It was a very early, or late, wake up call, however you want to look at it. 11:00 pm is when my alarm went off. Some would say that I could have slept a bit longer and still made our plan of a 1:00 am start form the Longs Peak trail head, but I like to get up, take my time, have some coffee, take care of other business and not feel too rushed as I get prepared for these long alpine days.
I arrived at the TH at 5 till 1 and noticed two headlamps heading up the start of the trail. I went over to try to get their story but they were in a hurry to scamper off so I sat on one of the wooden benches for a minute waiting for Fabio, Brian and Andy to show up. Once they arrived, we organized out kit and were taking a leisurely pace up the trail, which suited me just fine.Our heavy packs discouraged any sort of haste.We'd stop every 45 minutes or so for a breather and to discuss the upcoming climb. The goal for the day was Notch Couloir on the East Face of Longs Peak. A classic and brilliant snow line in the most spectacular setting in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The conditions above tree line were suburb. With only the slightest chill in the air, the lack of wind made it a very pleasant stroll up Mills Moraine. We were cresting the rocky obstructions to Chasm Lake as the eastern horizon began to glow orange and as the sun lit our surroundings we scrambled around Chasm Lake and enjoyed the alpenglow on the East Face as we were donning our climbing gear preparing for the difficulties ahead.
The climb up Lamb's Slide was fairly uneventful and before long we were on the southern edge of Broadway slowly making our way across this narrow snow covered and extremely exposed ledge that would take us to the base of Notch Couloir. Most of broadway was fairly simple with a down climb of some steep snow and a traverse of the same. We did rope up for the crux, as none of us felt comfortable enough with the conditions to climb down and around (or under) this section of the traverse. Brian lead through with myself belaying. Andy & Fabio clipped into the rope and made their way over to Brian and I cleaned this line as I went along. It turned out to be a little easier than it looked, even through we made very ungraceful work of it!
Shortly after this section we were at the base of the couloir. We decided to have two teams (Andy/Fabio & Brian/myself) and simulclimb the length of the couloir. This worked pretty well. Fabio took off up the couloir as Andy belayed. He was soon around the corner, out of sight and out of rope. Andy unclipped from his anchor and began his ascent, following Fabio. I then clipped into the anchor and belayed Brian as he began his ascent. After a few minutes I was in route, following Brian up this great line of steep snow. I have done a few snow climbs now and feel very comfortable in the couloir, but it was a different feeling seeing the bottom of the couloir drop off over an 800 foot cliff to a glacier far below. It was an awesome feeling, and though the climbing was straightforward, it felt good to be roped up.
A little over halfway up, the couloir takes a sharp right turn where the first of the crux moves comes into view. This is also where Fabio and Brian (the leaders) built an anchor as they were getting short on pro. As Fabio and Andy made it through this spot I was far below, at the end of mine and Brian's rope getting rained on by ice and falling rocks. Luckily I hade a good view and plenty of time to make adjustments as the projectiles rocketed down the couloir and off Broadway far below. A couple of close calls and about 20 minutes later, Brian was ready to bring me up. I turned the corner, Brian slid me his remaining pro, I reorganized the pro that I had cleaned and was soon climbing the first ice step of the day.
The ice was pretty rotten and easy to shatter - I could now see why so much was coming down on me as Andy and Fabio climbed. But it was easy to get good placements and I made quick work of this move. The snow above was super soft for about 20 feet and I could tell that Andy and Fabio had wallowed into it pretty deep. Luckily I just had to move through their wallow pits with little trouble, they had already moved all of the snow out for me! The snow line then makes a left and the second crux comes into view. This one was a lot more fun and the ice was much better. I was able to set a small stopper in a crack just below the ice, but the climbing was simple and enjoyable. Again, my tools (or tool and axe) bit nicely (my tool did anyway) and I was soon looking at Andy in the Notch about 100 feet above me.
The day was a scorcher, especially in the sun and the reflective snow, and I was sweating pretty heavily. There was virtually no wind so when Andy informed me that when I got to the Notch a nice breeze would reward me I quickly climbed the last few feet into a merciful breeze that instantly revived and cooled me off. I built an anchor and belayed Brian up the final 60 meters of our second simulclimbed pitch as Andy and Fabio went off in search of the staircase, the direct rock pitch to the summit.
Brian made it up the final stretch and into the Notch were he ate a little bit as I reorganized the rack and packed the rope up. We followed Fabio and Andy around the slabs to the base of the Staircase. They were both near the top as Andy informed us we should probably rope back up for this pitch. It turned out to be a wet, muddy climb up 5.5ish rock. I was very glad we roped up. With the wet conditions it was all I would have felt comfortable leading. But it went pretty well and I was soon to the slabby section where Andy decided to rope up. It was a bit tricky with a steep slab for your feet, which were wet and muddy, and another descending slab above making for a sketchy under cling move. I threw in a cam and gingerly made the move which, as Andy advised, was easier than it looked. I made the final scramble up to the summit ridge, brought Brian up and we were hastily making our way up the 3rd/4th class ridge to the summit.
The weather was threatening, so we didn't stick around too long. But Brian did do his 10 or so pushups on the summit. He tried to do 14,255, as that's the elevation of Long's, but he fell a little short. We all decided that his heavy pack, 1 am start, and 12 hours of climbing made up for the other 14,245. Luckily he didn't finish those thousands of push-ups, as the weather was looking a little suspect and we decided to make a hasty retreat down the North Face. The snow was horrible on the descent and it was a posthole fest to the eye bolts. There was also some nasty ice under some of the snow just to keep us honest. However, the weather did show some mercy. We had a snow flurry or two and the thunder stayed to our north. The others, which were a bit above me, reported the buzzing of their ice tools (a sure sign of electricity in the air) but I never experienced anything.
We made the rappel down the technicalities of the North Face and then a horrible post-hole fest to the rock line of the Boulderfield below. Here we took a well deserved break as the difficulties were behind us. We soaked in the sun as the evening was turning out to be very nice. I ate a bit and took my last sip of water as we prepared for a brutal death march back to the trail head...only 6+ miles to go!
The descent was painful on the feet and as we got lower a couple of us got pretty thirsty as Brian and I had run out of water. Just below Jims Grove we each got some water and threw in some iodine tabs. In half an hour, among swarms of mosquitoes, we finally got to drink! It was ice cold and very refreshing, all we needed to get back to the car.
We made the round trip in right at 18 hours. Not too impressive, but we did it safely and had an amazing day on a classic mountain. A Chimichanga and margarita followed at Ed's among chatter of future climbing plans.
You can see more of my sub-par photos HERE.
|until next time...|
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