Desert Vibes

Desert Vibes
Photo: Ben Clark

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Longs Peak Project (November) -- The North Face

November 3rd—Up/down The North Face with Peter Bakwin

Car-to-car time: 7 hours 48 minutes

With the forecast on November 3rd looking perfect and everything after that in the extended forecast looking like complete shit I decided to use a sick day and try to get a November ascent early in the month. Peter and I decided to finally use The North Face as one of our routes after saving it all year.

We hoped for some decent snow conditions on the Cables section to make for a nice, easy snow climb. Unfortunately, snow conditions were quite terrible. The Cables section was slabby rock covered in a thin layer of shit ice with 1-2 feet of sugar snow on top—not exactly ideal for an easy solo. So, we decided to rope up even though we didn’t have any pro with us. We each had a harness, a personal anchor, and a belay device. I tethered my anchor around the lowest bolt while Peter climbed up a ways without pro. He eventually reached another bolt and tethered in with his anchor. I climbed up to him, continued up through the top of the Cables where I exited the slabs (crux), and tethered into the highest bolt to bring up Peter. After exiting the Cables we easily made our way up to the summit and into the sunlight. 

This would be our last descent of The North Face for the LPP, which was a great feeling. Descending this route had become a chore more than anything over the course of the year. A short descent/traverse over to the eye bolts, two quick raps, and then one last hike back to the Longs Peak Trailhead. The crap conditions on the Cables made this ascent take several hours longer than anticipated. Oh well…

Photo: Peter Bakwin

Photo: Peter Bakwin

Longs Peak Project (October) -- Keyhole

September 4th—Up/down Keyhole Route solo'ish

Car-to-car time: 8 hours 14 minutes

Pretty uneventful day on the mountain. I didn’t really feel like going hard. So, I just decided to hike up-and-down at a casual pace. When I reached the Keyhole I caught up to another hiker; a guy from Canada, I believe. Since I had no agenda I decided to just hang around with him to the summit and back to the Keyhole. This added 1-2 hours to my day, but he was good conversation and he said that if I hadn’t stuck with him that he would have turned around. So, it was a good feeling to help someone get to the top of Longs for their first time.

Conditions were a little snowy, but I was able to get up-and-down in Microspikes and an ax. I had crampons with me just in case, but didn’t really want to mess with them. When we made it back to the Keyhole we parted ways and I began to speed hike/trot back to the trailhead. 

Not a bad day on the mountain at all. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Longs Peak Project (September) -- Mary's Ledges

September 4th—Mary’s Ledges (Bailout) with Peter Bakwin

Car-to-car time: 5 hours 34 minutes

The forecast was good: sunny, clear skies, no precipitation, and low winds. That's not what happened. We started from the TH with a light drizzle, which eventually faded to blue skies. Once at the boulderfield we were greeted with snow, rain, cold, and wind. We took shelter under a big overhanging boulder for a little over an hour before deciding to bail and come back tomorrow.

Things change quickly in the alpine

September 5th—Up Mary’s Ledges, down North Facewith Peter Bakwin. Also, descended to the top of the Trough and re-summitted via SW Ridge to scout for October.

Car-to-car time: 9 hours 39 minutes

After yesterday, Peter and I returned determined to reach the summit. So, we brought almost full-on winter clothing to ensure that shit weather wouldn't stop us again. The hike up to the boulderfield went a little quicker than yesterday. We started making our way towards the buttress between the Cables and the Keyhole. This buttress is right along the Left Dovetail, I believe. There are two ways to start Mary's Ledges: from the right (which requires crossing a significant stretch of the Dovetail snow field) or to the left (which requires some easy scrambling). We went to the left and found ourselves on a nice ledge on top of the buttress.

We busted out the rope and gear here. A frigid wind was hammering us from the east. So, we decided to put on all of our clothes for the climb. Neither of us knew the route and I couldn't feel my hands, which could make for slow going on the climb.

