High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Friday, February 19, 2016

Longs Peak Project (February) -- Northwest Couloir

February 11th with Cordis Hall and Peter Bakwin
BAILOUT: Attempted NW Gully/Keyhole Ridge ascent and North Face descent

Peter Bakwin, Cordis, and I set off with intentions of ascending the NW Couloir/Keyhole Ridge and descending The North Face. Unfortunately, the winds had other plans. We were in an all-out battle with sustained 50+mph headwinds and 70+mph gusts. After struggling to get just below the boulder field Peter and I looked at each other and decided to call it. Cordis was making his way up a little ways in the distance. I looked at him and just pointed back down with my trekking pole. He nodded in agreement. 
Peter smiling when we thought we still had a chance at reaching the summit

February 17th with Peter Bakwin
Ascended via NW Gully/Keyhole Ridge descended via North Face
Our ascent route in blue (Photo taken from video on Alan Arnette's site)
Our descent, except covered in a lot more snow (Photo from Colorado Mountaineering)
My original plan for Wednesday to get out and ski, but then I saw an email from Peter about giving Longs another go. Of course, that trumps all other plans. Unfortunately, Cordis had class that he couldn’t skip. So, Peter and I rolled out from The Bus Stop at 5:30am in hopes of a February ascent. 

There was a slight wind at the TH, but nowhere near as windy as our previous bailout. As we kept going on the approach we could tell that the wind wasn't going to be THAT bad. Just below the boulder field (where we bailed last time) the winds were actually pretty calm. While scurrying across the boulders there was the occasional gust, but nothing too bad. We stopped at the shelter by the Keyhole to gear up for the rest of the day; both of us putting on every article of clothing we brought in addition to harnesses. Sitting here out of the wind and in the sun was surprisingly pleasant. 
All smiles in the absence of 70+mph winds (Photo: Peter Bakwin)

Peter leading the way to the Keyhole shelter
While sitting by the shelter we could hear the wind roaring through the Keyhole and see snow flurries near Lady Washington. After getting in some calories we decided to step through the Keyhole and see if the winds would let us pass. To our surprise, conditions were pretty stellar! No winds, blue skies, and decent snow. The only downside to the Keyhole route is that it's in the shade, but luckily we had all of our clothes on. 

We continued along the Keyhole route for a little while before heading up the NW Couloir. The lower section was one of two places where I got uncomfortably cold during the day. Both Peter and I couldn't really feel our feet due to slogging through deep snow. Eventually it gave way to ice/snow-covered rock and our feet began to warm up not being buried in the snow. 

We scurried up some 3rd/4th class ice-covered rock while wearing Microspikes—definitely an awkward feeling. There were a few big steps here-and-there that presented me problems due to the lower back pains I've had the past few weeks. So, not being able to make the full step I just used my knees to jam into the cracks and wallow my way up very gracefully. 

Finally getting out of the snow and onto rock! (Photo: Peter Bakwin)
There were two kind of shitty ice-filled chimney-type things that we squirmed up before arriving at the base of the crux cave. We already had our harnesses on and had a rope and gear with us. So, we roped up and I led through this section. I clipped a draw into the fixed pin then looked around for other places for pro, but didn't find anything obvious. So, I shimmied through the cave and came out the other side to a rime ice wonderland. I made my way up the rime-covered rubble, being careful not to knock a rock loose on Peter, and eventually slung a big boulder to belay up Peter. 

This was the only other time I was uncomfortable during the entire day. While setting up belay and bringing up Peter I left my mittens off and just wore a small pair of gloves that provide great dexterity. My left hand got painfully cold. As soon as Peter got up I put on my mitten, groaned a time or two, and regained warmth in no time. We coiled up the rope and continued the 3rd/4th class scrambling up to Keyhole Ridge; fully anticipating ungodly winds. 

Coiling up the rope with rime-covered rock overhead (Photo: Peter Bakwin)
Again, we were surprised to gain the ridge and find perfectly still conditions just to the climbers left of the ridge. It felt great to finally be back in the sun again, too. The views were spectacular as we rode the ridge to the summit. We had made it from the car to the summit in just under five hours using only Microspikes. Summit conditions were pleasant enough that we spent 10-15 minutes up there eating and drinking. 
Putting it in cruise control on Keyhole Ridge to the summit (Photo: Peter Bakwin)
Peter on the summit
Initially, we took off our spikes for the North Face descent. Peter did just fine in his La Sportiva Crossovers with their sticky'ish rubber. I was wearing some shitty Salomon winter boots that slipped on anything and everything. So, I put my spikes back on quickly. We encountered some really hard snow that made us uncomfortable enough to break our axes out again. After a few near slips I stopped to put on my crampons. During this a gust of wind ripped one of my mittens off my arm (even though it was leashed around my arm) and sent it blowing away to Kansas. Goddamnit...

After descending a little more hard-packed snow I caught up to Peter who had the rope ready to rappel. We did two rappels down and then continued hiking back down to the end of the snowy slopes where we stopped to take our crampons, harnesses, etc off and stow them. 

