Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Triple Couloir Linkup Cleaned Up!

Jason and Charlie traversing Broadway

In 2008 I first did the Longs Peak Project in the month of May that year, I did what I call the Triple Couloir Linkup. Or, really, the Fraidy Cat version of that, which substitutes the complete Lamb Slide/Loft/Clark's Arrow for the Notch Couloir on Longs. The other couloirs are Martha's on Mount Lady Washington and Dreamweaver on Mt. Meeker. I'd always wanted to clean this theory, anyway. In practice, I wasn't so sure. It's an incredible amount of work and involves some serious stress for me, as least solo. The solution to this problem is clear and one I turn to more and more these days: great partners. Each time this happens, I'm so grateful and thankful to have such great, positive friends. I never take this for granted and feel so very lucky.

Charlie and I are attempting the Longs Peak Project this year and he always wants to take the hard way when climbing Longs. He's so strong and does long, hard days like I walk around the block. It was his idea to try the Diamond in winter. When I mentioned this Triple Couloir idea, he jumped on it and my theoretical desire was going to be tested against reality.

Three days before we were to go, on the longest day of the year (and also Father's Day), I got an email from my friend Jason Antin:

"Bill, you have plans to go do a bunch of routes in the park soon? "

Curious timing. Our plans had been leaked! I knew Jason would be a huge asset on such a day, as he's indefatigable and perpetually positive. Charlie hadn't met him before, though, so I checked with him first and Charlie agreed. These two hits things off nicely, as they have similar endurance backgrounds and abilities. I would have been worried about being the odd man out, the weak link, but I wasn't. Not with these guys. Charlie always says, "No man left behind" and I know he means, "No Bill left behind." Jason's arms are as big as my legs and I have sort of big legs. Seriously. I call him the Balloon Man because he's so pumped up that he looks like he'd pop if got careless with one of his ice tool. I figured if I got too tired, he'd just strap me onto the top of his pack.

"Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much" - Helen Keller

Jason or Charlie mentioned something about a Helen Keller quote about starting with the dream of a great goal before realizing. I couldn't find that quote and it might well be true, but the dream isn't enough. In fact, it seems the crux is actually waking up. Setting the alarm for 2 a.m. the night before is when you realize how bad you want it. We met in north Boulder and when I arrived, three minutes early, both Charlie and Jason were standing around chatting. These two wanted it.
At Chasm Lake below Martha's

We were moving at 3:30 a.m. with me setting a nice slow pace up the trail. I wasn't worried about Charlie as he knows my pace, but I was a bit concerned that Jason was thinking, "Are we going to be going this slow all day?" Yes, we would, but these two are so upbeat about everything. When we got to Chasm Cut-off, Charlie remarked, "Awesome! This is our sixth fastest time of the year. We're smoking." Others might have called it our slowest time of the year, but Charlie doesn't do negative.

The forecast was for warm weather and I just wore running tights and a short-sleeve shirt with a long-sleeve over it. No hat, no shell, all day long, though I carried both. We had two 100-foot 8.7mm ropes, a light rack of five cams, five slings, and a collection of stoppers. We all had crampons, two tools, and helmets. Amazingly, we'd never use either the second tool or the crampons!

We caught a trio of skiers near the privy before we headed up towards Chasm Lake. They were headed up the Loft and around the backside to first ski the Notch and then ski the North Face. That is certainly ambitious, but I found it very curious that they would approach the Notch that way. I'd want to climb up anything I was going to ski down.

At the base of Martha's we could clearly see no ice in it and almost no snow. Though we were here to do the Triple, I quickly discarded the idea of climbing Martha's. It would now be a wet rock climb in mountain boots. The others could go either way, but Charlie was leaning towards doing it, as he hadn't ever climbed Martha's. Going up it in these conditions wouldn't really be climbing it either, but this dude was psyched to climb and we headed up.

