Saturday, March 21, 2015

LPP: March Success on North Face

Charlie and Homie at the base of the North Face's crux pitch

After getting our butts thoroughly kicked on the Diamond six days ago, Charlie and I needed an easy win to keep the Longs Peak Project going. The first time I did the LPP I also failed on the Diamond in March. I then had to recruit Homie to team up with me on the Northwest Couloir route to save March. I once tried to link up climbing Longs Peak with biking up Mt. Evans in the same day. After I failed at this solo, I recruited Homie to team up with me for the Longs ascent. Each time, Homie was the key to success. So, what do you think I did? Yup. Recruited Homie to join us.
Charlie contemplating the North Face

Homie's a Colorado 14er legend. He's climbed the 14ers three times over, I think, and done over 300 peak-months of the 14er grid. He tried for the 14er speed record once and stopped due to injury, but not before climbing 41 14ers in just seven days! He's also done 53 14ers in winter. Alas, this ascent would not qualify as a winter ascent, since winter officially ended the day before.

We chose the North Face, as it is the shortest route. We were burning a match that we'd hoped to save for December, but we'll deal with that. Maybe we'll save the Keyhole or Keplinger's Couloir for December. Neither one a gimme at that time of year, but technically pretty easy.

Since I was leaving for Grand Junction the same day, to start Spring Break with my son and nephew, we met early. Homie picked me up at 4:10 a.m. and we met Charlie in north Boulder at 4:30. We were hiking at 5:39 a.m. Snow conditions were good and the weather was nice. I led up through the trees and turned over the leading to Charlie once the postholing began. It wasn't bad, though, says the guy in back. Homie didn't want to taint our ascent, so he said, and therefore didn't break any trail or carry any gear. Hey, you don't get up so many peaks in winter without being wily.
Traversing above the technical pitch
We found an old track leading up to the North Face and I took over the postholing duties. I figured I'd lead the technical pitch since Charlie had done most of the leading last week. I think I've always led this pitch whenever I've climbed it. Strange that it has always worked out that way, as I don't need to lead it.

Homie trying to warm his feet on the summit
Today it was covered mostly in snow. There was some cause for concern, though, as the snow wasn't very thick and my crampons would frequently go down to the rock slab below. I place the three cams and two slings that I brought with me, so I carried the perfect rack, so to speak. I was wearing my LaSportiva Crossover trail running shoes again, but with a new pair of Kahtoola Flight Boots over them. My buddy Danny at Kahtoola had a leftover pair of these discontinued products and graciously offered them to me. I had him cut off the built-in snowshoe cleats so that I could better fit the Kathoola crampons on them. This is the setup that I used trailhead-to-trailhead. Charlie used a brand new pair of Trango Cubes and Homie used the very light Explorer Mids. The latter here are really just a high-top, sticky rubber hiking shoe and are not intended for lengthy stretches buried in snow at 14,000 feet with temperatures below 20 degrees. While we had sun and no wind, there was a quite cold stretch on the North Face and Homie's feet froze. And he isn't prone to getting cold at all. He just went too light on the footwear.

Above the technical pitch, I continued leading, breaking trail. There was no sign of climbers on the technical pitch or above it. We learned from another party that despite the great weather last Sunday no one made it up the North Face with at least one party turning around due to fear of avalanche. We felt conditions were safe enough, but continued roped clear to the summit and back. Charlie took over the trail breaking for the last three hundred vertical feet.

We spent a good thirty minutes on the summit so that Homie could re-warm his frozen feet. He went through the very painful process of defrosting while Charlie and I enjoyed perfectly still conditions. Only seven people had made the summit since our February ascent. No one had climbed Longs between our January and February ascents. I know that number will increase each month until probably peaking in August.

Descending to the rappel anchors
The descent went smoothly and we were back at the car a little after 1 p.m., doing the roundtrip under eight hours. Homie was my lucky charm once again. Charlie and I have now done three months, a quarter of the way there and done with some of the toughest months. We'll go again in mid-April, possibly up the Trough and see if we can ski some of the approach. If we do that, I'll go in my NNN ski boots and it will make for my sixth different boots in six attempts.

No comments: