The International of Glenwood Canyon
"I’ve long harbored a fascination for the towering walls of imposing rock in Glenwood Canyon. The moment I moved to the Roaring Fork Valley I heard rumors of a near-fanciful route that climbed to the canyon rim," reflects Mike Schneiter on the International Route, Glenwood Canyon's longest line.
Mike is a founding member of Team Danger.
On Sunday, September 8th Chris Van Leuven — the other founding member, and currently only other member of Team Danger — and Schneiter made a free ascent of Glenwood Canyon’s International. The ascent is a possible second free ascent of the route which climbs from the base of the canyon to the canyon rim on two granite buttresses and one limestone.
The duo climbed the 2000-foot route in 10-1/2 hours car-to-car. The team set a Tyrollean traverse across the Colorado River the night before the ascent, speeding up the approach.
Originally rated 5.9 A2 in 1975 (and 18 pitches) and then free climbed at 5.9+ (in 10 pitches with simul climbing) by Michael Kennedy and Jeff Lowe in 1982, Kennedy recently revised the rating to “5.10+ ??.” Kennedy says it's possible there was a subsequent ascent although, "any number of people have asked me about the route over the years, but I don't know anyone who actually did it." The route's length, difficulty and less-than perfect rock quality has often taken on mythical proportions with rumors of 33 pitches, terrain up to 5.11 and myriad death blocks — some of which were true.
The first ascent was made by Kennedy and Harvey T. Carter in 1975. "Harvey is a tough F#&er, he never said no to anything," says Kennedy. "Everything was training for the mountains, in the sense that we gained more experience, mileage under our belts (and hammers)." The FA team climbed two granite buttresses and one-third of their way up the limestone buttress with one bivy before retreating. Later, they returned and finished the route, traversing into the upper limestone buttress, skipping the lower granite climbing. Their effort was all-free minus “60 feet of aid.” Of note, Carter and Kennedy utilized ledges on the first ascent to reduce rope drag and make for safer hauling. Kennedy returned, "a couple years later and free climbed it with Jeff Lowe in an easy day."
The route’s primary difficulties lie in the dubious rock quality and questionable protection. The crux pitch involves climbing a finger to wide crack through a roof with the benefit of face holds. Getting to the roof is guarded by some of the “worst rock I’ve every seen,” said Schneiter, who, with Van Leuven, is a veteran of other choss affairs in Glenwood Canyon such as the Mud Wall; the pair also free climbs in the Fisher Towers. The roof pitch was serious enough that Schneiter pulled the "I got a bun in the oven back home" card, and deferred the lead; he did, however, lead the team to the summit through loose rock and offwidths. Team Danger encountered 30-year-old soft iron pitons, a Star Dryvin bolt and two bivy spots guarded with rock walls, still intact from the FA.
While the granite climbing is mostly straightforward, it was littered with dirt, copious amounts of lichen, bushes, thorns and lung-choking weeds. The granite terrain passed quickly through extensive use of simul climbing. "The limestone felt highly unstable," says Van Leuven, "it was littered with teetering blocks, unreliable anchors and meager protection." Consequently the pair slowed their pace and pitched out the majority of the limestone. The limestone band also required the use of a hammer, a selection of knifeblades, lost arrows and angle pitons.