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

Route: Flying Buttress (full) (5.10, 6p)

TR #: 299

Category: Colorado       Summit Elev: 13,911 ft       Rock Type: Gneiss & Biotite Schist

Partner: Annie Hines

Excellent alpine climbing up one of the more striking features in RMNP.


One of the best climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park is the Flying Buttress of Mt. Meeker, which climbs the most striking feature of Mt. Meeker: a long, narrow rib that climbs to the summit.  There are several variations up the buttress (which the Rossiter guidebook describes as three routes: Flying Buttress Left (5.9, the original line of ascent), Flying Buttress Direct (10c), and Flying Buttress Right (11a), although mixing and matching pitches from these three routes is entirely possible. 

Annie and I had a blast climbing this route together. Here's a summary of our day: We left the trailhead at 3:40am, which—judging by all the headlights from Keyhole hikers we saw ahead of us—is considered a late start from the Longs Peak trailhead. We arrived at the basin below the Flying Buttress about 3 hours later (seeing the first rays of sun on the buttress was well worth the early start), racked up and left our bigger packs there, and scrambled up to the base of the first pitch. There was another party there already; they were starting up the Direct route, so we started up the Left route option for Pitch 1. Annie and I ended up finishing the pitch well ahead of the other party (the direct route sounded kind of spicy based on the comments we heard from the other party). We started up the 5.9 corner of the Left route for Pitch 2, but midway up the corner, I spotted a hand-crack splitting the face to the right; I couldn't pass it up, so I detoured right and from then on Annie and I climbed the Direct route to the top. Most parties descend after climbing the 5 pitches of the lower Flying Buttress. But it wasn't yet noon when Annie and I topped out on the lower Flying Buttress, the weather forecast was good, and we wanted to climb more and tag the second-highest summit in RMNP. So we continued upward via the upper Flying Buttress. We spent several minutes trying to identify the "steep left-facing dihedral (10a) + left-facing corner (5.9)" mentioned in both the Gillett and Rossiter guidebooks, but couldn't find anything fitting that description that looked good to climb; we spotted a nice dihedral on the left side of the upper buttress and decided to climb this in a single long pitch—it turned out to be pretty good and slightly adventurous 5.9/10a-ish climbing. After that, we unroped and scrambled to the top of Meeker. We took a break on the summit and then scrambled down to The Loft (the saddle between Meeker and Longs). But we were having too much fun, so before descending back to the basin below Meeker and back to the trail, we decided to scramble up to the summit of Longs. After 1000 feet of scrambling we arrived at a giant chasm ("The Notch" we later discovered reading the guidebook) separating us from the summit of Longs; oh well, not a double summit day, but it was a cool position. We scrambled back to our packs at The Loft and started the descent back into the basin below Meeker. We had not heeded the (wise) advice to scope out the descent from below, so we missed the 3rd class ramp and ended up making a rappel down a waterfall and scrambling along some ledge systems until we found the path that more informed climbers use. But it was all part of the adventure, and just added to the fun factor of the day. We picked up our packs in the basin, ran into Alex Honnold as we hit the trail in Chasm Meadows, and got to the trailhead before dark. What a fun day!


Longs Peak Trailhead to base of route: 3 hours
Lower Flying Buttress (Pitches 1-5): 4 hour 15 minutes
Upper Flying Buttress to Meeker summit: 2 hours
Meeker summit to The Loft: 20 minutes
The Loft to Longs Peak Trailhead: 3 hours 40 minutes
Total car-to-car (includes breaks, a side trip to overlooking Notch on Longs Peak, etc.: 16 hours



Photo descriptions:
Hike East Longs Peak trail to Chasm Meadows, then scramble to base of obvious buttress.
1. In Chasm Meadows, the Flying Buttress and The Prow above.
2. First rays of sun on the Flying Buttress.
3. The Flying Buttress as seen from the basin below.
4. The 3rd/4th scramble to the base of the roped pitches.

(we did Left variation)
Left: 5.8. Dihedral to v-slot chimney to face cracks. Direct: 5.10c. Thin face cracks.
5. Party starting up Pitch 1, Direct route (10c).
6. Looking down the start of Pitch 1, Left route (5.8).
7. V-slot chimney on Pitch 1.
8. Face cracks at the top of Pitch 1.
9. Looking down at Annie following the v-slot chimney. Not as much fun with the pack on.

(we started on Left variation and finished on Direct)
Left: 5.9. Corner. Direct: 5.10a. Thin cracks to handcrack.
10. The 5.9 corner at the start of Pitch 2, Left.
11. The 5.8 handcrack on Direct route that I couldn't pass up. 

