<-- Map of summer 2018
     climbing roadtrip 
     (click to enlarge)

Route: Arrowplane (5.11a, 6p)

TR #: 304

Category: Colorado       Summit Elev: 12,660 ft       Rock Type: Granite

Partner: Alex Haeger

Steep climbing up one of the big faces in RMNP.


Arrowhead is the name given to a collection of spires in Rocky Mountain National Park, located in the Spearhead Cirque directly above Black Lake. Due to the relatively long (~3 hours) approach for relatively short (4-5 pitches) routes, route development on Arrowhead is fairly recent, with most of the routes put up in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Once climbers began to realize the abundance of clean, aesthetic lines in close proximity, several routes were put up in quick succession. The rock is granite, with orange splitters and featured faces; climbers have compared the climbing to a steeper version of Lumpy Ridge. 

The south face of Arrowhead is one of the impressive walls of RMNP. The route Arrowplane, which climbs up the right side of the south face, is one of the more popular routes on Arrowhead. Featuring sustained climbing on excellent granite, Arrowplane wanders up cracks for five pitches, all the time approaching the "Lightning Bolt Crack" (11a crux of the route) on the last pitch headwall; this crack can be seen all the way from the base.

So I was psyched when Alex (who I had cragged with for a day in Eldorado Canyon a couple of weeks previous) texted me asking if I was available to climb a route in the Park the next day. Yes! How about Arrowplane? Yeah, looks awesome, let's do it! Meet at 4am at the trailhead? Sure. I bring the rack, you bring the rope? Sounds like a plan! Psyched! Me too!

Alex and I had an awesome day climbing Arrowplane. The climbing was a bit heady at times (there were frequent short runnouts, but nothing dangerous except for perhaps the first pitch and Alex's unplanned route variation on Pitch 2); so after I backed off my first lead, I was happy to let Alex lead the rest of the route. And lucky for me he was happy to take them. (Thanks Alex!)

The following page gives an overlay and photos from our climb. What a fun day!

2020 Update: In June 2020, I climbed The Godfather (11b), which shares the first two pitches with Arrowplane before taking a crack system to the left and climbing the obvious "J Crack" to the left of the "Lightning Bolt Crack" on Arrowplane.

2020 Update: In July 2020, I climbed Airhead (11d), to the left of Arrowplane and The Godfather.


Glacier Gorge Trailhead to base of route: 3 hours
Climb route: 4 hours 35 minutes
Rappel and scramble back to base of route: 30 minutes
Hike back to trailhead: 3 hours
Total car-to-car (includes breaks): 12 hours



Photo descriptions:
Hike the Glacier Gorge Trail to Black Lake. Just as you reach Black Lake, head rightward, crossing the outlet and picking up a path through the brush to a talus field on the slope to the west of the lake. Follow a faint path up the right side of the talus field, and then head left (south) over grassy slopes and ramps, wrapping around until beneath the south face of Arrowhead. Here you can see the route. We racked up at the base of the slabs and then scrambled up 4th class slabs to the base of Pitch 1.


1. On the trail just before Black Lake. Arrowhead looms above.
2. Morning sun on Arrowhead.
3. Just before Black Lake, find a path through the trees heading towards Arrowhead.
4. Head up the right side of the talus field on a faint path.
5. Scramble up grassy slopes.
6. Trend left (south), wrapping around until beneath the south face of Arrowhead.
7. The Main South Face of Arrowhead. Arrowplane is in he shade on the right.
8. The Lightning Bolt Crack of Pitch 6, obvious from the base. The J-shaped crack to the left is Pitch 5 of The Godfather, which I climbed in June 2020.

5.8+ R. (Same as Pitch 1 of The Godfather.) Climb up the slab, heading towards the dark water streak under a short corner. The water streak is the 5.8 R section. A fall here would be no good. Belay on a ledge above. This is also the first pitch of Crooked Arrow.
9. Alex cruising up Pitch 1. He is just before the belay.
10. Looking up at the 5.8 R section on the black water streak. Alex cruised through it with barely a pause, but I know if I had been leading it would have felt like my last piece was awfully far below.....

