Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tour of the East Face of Longs Peak

Topping out on Chasm View Wall

Mark and I started our alpine climbing season today. Since we're building toward an ascent of the Diamond, I thought of a cool adventure that would give us a preview of the North Chimney approach. Years ago, in an old guidebook, I noticed a route that allowed one to escape Broadway, the ledge at the top of the North Chimney and the base of the Diamond, to the right (climber's right) across the top of Chasm View Wall. Granted the moderate 5.7 rating was part of the attraction, but I liked the novelty of route. It reminded me of the Tower Traverse route on the Leaning Tower in Yosemite. Linking up the North Chimney to the Chasm View Wall Traverse would allow us to flirt with all the extreme difficulty of the Diagonal Wall, the Diamond, and Chasm View Wall without actually engaging it.
Heading towards the ledge snowfield

Mark and I met at 4 a.m. and drove to the Longs Peak Trailhead. We were hiking at 5:15 a.m. and already concerned about the strong winds. It was biting enough that when we left the parking lot Mark was already wearing all the clothes he had brought. At tree line the wind was brutally strong. I was still hiking without a shell, but only because I didn't want to dig mine out. That I could do this without freezing was testament that the air temperature wasn't that cold.

We caught a party of two guys and two girls just past Chasm Lake and all of us soon converged on two others bivied under a huge boulder. All three teams of two had planned to climb the Diamond that day. None of them left this bivy spot. Later, while talking to the ranger at the trailhead, we'd learned that apparently no teams have succeeded on the Diamond so far this year. The one team the ranger knew about had gone part ways up Pervertical Sanctuary. They reported dry conditions, but temperatures too cold to continue. Mark and I continued up to our climb, but agreed with their decision to forego the Diamond. I wouldn't have been happy even climbing 5.9 in those temperatures.

We hiked up to the snowfield at the base of the East Face and found it to be soft enough to continue sans the crampons we carried. Mark kicked steps all the way up to the base of the North Chimney and we geared up. I've climbed the North Chimney maybe ten times before, but this was Mark's first trip up it. Given that and the cold temperatures and no need for great speed, we elected to pitch it out, doing four pitches up to Broadway.
Starting up the crux pitch

The climbing went well. We did have to void some snow on the route, but it wasn't much of a problem. Mark felt comfortable enough on it that we'll probably simul-climb it when we do the Diamond. Once on Broadway I was a bit surprised to see so much snow up there. The traverse over to the Casual Route looked quite exciting and you'd have to kick steps all the way over to the start of any route to right. We turned and headed left. We were able to stay below the snow on loose, wet, icy talus. Doing this without pro, across the top of the 600-foot wall below, kept me focused.

We'd been scoping out the route across Chasm View Wall  as we ascended the North Chimney. It looked bleak. The ledge seemed to disappear and the wall looked so compact that pro would be non-existent. Of course, we were still a long ways away and we continued, hoping to find the secret of the traverse. We brought no information with about the route, not because we are purists, but because we forgot to bring it along. A big snowfield on the ledge looked to be problematical, but we carried crampons and a single ice axe and were prepared to use them.

We continued all the way across the wall, finding the route as we went. The exit was in doubt until nearly the end, as the route looked to end in very challenging climbing. We passed the snowfield easily and found good belay stances and gear. Most of the climbing wasn't very difficult, but it was at times a bit awkward, at least with the ice axe on my pack. We started to find old pins and figured we were on track.
Looking for exit
The final pitch was the crux and also had the best climbing and the best protection. The rock was solid and the exposure was tremendous. We were finally in the sun. I had been climbing most everything in my gloves, but I needed my fingers for this pitch and the rock and weather were conducive.

We topped the wall and decide to skip the summit of Longs. I'd been cold for hours and the North Face looked to be very icy. Icy enough that our lightweight 10-point crampons and single puny axe wouldn't be sufficient for a safe ascent. Plus the wind continued to hammer us. We packed our gear and headed for the car, quite content with our adventure.
Starting up the last, crux pitch of the North Chimney

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