Climbing the First Flatiron: Tips for Tackling One of Boulder's Most Popular Slabs

The First Flatiron isn't terribly steep, making it a good climb for beginners.
The First Flatiron isn't terribly steep, making it a good climb for beginners. Jill Wheeler
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Hang around Boulder long enough and inevitably the First Flatiron will start to beckon, even if you’re not an experienced climber. Located right in the city of Boulder, it's part of the popular rock formations that make an outdoor playground for all levels of climbers.

The good news is anyone with reasonable fitness and a sense of adventure can do this climb—you just need to find someone to lead. Whatever you do, don’t try to scramble up it without ropes, which gets a lot of people into trouble. Cut your teeth at a gym, find a partner (ask an experienced friend or go on a guided climb), and prepare for an adventure that will, quite literally, take you to new heights.

The First Flatiron is the most imposing of the bunch, a beacon that beckons from all across town.
The First Flatiron is the most imposing of the bunch, a beacon that beckons from all across town. Avery Stonich

What to Expect Along the Route

The classic route of the First Flatiron is the Direct East Face. It starts from the bottom of the First Flatiron (a 30- to 40-minute hike from Chautauqua) and ascends about 1,000 feet up 10 pitches that max out at 5.6, a low moderate difficulty rating. The hardest part is the first 50 feet. After that, it’s a pretty easy climb up six pitches to a ridge. Then you follow the undulating ridge a ways farther to the top. From the summit, it’s a 100-foot free-hanging rappel off the backside, in full view of the admiring hikers who have climbed the trail.

Allow three to five hours for the climb, followed by a hike back down the trail between the First and Second Flatirons, which snakes down 47 switchbacks.

Rappelling off the backside is a really fun way to cap the day.
Rappelling off the backside is a really fun way to cap the day. Avery Stonich

When to Go

You can climb the First Flatiron any time of year. Spring and fall are primo—not too hot, not too cold. In the summer, blazing sun makes the rock uncomfortably hot by late morning. Whenever you go, start early in the morning to avoid getting caught in a storm.

How to Prepare

If you’re new to climbing, you’ll want to get some experience under your belt so you’re comfortable with the equipment and know how to belay and rappel. An indoor climbing gym can teach you the basics. In Boulder, check out Boulder Rock Club.

Sharing digs with Boulder Rock Club is Colorado Mountain School, which can teach you the basics and take you on the climb. They regularly offer a Flatirons Classic Climb, a discounted guided climb that’s a great option if you don’t have a partner. If you’ve never climbed, they’ll give you two-hour crash course the night before to teach you what you need to know.

After cresting the face, the rest of the climb follows an undulating ridge.
After cresting the face, the rest of the climb follows an undulating ridge. Jill Wheeler

Key Gear

The First Flatiron is a “trad climb,” meaning there are no (or few) fixed bolts, so the leader places protection along the way. Only experienced climbers should lead this climb since the runouts are long and there are few good spots to place gear. If you’re following the leader, you’ll need a climbing harness, belay device, helmet, and climbing shoes. Comfortable shoes are key (not as tight as you’d wear at the gym). Bring a backpack with some water, snacks, and extra layers (depending on the time of year). Pack a pair of trail runners for the way down.

The views from the climb are spectacular.
The views from the climb are spectacular. Avery Stonich

Use Proper Technique

Given that the Flatirons are low angle with few hand and foot holds, this is slab climbing, meaning you use friction on the ball of your foot to climb. Proper slab climbing technique is important to keep from slipping off the rock. “Keep your body away from the rock so your weight is coming through your feet,” says Russell Hunter, operations manager for Colorado Mountain School. He also advises to avoid leaning into the rock.

When you’re back down, celebrate with a cold beer and check the Flatirons off your bucket list. That’s a job well done.

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