Sunday, April 12, 2015

Getting the 4-1-1 on the L-P-P

Strava - just descent

Today, on April 11th, Charlie and I completed month four of the Longs Peak Project. This time we went from the Glacier Gorge trailhead and hiked and skied into into Glacier Gorge, headed for the Trough.
Charlie skinning above Black Lake
We got a casual start, not even meeting in Boulder until 6 a.m. because Charlie had a date the previous night. We started hiking around 7:20 a.m. in the bright light of day. It felt so strange.

Hiking towards Black Lake, above Mills Lake
Charlie wore his new La Sportiva Trango Cube GTX boots and carried a pair of AT skis with his ski boots attached to them. I wore my Alpina Alaska NNN ski boots right from the parking lot. These boots are incredibly comfortable for hiking and it allowed me to go very light - not carrying any boots and just carrying my Asnes skis with NNN bindings on them. Skis mounted with NNN bindings had always caused me problems when trying attach them to a pack. since they have no heel section, you can't attach them with the binding - they'd be way too low. I talked with Andrew Skurka and he had a great solution that seemed so obvious once he told me. His solution was to clamp the skis together with a Voile strap (rubber strap with a buckle) and then use the camber in the skis as the attachment point to the pack. This worked great, though the skis rode a bit high, which was occasionally an issues in the woods.

Both Charlie and I wore Kahtoola Microspikes on our boots. While we both carried crampons (I carried Kahtoola K-10s), we were pleasantly surprised to make the summit using just the spikes, though this was very marginal in a couple of areas. I had thought we'd skin most of way to the Trough, but we ended up just walking nearly all of it, as the snow was hard enough and the going was fast. We only starting skinning above Black Lake, when the snow was a bit softer.
We stashed our skis and some extra water at the base of the Trough. As it turned out, skiing the Trough would have been fine for Charlie, but probably a bit tough for me. But, as you'll see, our method of descent was probably even faster, maybe more fun, and a lot lighter.

We had a perfect track up the 2700-vertical-foot Trough. Well, actually, I had a perfect track. Charlie did most of the work here, though he did follow some pretty fresh steps down low and then very fresh (just an hour old, as it would turn out) tracks higher up. We paced things well and were able to chat most of the time, while moving continuously. From the base of the Trough we made the summit in about two hours, roughly our standard, as it seems, 4.5 hours from the trailhead.

At the top of the Trough, we left our ski poles and switched to our ice axes. Before we headed across the Narrows I reminded Charlie and I that my friend Peter Jeffries had died when he fell off here last November. This turned out to be false. Peter died of hypothermia 200 feet below the Ledges, which connect the Keyhole to the Trough. He must have fell off the Ledges and not been able to re-ascend back to the Keyhole, probably due to injury, but I didn't find the exact details. What a tragedy for a great, young kid. But thoughts of him and his accident made us safer.

We passed a couple of Fort Collins on their way down on the Homestretch and thanked them for the track. Along with those two, who topped out just thirty minutes before us, just two others had climbed Longs since the last time Charlie and I had done it on March 21st. We spent about twenty minutes on top taking photos, eating, and drinking, though not much of the latter since we both finished all we had brought to the summit. We carefully reversed the Homestretch, acutely aware that a fall here might not be self-arrest-able. Our tiny Microspikes barely made an impression on two vary hard sections, but we were careful and used our axes to not fall.

Back in the Trough, we stowed our axes and the fun began. We first just plunge-stepped down, as the
rocks were frequent in the upper section. Once below that and on slightly less steep terrain we sat down and glissaded, descending a thousand feet in just a few minutes. So fun!

Back at our skis, we took a short break to drink and eat some more. Charlie switched back into his ski boots. We also found and carried out a large tracking collar. I assume this was for an elk, but maybe it was a bighorn sheep. Nearby we found an elk skull and wondered how long an animal that size would take to be eaten or decayed enough where nothing remains except for the collar and the skull. These are big animals and many obviously must die every year, but I've never seen a rotting carcass.

I was a bit concerned about the ski out. The terrain is very technical, very tight and wooded, off-camber, and sometimes incredibly narrow, steep, and above a creek. With my light NNN gear it proved to be quite fun, but very challenging. In fact, I consider my skill level (pretty advanced for backcountry touring gear) to be the minimum skill level for a reasonably safe descent and one that is more efficient than just walking out. Charlie seemed much more solid in his plastic boots and AT setup. Incredibly, we were able to ski to within a quarter-mile of the parking lot. We had to walk one short section around Mills Lake. 

We descended from the summit to the car in just over 2.5 hours and did the roundtrip in 7h20m for our fastest roundtrip yet. Here's the status on the Longs Peak Project:

Month Date Route Success?
January 18 Loft/Clark's Arrow No
January 29 Loft/Clark's Arrow Yes
February 14 Northwest Couloir Yes
March 15 D7 on the Diamond No
March 21 North Face (Cables Route) Yes
April 11 The Trough Yes

No comments: