Saturday, October 03, 2015

Longs Peak Project: Month Ten

Winter has returned to Longs Peak and with it, the screaming barfies to my hands.

Chuck Charlie and I viewed a sun-drenched, dry, impressive West Face of Longs Peak two weeks ago when we did the Glacier Gorge Traverse. I knew the face held some moderate (5.7 and easier) rock routes and I'd never done a route there before. That was to be our October ascent.

The thing snows on Longs Peak. Pretty much every month of the year. The only difference is in our long that snows sticks around. In October, in the shade, it isn't going anywhere until April or May or June. And get this, west faces don't get any sun until the afternoon! Who knew?
The Boulder Field
We met in Boulder at 5:30 a.m., which means 5:25 in Bill/Charlie speak apparently, as we always arrive early and always within 60 seconds of each other. It was my turn to drive and Chuck Charlie piled into my car. On the drive up there Charlie regaled me about his fancy new mountain bike and how he could have spent $5000 more dollars and saved two pounds. We both agreed this was pretty ridiculous and concluded that the rider should just lose pounds off his fat ass instead. But then I realized, in horror, that might mean cutting back on donuts. All of a sudden I could see the reason in spending the extra five G's.
Nearing the Keyhole
At the trailhead Chuck was ready to go in a flash, but I had to visit the Little LPPer's room. Still, we were hiking one minute before 6:30 and I was $2500 dollars lighter.

On the way up we passed a number of people coming down. They had got to the Keyhole and took one look at the snowy, icy, shaded ledges leading over to the Trough and turned around. This showed great judgement, as none of them carried Microspikes and didn't have the experience for such a dangerous ascent. Just last year a friend of mine died on this traverse. Later that day, on our descent, we'd learn of a lost hiker/climber named Spencer who has been missing since Friday. I cringe at what the probably means.
Nearing the top of the Trough
We passed a team of about ten climbers on the way up to the Boulder Field. They were all headed for the North Face / Cables Route. We'd see them again on our descent. They didn't have Microspikes either...

We spiked up at the Keyhole and moved cautiously across the frigid ledges to the Trough. The temperatures, snow, ice, and shade quickly dashed any thoughts of a West Face route. We hoped to salvage things by ascending the Southwest Ridge, a highly recommended, 3-pitch 5.4 route that starts at the top of the Trough and makes a beeline for the summit plateau.
Crux dihedral on pitch one.
We geared up at the base and I slipped some chemical heaters into my gloves before leading off on the first pitch. We didn't put on the climbing shoes we carried, as it was too cold and too snowy. Instead, we climbed in our running shoes and Microspikes - a sort of ultralight mixed climbing footwear. The crux corner had me completely desperate because my hands were so cold I could barely use them to grasp the holds or place gear. When I got to the ledge atop the corner and hit the sun, I immediately set up a belay and endured ten minutes of intense pain. My hands were just returning to normal when Charlie arrived. His hands were cold too, but has a distinct advantage over me: he's not a wimp. In just a minute or two he was good to lead the second pitch.
At the top of pitch one
Chuck Charlie scampered up ridge and soon 200 feet of rope was gone from my feet. I pulled our one-cam belay and headed upwards. The first corner was in the shade and while there was a decent hand crack in the corner the slabs were smooth and I tugged mightily on the #2 Camalot Charlie placed. I eased my conscience with my favorite rationalization: "This is alpine climbing. Anything goes." I find I'm doing more and more alpine climbing these days on sunnier and sunnier rock that is closer and closer to the road.
Jazz hands or ten months completed?
We coiled the rope and scrambled the last fifty feet to the summit. On top we met a guy who had come up the Loft and was going to descend the Keyhole Route. I would bet that he was the only other person that made the summit today. The summit register on Longs is a bit of mess and we didn't bother to sign it and, after a quick sip and a bite, headed down the North Face.
Above the clouds
We moved slow and cautiously, still in our Microspikes, as the snow face had a lot of snow on it. We saw the group of ten below at the base of the crux pitch and when we got close they yelled up for us to be careful. Amazingly, we were able to negotiate the loose ledges without knocking down a single pebble. I wish the Bozos that climb up the North Chimney to the Diamond would learn these techniques...

We looped our 60-meter, 7.8mm line over the eyebolt at the top and I rapped down the line, stopping when I got to the lead climber below who was in the process of rapping off a marginal sling he'd placed. He was retreating from thirty feet up the pitch. He had no traction, no spikes, no crampons and it was the right call. He'd led the pitch before and said he leads 5.8 on a good day, but this was "alpine conditions" so, you know what that means: Bill gets to pull on everything in sight! Wait, no, it means it's harder to climb than when it's dry. I downclimbed the last twenty feet, as a 60-meter rope doesn't get you all the way down. I know the descent well, though and stemmed and jammed my way to the ground. Charlie stopped at the intermediate eyebolt and did a second rappel, retrieving the lead climber's sling and biner for him. We then gave all ten of these guys the hard sales pitch for Kahtoola Microspikes. If we didn't sell ten pairs right there, I'd be surprised, as we then demoed them by downclimbing the icy 4th class section that they were setting up to rappel. We were down at the privy in the Boulder Field before half of them were down this 100-foot section.
Looking back up at the North Face after descending it.
The rest of the descent was smooth and we mostly stuck to the trail, except when rational thought precluded it. We took Jim's Grove and all the short cuts and were back at the car 8h21m after we had left. We feel we can now definitely answer the question of "How long does it take to climb Longs Peak?" I'd always wrestled with that question when asked by hikers. "Uh, it depends on what route you take, what month you do it, how fit you are, etc." It turns out that none of that is true! It takes eight hours and change to climb Longs Peak. Period. It doesn't matter what route or what month. At least for Charlie and I. Strange, huh?

Yeah, yeah, there are some exceptions.


Charlie said...

8h21min for January, 8h13min for February, 8h15min for August, 8h21min for October. Strange!

Chris Weidner said...

Entertaining trip report -- thanks Bill! Great photos too. Let me know your plans for the LPP in November ...