Peak(s):  The Sharkstooth (12,630')
Date Posted:  06/26/2022
Date Climbed:   06/22/2022
Author:  Ericsheffey
 A Taste of Alpine Climbing on the Sharkstooth   

A Taste of Alpine Climbing on the Sharkstooth, 12,630'

Northeast Ridge, 5.6, Trad, Grade II

June 22, 2022

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The Sharkstooth as seen from the "Gash"
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Standing on the summit of the Sharkstooth
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A rough tracing of the route

The Backstory

It's probably a little odd that my first Trip Report on the dot com is for a non-14er peak, but it was my pursuit of 14ers that led me to love alpine exploration, and I think in many ways, the Sharkstooth is a great goal for someone trying to break into alpine rock climbing such as myself. I moved to Colorado in 2019 with no idea that 14ers even existed, especially 50+ of them in one state. I thought anything over 10,000 feet must only be located in Alaska or Nepal. I had done some mild hiking growing up on the East Coast, but most of those hikes topped out at around 3 or 4 miles, with rather minimal elevation gain. Considering myself a "hiker", once in Colorado I came across the AllTrails page for the Longs Peak Keyhole Route and thought "that looks like a cool hike". I immediately sent it to my buddy Greg asking if he wanted to join me to go knock it out. In August of 2019 we made a successful summit of Longs via the Keyhole Route, unintentionally my first 14er, and with that the addiction started. Not only to 14ers, but to the Colorado backcountry in general.

As I've been checking off the 14ers the past few years, I quickly started setting my sights on other peaks throughout Colorado and the US, thinking to myself "if only I had the technical skills to summit these other mountains..." As luck would have it, I managed to meet a handful of local Denver folks that introduced me to outdoor rock climbing. From my buddy Tyler that took me out the first few times and walked me through my first sport leads at Canal Zone in CCC, to my buddy Jordan who took me under his wing and introduced me to multi-pitch dynamics, allowing me to follow him up routes in a variety of areas such as CCC, Vedauvoo, Indian Creek, Eldo, and more. I had always wondered how big mountains were scaled with just a rope or two and a little bit of gear, and now the pieces of the puzzle were all coming together. Over the past year I started to obsess myself with learning multi-pitch efficiencies, self-rescue and partner rescue techniques, and placing trad gear instead of clipping bolts. I read countless books on all these topics, took all of Mark Smiley's online courses, and even spent some time with some guides. Still the idea of going into the alpine scared me.

I think my good friend Matt recognized that I was trying to learn how to take my climbing into the alpine, and graciously invited me to join him on a trip to the Grand Teton at the end of last summer. That is it's own epic story, but in the end, we had a successful summit of the Grand Teton via the Owen Spalding route, my first true alpine rock climb.

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Standing on the summit of the Grand Teton, 13,775' - August 2021

As big as that moment was for me, I was so glad that Matt had spearheaded that effort as his knowledge and expertise was absolutely the reason for our success that day. I still felt like I had to prove to myself that I could spearhead my own alpine climbing trip. I also learned that day that the difficulty grades of these alpine climbs did not always mean the same as they do when out cragging near Denver. The Owen Spalding route is only rated at 5.4, but that number does not take into account the heinous approach through Garnet Canyon, the affect of the altitude, and many other factors involved with alpine climbing. As someone that is historically a decent rock climber, this immediately started putting into perspective other alpine climbs that are on my tic list, such as the Casual Route on the Diamond. I knew I had to shift my goals to much easier climbs as I continued to gain a respect and understanding of all the things that encompass alpine climbing.

My brother-in-law Nathan, who moved to Colorado last fall, had been an indoor climber on the East Coast for a while, and had seen my trips into the alpine on social media for quite some time. It was obvious that he wanted to do everything I had done and more, and even had already visited once and joined me on a trip up Kelso Ridge. As fun as that was, it was clear that he wanted the same thing I did: to take technical climbing to the alpine in pursuit of more obscure peak-bagging beyond the 14ers of Colorado. I wasted no time taking him out to climb outdoors and tried to teach him everything that I had learned over the past several years, and gave him all my books on the subject so that he could get himself up to speed with multi-pitch techniques, anchor building, rappelling techniques, rescue techniques and more. We became primary climbing partners and trained all winter and spring, and before long, started coming up with a list of shared climbing and peak-bagging goals. We knocked out some smaller goals including a desert tower climb in Utah, local climbs in Colorado, trailrunning some 14ers, and working on our cardio by training for and running an Ultramarathon in the Sawatch Range. Soon enough we were eagerly awaiting the thaw of the mountains this summer so that we could really put our skills to the test. One of the first hikes we had done together in Colorado was the hike to Sky Pond in RMNP, and we both had been intrigued when we saw climbers up there that day setting out to climb the spires that towered over Sky Pond. We knew that the various climbs of the Cathedral Spires had to go on our list.

