Posts Tagged ‘Longs Peak’

With a week of clear weather I was hoping the trails around the Flatirons would be cleared off. Taking an evening to hike to Royal Arch and back I found a few very ice spots and twice wished for traction more robust than my Yaktrax. Regardless, they got me down safe in conjunction with a headlamp (am I actually looking forward to daylight savings and “extra” evening hour?).

Saturday morning Tara and I picked up Claire on the way out of town and headed to the Longs Peak Trailhead. Bright blue skies and warm sun had us stripping off layers (is this really winter?) minutes from the trailhead.

I’ve seen more snow up above treeline in June than we had right now and wondered if the Keyhole route would loose its technical rating early this year.

To get a view of the continental divide we hiked up to Granite Pass (how am I not wearing gloves at 12,000+ feet in March?) for a quick lunch before trekking back to the Chasm Lake junction.

It was amazing to have such a warm and calm day in the park, I almost wished I was going for the summit.

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A rare forecast for light winds around Longs Peak just happened to coincide with a trip to the Cables Route that John and Ed were planning. I begged my way into the group and 4am found us leaving the trailhead.

John had measured 8 inches of new snow in Rollinsville so we were surprised how little new snow seemed to have fallen here and the snowshoes we carried as a precaution turned into “training weight”.

As a group, we weren’t moving real fast and sunrise caught us around Chasm Junction.

The sun was welcome and added to the moderate temperatures, it was nice not to need handwarmers this morning.

It was 8am when we fully absorbed the folly of carrying snowshoes any further and cached them above Granite Pass. At least our objective was in sight now.

The snowy boulderfield slowed us down even more as did the rock hoping, snow wallowing and wind-slab breaking as we approached the eye bolts. Roughly 4 large eye bolts are most of what remain from the old cables route that the park service put up, then removed, and once was the main route to the summit. Now the bolts make convenient rappel anchors for climbers descending from the summit and wishing to avoid the Keyhole route. In fact, while I hadn’t been up the cables route before, I’d already descended it twice before.

Just below the eye bolts we had a small obstacle in the slabby ledges. I found a large boulder wrapped with a sling where another group had rappelled down this section.

Ed was interested in leading some of the route, so I let him take the first pitch and he roped up to cross the snow and reach the right-facing corner system and the first eye bolt.

He then belayed John across and I watched with mounting fear as John made a few attempts to climb just above the eyebolt to a nice stance to clear room for all three of us. Thankfully, John’s crampons didn’t puncture Ed and I had soon joined them.

Ed led up finding the crux in getting past the first 10 feet, then clipped the next eye bolt and belayed on gear just out of reach of the top bolts. John and I climbed next and I took my turn – leading a puny 15 feet to the upper bolt.

The wind was picking up a little and throwing some spindrift down as John and Ed joined me.

After packing away the rope we started hiking up the terrain above but quickly realized we’d be wallowing through the same snow conditions that so slowed us down below the “cables”. It was already 1:30 and if we went for the summit we knew darkness would catch us well before we hit the well trodden track at treeline. Rationalizing that we’d “done” the route, even if we hadn’t reached the summit we turned tail and began organizing the rappels.

Three rappels took down the cables and then the scrambling terrain just below the eye bolts.

A couple hours passed while we negotiated the boulder field, picked up the unwelcome snowshoes and made the treeline before dark. Headlamps came out for some of the hike back to the trailhead (which we made by 7pm – for a 15 hour day).

Adam’s complete photo album
John’s photos

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For the forth time this year I found my self hiking up the Longs Peak trail in the pre-dawn darkness. This time I was accompanied by Jonathan our our goal was the Keiners route (also known as the Mountaineers route). Sunrise found us at Chasm Lake in time for the morning light show on the Diamond of Longs Peak.

After traversing around the north side of the lake we passed below the Diamond just as it was turning gold.

After a struggle through some loose talus blocks we paused at the frozen snow of Lambs Slide and went through the ritual of donning harnesses, helmets and crampons. The snow was solid but not really icy, good conditions for soloing up the slope.

