An electrifying fourth ascent up the notorious Big Rock Candy Mountain.
“Ad∙ven∙ture – an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” Google
Google ignored my request to change the definition of adventure to the route description of ‘Shock Treatment’. Having been shunned by arguably the most powerful company in the world, I decided to voice my opinion elsewhere. Thanks for humoring me.
I create to-do lists for climbing, essentially a laundry list of fantasy climbs. Once on the list, my life is incomplete until I have checked every single box. Since I have a lot more time to look up climbs and daydream about them then I do to physically go climb them, you can see the obvious conundrum of my life. Upon moving back to Colorado, I began scouring for big routes close to our new home in Colorado Springs – the biggest thing around, Big Rock Candy Mountain (BRCM). BRCM is a somewhat remote granite dome rising over 1000 feet from the Platte River; the king line of the formation, at least from my arm chair perspective, is ‘Shock Treatment’.
‘Shock Treatment’ climbs the dome’s steeper North Face. It follows a left trending crack system to its end just below the top of the formation. Deposited at the summit shield, an improbable sequence of nubbins and edges takes you to the top. Everyone in sight erupts, cheering wildly, girls are throwing undergarments (or guys, whatever your preference), champagne showers from the air – then you realize its cold and dark no one is there. Climbing only makes you feel like a rock star, delusional fantasies and daydreams aside.
‘Shock Treatment’ was on my “to-do” list. It just never seemed to make the top of the list. The grade alone encouraged me to make excuses, 5.12+ trad in the Platte is not something to trifle with. After getting talked into another Kevin McLaughlin classic on a Colorado 14’er, and then meeting Kevin, the route climbed to the top of my list.
Weather and work conspired and last weekend I found myself driving late on a Sunday morning to BRCM. I delayed the start after getting home late from Rocky Mountain National Park the night prior/morning of. Pulling out our make believe machetes, we thugged our way to the base of the route. Ilana took pitch one, a jungle approach to a 5.8+ overhung off-width to mantle boulder problem. I then got the sharp end and proceeded to fly all over the place as I was found measured and wanting – an ongoing theme in my climbing career. With feet blowing off and handholds needing excavation from moss and plant life, it was a time consuming pitch. By the time I hammered the 4th piton back in and had the pitch climbable, it was a day.
Having now been on route, it would not leave my mind. Fortunately, Ilana has the same fanaticism as I do, and when I tried feeling out what the following weekend’s plans were, there was no plan. It was a decision. We were getting up earlier and finishing the route. Getting up in the dark, spots of snow on the ground, and the thermostat saying 28F – optimism ran high. The friction’s going to be great, let’s grab bagels!
Location (for beta on getting there, read ‘Fields of Dreams’ post here)
Big Rock Candy Mountain – South Platte, CO
‘Shock Treatment’ (5.12+ PG13, 7 pitches)
Topo and detailed route description available in 2014 guidebook: South Platte Climbing: The Thunder Ridge and Turkey Rock Edition, by Jason Haas.
APPROACH: From the saddle of BRCM. The route should be fairly obvious. Start down the gully at the base avoiding prickly wildlife as possible, when things get steep, traverse right, away from the face, onto slabs following the best looking ramps downward. This will lead you about 100 feet away from the formation. When almost parallel with the start of the route, traverse back to the formation.
P1 (5.8+, 30′) – Surmount the bushes and crumbly corner to a ledge. Sling a chock stone wedged in the back and prepare yourself for a full value warmup fight up the overhung off width. I would not link this into the next pitch for the sake of your belayer. From the giant ledge at the pitches end, he or she is safe from any exploding footholds you may cast their way that funnel down the pitch 1 corner. Gear anchor (BD 2 and 4).
P2 (5.12+, 100′) – This pitch is gorgeous. It’s a perfect 30-degree left angling corner. The start is casual enough, but quickly turns to long moves off good finger locks. Then you clip the first piton and things get thin. The final piton needs to be replaced. I had to smash it back in, and when I fell on it, it moved quite a bit and bent down but held. For now, you can place a blue alien and purple BD directly below it. The pitch is one of the best and will get better once traffic cleans off the exfoliating rock. 3 bolt anchor.
