I step up to a leaning crack leading up the side of the magnificent Matron in the Flatirons of Colorado. I see a tree sitting on a ledge about sixty feet above where. That is where I’m heading, at least for now. I find a solid foot and stand up. Using my hands just to balance, I dance my way up the rock. In no time I am fifteen feet off the ground. Still unprotected I reach for a cam and place it in the crack. Click! The gate of the carabiner snaps shut as I clip in the rope. I exhale a momentary sigh of a relief knowing that I have something to keep me from hitting the canyon floor below. My partner Aleya carefully feeds me the rope as I rise upward placing protection along the way.
Looking up I see an overhang in my way. This was it, the crux of not only that pitch, but the route in its entirety. I traverse right to get into a good stance to place a tricam. This protects the move needed to clear the overhang and grant me access to the belay ledge which is my destination.
In position, I reach for a good hand hold and begin to pull myself around the overhang, smearing my feet anywhere I can get some friction on the rock. I get on to the ledge move slightly left and built an anchor for a great belay stance.
Aleya follows up the pitch next, working up the crack and pulling my gear along the way. She negotiates the climb flawlessly, only slowing at the crux where working with a frustrating stuck tricam prevents her from pulling right through the overhang and on to the belay ledge.
I climb over Aleya from the first belay ledge and place a few small pieces of gear. After a bit of indecision, I decide it is best to build an anchor where I am standing, as I am unsure of what the next few hundred feet will offer. From where I stand the rock above me looks well-featured but run out.
Both of us finish the short second pitch and I start up the third. I was certainly right! The pitch is super well-featured making it a breeze to climb, but there is next to nothing in the form of protection. In the 100+ foot pitch I manage to place only one piece of gear, leaving me essentially free-soloing a climb 300 feet above the canyon floor.
After a little looking around, I find a few nice pockets to place cams for an anchor. I pull up what little remaining rope there is and Aleya comes with it shortly after. When she reaches the ledge she scolds me about my lack of gear placement. I chuckle a bit knowing there was nothing I could do about it, and get ready for the final pitch.
The final pitch proves to be just as long and run out as the last, but with the added twist of a hairy move or two. As I work my way up this pitch I notice afternoon storm clouds gathering. I begin to climb slightly faster, while keeping my head about me. Once I make it to the top I have a brief look around at the beauty surrounding me. Denver sits nearly twenty-five miles southeast of me. Boulder is just to the north, and to the west, the magnificent Rockies.
I quickly compose myself and yell down what seems like a mile of rope that I am ready for Aleya to come up. Within a few minutes Aleya joins me and together we cast a gaze at our surroundings. It feels like we’re on the top of a needle pointing straight into the sky. This is what climbing is all about.
Aleya and I spend the next forty-five minutes taking photos, talking about our climb, and just plain enjoying life. The storm I saw still looms about, but seems to be giving us some time to take it all in before chasing us back down into the valley.
We finally rappel off the Matron, taking two single rope rappels. As we descend, the storm starts to spray us a bit though never hitting us with full force. Our feet touch the ground, and we walk down to gather our belongings.
We look up at what had been our home for the past few hours and smile. It was quite a sight and a good feeling. Sure I have climbed harder stuff, but there was something sentimental about this climb, something special. This was not a climb, this was an adventure, and I won’t soon forget that.
I turn to Aleya and nod. We take one last look at the Matron and turn away descending back into the trees, back to the real world.
By Patrick Gensel
Photos By Patrick Gensel and Liz Hallworth