We exited right at the start of Broadway were the crampons and ice axes disappeared for the rest of the day, then warmed up in a sunny spot.

Broadway went much easier this time than when it was completely snow covered in June.

Still, the exposure was immense as we peered down the lower part of the wall.

We didn’t even rope up for the “crux” step around the boulder.

A little more scrambling brought us to the Notch couloir, the bottom of which was melted out. We scrambled up the rock to the left and found what looked like a descent route up, but I only got a few feet up the layback crack before deciding this definitely wasn’t 5.3-5.4 terrain. I scrambled further up the couloir, staying on rock and built a new belay to bring Jonathan over.

I was part way up our first real pitch when another group of 3 showed up. Above I was looking at a stiff-for-the-grade dihedral that I had enough rope to climb. However, rope drag was becoming an issue, so I stopped at this 30 meter point to build and anchor and bring Jonathan up. Our second pitch proved to be the crux at this dihedral with moves probably on the order of 5.5-5.6. A stuck nut proved others had been this way and after the short dihedral easy scrambling led back to the sun.

Jonathan managed to clean the nut and earned his first piece of booty gear. After our 2 30 meter pitches I was looking up at terrain I recognized from online route photos. This last pitch was fun and easier climbing and I ran out the rope about 55 meters.

Above this point the terrain eased off so we stashed the ropes and gear then began scrambling up and right toward some cliffs near the summit.

Loose rock slopes alternated with class 3 rock as we worked our way up.

When we hit the cliffs that seemed to block access to the summit, we negotiated the Staircase of well-spaced blocks then cut right on a ledge with a first class view over the Diamond.

Easy scrambling led to the summit where at least one hiker wondered where we’d come from.

On the summit we ate and napped for about 30 minutes before heading off to the north face to descend the Cables Route.

The Cables Route was once the main route up Longs Peak and was named for the steel cable the park service installed as a hand line. The cable was anchored by some stout eye bolts, at least 4 of which still exist and are routinely used as rappel anchors.

Getting to the eye bolts required some careful hiking down loose rock on this slightly tilted face (falling objects tend to head straight out over the Diamond).

We passed up the first eye bolt we came to then anchored to the second and began to thread the rope for a rappel.

With one 60 meter rope we needed to get down to another eye bolt and do a second rappel to the ground. I should have used the next bolt I came to, instead I went to another where the ropes just reached and had a much worse stance for two people.

After packing away the rope for the final time we scrambled down some easy rock and passed beside the Diamond face.

Then we just had a talus hop down to the Boulderfield and a long walk out on the trail.

Adam’s Complete Photo Album
Jonathan’s Photos

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As I told Pete on Friday’s drive to Garden of the Gods, “I have to wake up twice today.” So I found myself trying to get 5 hours of sleep at 6pm and realizing only about half that by the 11:30pm alarm.

1:40am finds us departing from the Longs Peak trailhead for the now familiar trudge up to Chasm Junction. A few stars are out at the trailhead, but mostly clouds dominate. I notice much less snow on this trail than 2 weeks ago, but am disappointed it didn’t freeze well overnight and there’s no sign of ice on the puddles we stomp through.

Still navigating by headlamp Sarah and I reach Chasm Lake first and decide to try the northern route around the lake. We stay too close to the shore at first and I nearly avoid getting a soaking foot when the snow fails to support my weight and I find my foot in a pool of water just below my boot cuff.

Dominic and Jamie take the southern route and we all meet up on the far side about the same time. Just ahead we can see a couple headlamps working their way towards Lambs Slide and figure they must have bivied here last night. Sunrise comes as we’re climbing the snow of Lambs Slide and we catch up to the two climbers who let me take over kicking steps for the final ascent to Broadway.

Broadway is a sloping ledge that runs clear across the east face of Longs Peak and just below the Diamond. Everyone breaks out ropes and crampons at this point and I let the other two climbers (John and Jonathan) start across first. It turns out they’ve elected to belay the traverse across Broadway pitch by pitch while Sarah and I were planning to simul-climb. After suffering our chomping at their heels for two pitches, they kindly let us pass.

