While we were climbing up Mt. Massive a few weeks ago Derek asked me when winter ends. He was thinking that he should keep this streak of climbing Longs Peak in winter going. How long was his streak at that point? One winter in a row! I told this to my buddy Mark, thinking he'd chuckle too, but he responded, "For most things that would be funny, but for Longs Peak in winter...that's definitely a streak."
He makes a good point. Climbing Longs Peak in winter is no easy chore. At least for most people, myself and Derek included. Maybe not much of a stretch for Homie, Anton, Joe (as we'll see), Danny Gilbert, etc. but those aren't normal people. I've done it a number of times, but it's never been easy for me.
So, we made plans to climb the last weekend of winter, which was today. Derek wanted to do the Loft to Clark's Arrow, as he'd never been on that side of Longs before. He'd been up the Loft before, though, in winter, when we climbed Meeker as part of our training for Denali. We decided not to make a loop out of it (via a descent of the North Face) and settled on an out-and-back. That way we wouldn't have to carry harnesses or a rope. We did carry an ice axe, crampons, and a helmet. We wore double mountaineering boots with Microspikes over them and used poles.
|What a nice day!|
The climbing up to the Loft Bypass was nearly perfect snow for crampons. The only drawback was that it was very windy and we were in the shade for the first half. My hands got very cold, mostly because I refused to stop until we hit the sunshine. By then my hands were quite painful. Derek took care of me here, getting out my heaters and digging out my big mitts while I kept my hands balled up. The mitts and heaters had the problem solved in 10-15 minutes and that was never an issue again. We pulled on our shells here as well because we'd get hit it some pretty big gusts. Of course shortly afterwards the wind seemed to ease up and the sun had us pretty warm.
|Derek climbing up the Loft couloir|
|Derek on the steep snow section of the Bypass. Notice the tracks right of Derek and also behind and left of him. They go to the edge of the cliff...|
We spent thirty minutes on the summit, an extreme rarity for me in winter. There was little wind up there and it was sunny and beautiful. We ate and drank and relaxed. When we started down we were careful on the slabs and took our time. As we approached the top of Keplinger's I spotted a guy coming up, moving unusually fast. I noticed his pack was tiny and he had long hair. The way he moved, I knew he was something special and I immediately thought it must be Anton. I knew there was a 95% chance I knew this person though. Or if I didn't, I wanted to know them. Then I saw the curly hair and called out, "Hey, Joe!" It was unsupported, self-powered-14er-record-holder and all-around world-class endurance athlete Joe Grant, who is also an incredibly friendly guy. We chatted for at least ten minutes. Joe was in the Scarpa Neutron running shoes, which appeared to be nearly identical to the LaSportiva Crossovers, both have built-in gaiters and Gore Tex covers. He was in running tights and his signature BUFF. Looking at the differences in our clothing you'd think we were climbing different mountains or at least different routes. Nope. Though Joe was planning on descending the Keyhole Route to make a loop out of it.
|Derek on the Homestretch and nearing the top of Longs Peak|
Once back in the Loft couloir we were able to walk down facing out, digging in our heels, ice axes at the ready for a self arrest. It was too hard and too steep to glissade until we were more than halfway down, but then we got in some marginal glissading on hard snow.
Nearly to Chasm Cut-off we took a break to eat, drink, and strip off our Microspikes, stow our axes, and pack up our shells. The rest of the descent went smoothly with our conversation completely masking the tedious, tiring nature of the descent.
|On the summit!|
|Descending back to the top of Keplinger's Couloir. We did not climb the snowfield behind him.|
Derek has now climbed Longs Peak six times by six different routes in five different months, with his only doubling up in March - both winter ascents. And he's just 19 years old. I told him about my first time up Longs on our hike out. It was after my freshman year in college and I was 19 years old and did the Keyhole Route. He did the Keyhole when he was ten years old. He's got quite a jump on my young self. His ascents have been:
September: Keyhole, 10 years old
March: North Face, 18 years old
May: Notch Couloir, 18 years old
July: Kiener's Route, 18 years old
August: Keyhole Ridge, 18 years old
March: Loft/Clark's Arrow, 19 years old
Our goal this year is to climb the Diamond and we'll try that in July or August.
UPDATE: As of 5 p.m. on Saturday Pawel (Pole3) still hasn't been found. Supposedly they were going to use a helicopter but it's been very windy today.
UPDATE: I don't know anything more than what is in this DC article, but I suspect our guess was right. The climber fell and died. Tragic.