The Flatirons are one of the iconic features of Boulder, Colorado. Every pamphlet and to do list on Boulder probably suggests hiking to them via some trail in the Chautauqua state park. Having lived in Boulder for a few years, I had hiked pretty much trail you could take in the park, but I hadn’t climbed the Flatirons until I climbed the 1st as my first trad climbing experience. Fast forward to a few years later, and my friend, Olivia and I got to talking about her Colorado Bucket List that she had. She was moving out of state in a few weeks and one of the items on this list to do before she moved was free soloing the 2nd Flatiron.
Free soloing the 2nd Flatiron isn’t a terribly difficult feat. Unlike Alex Honnold’s daring first free solo of El Capitan, the 2nd is done daily by multiple people. The popular route known as Freeway goes at roughly 5.0 to 5.2, depending on which route you get on. In other words, it is very, very easy climbing. As a warning before others try to do it after reading this, though it is easy climbing, this is a route people have died on before. There is a reminder of this fact at the bottom of the 2nd Flatiron as a small memorial to a fallen climber lies at the bottom.
Olivia knew another climber who had free soloed the 2nd before, so we asked her if she wanted to do it again. She did and so Olivia, Alexa, and I found a warmer day without rain and headed on up to Boulder.
The mile or so approach is an easy hike up through the park, and we reached the 2nd before too long. When we got there, there was already a couple people practicing their trad skills on the center line so we started up on the right side of the face.
We followed Alexa up the slab, beginning the thousand-ish foot climb. When free soloing the 2nd Flatiron, you get to choose your own adventure. There are a lot of lines to take up the mountain, and we chose to go to the right, which is apparently marginally harder. We started making our way more left, and then ended up getting caught in the line the people trad climbing were taking. After a lot of messing around, we ended up down-climbing a bit and going around up left this time. The left to me felt harder, with more friction slab moves than big jugs, but we did not make it far enough up the right side for me to really say.
After we figured out getting around the trad climbers, the rest was pretty smooth sailing up to the jump. The next eight hundred or so feet had decent jugs and easy moves that never got hard. We kept going up, and it is pretty hard to get off route when free soloing the 2nd Flatiron.
The climb is airy, though once we got around the first block, the immediate ground disappeared. It gives the feeling of not being so high off the ground, though a fall would still be fatal.
We finally reached the part I had been least looking forward to: the jump. Give me extreme exposure with sketchy climbing moves any day, but jumping is not entirely my strong suit. Especially when it comes to jumping from one rock to another without a rope in the middle of a free solo.
The jump itself is definitely not as sketchy as some other ones out there. It is not nearly as exposed at the Bells Traverse jump or the Sunlight jump. In fact the jump you do when free soloing the 2nd Flatiron is more of a fall than an actual jump.
We reached the ledge and looked down at the rock below it. It looks a lot further off than it is. From the top to immediately below, it is about ten feet. But due to the direction of the jump, the jump ends up being more like four or five as you fall into the slab next to it.
The consequences of doing the jump are not extremely high. If we were to miss the landing, we would merely slip under the rock below and have to climb out. Still, standing on top of the jump is a bit daunting.
After the jump, which in my opinion is the crux, or hardest move, of the climb, the rest is simple. Just keep heading up. We got to the top shortly after.
This part of the climb was fun in its own way, as many hikers passed us commenting on the girls free soloing the rock. Many asked us where we had come from. When we replied with the bottom, we got a lot of head shakes. We took a celebratory selfie to commemorate not dying and then hiked down to the car.
Would I do it again? Definitely. Again, the climb is not terribly difficult if you are an avid climber or scrambler. For the average hiker or new climber however, this route might seem a bit much. The consequences of falling are very high and experienced climbers have died on this route. I recommend that everyone who wants to do it, gets practiced with climbing beforehand. Going with someone who knows the route is also beneficial.
We didn’t bring a lot of gear up this route but I recommend a good pair of approach shoes. I used the TX3s from La Sportiva. For people who are a little uncomfortable on this route, a pair of comfortable climbing shoes, like the Scarpa Force or the La Sportiva Finale, are recommended. A small backpack with a hydration bladder is useful too, as is a pair of trail runners if you decide to go down the climbing shoe route.