Desert Vibes

Desert Vibes
Photo: Ben Clark

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

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