|Peak:||Longs Peak - 14,255 feet|
Total Elevation Gain: ~12,700 between 3 attempts. 5,100 on success day.
Total Mileage: ~40 Miles between 3 attempts. ~14mi on success day.
Peaks Climbed: Longs Peak
Ascent Party: Mountainmicah83, Sean
Note: Picture credit to Sean for donating his pictures. I won’t list every picture of who took what but below are a mix of our pics. We have plenty more so email if you need for reference or more conditions.
(Warning: This preface is a long read so if you wan’t current conditions skip this text and a few pictures until you see summer conditions.)
It’s so funny that I have done quite a few peaks and Long’s peak hasn’t met my tick list yet. I think part of that was on purpose a couple of years ago when I was looking at what peaks were possible in winter. Another part of me wanted to save Longs for my last and summit my first time via a technical route on the diamond. Well, Thanksgiving weekend rolled around this year and I had a planned attempt on the North Face Cables route with Dancesatmoonrise. With an originally good weather forecast, it slowly deteriorated throughout the week until the usual 100MPH summit winds were forecasted and we had to cancel our plans. We know our limits and know we aren't invincible! Winter rolls in and Matt and I get the Little Bear Blanca traverse in the end of January and we are looking at something that will fuel our desire for exposure and difficulty. How do you top something like that? I look at harder things and my soul quivers. I look at easier things and think, ohhh too easy. Stuck, Matt and I finally decide to make a go at the cables in an unfavorable forecast with Dancesatmoonrise. Our motto is almost always to go check out the conditions and at least get a recon trip out of the deal. With 80MPH winds forecasted, we left Colorado Springs around 2 AM and were on the trail by 0530. The trip to treeline was quick but then we got blasted. Every step was grueling as we fought the wind and we kept wanting to turn around but just couldn’t. Our cutoff for starting the 5.4 section on the N. Face was 1100 AM and we arrived just in time to give a go at it. With iffy conditions on the slow below the technical stuff, we decided to rope in to keep us from washing down the hill in a slide. I lead up to just below the “technical” section
You can’t tell that well in this picture but the winds were horrendous and going up in thigh to waist deep sugar was not easy progress. Eventually, I set an anchor and brought the others up. We begin to look for the infamous eye bolts that used to once hold the cables going up and down the mountain to assist folks in getting to the top until someone realized it probably wasn’t the best idea. Matt went for the frigid lead to grab the first eye bolt we could see which was about 30’ above us. Little did we know that that first eye was actually the top of the first pitch and the first eye was actually very buried. Gust after gust wore us down and caused us to bail on a safe call and try again another day.
Late March rolls around and Matt and I want our revenge. This time, we plan to start even earlier. Driving in we get hit by heavy snow starting at about Allen’s park. By the time we arrive at the trailhead, we are barely able to drive the last half a mile in 6” of fresh snow. We opt to not even leave the car and nap til the sun came up (the ranger’s did not like this). By the time the sun came up, there was 10” of fresh pow on the ground and we headed back toward boulder knowing we made the right decision based on conditions. As a consolation prize, we climbed the first flat iron in our approach shoes, alpine harnesses, 2 cams smaller than 1” and a half a rack of nuts. After 2 pitches, we just unroped and finished the rest solo because it was so easy.
April rolls around and now we want our revenge on this route. It is time to go take care of business. We know the snow has been hammering the mountains in record amounts but we decide to go take a peek and hope for stable conditions to the summit. This time we were smart enough to carry snowboards up with us to a point past treeline for a hasty descent.
Arriving at treeline, the visibility is almost 0 but the winds are rather calm.
This time, there is sugar powder filling the boulder field and it is a nightmare to cross. We shouldn’t have dropped our snowshoes down lower. After a lot of frustration and post holing to cross, we think we can actually see that snow has loaded the entire 5.4 rock slope of the cables route. It was just waiting to blow in a slide and neither of us wanted to touch it. Yikes… We have been here so many times this year. We decided to go look at the Keyhole route and see if it would go just so we could get something. Finally making the keyhole, the rock is covered with verglass and is slick as snot and the winds are ridiculous on the backside. There is no way we are going for a summit in those conditions. Does this mountain ever get decent weather?
We decided to hunker down in the Keyhole Super 8 Lodge only to discover that there is no door and rock hard snow is filling the thing out the gills. We chip it away with our axes and rest from the relentless conditions for a while before making our descent. Once we arrived at the snowboards, we were back at the car within 15 minutes or so. Some people actually were eating a picnic on the packed trail and complained at us for riding snowboards near the hiking trail. Oh the nerve of us to ride snowboards down a mountain the way we came up!