Unfortunately, they let us pass right at the crux of Broadway – a boulder that requires one to either crawl under or lean out around. Easy moves but with lots of air below your heels. I setup a belay on the far side and Sarah soon comes across. She did the exposed move quickly, but had left one of my cams in the rock to protect the harder down climb to the boulder. I had anticipated this and John and Johnathan were kind enough to collect my cam and return it to us.

After a couple rope lengths of simul-climbing we reached the entrance to the Notch Couloir and I collected our two pickets from Sarah and then started the long process of kicking steps. Since the snow hadn’t frozen well overnight it wasn’t well consolidated and required a few kicks to build a stable platform.

In all, I found the snow conditions to be some of the worse of this spring – worse than Savage Couloir and a far cry from Dreamweaver. In a few spots I felt I was excavating a trench and I should have brought a shovel.

At least the couloir had some amazing views down to Chasm Lake framed by the large rock cliffs on either side.

Sarah and I continued to simul-climb placing our few pickets where I couldn’t find any decent rock protection. In general I kept about one and a half pieces of protection on the shortened rope separating us.

John and Jonathan elected to avoid the crowds building in the Notch and head up Kleiner’s route. Besides Sarah and I traveling as a rope team, Dominic and Jamie were also following and another two person group was catching up. Later a three person party would also trail all of us.

The two person group passed Dominic and Jamie, but must have decided to let me continue to break trail since they settled in behind Sarah and I. Like on Dreamweaver, we’d planned to pitch out the crux pitches that Cooper’s “Snow Climbs” book said could be up to M3 (mixed rock and ice, about 5.7 in difficultly). However, we found both these spots to be predominately snow with just a little 60 degree ice and were comfortable continuing to simul-climb through the cruxes.

About 9:30am we reached the notch and finished our snow climb. The notch was windy and we settled on a ledge to make up for the lack of food and water over the last several hours. We hadn’t wanted to stop with multiple groups behind us and slow everyone down.

Sarah and I wanted to locate an easy fifth class climb that led to the summit. However, we weren’t sure how far behind Dominic and Jamie were and if they’d want to proceed up that same route or consider other options, such as descending down to the Clark’s Arrow route to bail off the Loft or up to the summit via the Homestretch. We cursed the lack of foresight that prevented us bringing radios.

While waiting we explored just east of the notch looking for the gully and the slabs leading there. I was suddenly distracted by seeing a cam sticking out of the rock. I figured the lobes were over cammed and there would be no way I could remove it. However, I took my nut tool and started working on the trigger. I found the cam was actually under cammed and assumed the person who had tried to remove it just couldn’t access the trigger since it was deep in a crack. Soon I’d acquired what looked to be a nearly new $60 piece of climbing gear!

Back to the mission, we found a good belay spot and the slabs that must lead to the rock climb. Dominic soon appeared, about a half hour behind us and they rested while I started across the slabs.

For some reason I was trying to match up a photo I’d seen of the climb and only half remembered and so I wasted a lot of time traversing around trying to look at different gullies. Instead I should have just taken the first one (which looked quite reasonable). Eventually, I came to my senses and belayed Sarah across the slabs.

The two person group started climbing out of the notch and took a slightly higher line than I had and basically cut my first two pitches into one.

I set out to follow them and arrived at their belay station just as the leader was taking off for the next pitch. The follower and I looked at each other and he commented “Don’t I know you?” and I replied “Scott?” Scott and I had first met climbing one of James Peak’s couloirs last year. It seemed strangely appropriate to run into him again on a couloir climb.

Once they’d climbed off and Sarah arrived at the belay I headed up for another pitch, but ended up stopping at about a half rope length. The climbing above looked easier (3rd and 4th class) and we’d move faster without pitching it out.

From here we followed Scott and his partner along the ridge north to the summit.

