The Sharkstooth is one of the highest rock spires in Rocky Mountain National Park as it reaches above 12,630′ to a small summit with views across the Continental Divide and down on the nearby Saber and Petit Grepon Spires. The Northeast Ridge is the most classic path up this soaring spire and with some quality climbing over its 750′ length, this route is a sustained and steep bit of alpine rock climbing at a moderate level of difficulty.
| Description |
The Sharkstooth holds some of the best moderate rock climbing at high altitude in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Northeast Ridge route is a very aesthetic line up this magnificent face on one of the few “non-walk-ups” in the park.
This sustained climb on mostly solid gneiss is one that holds some interesting but moderate challenges ranging from face to finger and hand cracks, offwidths, laybacks and some runouts on mostly good rock. This is alpine rock climbing at its best.
This route is typically in “ideal shape” between May and September when the snowpack is safer or melted away and snow conditions are firm with low avalanche risk and the rock is dry.
The Sharkstooth is probably one of the more popular lightning contact points in the high country of RMNP so definitely a place to stay away from when there is any threat which can be common from May through August.
The cirque below the Northeast Face of the Sharkstooth in typical June conditions.
The middle of the second pitch on the Northeast Ridge of the Sharkstooth
Location – Lat/Lon: 40.28050°N / 105.675°W
The total approach hike to the Sharkstooth from the Glacier Gorge trailhead (9200′) to the base of the Sharkstooth (11,900′) is a solid 2700′ of elevation gain and with approximately 4 miles of uphill walking on the approach, the total hiking time may easily exceed the climbing time on this more remote spire in Rocky Mountain National Park. Expect this hike to take at least 3 hrs. from the trailhead to base if not more.
After following the initial trail west out of the parking lot for .3 miles, at the second trail junction turn south towards Mills Lake and the Loch Vale (right goes up to Bear Lake), but after 1/4 mile and the second bridge crossing, look for a large rock slab on the right of the trail at the eastern end starts the “fire trail”, which is an old, unmaintained trail that cuts almost a mile off the next stretch of walking.
After a mile, where the fire trail meets the main trail again, head west and from the trail junction to Mills Lake (Glacier Gorge) or Haiyaha (Chaos Canyon), stay west on the trail to the Loch Vale for an uphill 1/2 mile to the water’s edge, then follow the north shore and inlet streams for 3/4 mile until two consecutive log crossings over a rushing brook and a small sign mark the turn right (northwest) towards the remnant Andrews Glacier.
The final mile and a half are a significant elevation gain either on snow or talus to the base of the route. The path of least resistance should be apparent once the view of the spire is attained at the base of the valley named The Gash. The final 30m of 3rd class scrambling lead to a long ledge system which makes for an easy prep spot at the base of the route.
The final approach and first three pitches of the NE Ridge.
There are numerous options for routefinding on this 50′ broad buttress that is laced with cracks and handholds of all sizes and is flanked on both sides by numerous dihedral systems. There could be dozens or more variations just on this buttress, not including the hundreds of feet of climbable gneiss on all sides. We followed the route description as described in the Gillett guidebook for this route and stayed pretty much on what was described although we found the difficulty to be a bit tougher than rated, thus the higher numbers on this topo of the first three pitches of the route.
P1- 50m (5.6) Starting from the center of the buttress on the broad ledge, climb up the largest right-facing corner for 80′ until reaching a large ledge system. Trend left on the broken ledge which becomes cleaner rock above and aim for a rectangular “box” corner. Cams in the .5 to #1 camalot range make for an easy anchor on a nice ledge.
P2- 45m (5.7) Stem on big handholds up the steep wall above the belay to a small overhang which is split with a wide finger crack (.4 camalot) in splitter rock. A .5 camalot is stuck just below this overhang. Continue up the finger and hand crack until the cracks fade into featured face climbing with more sparse pro and a few ledge systems. Just below the left-facing layback crack which is described in Gillett as the top of the 2nd pitch, we stopped on a 2m wide black ledge with a nice .5 and .75 camalot crack for a belay.
P3- 50m (5.6) Climb the left-facing layback flake which is very clean and protects with a #3 camalot or smaller gear below the crux. Above here are numerous side by side left-facing flakes and dihedrals in this section of the face so pick the one you like and follow it upward. By staying on the left or center there are a couple of options for smaller belay stances with ample gear on the prow of the ridge- this is the one semi-hanging belay stance on the route.
P4- (5.6+) 55m Continue up on clean rock for 40′ above the belay before reaching the first ledge in the ridge which is 15′ wide with an obvious wide crack rising above on the uphill side. Stop here or continue up the wide crack until gear can finally be placed at 20′ and with long slings throughout this pitch, it can be done in a long one or broken easily into two shorter pitches. Belay on the ridgecrest with large slung features on an exposed saddle.
P5- 50m (5.5) From the ridge crest belay below the white headwall, move up to the white face, touch the solution pocket, then step left two times to easier cracks with gear to avoid a contrived runout with disastrous consequences. Follow the center or left-side of the ridge crest with great views down the steep northwest face until the ridge turns to flat and you are on the summit. Walk 100′ south towards the highest point and the start of the rappel descent.
Three rappels of 50m each down the east face to the East Col between the Sharkstooth and Saber.
The easiest and most direct descent off of the summit of the Sharkstooth is to descend via the East Gully route (5.4) which has three sets of piton anchors rigged for 50m rappels down to the base.
To find the first set of anchors, walk south along the summit ridge to the far end (towards Skypond) and looking towards the Petit about 30′ below the top, are two sets of sling anchors 20′ apart that can be seen from the summit. These anchors (we used the southern ones) lead one down into a relatively clean bowl of a gully system, (that goes past the large ledge system 130′ below), that can be taken directly down to just south of the east col nearby the base of the route.
The East Gully descent is the next gully to the south of the descent as described in the Rossiter high Peaks guide. Rossiter describes walking north (left) along the ledge system 130′ below the top to intersect with a set of anchors in this gully adjacent to the NE ridge.
The scramble down to the first anchor on the right was easiest and 3 pitons plus two sets of slung chockstones make for a decent first anchor. The second anchor down consisted of a solid, slung horn and one piton anchor in the center of the gulley that makes for another 50 meter rappel down a steeper headwall . The third anchor on the left-hand wall consists of a piton and nuts that were solid and get one down to the south side of the col in just 35 meters. There is an intermediate anchor in the middle of the second rappel which is a slung loose horn that looks dangerous to trust- we didn’t want to test it out.
From the bottom of the rappels, scramble east over the east col and descend the Gash back to the base of the route and eventually the trailhead.
A standard rock rack with doubles of all sizes up to a #2 camalot should be sufficient plus maybe a large piece (#4 camalot) for the offwidth crack on the fourth pitch. A dozen shoulder length slings to reduce rope-drag and a few quick draws would be helpful.
One single 60 meter rope combined with a 50 or 60m tag line (6 or 7mm cord) or two ropes are necessary to make the long rappels between solid anchors. Extra cord and webbing plus ‘leaver biners” would also assist in an unplanned descent as there are no fixed rappel anchors on the route.
A typical rack for the Northeast Ridge of Sharkstooth
No permit is required to climb the Sharkstooth but bivy permits or camping permits are required and available at the Rocky Mtn National Park Backcountry Office (970-586-1242). They are strictly enforced and they must be picked up in person, during business hours.
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