5.9-. (Same as Pitch 2 of The Godfather.) Traverse right ~20 feet to a crack that leans up and right and is above a grass hummock. Climb up through the small roof, then follow a crack up and left to a stance beneath a thin crack with a bush.
11. Starting off Pitch 2. The corner is above a hummock.
12. Looking up the start of the corner.
13. The pitch ends here at a stance below the bush.
14. Alex did not realize he had already climbed through the "small gold roof" so he headed for this roof....which is a 5.9 roof of Medusa. Then he cut left up the face....which is not on any route. We called this variation the "Al X" variation, 5.9 X. The roof was very fun and the face above was pretty good face climbing, but I probably wouldn't recommend it unless a couple of bolts were installed.
15. Me climbing the Al X variation.

5.10b. Climb cracks, passing a jammed flake, and continue up into double thin cracks. Layback the left crack, and step across right at the top, belaying on a ledge with a large flake.
16. Alex leading off the second half of Pitch 3. (We did not climb the first half due to the Al X variation we climbed instead.)
17. The double cracks, an aesthetic pitch with good climbing.

5.10a. Traverse right along the ledge to a thin crack. Climb the crack up to a wider corner. This is the only part of the route where you might want a #4. However, once you get to the place where you can plug in a #4, you can fit in a #3 about 6 inches higher, and a smaller cam just 6 inches above that. So no #4 needed for the route. Belay on a ramp just left of a giant pillar (Lost Arrow Spire).
18. The start of Pitch 4. You cannot see this crack from the belay.
19. Looking down from the belay. Awesome exposure!
20. The crack that starts off the pitch.
21. The wide corner that finishes the pitch. This is the only part of the route where you might want a #4. However, once you get to the place where you can plug in a #4, you can fit in a #3 about 6 inches higher, and a smaller cam just 6 inches above that. So no #4 needed for the route.

5.10c. Head left and climb a left-arching corner and lieback along the left side of a big block to a good stance. This short pitch could be combined with Pitch 4.
22. Starting off Pitch 5.
23. The corner on Pitch 5. There is a short 10c crux. But excellent finger locks if you push through it.

5.11a. The Lightning Bolt Crack pitch you've been waiting for! The initial couple of moves are the crux (11a), and then the crack is pretty cruiser jams. At the end of the crack, mantle over a roof to a ledge and continue up juggy ledges to the top!
24. Alex starting off the final pitch.
25. The crux section occurs right off the belay. You can protect the anchor with a #4 brass offset. But when your leader falls on it, it is quite difficult to clean....
26. Looking up at the awesome Lightning Bolt Crack.
27. Looking down at the awesome Lightning Bolt Crack.
28. The final roof.
29. Belay at the top.

Yay! Scramble to the summit - it's worth it.
30. On the summit ridge. Longs Peak in the background.
31. East Face Right of Powell Peak. Based on the lack of routes shown on this face in the guidebook, seems there is a lot of route potential on this face. 

32. Longs Peak.
33. The Spearhead and Chiefs Head.
34. The Spearhead.

Scramble down to the low point between Arrowhead and McHenry's Peak. Locate the first rap station (under a big boulder). There are two raps and some 4th-low 5th class downclimbing. A single 70 works just fine. Scramble back to the base of the route (not too far from base of rappels). Hike out the way you came.
35. The summit ridge of Arrowhead. The start of the rap route is at the low point. This is about 5 minutes from the top of Arrowplane.
36. The location of the upper rap station.
37. Rap 1. We put a new cord on the anchor, since it was looking a bit sketchy.
38. Rap 2. We put a new cord on this one as well. Both raps can be done with a single 70.
39. Some 4th class downclimbing after the second rappel.
40. Hiking out in the pretty afternoon light.
41. Arrowhead Spire and East Buttress.
42. Black Lake, with The Spearhead poking over the ridge above.
43. Pretty mountain scenery at the outlet of Black Lake.
44. Bad day for a fat tourist.
45. Log bridges through the meadows on the trail.