Once at the top we debated about our descent route. Scott’s team was worried about the snow conditions on the north face and so elected to descend the Homestretch to Clark’s Arrow and the Loft. We really wanted to descend the North Face, or old Cables Route (so named because the park service used to have hand cables running up the face to assist ascents) since we thought it would be faster.

Again wishing for radios, Sarah and I discussed the options while waiting for Dominic and Jamie. We quickly decided to try to the North Face route since the sky had definitely clouded up and we expected rain and worse at any minute. Thankfully, the clouds lifted just enough to allow us to see as we started down the North Face looking for the top eye bolt to rappel from.

The last couple hundred feet to the old eye bolt is steeper and in the soft snow we decided to belay the climbing. Dominic led down, then I sent Sarah and Jamie down with prussiks on the rope before following them down.

After the first rope length, a half length pitch took us to the eye bolt where we anchored in and then tied our two ropes together for the 60 meter rappel down to easier angled snow.

Once in the Boulder Field the skies finally took the expected step of producing rain and thunder. The Boulder Field and all the alpine tundra below was a wet mess of running water and soft snow over pooled water.

In many places the “trail” was more “creek” and flowing with several inches of water.

Splashing my way I rushed down until I reached treeline where I found a dry rock under a tree and waited for the others to catch up. Sometime after 5pm we finally staggered back to the trailhead for an over 15 hour day. We could hardly change into dry clothes fast enough for the long anticipated stop at Oskar Blues for dinner and beer.

Adam’s Photo Gallery
Sarah’s Photos

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I hadn’t hiked with the CMC for two months, but a scheduled hike of Longs Peak via the Loft route attracted my interest. Longs was a peak that I wanted to attempt, but I hadn’t been excited about taking the normal Keyhole route up and down the mountain.

We left the trailhead around 5:30a, something of a late start for a day on Longs, but still requiring headlamps as we hiked through the woods. Before breaking out of treeline we were able to shut off the lights and enjoy the morning’s sunrise.

After the first 3+ miles of trails we came to the Chasm Lake junction. Here we had a great view of the East Face of Longs Peaks (the Diamond) and could see our route up to the Loft.

After passing by the ranger station near Chasm Lake, we started boulder hopping to reach the gully that we’d take most of the way to the Loft (the large flat expanse between Mount Meeker and Longs Peak).

A few cairns directed our way up the gully as we looked for the exit ramp on the left before the dark, water-stained cliff that blocked direct progress.

The exit ramp was obvious and still held a little snow from the storm nearly 2 weeks ago. However, the snow was easy to avoid.

The route dried out above as we made our way to the Loft.

On the Loft we took a break and discussed adding Mount Meeker to our day. In the end, we decided not to include a second peak in our schedule.

We headed west across the Loft and dropped below some cliffs coming from the false summit of Longs.

Following a couple cairns we dropped into a gully and picked our way down some class 3 terrain that was considered the crux of this route. Soon we exited the gully just below and old mark called Clark’s Arrow.

The next bit of the route took us to Keplingers Couloir and up toward the Notch. Well before the Notch, we traversed left out of the Couloir and toward the normal Keyhole Route.

From here we could see the crowds (not really that bad today) moving up the Homestretch – the final portion of the Keyhole route to the summit.

We joined the normal route right at the base of the Homestretch and got in line between two other groups of hikers.

The rock was worn smooth by the many feet and butts that had walked and scooted this way before. However, it was still pretty easy scrambling and we soon reached the summit.

On the summit we relaxed for about an hour – probably the longest I’ve spent on any summit ever. We chatted with many other hikers, several from foreign countries like Spain, Scotland and Texas.

After taking a tour of the summit and admiring the Keyhole Ridge and top of the Cables Routes, we headed back down the Homestretch, scurrying past some slow moving descenders ahead of us.

Below the Homestretch we continued to follow the yellow and red bulls eye marks which led to the Narrows.

After that we hiked down the Trough then turned right toward the Keyhole.

We took another break at the Keyhole.

Then we made our way across the Boulder Field, until we picked up the trail which would return us to our cars a little over 10 hours after leaving.

Complete Photo Gallery

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