Sunday, July 10, 2016

Family Trip on Longs Peak

Most of the group (Kraig and I are taking the photo) on the summit of Longs Peak

My niece Gabi, aka Ever Lasting, was inspired by Charlie and my talk on our Longs Peak Project. No, she didn't start an LPP, but found her own summer project, which was to complete all the Sawatch 14ers and get another 14er in each range. For the Front Range that was Longs Peak. Out of this idea evolved a complicated trip with three different vehicle arriving at three different times and three different routes visited.

My sister Brook, her daughters Ever Lasting and Marissa, her friend Helena, and Helena's dad Jake all started up the trail at 4 a.m. Derek and I started at 4:30 a.m. planning to meet them at the Keyhole and take Marissa up the Keyhole Ridge with us. Brook's husband Kraig started at 6 a.m. because he wanted to run up. He's crazy. Running up Longs... some people...
Derek and a beautiful sunrise
Derek and I took all the usual shortcuts and we were on Jim's Grove Trail just above to cross the Longs Peak Trail when Brookie calls out, "Billy!" If neither one of us hadn't seen the other, we'd have actually collided. We hiked together to the Keyhole where Derek, Missa Moo, and I broke hard left for the Keyhole Ridge and the rest headed up and through the Keyhole into an absolutely brutal wind.
Derek, Marissa, and Brookie in the Boulder Field, headed for the Keyhole
We traversed the ledge for a bit and then stopped to gear up. We put on harnesses, helmets, and Marissa put on her climbing shoes. We kept the rope in the pack for the first section and kept a close eye on Marissa. The climbing wasn't that difficult here but the exposure was huge. Derek led and I followed close behind Moo to spot her. She was completely nonplussed by the exposure, was completely solid, and did not call for the rope.
Scrambling unroped up the first section of the Keyhole Ridge
We wrapped around to the cold, shaded, windy side to bypass "Tower Two" and then roped up. I led two short pitches on half a rope length so that Derek and Marissa could climb on separate ropes. That limited how far I could do, though, and we switched to tying them both into the same rope, with Derek on the end and Marissa about ten feet in front of him. We endured some very cold, windy climbing before emerging onto the sunny slab below the crux pitch.
Happy to be out of the wind and the shade at the base of the crux pitch
Here the wind was nil and the sun warm. We had perfect conditions for this pitch and only this pitch. Above the sun would disappear behind clouds and we'd once again enter the wind tunnel. I zipped up the crux pitch and Derek and Marissa followed, with Derek doing some great coaching. Marissa is strong and has climbed 5.11 in the gym, but she wasn't done hardly any climbing outside and, well, it's different when the tape doesn't mark all the footholds for you. She's a quick learner, though, and Derek's a great, patient teacher. Soon they joined me on a great ledge.
Topping out the crux pitch
We did one more easy pitch and then I traversed into the notch, where we'd join the Northwest Gully route. Here we encountered some of the strongest winds I've seen. Definitely the strongest winds I've ever been roped up for, including the epic day Charlie and I had on May 31st last year on the Longs Peak Project, where our rope didn't touch the ground. Here not only wasn't the rope touching the ground, but it was flying high above us and exerted a nontrivial pull on us. Check out this video:



