4am, my ass!

...we were on the road at 3:30am!

I think all of us on this adventure have been up at 3:30 before... yet apparently none of us have AWAKEN at 3:30. Certainly at 4am there's been a few instances, but being up at 3:30 or earlier usually means I've been out all night. The general rule of thumb: Staying out, easy. Waking up, difficult.

3:30 is a ridiculous hour to start an adventure, but today we planned to trad climb the Flat Irons in Boulder, Colorado... and yes for the second straight day the forecast was for 100 degree temps.

Since the climb is eastern facing, the rock heats up in summertime conditions forcing you to ascend before grilling your hands.

So bleary eyed and rubbing our heads, we piled into the 4am van (which we have affectionately nicknamed the Family Truckster after the Griswold's car in the movie National Lampoon's Vacation. More on the Truckster later, trust me!) After a bit of coaxing the Family Truckster fired up and we sputtered away.

During the drive the only night-life we saw was two deer and a lone raccoon crossing the road-- no doubt they had been out drinking all night and were stumbling home. Party animals.

The hike into Chataqua Park was warm and the sun hadn't even broken above the horizon. As we reached the base of Flat Iron number 3, the pinks of cirrus clouds began shining brightly illuminating the point where sol would rise. We stowed some of our equipment and rejoiced that no one else had arrived before us. The entire rock was ours for the climbing.

Now here's the part of the story where I need to fill in everyone on some valuable information. Rom and I are BEGINNER climbers. Rom had only done climbing walls in College, while many years ago I did a handful of sport climbs and several illegal rappeling jaunts from parking structures. Adam's skills fall in the intermediate climber range-- having done indoor and sport climbing. Fortunately we have Cody, our resident expert/jedi, who was both willing and able lead this trad climb. More than willing and able, he was geared up and ready to impart his knowledge on the rest of us. We, meanwhile, were eager to learn.

That's how it lays out, expert to beginner.

The sun eventually broke on the horizon and we were on our way up. Rom and I were learning at at an exponential rate, listening to Cody with bated breath and watching as he placed every nut and cam. All sorts of techniques were coming back to me and I was excited to be on the side of a rock with these three guys.

By the 2nd pitch we were passed by a guy free climbing. He sped past us like we were standing still. No rope, no pro. Just hands and feet on bare rock. I was worried he might somehow fall and come tumbling down on us. But he was probably home sipping a cold brew before we were at the 5th pitch. I would have felt really small if it wasn't for the fact I was on the tallest climb of my life.

Mid-way up the face, while Rom was powering through the next pitch, Adam and I spotted a Golden Eagle surfing the thermals. The majestic bird was 100 feet below, but effortlessly spiraled its way to our altitude. It made a sweeping pass from right to left, searching for food or perhaps just taunting us with its natural climbing ability. Between the 3rd and 2nd Flat Iron it resumed circling again. No wing flap necessary-- just an occasional feather adjustment and the beautiful creature cork-screwed its way up and beyond our sight.

I can only suspect what was going through the eagle's mind as he soared away... "Check out those hairless-apes on the side of that rock. Who are they trying to impress?"

No one but ourselves! Damn bird!

Pitch by pitch we over-evolved monkies made our way up the rock, while the city of Boulder lay below. Countless times I had looked up at the Flat Irons never imagining that one day I'd sit on the slope of one of the signature monuments looking down on the town. But here I was, clipped in, eating a Cliff Bar and watching the world go by. What a wonderful way to enjoy a summer day in Colorado!

The morning dragged on. The rock got warm, then the rock got hot. We pressed on at our leisurely pace and eventually submitted. At the top we snapped a few pics and enjoyed a couple moments of glory. All that lay ahead of us was three 40 to 60 foot rappels and the hike out.

Our accomplishment was short lived. Cody, the ever patient teacher and leader on this climb, had succumbed to the hot temps. We had run out of water on the last pitch and a dehydration headache had set in. Somehow he managed to guide us off the rock to the backside, where we could begin our decent. But the climb was at its end and the time had come to pack it up and make our way back home. The quest for water was paramount, so we eagerly made our way down the mountain and back to the Truckster.

Later, after time spent re-hydrating and grabbing some grub at Illegal Pete's, we left Boulder. Driving away the Flat Irons seemed small on the horizon-- almost like a postcard. We bid our farewell to them, happy and content that we had managed to force ourselves from slumber at 3:30am to experience this wonderful adventure.