American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt. Evans, The Rusty Dagger

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

Mt. Evans, The Rusty Dagger. The Rusty Dagger was poised over our heads in a dead straight line. It seemed inconceivable to Cameron Tague and me that this compelling and pure feature could have been overlooked, since the rest of the cliff had received considerable attention by the free climber. At that time, the route existed as an aid climb, with ratings around the A2/A3 level. The system kicks off as a shallow right-facing dihedral that slowly tapers away after 100 feet. At the third pitch the dihedral system reappears, switching to face left. The crusty red right wall of the dihedral gradually widens as height is gained, resembling a rusty dagger. Huge unweathered granite blocks were piled at the base of the wall, suggesting that the system hadn’t been around too long.

The celebrations started early on August 16 as we smugly congratulated ourselves for reeling in the big one; we even went so far as posturing for the camera à la El Cap Meadows. Oh brother, were we headed for a big fall.

We managed to dispatch the first two pitches, which looked to be the crux of the route, without incident. The granite turned out to be a little crunchy with the occasional huge spine of detached rock along the way. Protection was generally abundant. On a roll, and prematurely flushed with success, we relaxed, as the next pitch looked casual by comparison. Wrong. Although not technically too hard, the red crud proved to be highly unpleasant. Crumbly and unsound in surprising ways, this pitch slowed us down and put a bit of a damper on our victory march. The fourth pitch had a little extra water and attendant mud and vegetables. Some risky detours and imprudent gardening got me past these obstacles and on to a spacious swampy ledge, from which I could survey the final hurdle: the dripping offwidth triple roof stack. Fifty feet of reasonable-looking dihedral led to this. A loud voice in my mind shouted, “Climb this next bit and then let Cameron get the offwidth.”

Twenty-five feet up, my plans were scuppered. A sodden layback, featuring green algae the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Britain, was just too insecure. With disappointment, I grabbed a cam by my waist, which immediately popped out of its slimy placement and sent me tumbling 20 feet, narrowly missing the swampy ledge. I quickly decided to offer the pitch to Cameron, who proceeded to cruise past my high point. “Nice work—you might as well keep going to the top,” I shouted up. To my horror, he fixed a poky belay just below the final pitch, setting me up for the dripping offwidth triple roof stack.

Soaking and cold from the previous pitch, we debated our options. My feeble pleas for a quick escape downward were rejected by a suddenly buoyant Cameron. With frayed nerves, I stemmed my way up the repulsive comer, fully intending to back off at the first slimy cam placement. Unfortunately, the first roof was just manageable in its drenched state and I found myself committed to the pitch. The next roof, however, was a stopper, and, fully expecting to fly again, I hung on a slimy #5 Camalot. To my relief, it held. With renewed confidence in my pro, and only 30 feet of climbing to the top, I resolved to frig my way up through the rest of the pitch. While Cameron slowly froze at the belay, I built up a full head of steam thrashing around in the nose-grinding hanging slot that breaches the final and largest roof. An improbable right-leg knee bar got me past this final obstacle, and 20 easy feet from the top. “It’s in the bag,” I shouted down. But of course we weren’t going to get off that lightly.

As a final retort to our premature celebrations, the top of the cliff decided to drop off with me hanging on to it. Having trusted so many loose flakes throughout the day, I didn’t hesitate to yard on the hollow-sounding flake at the top of the route. The fall left me dangling ten feet below the lip of the third roof. I’d taken a smart blow to my left hip, which jolted with pain if I jerked on it. The rope had stripped in the fall, and the core strands were splayed out over the lip of the roof above me. My initial attempts to swing back into the rock were unsuccessful, and after each attempt I would swing back out, cringing, as the core strands grated back and forth over the edge of rock. Third time lucky, I wedged myself back into a slimy cleft below the final roof.

After disposing with the trashed section of the rope, the crux roof had to be re-climbed. My left hip jarred with pain if any weight was applied with the leg bent, but was still effective if used straight. Eventually crawling onto the summit, I fixed the rope for Cameron to jug out on while I lay in an exhausted heap and savored my release. I discovered I could stand on the left leg and even walk. Thus I was able to limp back to the truck unaided.

It later transpired that the femur was split near the head; it would require a screw to fix it. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Cameron for letting me carry my share of the gear back to the parking lot.

Andy Donson, United Kingdom

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