While the axe and crampons made things a little awkward, the climbing was still plenty easy, although I began to find the occasional loose rock. I warned the others and led the way to the ridge crest, where I stowed my crampons and axe. As I enjoyed a snack break, Casey and Kevin scouted a little further ahead and shouted back that the route wasn’t doable. All they could see was 5th class terrain with lethal exposure along a pinnacle-lined ridge. I was rather surprised as I knew that we were on route according to Roach’s guide, and my impression was that CO 4th class tended to be easier than the CA 4th class to which I was accustomed.
I scrambled up the ridge to have a look, and it didn’t look good. The ridge narrowed, dropped off, and arose as several pinnacles. Rocky ribs stuck out from the ridge, and it looked like they might drop off on the backside. The limit of my view was blocked by a large headwall that looked quite formidable. This just didn’t seem right, so while Casey scrambled a little further along the ridge to make his final evaluation, I looked around for an easier way – bingo. There was a break in the rock rib, so I walked along some class 2 talus, that just happened to be leveled about the width of a sidewalk. At the opening I could see down a moderate class 3 chimney that was some 7 feet high, and then a large class 2 bowl that could be used to easily bypass the pinnacles. This was definitely the way. Still, I wasn’t sure about the next headwall. I could pick out possible routes, but the steepness of the rock would dictate whether it was class 4 or 5. I would need to get closer.
Further reconnaissance would take more time, and we had already spent a good deal of time getting up the ridge, so I shouted my discoveries back to the others to see what they thought. It was a no go. They didn’t feel comfortable with the loose rock and exposure, and were worried about the extra time it could take. Kevin was a little P.O’d about why we had come up this way, as it was obviously not the main route (oops! I guess I hadn’t expressed my intentions clearly enough when leading!). Since not everyone was used to loose rock, or scrambling with such exposure, I agreed that it would be safest to just reverse course and continue with our earlier traversing.
By the time we made it back to the snow we had spent almost 2 hrs on the ridge. Clearly this group was too large and inexperienced for the conditions of the ridge, so in retrospect Kevin’s desire to backtrack was a good idea – even though I found a doable route, we would have continued to climb slower than I would have expected, and we might have come to another impasse where someone would have felt too uncomfortable to continue on.