At this point, we were done with this mountain. Until next winter at least….
Fast Forward July 28, 2011:
My good friend Sean had a soul itchin’ for some mountain time. If he had his way, I think he would usually choose a day at the crags but I manage to usually drag him out to the mountains some time. He was hot for a peak but the weather wasn’t looking that great in any range. We settled on Long’s Keyhole Ridge because the front range had a slightly better forecast than the other ranges at a 40% afternoon chance of thunderstorms. We decided to just to plan to be back to the car by noon and we should be fine. We rack out our gear on July 29 and keep reminding ourselves that the route is only 5.6 as we glean out our gear to the bare minimum.
A 9.5 Mammut Infinity duodess Rope
Alpine Bod harnesses
6 double length runners
1 triple length runner
2 ultra light draws
Bd nuts size 6-10
Pink and red tricams
Metolius Ultralight Power Cams size 1-7. (up to about 2.5”)
I roll up in Pabst, our vehicle of choice for the journey, at about 1030PM on Friday night. Pabst is decked out with an auxiliary 125 amp hour marine battery and a mini fridge. It is like a home away from home.
I have read that Long’s peak on a summer weekend has a full parking lot at 12:30AM but I always thought that was just a ploy to get folks to start earlier to be safer. Well, when we arrived at about 2:15AM, we surprisingly got one of the last spots open up top. We step off from the car at about 2:30 AM up the long and un-steep trail up through trees. Even though there is really no residual moon light showing and it is rather dark, we shut off the headlamps after about 10 minutes. Within 5 minutes, we could see well enough to make our way up the trail. We figured we wanted to be starting the 3rd class ramp right at sunup so we had some extra time and this would be a way to go a bit slower. It startled folks as we caught and passed them without any torch light. Most folks either had to make some sort of comment or stare at us with their headlamps just ruining our night vision. Why is it that people think it is ok to stare at you with a giant bright flashlight on their forehead? It was amazing to see the chain of headlamps headed up the hill up ahead.
It took longer than I thought to make the boulderfield, not because we were going by natural light but because I Didn’t realize how much out of the way the trail goes out of the way. In the Winter, it was straight up through the trees from the little wood foot bridge and straight to granite pass from there and straight up from there. Being inappropriate to travel like that in summer, it was a long and windy road to say the least. We actually walked right up on a heard of about 50 elk just past Mills Moraine. They were bolting within about 10’ of us. We probably would have seen them sooner if we had light. Oh well. About halfway through the boulderfield, we were greeted by the light.
We took a rest just below the keyhole as we pulled out our technical gear and readied for the 3rd class ramp. Between 5:30 and 6, we set off for the business of the route. It’s amazing how much class 2 we will suffer thorough for a little bit of class 5. Look at these goobers:
We were so happy to be away from the mass quantity of people. You don’t go to Longs in summer for solidarity, that’s for sure. We had Keyhole ridge all to ourselves though.
In no time, we found the 4 shiny bolts with hangers just below what seemed to start to be a bit more technical. Looking at the terrain ahead, we both agreed that it hardly required a rope. Sean threw on his rock shoes and I continued on in my Approach shoes. With some careful moves, we made quick work of the next section. You can see one of the bolts in the lower right hand corner and the red line above me is our approximate path. Easy climbing but there are no unimportant steps here. Every move must count as there is zero room for error.
I took the lead while Sean put his shoes on and he caught up fast on the fun and rather solid rock compared to other harder routes on other mountains.
Over and up. Over and up we went.
The fun solid granite just kept throwing itself down in front of us.
The exposure grows with the excitement. False Keyhole and the 3rd class ledges are seen behind me along with the boulderfield and Storm Peak. When are we going to need all that gear we are hauling around?
And a sneak peak of the route ahead
How about on this splitter crack? This came as quite a surprise but we didn’t have any gear big enough for this anyhow. We could have set up an anchor at least but there was a decent decking ledge below and the granite was so sticky. Just stuff your limbs in and up you go. One foot in the crack… ouch. Two feet… a bit scary. I actually came down to re-think my future before sticking the third foot in the crack. Then…. Three feet in the crack…….. You are now committed. No going back, no mistakes. Just about the time your butt is puckerin’ pretty good, you can grab the top and mantle up. The feeling was truly exhilarating.
Sean in close pursuit with biiiiig exposure in the background.