Not too long after we found ourselves rock hopping back in the glorious sun! The rest of the day was an easy hike back to the parking lot, which we reached in 8 hours 16 minutes roundtrip. 

I'd say that we got about the most perfect conditions one can ask for in a February ascent of Longs Peak.  

February 21st with Cordis Hall and Peter Bakwin
Ascended via NW Gully/Keyhole Ridge descended via North Face then summited Mt Lady Washington

Cordis had class on Wednesday and couldn’t join Peter and I. So, we decided to join Cordis for another lap of the same route. Otherwise, there was a possibility of Cordis just ascending via the Keyhole and we didn’t really want him to waste our “gimme” route this early in the project.

We decided to meet a little later at The Bus Stop (6am) this time. I woke up at 4am to start putting on all of the layers, eat a big breakfast, and hopefully let the coffee do its mojo. The temperatures were supposed to be colder, but the wind wasn’t supposed to be as bad. Mountain-Forecast predicted temperatures around the single digits with a wind chill around -10F. 

Dressing for these conditions is a tedious affair. First I put on the knee-high merino socks, next the merino long john’s, next the waterproof socks followed by thick wool socks (I added an extra layer of socks since my feet got pretty cold on Wednesday). Now it’s time for the La Sportiva Stormfighter GTX pants (best Craigslist find ever!). Then it’s time to put on the shoes. Finally, I cap off my lower body attire with some OR knee-high gaitors. The upper body is much easier. I put on my long-sleeve Smartwool shirt with wind protection on the front and a mid-weight smart wool jacket with insulation on the front. Top things off with a Buff, some gloves, and sunglasses and I’m ready for the trailhead.

It was noticeably colder at the trailhead this morning, but the complete absence of wind more than compensated.  During the first mile my hands were painfully cold to the point where if they didn’t get better by treeline I didn’t think I could continue. Fortunately, as the sun came up I felt its warm touch and was more than comfortable in no time. I actually unzipped the sides of my pants to below my knees, unzipped my jacket and shirt, and completely removed the Buff and gloves. I guess when there’s a 22 year old setting the pace I warm up really fast. 

The wind gods were smiling upon us today. When we reached treeline there was still pretty much no wind. Gradually, some gusts started to show up here-and-there. Around the boulder field I finally stopped to put on my hard shell jacket. Peter and I ended up reached the Keyhole shelter a little over 30 minutes faster than Wednesday and Cordis was there about ten minutes later. 
Cordis and Peter busting out of treeline with our objective straight ahead
Peter and I briefly thought about not putting on our puffies, but common sense took over. So, once again we put on everything we brought. I now had my long-sleeve shirt, mid-weight jacket, a big puffy down jacket, and my hardshell on my upper body along with the addition of a balaclava and wool hat on my head. I went ahead and put on my harness as well even though I wouldn’t need it until the Cables descent. I always like to put on my harness when I have feeling in my hands since I don’t know what the conditions will be like on the summit or descent. 

When it was all said-and-done Peter and I were probably at the shelter sitting for 20+ minutes—long enough for my hands and feet to get frozen. It took the better part of the Ledges for my extremities to warm up, which made for really slow going on my part. Peter and Cordis were flying ahead and I was cautiously planting each foot and my ax in an effort to not slip in my Microspikes. 

At the base of the NW Gully I finally started to warm up a bit, though was still moving slow. I had to buy a new pair of mittens since losing one on Wednesday. My dexterity in the new gloves left a lot to be desired since I couldn’t really feel the rock I was trying to grad. So, I kept removing the gloves for a move here-and-there then put the gloves back on and warm my hands up again. The most miserable stretch on the ascent was going through the little crux cave when I left my gloves off for about five minutes. We opted to keep the rope stowed for the crux this time since it was a little overkill last time. I was a bit disappointed to get to the crux and discover than all of the rime ice was gone. I was really hoping Cordis would be able to see that. 
Cordis and Peter shimmying up some of the 4th Class NW Gully

Peter and I nearing the cave (Photo: Cordis Hall)

Squeezing through the NW Gully's cave

The scrambling/climbing/whatever-you-want-to-call-it all seemed much easier today, but for some reason it felt like I was crawling along. That could possibly be due to the addition of speed scrambler Cordis just making me feel slow by comparison. Luckily, my lower back pain is beginning to subside, which made all of the big steps from the other day much easier.

Once again, we crested Keyhole Ridge to blue, sunny skies and zero winds and proceeded the cruise to the summit. We reached the summit in 4 hours 20 minutes—40 minutes faster than Wednesday. Most of that time difference came on the approach to the Keyhole, with about 10-15 minutes coming on the stretch from the Keyhole to the summit. It was an absolutely gorgeous day on the summit, which enticed us to linger around for 12 minutes to get some calories and fluids. 
Closing in on the summit
View of Chasm Lake from the summit

Conditions on the North Face descent were much better than on Wednesday. The snow had softened up a bit and the route had seen a little more traffic. After making our way through the exposed talus Cordis and I stopped to put on our crampons. We probably could have got by with Microspikes, but we lugged the crampons around all day and figured we may as well use them. 