The Decision to Climb the Sharkstooth

Nathan and I initially wanted to climb Petit Grepon as our first big alpine climb together, but the grade of 5.8 of the South Face, combined with the number of pitches, intimidated us enough to consider one of the other climbs in the area to test ourselves first. We started reading up on the East Gully route on the Sharkstooth, but weren't super excited about a 5.4 rated climb that would essentially just be climbing the descent route of the Sharkstooth. After reaching out to a number of people that had been in the area recently to ask about current conditions beta, I noticed they had all opted to climb the Sharkstooth via the Northeast Ridge. It was obvious on Mountain Project that the Northeast Ridge was much higher rated than the East Gully, so we set a date on the calendar and began trip planning for an ascent of the Northeast Ridge of the Sharkstooth.

As someone that has now taken multiple classes on backcountry preparation, and has witnessed backcountry emergencies play out, I take trip planning very seriously these days. I created some GPX tracks on GAIA for the approach, made CalTopo maps, and created a 4 page Google doc with all the details of our trip to send to family and friends, complete with itinerary and cut off times, route beta, approach info, safety concerns, emergency contact info, SAR info, maps, and weather data from NOAA for our summit day. I know many people consider this overkill, but it always makes me feel better to know that my family has all that info in case of emergency and they can give it all to SAR if needed.

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An example of one of the CalTopo maps I created for the approach

The Approach

We left Denver at midnight to get a 2am start from Glacier Gorge Trailhead for the approach. Our hopes were to start the technical portion of the climb between 5am and 6am, knowing that the approach would take longer than normal due to carrying the weight of all the climbing gear (70m rope, trad gear, etc). We made very quick work of the hike to the "Gash" where we would be veering off of the Andrew's Glacier trail to navigate the boulder fields and snow fields to get to the base of the Sharkstooth. Despite having a few snow climbs under our belt and being well aware of standard safety gear for doing so (crampons, ice axe, etc), we hoped that enough had melted to only need spikes and trekking poles to navigate the snow. We reached consistent snow between 10,500' and 11,000', but lucked out in that our spikes seemed more than sufficient to get ourselves up the snow fields. At that time it felt as if the snow was a blessing rather than a curse, because we were able to avoid a large amount of boulder hopping and scrambling by simply ascending the snowfields.

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Nathan entering the "Gash" just as the first light of dawn started illuminating the area around us

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Myself ascending the snow fields as a fiery sunrise appeared behind us

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Making quick work of the snow fields in the "Gash"

Before we knew it, our objective for the day began to reveal itself along the skyline. Up until this point, I think we both thought of the Sharkstooth as simply our "backup" plan to the Petit Grepon. Now it really began to sink in just how big of an objective this would be, and the excitement quickly became palpable between the two of us.

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Our first sight of the Sharkstooth as morning light started to illuminate the granite

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The morning alpenglow was shortlived, but was breathtaking while it lasted

Shortly before 6am we arrived at the base of the climb and started to prepare for the first pitch of technical climbing...

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The Climb

One of the best methods of saving time in the alpine on technical pursuits, is being quick and efficient with transitions (donning gear, swapping leads, etc). As we would learn throughout the day, this is where we lost a lot of our time. We tried to get fueled up, geared up, and tied in as quick as possible, but I think in reality it took us at least 25-30 minutes to transition. Nonetheless, I decided that I wanted to start out the climb and take pitch 1. I started climbing and placed my first piece of gear, a .4 BD C3 cam, about 10 feet off the deck. I was now officially on belay and off to a great start.

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A fist bump before I take off on pitch 1
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Climbing above my first piece of protection

After climbing about 90-100 ft, I reached a grassy ledge that felt right for a great place to set up an anchor and belay up Nathan. I chose to place two cams in a large crack, and then sling a horn for a 3rd piece of the anchor. I will admit, I normally would incorporate slinging the horn right into the same sling I use to equalize the other pieces, but for some reason I did not do this on this occasion. Nathan made quick work of following me up that pitch and we tried to transition as quick as we could so that he could start leading the following pitch.

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Our first anchor at the top of P1, or at least what we considered the top of P1

We were able to transition pretty quickly on this one and Nathan soon took off on P2. For us, P2 had the least obvious route to climb. It seemed like a little bit of a "choose your own adventure" at this point, but Nathan did an incredible job taking the sharp end and finding a nice cozy belay cove to finish out the pitch. P2 was roughly 170' for us.