(Left & Direct are same for this pitch)
5.9+. Cracks to a 5.9+ roof. Perhaps the roof is avoidable around left or right (guidebook said 5.8 for Left, 5.9 for Direct but I didn't see these options).
12. Looking up Pitch 3. I am at the 5.9+ roof. Supposedly this can be avoided by going left or right, but I didn't see how. Photo by Annie.
13. The fun 1-inch crack on Pitch 3. The roof looms above.
14. Looking down from the belay at the top of Pitch 3.

(Left & Direct are same for this pitch)
5.7. Up. We started on left side and finished on right side.
15. Annie starting off Pitch 4.
16. The start of Pitch 4. Based on the guidebook description, I think the Left and Direct routes are the same for Pitch 4.

(we did Direct variation)
Left: 5.easy. Escape off right. Direct: 5.8. Climb steep dihedral. Awesome pitch. Highly recommended vs. escaping off right!
17. The steep dihedral.
18. A piton protects the exit moves out right at the top of the dihedral.

(Upper Buttress)
5.10a (ish). Scramble to left side of base of upper buttress. We couldn't identify the "steep left-facing dihedral (5.10a) to shallow corner (5.9)" in the guidebook description, so we climbed a face to corner system on the left side of the upper buttress, which worked and seemed to go at around 10a in one roped pitch.

Note: There are other ways to go on this pitch as well. Here's a comment I got on mountainproject about our route: "Hey Steph, we looked at the guidebook and I'm pretty sure P6 is the crack that arcs to the right and finishes a bit below the white "r" letter of your overlaid text "~10a left-facing corner". And then P7 is the the dihedral right above the right side of the arc finish, that heads up into the green lichen past the heart shaped (L-shaped) roof."
19. Looking at the upper Flying Buttress, showing the route we climbed.
20. Looking up the face-corner system we climbed on the Upper Flying buttress. 
21. The corner, ~5.9 ish. 
Good adventurous climbing.
22. Looking down at the lower Flying Buttress from the upper buttress.
23. The party behind us topping out on the lower Flying Buttress. Despite the fact it was a sunny Saturday, they were the only other party on the route.
24. The 3rd/4th scramble to the top of Meeker.
25. The 3rd/4th scramble to the top of Meeker, taken from the summit.

Yay! Second highest summit in RMNP!
26. Annie on the 13,911-foot summit of Mt. Meeker.
27. Looking over at NE Buttress/North Face Left of Meeker. If you look closely, you can see climbers on Main Vein.
28. The summit of Longs and the Loft as seen from the top of Meeker. 

Three options, depending on whether or not you went to the summit:
1. From top of Pitch 5, scramble (3rd) NW down a gully.
2. From summit, scramble (3rd) down to the Loft (saddle between Meeker and Longs) and down this on a ramp system back to basin below base of Meeker.
3. From summit, scramble (3rd) East Ridge. Can possibly rappel Main Vein. This option seems longer and a bit unnecessary.
29. Looking down at the lower Flying Buttress from the upper buttress. Most climbers descend after climbing the lower buttress. The descent is a scramble down the rocky slopes on the left side of the photo.
30. From the summit of Meeker, the typical descent is via The Loft, the broad saddle between Meeker and Longs in the photo.
31. A view of The Notch, Chasm Lake below. (Annie and I thought we could tag the summit of Longs from The Loft, but after 1000 feet of scrambling we reached a giant chasm we later learned is called "The Notch." Oh well, not a double summit day, but it was a cool position.)

32. An outcrop of pretty pink feldspar near The Loft.
33. The descent from the Loft. I had taken this photo that morning. We should have scoped out our descent and identified the 3rd class ramp on the approach. But we didn't so we ended up rappelling down the waterfalls in the photo. 
34. Looking down at the descent. We should be on the other side of The Loft.....
35. Rappeling the waterfall.
36. Judging on all the rap anchors we found in the waterfall area, we were not the first to try to descend the wrong side of The Loft. This anchor was perhaps the sketchiest—midway down the waterfall off a single tricam.....
37. A nice grassy ramp system brought us down to the path.
38. Looking up from below. You can see the ramp we should have taken.
39. The Flying Buttress in the afternoon light as we passed below it on our way out.
40. NE Buttress/North Face Left and East Arete of Mt. Meeker. These are to the left of the Flying Buttress.
41. Hiking out through Chasm Meadows.

42. A view of The Diamond from Chasm Meadows.
43. Pretty Columbine on the trail. I only see red Columbine in the North Cascades, and had never seen purple and white before.
44. A field of the Columbine.