Now atop the tower, Petit Grepon is seen in the lower left as Sean contemplates the route ahead.
Everything is so pretty.
After the splitter crack, it is obvious that the only way to continue is over the tower and down. The back includes a tippy block and some high exposure. We opt for the safe option and pull the rope out for a 10’ rappel on the rap ring and decent looking webbing already in place. Normally, I don’t use used webbing but upon inspection, this piece looked alright. It wasn’t hard moves, just high exposure. A quick no hands traverse lent us passage across the backside of the tower. Meanwhile, the folks down on the keyhole route below were totally oblivious to us above so we had to be extra careful not to send any projectiles careening down. The black arrow depicts where the rap happened and then we traversed the ledges.
Standing on wet moss and staring up at the next section, the route was obvious where we had to go. Due to the unknown factor of what was above, we opted to rope up since we had wet shoes and I was only in approach shoes. This was not worth the risk given the factors. I threw in a nut for an anchor and belayed Sean as he placed 3 pieces before setting anchors about 50’ up since the route looked fine after that point. I followed quickly noting that there was one piton hammered behind a flake on the face about 1/3 of the way up the pitch that Sean didn’t even see. His cam placement was probably better anyhow.
I made quick work of the short pitch while enjoying the bluebird day. Wasn’t it supposed to be 80%+ cloud cover today? What a treat. I felt good. We made the decision to be safe as soon as safety was in question and we roped up right where we needed.
Putting away the rope, we traversed left and up to the next tower. I topped out to realize it wasn’t the right way. This isn’t where I parked my car! I came back down as Sean searched the area below for passage. With a high traverse I found passage into the infamous notch.
Monkey see. Monkey do.
What a beautiful Notch! The rock was reminding us both of turkey rocks in the south platte.
We chatted with another guy who I think had come from the choss gulley below the notch. We waited for him to top out on the right line since he kicked down a good sized rock. We took the left side.
Some talus hopping and hard slab put us on the summit block.
Here is one of the 4 USGS Markers. It is kind of shiny, presumably from the thousands of hands touching it.
And… A summit shot. #49 For Me and I think #8 for Sean. It is nice to have a partner with technical rock skills as it makes numbers matter quite a lot less. I now have 9 to go. Single digits baby. This is a hard earned summit if I ever saw one. This isn’t to say that I have some unfinished winter business here. I also want that chance on the Diamond understanding that there might be more than 40’ of roped climbing there! I would like to do many other routes on this magnificent mountain in the future as well but it feels good to have it ticked off the list.
Sean surprised me with shooters of Jim Beam Black and some Brandy. We downed the Beam and saved the brandy for the car. What a pal!
Sean took a pic of his new friend.
I point out Chasm view as we make our way down for our descent on the North Face Cables route. This seems like a better option than the crowded keyhole route with the army of people kicking down rocks on us. We opted for the straight line. Why not, we have a rope and need to get some use out of it.
Traversing down and left and following the cairns, I don’t think the route ever exceeded class 3 until we found the highest eye bolt. It was about 25 meters above the next set that actually was the 5.4 section. We skipped it and waited around the next two. We awaited for another team to finish the 2nd technical pitch and made our rap down to the winter highpoint for Matt, Dancesatmoonrise and I. I couldn’t believe how close this was to the summit and we had to turn around. You can see there is still some wetness on the route.
It sure does look a lot different than in winter. The next pitch we rapped more to the left (while facing down) since there was other groups waiting for the first pitch. 2 raps with a doubled 60m was perfect and I presume that 2 30m ropes tied together would suffice as well. The next image is our approximate route for the day. Red is un-roped ascent. The tiny blue is roped ascent. Black is descent. Yellow is rappels. What a stellar route. Everything went too smooth. Unbelievable.
Afer spending some time looking at climbers on the diamond from chasm view and dangling my feet over the edge, we took off because Sean felt the altitude still messing with him a bit. We were on our way back to Pabst. Here is a shot of a future goal from near Mills Moraine.
Getting back to the trees was quite a relief from the heat and sun as we dipped our heads in the rushing water and slogged it out back to the car.
1230 on the dot gained us the parking lot. We hung out in Pabst as we shook off the day and prepared for the hot drive back to the springs with no air conditioning. Lucky for us, there were yummy popsicles in the fridge.
Thanks for reading through as I learned my lessons in patience to tick this one off the list.
Thanks to Sean for suggesting this climb and accompanying me on the journey.
See you at the Top!