So, I began up the first pitch (really the only pitch of actual climbing) and eventually reached a step that I had trouble committing to. Then I realized I was off route and moved into this nice little dihedral with a fixed pin. From here the climbing was easy (5.6-7?) and well-protected (not sure why this route has an R rating). Since I couldn't feel my hands the entire pitch I just stitched it up and hoped that at least a few of the pieces would be OK.

I reached a small ledge and belayed Peter up. I still had about 15 feet of rope left, but didn't know what was above me. When I took off on the second pitch I realized that I should have just kept going and had Peter start simul-climbing. The second pitch just ended up being easy 4th class scrambling where I didn't place any pro.
Once we stowed the gear it was an easy walk to the summit through the upper North Face talus. At the summit we decided to head down the Keyhole route to the top of the Trough to scout out our planned route for October--SW Ridge--and see if we'd be comfortable soloing it.

We ended up scrambling up a bunch of 5.easy terrain until we got to a ledge with a hand-to-wide-hand crack that went for about 10-12 feet. Here, we decided to rope up and I led again. We really only needed the rope for 1-2 moves in that crack (5.6-7) before the terrain relented back to 4th Class/5.easy scrambling.

After topping out on the summit again we began our customary descent of the North Face. We rapped the Cables because we had a rope with us, but it wouldn't have been horrible to downclimb. I've downclimbed it with way more ice before.

The hike out has become one of the most tedious parts of the project. I don't think Peter and I will be "enjoying" another North Face descent for a while after December...

All smiles after climbing the first pitch

View from the top

Longs Peak Project (August) -- Ship's Prow Port Side

August 14th—Up via Ship’s Prow Port Side/Clark’s Arrow, down via Loft

Car-to-car time: 5 hours 59 minutes

Sort of an obscure route, but a pretty easy hike, overall. Basically, just head up like you’re doing the Loft and keep an eye out for an obvious ramp heading up across the Ship’s Prow (on climber’s right side of Loft Couloir). The ramp maybe has a few hard 3rd class moves on it, but is pretty mellow. Once off the ramp it’s an easy 2nd class ascent on some boulders before traversing under a slabby section of rocks. After the slabs I eventually fired straight up a gully with a short 4th class crux. From here, it was pretty smooth sailing to the Loft. The rest of the ascent was cruise control on the Clark’s Arrow route.

I descended the Loft/Clark’s Arrow route. On my way down I ran into a couple of idiots from Jersey who decided they were going to “climb” Longs Peak barefoot on their first day here from sea level. Needless to say, their feet got raw and bloody and then they had to hike in clunky boots the rest of the day. They looked like death. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I mostly hike the descent until I got back down to the Chasm Lake area.

I’d post more photos, but they’re all on my phone that broke. Maybe if I can salvage the data from the phone I’ll post them later. 
The ramp cutting across the Ship's Prow

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Longs Peak Project (July) -- A Walk in the Park

July 9th—A Walk in the Park (Glacier Gorge Traverse) with Peter Bakwin.

Half > Storm > Longs Peak (via Keyhole Ridge) > Pagoda > Chief’s Head > McHenry’s > Powell > Thatchtop

Car-to-car time: 10 hours 53 minutes

I definitely rank this right up there as one of the best days I’ve ever had in the mountains. Such a great route! Peter and I hit the trail hiking at first light and found ourselves ‘schwacking up Half in no time. As Peter recalled, we were dead even on his previous splits for Half and Storm when he did this route with Buzz and Tina previously. Everything up to the Keyhole was pretty chill 2nd Class terrain.

The real fun began once we reached the end of the mellow ramp at the beginning of the Keyhole Ridge route. Here, we began a steep ascent of a flake/crack system for what felt like 100’ish feet. The scrambling was fairly steep and exposed, but solid. Once we reached the top the terrain eased for a bit. I probably should have done this write-up shortly after completing the route since I don’t really remember too many details almost one month later. I do remember a super exposed side traverse on small ledges to skirt around one of the more vertical cruxes. I also remember an awkward step around a corner (right by the off-width crack) that led to a 10-15 foot 5.6 cruxy section on solid holds. This step around and 5.6 section was spectacularly exposed, much like most of this route. Eventually, the difficult terrain relents into a 2nd/3rd Class hike to the summit.  