P3 (5.10, 100′) – Step off the pedestal at the top of the corner. Climb the plant filled crack you can protect using optimism and the flake to the right. Eventually you reach a bolt and the crack becomes a bit less wild, though raspberry bushes still make for a prickly affair. The crux comes at the top with a good cam below your feet and 20 feet to the anchor bolt. Do you place marginal gear in your handholds or fire away? I opted for gear and things still worked out. 1 bolt anchor and gear (BD 1).
P4 (5.10+, 100′) – Layback a gorgeous corner and skip placing pro or figure out how to stem and jam the heinous rock. The pitch is less vegetated then the last but as the edges you need to trust crumble beneath your feet you start to second guess the last 3 cam placements. Towards the top of the corner you make face moves left, mantle a small overlap and get to the first of 3 bolts. The climbing gets harder, placing some gear and clipping two more bolts before the pitch ends as the crack becomes horizontal. 1 bolt anchor and cam of your choice (BD 1 to 3).
P5 (5.9+ PG13, 100′) – THE Pterodactyl Traverse. Phenomenal! On the wing, there are occasional piles of tribute (excrement) left in homage from the pterodactyl’s descendants but it is an incredibly unique traverse. As it is time to climb the pterodactyl’s neck, reach deep in the crack and place a BD 5. It is your last pro for a ways. You can lay back and knee bar for security. Under the petrodactly’s chin you can place some marginal pro (blue alien) before you grovel upwards via a move reminiscent to the Stech-Salathe in Yosemite, trying to chimney upwards as your feet disappear. After traversing the entire pterodactyl you belay from two bolts on the opposite wing. This is you last real opportunity to bail and given the excitement so far, who would blame you. The offwidth looms above and it does not seem so bad until you realize after going 10 feet into the wall to get to it, it’s also directly above your head. 2 bolt anchor.
P6 (5.11+, 130′) – Launch up the easy lichen covered slab clipping a bolt and reaching the right leaning overhung offwidth. Things start easily enough, and you think you have it, then you reach the first flair 5 feet up. Like a child with a deflated balloon you cry for a second BD 4. Eventually, you hike the right leg high enough you can move past the fist jam where the crack turns. More desperation ensues and you make the hand jam! The struggle is real. You place a BD 2, and for good measure throw the BD 5 above your head. The end is near. You are not even an USC alumni and you are chanting, Fight on! You inch up and make the chimney which is fun climbing if not the most enjoyable rock. It ends and you do a tricky move to exit left, on questionable rock with questionable pro. A final roof leaves you beached on a ledge before the summit shield. 2 bolt anchor.
P7 (5.11, 165′) – Follow the bolts up and right. This is not like other BRCM 5.11s. You are going to earn the clips with spacing at about 10 to 12 feet when the climbing gets to crunch time. After the last 6 pitches though, the pro feels like your mom’s hug and makes you feel safe from the world. It’s great climbing depositing you on top of the world. I think there were 12 bolts protecting the climbing. 2 bolt anchor.
PROPS: Ilana Jesse made the first female ascent of this route. We believe Hazel Findley is probably the most likely female to have a chance of making a free ascent since the rock and pro require, at times, a certain love for optimism and go get it attitude. Ilana crushed the route even after breaking her finger on the P6 off width after foolishly believing a “jug” in the depths of the wide crack would hold; spoiler alert, it blew and her finger bone followed suit. The three ascents before us were in 1991, 1996, and 2011. Ours marks the 4th in 2015, of what we hope will be many more to come. For all who express concern, Ilana gets to pick the next route off the “to-do” list.
- Positive outlook
- Doubles Blue, Green, Yellow and Grey Aliens (1 Black Alien if you have it)
- Doubles 0.5 to 4 BD and a 5 BD (we only had 1 BD 4 but a second would have made the off width a lot more pleasant). We brought micro and normal nuts but never placed them.
- A combination of 16 draws and slings.
- Did we mention positive outlook?
DESCENT: From where the route tops (summit proper), head towards the saddle. For some reason it is positioned so you have to do a sketchy exposed move down to clip into it. No real benefit to doing a single (52m) versus double (30m) rappels. Both stations are nice and the ropes will not get stuck. The stretch right before the ground is an overhang so I am not sure you could make it safely to the ground with a 50m.