Having lead Kiener's route in dry summer conditions, and having been climbing more snow and easy alpine ice routes, I thought a snow climb of Kiener's might be a fun thing to try on Saturday, June 3rd. The plan was to start early, hike fast, belay two or three pitches, and kick steps to the summit. I got two hours of sleep Friday night and left Boulder at 1am.
We met up and left the parking lot at 2:10am and were on broadway by 6:15am. We roped up for broadway (and the rest of the route!). I lead the same way I have in dry summer conditions, but this time in boots, on ice, snow, and wet rock.
At 8am I started from a 5' pillar about 20'-30' past the notch couloir and climbed straight up past a single ring piton, past two more fixed pins, until the chimney ends with a slot exit right. The slot exit involved standing on a tall 4" diameter ice stalagmite and stepping over into a kicked step in a snow plug.
I spent a good deal of time wandering for the easiest line and we were only halfway to the summit from broadway by noon. The snow had become very spooky by this time and so we decided to stay roped, be safe, and take a very long time to finish.
What in summer is a fun 4th class scramble is a nightmare on snow on a hot day. We belayed every pitch up beyond the diamond step-around and onto 3rd class terrain. We both attempted to eat and drink, but were both fighting serious nausea. We hit our high point and unroped around 3:30pm or so.
I was beginning to feel much better, but it was late and my partner was quite ill so we decided to skip the summit proper and traversed straight over to the north face rappels.
Downclimbing to the rappels was a spooky combination of slush, ice, loose rock, and wet slab. We finished the rappels around 6:30pm and downclimbed the crappy last bit of 4th class rock towards the boulderfield. Next time I'll do a short rap to the very last eye-bolt 50' below the one we used. I was relieved when we hit the trail in the boulderfield before nightfall.
The sun set on us just before Mill's morraine and we put our headlamps back on.
The hike out in the dark became a surreal journey of audible and visual hallucinations. Hiking the switchbacks near the creek, I was constantly hearing phantom footsteps and animal noises accompanied by flashes of light in my peripheral vision. We got back to the parking lot around 10:15pm for a round-trip time of almost exactly 20 hours. Expecting more of a 12-14 hr day, we only had two liters of water each, and barely adequate food. I kicked myself hard for not having my iodine with me.
I think that we may have started early enough to solo the route. But, lacking the confidence to climb from broadway to the summit withough protection under the conditions that existed, we chose to rope and climb. In retrospect, the advice I would offer to someone attempting to climb Kiener's Route with snow is that if you can't do it without a rope, don't do it. It might be possible to simulclimb fast enough, but you'd have to be quick.
My good friend and climbing partner (whom I will leave anonymous)
climbed the route the exact same day solo. He left me an email Friday night that detailed the route he was doing and when he expected to return. (he left from Colorado Springs Friday Night) I recieved a phone call from him at 9am Saturday morning from the summit detailing an exciting and easy lower fifth class climb up slightly mixed terrain. He was back in Colorado Springs by 5pm.
He went light and fast and was off the snow LONG before it was a problem. This can be a very fun and safe route if done in the right conditions. I leave this comment to show a contrast in two approaches to mountaineering: Light and fast Vs. heavy and slow. Sometimes faster is actually safer.
That was pretty much the point of my last paragraph. This is not so bad if you have the confidence to solo it. If you start at 2am and belay broadway and the first two pitches, the snow will be soft by the time you get to it and you'll have to bail or belay out the rest or risk sloughing off the mountain.
Light and fast in this case only applies to those willing to risk it all. This isn't Jardine lightweight backpacking. At our moderate ability levels and degree of physical illness, and with the conditions, exposure, and consequences of falling, soloing this route carried an unacceptably high possibility of death for us. Perhaps your friend had a much higher skill level and was not physically ill, and therefore had a lower chance of death. That's not my business.
One thing I've learned in climbing is to climb to your own standard. Once you try to climb by anyone else's standards you are lost. You MUST evaluate the situation only as it relates to you and your team, and others who might suffer the collateral consequences of your actions.
I'd rather climb for 20 hours than risk a ten percent chance of death. What is your ability level, confidence level, current physical condition, and acceptable probability of death? We all answer these questions, and the answers change over time. At that time, in those circumstances, I chose surviveable mini-epic over my calculated chance of death. I feel that is exactly why we made it back safely.
For us, faster was NOT safer. Faster is only safer so long as you stay within your abilities under the conditions. I have never caught a second's fall while simul-climbing and that's not something I wish to experience anytime soon. Attempting to move faster once we were already in the sh*t would have only exacerbating a tough situation.
If a mistake was made it was the choice of route in its current conditions. The choice of soloing vs roped climbing would have been a much greater mistake in my evaluation.
Hey Xyati, I think we saw your friend who solo'ed Kiener's that day. We were coming up the trough from black lake area that day, and right about where the ledges hits the trough, we ran into a guy coming down who claimed kiener's solo. Didn't ask much else info, so didn't get a name.