It's climbing season in Estes Park, Colorado, and in early July I made the trip to attempt Spearhead—a 900-foot northeast face that juts up from the valley floor like a shark's dorsal fin. Six hundred feet of air drops out beneath me. I paste my foot on a granite crystal, praying it holds, and reach out for a narrow seam that shoots up to the edge of the jagged feature at the northern edge of the face known as the Barb Flake. The tips of my fingers barely sink into the marginal crack. My belayer watches carefully as I negotiate the crux sixth pitch of The Barb, a 5.10c route at 12,575 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Tucked in the upper cirque of Glacier Gorge, Longs Peak (14,259 feet) and four 13,000-foot summits encircle Spearhead, creating an alpine jungle gym. Climbers can pick from 20 routes to ascend Spearhead's clean granite face. The pale stone is split with cracks, flakes, and imposing roofs mixed with exciting face climbing across crystalline slabs. The classic North Ridge (5.6) hugs the northeast face in eight long pitches with exposure up high. Visitors can book a guide through Colorado Mountain School at totalclimbing.com.
Back on the route, I pause, savoring the sheer faces of the glaciated gorge (or, really, to suck oxygen). On the crux, fingertips and footwork are key. We scramble up to the overhanging, snout-like summit and give a yodel to the Gorge. —Casey Flynn
If you go: Check out Bernard Gillett's Rocky Mountain National Park Climber's Guide: High Peaks guidebook for DIY exploration.