We soloed the start, climbing carefully on exposed, wet rock, trying to avoid the small waterfall coming down the length of the couloir. Many times we were faced with climbing the central part of the gully right in the water flow, or steeper ground on the right. Each time we'd opt for the steeper ground. When things got a bit too hairy, we dug out the rope and gear. While I of course never want to die climbing (I don't want to die at all), I really don't want to fall off and die with a rope and a rack in my pack.
Jason led upwards, carefully, on loose, dangerous rock. I didn't know how nasty this was until I was climbing it. Jason handled it so casually, though remarking, "it's a bit loose." Even roped as we were, this was no-fall climbing. We simul-climbed upwards with the rope providing, hopefully, more than an illusion of security. Jason stopped on a sloping ramp for quite awhile and I was below, directly in the line of fire. If a big block came loose, I'd be in trouble. I asked, with a tone of suggestion, if he was setting up a belay. I didn't want him to do any more climbing above me. He struggled to find an anchor, but eventually did and Charlie and I joined him.
The crux choss pitch of Martha's
Above us was the usual crux of Martha's, where the couloir went vertical, briefly. This was a true waterfall and not the more climbing-friendly frozen version. I took the lead and recalled the line from the Eiger Sanction, "Surely you are not opposed to a morning shower, Dr. Hemlock." Actually, I was. I climbed up steep, loose, difficult to protect ground to the right. At one point I grabbed a flake and a three-foot section of it started sliding off. I pressed on it hard to stop the slide and it remained precariously perched on the edge. My companions below were understandably concerned. I moved further to the left to avoid the block and up to the crux bulge the top. I was able to place a solid piece here, but the thought of a fall would have been terrifying. Just pulling the rope tight under tension might knock blocks off the wall. I took my time to make sure I had the best solution before cutting my feet loose and swinging them to the right and then pulling over the bulge to a flat ledge. I belayed here from my smallest cam and a small stopper.
Heading down the Camel

Charlie and Jason followed safely and Jason led the last section over much lower-angled rock. As we were coiling our ropes, Charlie stopped an interesting creature: a pine martin. These guys are so cute. It was moving pretty fast and we didn't a chance to snap a photo, but I caught a bit of it on video.

We slogged, slowly and painfully, to the summit of MLW. It was windy on top and we found a guy nestled just below the summit. He was there to photograph his friends skiing the Notch and then the North Face. He was in for a long, windy wait.

We didn't stay long on the summit before heading along the ridge towards what I thought was the Camel descent. Turns out I went too far along the ridge and finally Jason directed me back to the left and we headed directly for it, finding the cairns marking it. We descended about halfway down it on talus before hitting nice snow and then easily descended to a huge, flat boulder at the...toe of the Camel...where we took a short break to get out food and drink a bit.

We then headed for Lambs Slide and Jason led us up it, improving on the existing steps. From the top of MLW we could see a pair of climbers heading up Lambs Slide and another pair heading for the North Chimney. We didn't see the later two again, but we caught the other two as started across Broadway. I took the lead now and we roped up. I quickly was backed up by the party in front of me and chatted with the second as we moved along. He told me about another party that had passed them a bit earlier. They had climbed up Dreamweaver on Meeker and then descended Lambs Slide to Broadway and were now headed for Pervertical Sanctuary on the Diamond! That's the most outrageous approach to the Diamond I've ever heard of. If they got that route down, kudos to them. That's just incredible. Wonder who that was...
Jason heading to Broadway from Lambs Slide
The second offered to let me by and I moved on by. When I got to the leader, belaying, he didn't seem to happy about it. Maybe he just usually has a scowl and isn't very talkative, though... We simul-climbed clear to the Notch Couloir and I belayed Jason and Charlie over. Charlie immediately took the lead, excited to head up the Notch for the first time. All of these couloirs would be new to Charlie.

Jason and I were dismayed to see Charlie plunge into the soft now to mid-thigh level early on and figured we were in for quite a workout, with lots of leader rotation, but Charlie motored on. When my rope came tight I started up and after I got through the deep section, I found much more reasonable steps. Thankfully the snow was firmer the rest of the way. Still, I struggled to keep up with Charlie, who was presumably making these steps as he went. I pushed pretty hard so that I wouldn't slow him down. We had to negotiate a couple of small rocky sections and while Charlie placed gear at the first one, I yelled up, "You're killing it, Charlie!" He knew I thought he was making these steps and he almost responded, "Yes, well, it's a tremendous amount of work, but I'm wicked strong." Instead he said, "Yes, I'm following these perfect steps."
Jason high in the Notch Couloir
We simul-climbed the entire Notch as one pitch and after re-grouping, I led off towards the Skyladder pitch of the Skyline Traverse. As I climbed up rock to the right of the Notch couloir I could see a couple of the skiers preparing to descend. When Charlie came by, they asked if he was the last guy up the couloir. We had thought the party we'd past on Broadway was doing the Notch, but they also said something about the Window, so maybe they went up that.
Jason at the top of Notch Couloir
We simul-climbed for about three hundred feet before I got to the ridge and easier ground. I brought up Jason and Charlie and we coiled the ropes and scrambled directly along the ridge to the summit. I don't think I even sat down on the summit and after Charlie signed us into the register we descended the Homestretch and then cut over towards the Notch. As we got close to the Notch we could see the three skiers headed our way. We chatted with them. Turns out it was Austin Porzak of the First Flatiron skiing fame and his crew. He knew my name and mentioned that we should get out and ski something together.
Austin Porzak and friends