We caught up to Peter at the first eyebolt and he was rigging the rope up for a single-rope rappel. Peter and Cordis would do one rappel down to the bottom of the Cables then I would bring the rope up and do two rappels down to the bottom. I’m not sure how long it took to do this, but it definitely seemed to take a while with my cold hands. From the moment I anchored into the top bolt to the moment I reached the ground and coiled the rope I left my gloves off the entire time. 
Peter rigging up the rope while Cordis tries to figure out how a harness works
A rare sight. Cordis wearing a harness and crampons, while sporting a backpack with an ax and poles.
Making my way down the two rappels to the bottom of the Cables (Photo: Cordis Hall)

When I caught up to the group I decided to just leave the rope hanging around my neck until we reached a good point to remove my crampons. On our way down we hugged Chasm View trying to get a glimpse of potential routes for next month. We decided to bop over Mt Lady Washington real quick on our descent since I have never actually summited it. We hit the summit in 6 hours 15 minutes. 
Standing at the top of Chasm View
Cordis sending out the vibe on the summit of MLW
Peter on MLW

Cordis and I split from Peter on the descent. I followed Cordis since he said his descent was less steep and easier. That may have been true, but Peter’s descent was way faster and more direct. When we caught up to Peter I removed everything but my base layer shirt and we casually meandered back down to the parking lot for a round trip of 7 hours 46 minutes. Not too shabby…

The Longs Peak Project continues...

Longs Peak Project (January) -- The Loft

January 6th with Cordis Hall
Up/Down The Loft and Clark's Arrow
Lower portion of our route in blue, but covered in snow (Photo from 14ers.com)

Upper portion of our route. The yellow line joining with the red line. (Photo: Mountain Jim)
Cordis and I caught word that Peter Bakwin and Tina Lewis just went up Longs via the Loft and down the Keyhole on the 5th. So, we decided since the trail was already broken we might as well give it a go. I had been back in Boulder for all of two days after spending two weeks in Missouri. Prior to the two weeks in Missouri I spent a little over two months in the desert primarily climbing. With little-to-no running in nearly three months and a lack of altitude acclimation keeping up with Cordis proved to be impossible. 
Cordis making his way across the snowy slope just above Chasm Junction
We hit the trail at 5:15am and hiked every step of the ascent. Around day break we reached to snow slope just past Chasm Junction and started getting some amazing views. Ascending the Loft proved to be more of a slog than anything. The snow was pretty good, though deep in a few places. I only had one of my BD Z-poles since I snapped the other one in half last summer during my Elks Traverse. So, when the snow got a little deeper I busted out my mountaineering ax to supplement the one pole. Near the exit ramp for the Loft Couloir I spotted Tina Lewis’ trekking poles that she left the day before. I decided to leave them and pick them up on the descent. 
Looking back towards chasm Juntion at sunrise

Approaching the base of the Loft Couloir
Conditions were perfect on the Loft—no wind, no problems. We made our way across the Loft, found some exposed rock, and downclimbed to Clark’s Arrow—maybe 4th/5.easy’ish with slight exposure for a move. The route we took was a little harder than the usual downclimb because we wanted to avoid snow. Neither of us is very competent on snow. 
Making my way to the Loft exit ramp (Photo: Cordis Hall)

Nearing the Loft with Longs in the distance
From here, the hardest part was the ramp taking us from Keplinger’s to the Homestretch, but calling it hard would be pushing it. The snow was sort of hard, but I was still getting by in my Microspikes.  The Homestretch was a mix of snow and rock, which made it pretty cruiser. It ended up taking up a sloth-like 6 hours 11 minutes to reach the summit. I was hurting pretty bad both from lack of fitness and lack of acclimation. 

We decided to listen to the advice of Tina and avoid descending the Keyhole. So, we retraced our steps back down the mountain. Downclimbing the ramp from the Homestretch to Keplinger’s in Microspikes proved to be a bit trickier than ascending it. When we reached Tina’s poles I stowed my ax and started using those. Cordis flew down the Loft Couloir, while I trudged along. I probably weigh 20+ pounds more than Cordis. So, he would barely make a print on the snow and I would fall through to the thigh. The entire descent proved to be frustrating for me. 
Cordis enjoying the views and good weather on the Loft
When we eventually reached treeline we were treated to well-packed snow on all the trails. I finally quit punching through and we were able to cruise back down to the trailhead. All said and done, this day took a ridiculous 10 hours 18 minutes. I can’t wait to get fit and acclimated again to shave a few hours off these winter ascents. 

While descending we began discussing the Longs Peak Project that Bill Wright and Charlie Nuttleman had completed in 2015. The conclusion was that we might as well keep ascending Longs every month until we either complete the project or run out of routes that are within our capabilities. Bill has been an amazing source of inspiration for mountain endeavors. So, attempting to follow in his and Charlie’s footsteps will be an amazing experience. Let’s see how this goes…