Above here we unroped and scrambled up the beautiful ridge towards the summit. After only ten minutes or so we saw a person high on the ridge. Derek immediately said, "That must Kraig!" Sure enough it was and we soon joined him. He hiked back to the summit with us, telling us that there others might have started down already as they had been waiting in the high winds for already thirty minutes. I wouldn't have blamed them at all. I don't think I would have stayed that long. But they were all there! Sweet!
One tough chick and a doting cousin
The first time Brook ever did Longs she went up the Keyhole Route with our sister Kim, topping out in less than three hours. She might be a touch slower now, but she's hardy. At the difficult wall at the top of the Trough she got a bit afraid, but Kraig was there to take care of his family. I had asked Brook if Kraig was going hard all the way to the summit and she said, "Maybe. It depends on how afraid we are." They were a bit apprehensive and Kraig immediately gave up his effort. I was super impressed that everyone pushed on to the summit, enduring the incredible winds far longer than Derek, Marissa, and I, for we were sheltered for some it.
Derek always looking out for Marissa
Kraig blitzed up the Keyhole and caught the rest just on the other side. He'd gone literally twice as fast as us. Kraig owned the FKT for the Keyhole route (1h47m) for nearly a decade. Now at 50+ he's still the man. The others started down immediately after the photos but Derek, Marissa and I took a short break to eat and drink something and take summit photos with the Which Wich bag (you get a free sandwich if you bring in a photo of yourself with the bag on top of a 14er).
Scrambling down the rappels
As were were doing this a super fit guy came sprinting up to the summit from the east face. Because he had an ice axe, I guess he came up Kiener's Route. Sure enough, he did. It was Pete Fox, a climber I'd met before and a frequent partner of another friend, and his partner Jacob. He remembered me and immediately congratulated Derek and I about our Denali climb. So cool that he took an interest in our climb and knew about it. Pete and Jacob would catch us on the descent and share our rappel line. Watching Pete descend from there was a thing of beauty. He's super fast and jumps around on the rocks like a marten.
Jacob rappelling with Derek, Marissa, and Pete below
Just after meeting those guys, up popped John Christie. He also immediately shook Derek's hand, congratulating him for climbing Denali. John had already climbed Meeker and was contemplating heading to Pagoda. I was surrounded by supermen.

We descended the North Face to the eye bolts and I lowered Marissa down (she doesn't know how to rappel yet - I need to teach her that soon!). Then Derek went down 200 feet on the fixed single line. After Pete and Jacob descended the same line, I doubled it and did two rappels down. A team of three climbers graciously took a break and let us all rappel through before they started up. We tried to return the favor and were ultra careful descending to the rappels to make sure we didn't know off any rocks.
Derek and Marissa in front of their next goal?
Once down the 4th class scrambling below, we packed the gear and hiked out. Marissa did amazingly well on the technical talus and bouldering hopping, keeping up very well. We had hoped to meet the others in the Boulder Field, but with no sign of them, we continued down. We were halfway down the Jim's Grove Trail when Kraig ran up to us. He said everyone was safely through the Keyhole, but would be an hour behind him. He continued down at a run, while the rest of us continued down at a much more reasonable hike. We moved quickly though and were soon down at the parking lot. Well, maybe not that soon to Marissa, but that chick can hike!
Derek and Marissa Snapchatting already
The real eye-opener for me that day was seeing Marissa's toughness. In retrospect I shouldn't have been surprised. She's a level 10 gymnast (near Olympic level it seems) and has the strongest core, by far, of anyone I know. She does things that look impossible and are impossible for 99.9999% of the human race. But suffering in 70-mph winds in the shade, in tiny climbing shoes, and enduring endless talus over rocks that are huge for her 5'3" frame without a single "I'm cold", or "I'm tired", or "Slow down", or "Wait for me." She just kept up and was a worthy alpine partner on her first outing. She'll be back, I'm sure. She has the mentality for it.

Derek's skills and fitness continue to grow. He's love for Marissa and his great attention to taking care of her was an added element I loved watching. Those two could be a great team in the future. Derek had never done the Keyhole Ridge, but he cruised it easily on the end of the rope, where he couldn't fall without pulling Moo off as well. He did it in his scrambling shoes, too. In the last week he's climbed nine 14ers and did the Ten Mile Traverse (11 peaks above Frisco and Breckenridge) just two days ago.

What a great day on my favorite peak, with my favorite people. Only Sheri was missing. Unfortunately she was on call and couldn't come. But when the lives of main frame computers everywhere are counting on her, she could not leave her post. She was missed. The day would have been ideal if she could have made it instead of the wind. The wind was a definite negative factor, but we didn't let it get us down or stop us from our goals.

1 comment:

Gayla Wright said...

What a fantastic outing!!! You all have guts to have withstood that wind. Looks like you even had fun. I climbed Long's years ago and know how tough and dangerous it can be. Love seeing all you family members enjoying one another. Love you, NaƱa