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 is...it 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|
|Nearing the Keyhole|
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 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.|
|At the top of pitch one|
|Jazz hands or ten months completed?|
|Above the clouds|
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.|
Yeah, yeah, there are some exceptions.