Ascent of Fletcher Mountain on 2019-08-17

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Dan Connors
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, August 17, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Fletcher Mountain
    Elevation:13951 ft / 4252 m

Ascent Trip Report

We parked at the lower parking between the two dams of Upper Blue Lake. The place was saturated with mountain goats in between all parked cars. We hiked up to the upper dam and found the use trail and followed it through some snow fields without having to go into the snow. Most people hiked up the cirque with its lower slope angle past the three small tarn glacial lakes but there was snow hanging up there and we did not want to bring out the microspikes so we actually hiked up the main wall. It was very steep and precarious in places with lose rock and steep angles especially over by the open mining cave. So instead of a class 2 climb up to the saddle we worked our way up through class 2+, 3 and some very exposed class 3 (call it class 3+). By doing this we overshot the saddle and climbed higher than necessary and had to climb back down to the saddle. Others that day did the same to avoid the snow field still lingering on the standard cirque route. The GPS route attached clearly shows the upper wall we used instead of the low sloped standard route.

The route up Fletcher from the saddle is not technical at all. A big nasty class 2 talus route. The summit is fantastic with some of the best views in the area. Much better than Quandary. We saw Lincoln, Cameron, Democrat, Red Mountain, Hoosier Hill, North Star, Atlantic, Pacific, Drift and others and many glacial lakes below. Beautiful. On the way down, Dan rolled on a large boulder that came free ( I would guess 200 pounder) and slammed to the ground. He hit his chin on a rock with a loud thud. It made me sick to hear it. Luckily no stitches needed by he lost some blood and was a bit dazed for awhile.

We then went for the traverse between Fletcher and Quandary. Roach calls is a classic class 3 and we agree that most of the climbing is class 3 but not easy class 3. When the class 3 is something very vertical and not something you would take you children on we like to call it class 3+ (we are talking where every foothold and handgrip you are watching carefully but the technical aspects of it are not what most would still call 4). Some of the moves we ended up doing were not the best route choices and could be arguably class 4. Now Roach says it is about the best route finding and you can stay on all 3 but we found that to be difficult in places as sometimes you have to go around the gendarmes and sometimes best to go over them. This leads to a couple of mis-routes where we ultimately ended up on class 4 rock.I am defining class 4 as places where one or both of us felt we had to climb down facing the rock and many places where we were using hand wedges and other rock climbing techniques to be sure we had
4 strong points of contact as in some places the rocks peeled off and the exposure in these areas was high. Even though says exposure is "high" resulting in injury not "extreme" where it is fatal, there are places where we ended up where a fall would as a minimum place you in a hospital and at worst death.

The route begins easy class 2, then there are a few small features that are class 2+ and if you climb them they become class 3 or you can go around them and keep the route class 2. We found wonderful class 3 rock here with reasonable exposure and up-climbed. Then there is a long slog of class 2 to the north side. We were initially disappointed that the class 3 was over but as you close in on the 14er, things get tricky real fast.The first towers or gendarmes were easy class 3 and fun but the last two tantalizingly close to all the people on the top of Quandary were routing nightmares. "Fun" if you have done a bunch of these but this was the hardest traverse Dan and I had attempted before.
In hindsight if we had down-climbed and come up the big loose gully there was little exposure but we stayed up high in the towers following foot paths and there were some really exposed areas. The class 3 in this area was often along a 12 inch ledge grabbing on to the sides of the rock with nasty falls if you lost your points of contact. The second to last tower we stayed away from the gully and Dan ended up on clearly class 4 perhaps 5 rock to get over a chock-stone and I could see he was a bit spooked at the exposure. I took a much easier line of class 3 but we ended up on the top of a snow-ice gully with a long slide to the bottom that we both did not like. It appeared one could down-climb this challenge and avoid the drop threat (and I note that Roach's books even says you never have to down-climb more than 100 feet) but Dan did not want to down-climb so we stayed high and the exposure thus, never relented.

I had microspikes but not an ice ax. Dan talked me into climbing the tower with him instead and to avoid the snow we opted for what was one clear quick crux class 4 move to avoid the snow coulouir and that went pretty well but I have to admit with the exposure in the section we were both not real happy. But as Roach says in his book, "the route here is harder than it looks" and that is because if you stay high on the towers you can not see just how far each one drops to its connecting saddle. Reaching the last tower there is a very narrow ledge that falls away in three directions and this is certainly what Roach meant when he wrote "the exposure can be startling"

On this last tower I though to myself that this was dumb we need to get off it and get into the gully below. The down climb would have been all easy class 3 and perhaps class 2+ but Dan was tired and did not want to down-climb. He walked along that narrow ledge and I am not ashamed to admit that the exposure on all three sides was so startling and narrow that I crab walked it! It looks like a dead end up there but Dan found a treacherous path east to the saddle. This down climb path is class 3 and 3+ in terms of hand holds and footholds but every turn around the corner looked like we would cliff out. Dan down-climbed facing the rock and I was able to down-climb it facing out into the exposure. It was the most exciting place on the route. If you have climbed the class 3 routes of Kit Carson or Longs Peak they are far easier than this route. I found this route to be far more difficult than Kit Carson or Longs Peak. calls this entire route class 3 with Exposure "high"; Rockfall Potential "considerable"; Route Finding "considerable" and Commitment "High"
This all seems fair. I would guess that once we hit the truly scrambling regions of this route that we ended up on 25% class 2+; 50% class 3; 20% class 3+; and 5% class 4 (perhaps 2-3 moves). I would suggest that if we had spent more time taking lower routes more of the time and the gully, we might have avoided class 4 altogether.

The top of Quandary was a typical mess of slow hikers. But we used the class 1 standard route back to the car. Dan drove me 0.8 miles back to my car but was late for an appointment so I got out and hoofed up the road another 1.2 miles to the car getting another 500 feet for the day

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2476 ft / 754 m
    Total Elevation Loss:796 ft / 242 m
    Round-Trip Distance:3.5 mi / 5.6 km
    Grade/Class:1,2, 2+ and some 3 t
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Very Windy, Clear
38F morning to 65 end
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2341 ft / 713 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2271 ft / 692 m; Extra: 70 ft / 21m
    Loss on way in:70 ft / 21 m
    Distance:2.9 mi / 4.7 km
    Route:see GPS track
    Start Trailhead:Upper Blue Lake  11680 ft / 3560 m
    Time:2 Hours 45 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:726 ft / 221 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 591 ft / 180 m; Extra: 135 ft / 41m
    Gain on way out:135 ft / 41 m
    Distance:0.6 mi / 1 km
    Route:see GPS track
    End Trailhead:saddle between peaks  13360 ft / 4072 m
Ascent Part of Trip: Fair Play -2

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Fletcher Mountain2019-08-17 a2476 ft / 755 m
2Quandary Peak2019-08-17 b1605 ft / 489 m
Total Trip Gain: 4081 ft / 1244 m    Total Trip Loss: 1496 ft / 456 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by William Musser
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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