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Nathan taking off on the start of P2
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Looking back down, halfway up P2
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Entering the belay cove that Nathan had found. He used two bomber cam placements with a fixed cam to back it up to make a 3 point anchor at this location
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Smiles all around at the top of P2

At this point, we recognized that the beta on Mountain Project describes a layback flake crux on P2, of which we had not climbed yet. It also says that a good belay location can be found just before the flake. Sure enough, I poked my head around the corner and recognized the area with the layback flake immediately. I realized now that I would be taking the crux move on P3. I was excited, but also nervous as I know that layback moves are not one of my strengths as a climber. We took a short break to drink water and fuel, and soon enough I popped up to the left of this belay cove to continue upwards towards the layback flake.

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Looking upwards towards the layback flake, on the left side of the protruding rock, which precedes the much easier left facing corners section that sit above it

As I climbed to approach the flake, I placed a few cams and was feeling good. Despite reading online not to veer to the right at this section, as I climbed closer to the flake, I felt naturally drawn to the right and started to investigate. Sure enough, I can confirm the climbing gets thin and difficult to the right, and upon seeing the remnants of a bail anchor about 15' to the right of the flake, I knew I needed to just go back to the left and commit to the layback moves and get past the flake.

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The bail anchor located about 15 feet to climbers right of the layback flake - don't go this way! Just commit to the flake!

After climbing the layback flake, we decided to regroup due to rope drag, and so I built an anchor and brought up Nathan to a nice ledge at the beginning of the left facing corners section.

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Another 3 piece anchor built at a really comfortable belay ledge just above the layback flake
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Looking down on Nathan following me up to the anchor, the layback flake crux seen in the forefront of this photo. I might have sowed it up just a little bit...

Once Nathan joined me at this belay station, we decided that we would block lead for this section since the last pitch only ended up being around 30'-40', so we pancake flipped the rope, he put me on belay and I took off again, this time knowing that I was definitely on P3. Without realizing it, I combined P3 and P4, reaching the belay ledge at the end of P4 where I built my next anchor.

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Looking back down while on P3, looking at the "left facing corners" / "left facing dihedrals" that are described by various descriptions of the route online
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Further up, likely entering P4 at this point
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The final section of P4 before popping out on top of a false summit and establishing another anchor in the wide offwidth crack that begins P5

I reached the belay ledge at the top of P4 and realized that this is where a number 4 cam would've been really handy. Our rack consisted of doubles from #0.3 to #3 C3 cams, and two sets of stoppers. I was able to find placements for both of our #3 cams at the bottom of the crack, and then backed those up with a stopper higher up, and a .75 off to the side. I started belaying up Nathan, and although combining P3 and P4 helped with time, I checked my watch and realized it was already 11am, and our plan was to be off the summit before noon due to the threat of afternoon storms. Especially while staring at the large offwidth crack that would start our next pitch, I began to worry a little more about our timing as this climb was taking longer than we had anticipated. Nathan made quick work of the follow, and soon joined me at the anchor. We decided that the best option was to try and boogie as quick as we could to finish out the next two pitches and get to the summit where we could then downclimb to the rappel stations. We each took a quick swig of water, and transitioned as quick as we could. Nathan then took off leading P5 and took on the offwidth crack head on despite the lack of available pro placements until he reached the top of the crack.

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The views from the ledge on top of P4 were incredible
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Nathan taking the lead on P5, pictured here at the top of the large offwidth crack that starts the pitch

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A better look at the start of the pitch at the bottom of the photo, with Nathan continuing to lead the pitch above. P5 would take him to the next false summit and another ledge where he would build our next anchor and belay me up

Nathan built an anchor at the next ledges/false summit, and gave me a belay up to him where we recognized the final pitch of the route above us. This is where I realized that I had been doing a really poor job hydrating and taking care of fueling myself all day. I told Nathan how utterly exhausted I had become while on follow on P5 despite the climbing being incredibly easy, and without hesitation he offered to lead the last section as well so that we could just go ahead and make it to the summit where we could both fuel up and begin the descent. I happily took him up on that offer since I was already satisfied with the leads I had taken that day and just wanted to get to the top via any means at this point. We checked our watches: it was already noon. We knew that time was no longer on our side and that we were moving much slower now than we realized, but that we would be at the summit in no time.

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Looking up from the belay ledge at the top of P5. Depending on the beta you read online, the lighter colored rock on the right can be face climbed, or you can go left for cracks and better protection. Nathan went left and found great options for protection.
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Nathan pictured towards the top of P6, where the climbing turns to class 2 until the summit. Just above where he sits in the picture, he established an anchor and brought me up behind him
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Nathan looking down from the top of P6

Knowing the summit was not far, I climbed as quick as I could and soon met Nathan at his anchor. From here, we only had about 30'-40' of class 2 to the summit, followed by about the same amount of class 3 downclimbing to the first rappel anchors. In the interest of speed, we just quickly kiwi coiled the rope instead of packing it up and made our way to the summit.

