn't see a nest, but there were quite a few wasps flying in and out of the crack (on the face) for its entire length, and more lurking in the initial finger jams.
I ended up backing off, so that stinging wasps wouldn't blow my onsight.
On P1, is it on route to go ~ 4 ft RIGHT of the crack about mid-way for about 10 feet, then join back up with the crack to finish? The crack section through the middle here seems to be more difficult than 9.
Clare, I've done the first pitch both ways -- staying in the crack and going a bit right on the face. Both seem about the same diffficulty to me. If you like crack climbing and being close to your gear, the former might seem easier. If you like face climbing, the latter might suit you better. I don't think one or the other is "off route." To say so means the route is contrived, IMHO.
How can a trad route be 'contrived'? That seems a contradiction of terms. Similarly I don't see how one can be 'off route'. The whole point (for me) about a trad route is you get to choose exactly how you climb the section of rock. The grade is only a guide anyway.
SL hits the nail on the head when he says "frustrating second crux". I have never been able to feel solid on that move. As I remember you have nothing for feet and kinda have to stab at an OK hold. Just desperate!!!!
Just a high quality line. The wasps are lingering in the first little slot of p2.
By Ernie Port From: Boulder, Colorado Jun 20, 2005
Here's a suggestion: If coming down after climbing Handcracker Direct and are looking for more action, jump on P1 of PE for a little icing on the cake...set up a top rope and do Iron Horse, and then pull the rope and send Mesca-Line or Dandi-Line for the night cap. Made for a fun afternoon on west ridge!
There are currently no wasps and an oldish looking (though solid) fixed stopped at the crux of Pony Express. I don't know about anyone else, but I would recommend against Tom F's suggestion of slinging the jug flake just after the crux. The thing is pretty creaky and you get great gear after just one more move, not worth risking sending a sizable missile down at your belayer or anyone below IMO. -BA
A few wasps today, but nothing bad. I think it's good to go for the fall season!
By SeanKuus From: Steamboat Springs Mar 19, 2012 rating: 5.11c6c+24VIII-24E4 6a
I climbed P2 around noon yesterday. I encountered 2 or 3 wasps when I climbed it, but while I was lowered I noticed 8-10 near a crucial finger lock. The guy who got on it earlier said that he saw very few wasps. This leads me to believe that they're more active later in the day, so get on this thing early!