July 26, 2005
Longs Peak TH, 9400'
Ascent: the Loft
Descent: Iron Gates
11.5 miles/4500' RT
The Longs Peak TH parking lot was over half empty when I arrived. I started up the trail at 3:55am, pleased to be on a well-groomed trail, but a little concerned that skies were completely overcast. I saw a few groups on the trail and arrived at Chasm Lake junction at 5:10am.
By now I could tell that the clouds were mostly down in the valley. After waiting 10 minutes, I decided that the skies were clearing a little and headed SW on the Chasm Lake Trail. The route is fairly simple - just follow the gully on the south side of Ships Prow up to the Loft.
A long tongue of snow extended up to the cliffs below the Loft, and a snowfield hung between the Loft and the cliffs. The Iron Gates/NE ridge looked dry, but I was stubborn and stuck to my plan of ascending the Loft. I stayed to the right of the snow until I was very near to the base of the cliffs.
Looking over to the left, I could see what were probably the safe ledges on the other side of the snowfield. I didn't really want to cross the snow, so I looked for an alternative route that would let me stay on the right of the cliffs. This got a little tricky, as I had to negotiate some very narrow grass-covered ledges, and the rock was wet in places, reminding me of the Little Bear hourglass. Being careful, I was able to ascend what I would call a 4th class section and popped out above the cliffs.
I headed up towards Meeker's summit, with Longs clouded over. At 7:20am I reached the register. Two years ago, I had a discussion with a ranger on Longs' summit regarding the Meeker highpoint. He was a little exasperated. Folks kept moving the register over to the very large boulder a little ways east on the ridge, thinking that was the top. He assured me that he had sighted it and confirmed the boulder is lower.
To see for myself, I headed east to the big boulder and hauled myself up. Both my altimeter and eyes agreed with the ranger that the boulder is lower, so I think the register is properly located at the summit.
I then set off for pt 13860, the top of Meeker Ridge. This ridge is fun - there is a section that makes for good practice for Capitol's knife-edge. It does look like one could drop 50 feet and do most of the traverse on class 2 terrain, but where's the joy in that? It took about 12 minutes to scramble to pt 13860.
Skies were still uncertain, so I headed off down the NE ridge. The sheer slopes below this ridge are dizzying! When I arrived at the Iron Gates variation- there is NO survivable way down before this - it looked reasonable so I decided to use it. There was a little scrambling at the top, but the route then degenerates into a mind-numbing talus slog. I regained the trail near Chasm Lake and headed back to the junction.
I had seen no one in the 4+ hours since I'd left the junction but here met another family heading to the boulderfield. The skies above were actually mostly clear now. I descended back into the clouds, seeing a long-tailed weasel below treeline, and returned at 10:35am.