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All smiles on the summit! We made sure to hydrate and replenish our calories, and quickly felt our energy returning. Especially knowing that we could soon begin our descent, our concerns about beating the storms started to subside
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Taylor Peak and the Taylor Glacier pictured behind Nathan
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Taylor Peak and Taylor Glacier pictured behind us while we continue to ride the high of reaching the summit

The Descent

We were only on the summit for about 10 minutes or so. We changed out of our climbing shoes to the sweet relief of our trail runners, put back on our packs, and started downclimbing to the first rappel station. This downclimb was much shorter than we realized, and is quite literally just a stone's throw from the summit. Just downclimb where the cairns lead you, and then go skiier's right just before where it looks to get steep. From there we started our 4 rappels back to the East Col where we would be able to finally pack away the rope and all the climbing gear.

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Prestacked rappels for the win!
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Nathan on rappel
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Nathan on rappel
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Be prepared for some full length rappels with a 70m rope! I don't think a 60m would've reached.

Back at the East Col, we would find that our escape back to the Andrew's Glacier trail was going to take much longer than the approach did on the way up. The snowfields had softened considerably, some of which did not feel great to try and navigate without an ice axe. We slowly moved from exposed boulder field to the next exposed boulder field, and then followed some climbers that had been on Petit down the grassy ledges in the middle of the "Gash" instead of descending the large snow fields that we had climbed up earlier in the day.

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We descended the ledges pictured in the middle and upper left of the photo, until we reached the snow on the right side where you can spot our glissade tracks to finish out the descent towards the bottom of the "Gash"
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One last look at the Sharkstooth before we rejoined the Andrew's Glacier Trail and hurried back to the car

Between the climb taking longer than anticipated, and then burning quite a lot of time getting out of the "Gash" without incident, by the time we got back to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, we realized our car to car time was 17 hours. There's no doubt it was worth it, but it also made us realize that we need to work on our efficiency if we are going to continue taking on more alpine rock objectives in the future. Petit Grepon is still high on our list, but with the South Face being an 8 pitch route, I think we are going to spend some more time working on our efficiency on multi-pitch routes closer to home before going for Petit. For the time being, I know we both feel quite accomplished from the climb. We felt our teamwork, risk tolerance, and communication throughout the day were stellar, and we both made it home to our significant others without incident, which is the most important part of going out on these missions.

Additional Info

For route beta, these two sources are what we primarily relied on:

Descent beta needs updating in both, but proper descent beta can be found on the main page on Mountain Project for the Sharkstooth, as well as in the comments of the route description for the Northeast Ridge.

All photos used in this TR were taken by either Nathan or I with our phones, or taken as screengrabs from my GoPro footage.

If you're interested in a poorly edited video documenting our trip, feel free to watch my edit on YouTube:
https://youtu.be/F6x4roqBnf4

Our climbing gear:
70m Sterling Velocity XEROS 9.8mm Rope
Double rack of BD C3 cams, sizes #0.3 - #3
Two sets of BD stoppers
8 alpine draws + four quickdraws
Misc. anchor material (nonlockers, lockers, quad length and double length slings, cordelettes, etc)
2x ATC guide
2x hollowblocks
BD harness
Blue Ice Harness
BD Speed 22 Pack
Osprey Mutant 38 Pack

Final Thoughts

This climb felt like the perfect test of our abilities as climbing partners, and I think is a great objective for those wanting to test out their skills in an alpine environment. The climbing felt accurate for 5.6, just magnified a bit due to exposure and overall exhaustion from the approach distance and altitude. It's hard to know when you're "ready" to take on a challenge like this in the alpine, but it felt I did just about as much preparation as I could have for this one. At some point you just have to "go for it" and see what lessons can be learned along the way. We garnered a huge respect for technical climbing in the alpine from this trip, which will certainly continue to shape our goals for quite a while. For us, I don't think either of us want to be chasing grades in this setting any time soon, instead simply enjoying the journey and trying to learn as much as we can in the mean time. If you've made it this far in the trip report, thank you for reading my sporadic thoughts about the day. I've never been a great writer, but I've learned over time that these backcountry adventures and the stories I tell about them help me to de-stress from the pressures of every day life. Feel free to leave any questions about the climb in the comments and I'll try my best to answer them.

Stay safe out there, and I'll see y'all on the 14ers!




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
123tqb
User
This is awesome!
06/30/2022 08:26
So detailed! Good luck in your pursuit of the "best" style of climbing!



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