From the summit of Longs we headed down the Homestretch for a short while before veering off and heading towards Pagoda. The key to the descent to the Longs-Pagoda saddle is finding a break in the cliff band that allows for an easy descent. We found this easily and trudged up to the summit of Pagoda rather quickly.

Next, was the second crux of the day—the descent off Pagoda. If you have a rope to rappel or you’re a more ballsy solo downclimber than Peter or I then you can just downclimb the 5.7 west ridge of Pagoda. Otherwise, you can sneak and meander your way down through a series of low-5th Class downclimbs and ledges. We opted for the easier descent. The route finding on this descent option isn’t obvious, but isn’t terribly difficult either. Once through the difficulties we found ourselves on a nice ledge over to Chief’s Head.

From Chief’s Head to McHenry’s was pretty easy, straightforward terrain. A chilly wind picked up around this point and lingered until we began our descent off Thatchtop. Everything we had read about the descent into McHenry’s Notch had us prepared for another cruxy part of the day. However, we managed to find our way down into the Notch without ever exceeding 4th Class.

McHenry’s to Powell was another cruiser section. From Powell to Thatchtop was quite enjoyable 3rd/4th Class terrain that kept us engaged enough to forget that we had been on our feet for over eight hours. The only negative about this stretch was that it proved to be pretty slow going due to a knife-edge traverse, several slabby downclimbs, and a couple of lichen-covered sections.

Once on Thatchtop we were left with a talus hopping descent down to Solitude and Shelf Lakes, which passed by quickly. The worse part of the final descent was the section from Shelf Lake to the main trail running along Mills Lake and back to the trailhead. This was steep, loose, and covered in downed trees, which sucked to run down in dot rubber approach shoes.

When we finally reached the main trail we just ignored how tired we were and ran all the way back to the trailhead. We wanted to see if we could finish in under 11 hours, but mostly we just didn’t want the last few miles to drag on forever because we were being lazy and walking. We ended up reaching the trailhead in 10 hours 53 minutes and felt satisfied with our effort.

It felt good to be back at the car and to get the shoes/socks off. It felt great to stop at Oskar Blue’s for food and beer on the way back home. It felt even better to get back to the Taco and pass out for a few hour nap.

Splits: Total time (split time)
Half—1:13 (1:13)
Storm—2:30 (1:17)
Longs—4:00 (1:30)
Pagoda—4:43 (0:43)
Chief’s Head—6:04 (1:21)
McHenry’s—7:15 (1:11)
Powell—8:00 (0:45)
Thatchtop—9:20 (1:20)
Trailhead—10:53 (1:33)

The route--going clockwise
Peter leading the way at sunrise

On the summit of Storm with a glimpse out what awaits us for the rest of the day

Coming off of Half and catching our first views of Keyhole Ridge up Longs Peak

Unobstructed view of Keyhole Ridge. Such a sweet route!

Keyhole Ridge starts out easy enough on this ramp

Then escalates rather quickly on this steep scramble up a flake/crack system (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

This is a short 10-15 foot 5.6'ish crux section right after an awkward step around a corner. Both are very exposed. (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Look closely and you can see Peter making his way up the huge ramp.

Embracing the exposure on this side traverse (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Looking down is fun (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Peter making his way to Pagoda, I think

I think this is on the descent of Pagoda, but I can't remember

One of the 5.easy sections of the Pagoda downclimb (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

The sweet ledge system from Pagoda to Chief's Head

Making my way across the nice, big ledges (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Looking back at Pagoda. If you look closely on the right side of the ridge you can see the grassy ledges that we used for the downclimb.

Just a small taste of the route

Peter making his way into McHenry's Notch, I think

The knife-edge between Powell and Thatchtop

Peter on the knife-edge

Looking back on our route from the knife-edge

Me on the knife-edge

A fun finger crack/dihedral downclimb

Panorama of our route from the last summit of the day, Thatchtop

View from Thatchtop