I led us down into the Keplinger's Couloir and across the Clark's Arrow Traverse and up to the Loft. I was really dragging here and having second thoughts about heading up the third couloir. I didn't want to hold back my partners, who seemed to be as strong as ever. I stumbled across the very windy Loft and led the team down to the bypass around the ice cliffs and onto the perfect snow slopes below it. Here we had the most glorious glissade down a previously defined groove that made it seem like I was descending a luge run. This groove was quite deep and even had some banked turns. The snow was the perfect consistency and I pushed off, leading the way. Soon I found that I wasn't sliding over the snow at all. I was perched atop a miniature slush avalanche that was descending my luge course on top of this snow. My body was not moving relative to the snow upon which I sat. Hence, there was no friction against my tights. It was really like riding on a luge, down a luge course. The mass of snow in front of me grew so large that I was concerned about the weight of all this snow and if I could be buried by it. I glanced behind me, figuring to see a similar volume of snow, but, no, it was all in front of me.
Heading down Keplinger's Couloir

At the bottom of the glissade, at the level we needed to start traversing over towards Dreamweaver I let the others know my thoughts about not continuing. Immediately my idea was rejected. "No way! You've been talking about this for too long," said Charlie. I explained that I was slowing things down and Jason said,  "No you weren't. We wouldn't have been going any faster." In short, my partners wouldn't let me wimp out on the linkup. Heck, at this point it was only 1500 additional vertical feet. How bad could that be? Actually, I was worried about that as well. I knew Dreamweaver would be melted out in sections and I didn't feel I had the mental and physical strength left for any dicey, dangerous climbing. Jason and Charlie said they'd be happy to lead and we continued upwards, as a team of three.
Summit #6 for Charlie and I this year
Jason led almost the entire way up Dreamweaver. First, we followed nice steps in the snow up to the first mixed crux section. I was a bit concerned about doing this unroped, but Jason pulled over the chockstone and Charlie and I followed suit. It wasn't as bad as it looked because the rock was very solid, albeit wet, and, for this first crux, there was some solid ice above in which we could swing our tools for purchase.
The best glissade in the Park!
When we got to the steepest part, a thirty foot, nearly vertical chimney, running with water, I called for the rope. It wasn't met with any resistance, though Jason did mention that he thought the climbing wasn't as bad as it looked. In truth there was blocky holds and small ledges on one side of the chimney and, besides a couple of moves at the start, these are what you really climb and the going is quite reasonable. Jason swarmed up it and Charlie followed with me taking up the rear. We simul-climbed upwards for hundreds of feet, past the bend in the couloir and way up the final couloir to a stance on the right. Jason had run out of gear and had to stop. Charlie took over for the final few hundred feet and I was at my limit keeping up with them.
Climbing up to Dreamweaver

It was with great relief that we hit the ridge and stopped to unrope and pack up the gear. We took off harnesses for the first time since five that morning. We headed back down to the great Loft glissade and this time took it as low as possible. Such fun! In the meadow below we stripped down further. Jason and Charlie were smart enough to bring in shorts. The weather had been nearly perfect all day long. At Chasm Cut-off we met the skiers again. They had skied the North Face, mostly, as they had to rappel the crux section.
Charlie pulling one of the crux sections in Dreamweaver
We all have similar attitudes toward the clock and when we noticed that it was going to be close to 14 hours roundtrip, we turned some attention to making sure we were under it. That's silly, I know, especially since we hadn't cared about the time all day long, but that's the way it is. We walked into the parking lot after 13h55m of effort. I was extremely satisfied to check this baby off my list. While this linkup seem obvious and natural to me, I have not heard of anyone doing it before, so we might have been the first.

Two serious badasses

No comments: