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Ascent of Observatory Rock on 2018-07-15

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Dan Conner
Date:Sunday, July 15, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:Observatory Rock
    Location:USA-Colorado
    Elevation:10073 ft / 3070 m

Ascent Trip Report

So it was supposed to rain early today so Dan and I decided to not stay in Fairplay and instead get up and head to the Tarryall area to climb some good scrambling routes. Eagle Mountain and Observatory Rock are both rated 2+ climbs. The reason is they are rated by their easiest route up. But both offer much harder routes of class 3 through 5 for those that want more interesting ascents. Dan wanted to practice some class 4 today. So we parked off the high clearance road that swung north and east of the peak. This road shows on the aerials but is NOT on the USGS map nor Google maps. We liked the close proximity of this road to scrambling near the truck.

We immediately found a pinnacle near the truck in an area of wonderful ponderosa pines and found class 3 immediately on a formation that shows east of the eastern ridge line as a closed contour. At the time we did not realize it was a dead-end pinnacle. Dan lead a route that quickly slid to very steep and vertical rock class 3+ and eventually to some easy 4. I helped guide him below around a tricky ledge so that he stayed off of class 5 and then joined him up a class 3+ chute to the top of a wonderful little formation with a fun down-climb. This lead us to the southridge that spirals off the peak with several closed contour pinnacles. In this lovely area we slid west and found many bouldering rocks to climb and practices all sorts of climbing in this playground; Dan pushing up to do as many class 4 type formations (mostly at bouldering height) and me mostly sticking to very steep class 3+ routes.

After quite a few fun scrambles and bouldering opportunities we hiked back into the open woods that was on the western gentle side of the SE ridge. This was an easy way to reach the saddle of the upper peak and gave us our first view of the steep cliffs of the peak's southern face.

the peak's southern face is all class 5 and very intimidating for someone off ropes. We could see from the topo map if you headed around the right side to the east then to the north the slope and rock become more and more manageable. LOJ and Summit post says the route to the top is class 2+ and perhaps some minor 3 and they are correct. But we did not find that route till later and that easy summit route goes up an obvious cairn marked gully on the western side of the peak. We found that out later but Dan did not a walk up he wanted to climb it. I suggested we slide a bit east as I could see the class 5 give way to class 4 and then finally to class 3 as you head northward along the east face. Finally Dan saw the line he wanted to try. He immediately headed up a steep class 3+ face while i negotiated around a mossy gully with some trees down. We met together about 60 feet up. There is a gully of class 3 and a lot of trashy rock we could use as an escape there so that gave us the confidence to try a wall of class 3+/4. The rock had better holds and jugs as we climbed above 10,000 feet.

This put us in a safe spot on top of the steep face we climbed and gave us some fantastic views. This ledge was the area of white rock we saw from the saddle below and had picked as the most technical area we could do with out getting into class 5 nasty cliffs. One last pitch and we scoped it. One obvious traverse of rock had a very steep several hundred foot drop and was very exposed class 4 to a final easy class 3 completion. Dan looked at the drop and lost his confidence to continue on that line. I noticed a much less exposed class 4 to the right of us that would put us on a very elegant class 3 completion with some reasonable exposure. Dan climbed that section of class 4 and eagerly shouted back he made it to the class 3 completion. I followed and was quite happy to be back on class 3 to summit. We both were very happy as we jsut both completed our second day with some sustained class 4 scrambling and we are both finding climbing it more confident.

We then looked for an easier way down and there are three gullies that are below class 3 that come down. On the east side you have a pretty hard class 3 downclimb then can hit an open saddle/gully that heads down to class 2 terrain. BUT on the west side we found a wonderful easy gully with a short and easy class 3 section that dumps you into the obvious class 2/2+ gully that goes down. I think this gully aligns with one of the routes that the Michek family used and recorded with their GPS unit trip report in peakbagger. It looks like about in the right spot. Unfortuanley my GPS route failed to record for most of our trip.

This gully is heavily marked with large cairns and must be the normal route up that is on LOJ and Summit Post. Their rating of class 2+ is dead on. you pass under a huge impressive ponderosa pine in this gully and just below it there is a saddle where you find a choice of three gullies. The eastern gully mentioned above that is not cairned and was EASILY reached by the western gully then two bifurcated gullies that parallel down the west side. The first one is steep and full of horrible brush. you do NOT want to go that way. The second one you see is the correct one and it is open lovely terrain with a cairn every 100 feet. You can take that all the way down. We took a bearing on the truck and straight lined a route which took us into the valley between us and the SE ridge. We contoured some to decrease the need for an up-climb but still were too low on the mountain now and had about a 60 foot upclimb to get up and over the SE ridge and then hiked down the class 2 to our truck.

Bottom line:

This is a sexy peak with some very steep slopes and an impressive cliff on the south side. You can climb it easily as a 2+ up the gully as it is rated in LOJ/Summit Post OR you can approach it from the south cliff face and slide east to north and find your line of interest from class 5 down to 4 to 3 as you head north along the east face and make this a scrambling challenge of your interest level. The important thing to keep in mind is the mountain is more and more forgiving as you head north along the east face until you eventually slide all the way around to the class 2 gullies. All the road out to get this peak are high clearance vehicles but no 4 wheel drive is necessary. It is a long meandering set up forest roads to find this peak. The GPS rotues shown by the Michek family are great for finding the class 2+ gullies. our route was east of their route starting under the topo where the cliff shows.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:878 ft / 267 m
    Total Elevation Loss:145 ft / 43 m
    Round-Trip Distance:1 mi / 1.6 km
    Grade/Class:2,2+,3,3+,4
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:818 ft / 249 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 733 ft / 224 m; Extra: 85 ft / 25m
    Loss on way in:85 ft / 25 m
    Distance:0.5 mi / 0.8 km
    Route:bushwhack to scramble
    Start Trailhead:parked off dirt road off FR834  9340 ft / 2846 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:60 ft / 18 m
    Gain on way out:60 ft / 18 m
    Distance:0.5 mi / 0.8 km



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