Maybe I’m spoiled. The winters of 2007 and 2008 were quite productive. This year I’ve only managed to summit UN 13,811, Humboldt and Lackawanna, and none with Jamie, leaving me with an unfilled feeling inside.
As the end of winter draws near we decide to invest Saturday, February 28th in an attempt to summit Longs. A late start(4:30am), missed turns at the shortcut and the entrance to Glacier Gorge along with miles of unexpected trail breaking ultimately turn us around at 11,800’ after checking out the cliff bands at the base of Trough. A day well spent? Yes, yet it feels unrewarding nonetheless.
The following weekend finds me in the Sangres making a solo attempt on Adams. A sunny approach turns ugly late before leading me to gloomy, windy Willow Lake. Snow is flying everywhere but the forecast is promising for tomorrow. Not to be. A pre-dawn start leads to socked in summits and unpredicted weather which grows worse and worse as I approach the Adams-Mujeres saddle. ~13,150’, the wind forces me to self-arrest twice during its blatant attempts to blow me over the north edge. During this ordeal my cornice radar is going bonkers. Rule #1 of climbing? You must return home everytime. You brats win this time, I’ll be back. Time to go see Jamie.
Some pictures from the February 28th attempt
First Light on Longs
Jamie Nellis, Professional Trailbreaker
Jamie Nellis above Black Lake with McHenrys and Arrowhead behind
Me happy to see the Trough. We're not getting up that today.
And then there was one, weekend that is. Scanning a long list of unfinished goals, my eyes are drawn to the top, Longs. It’ll complete three major goals, open a fourth and Jamie wants another crack at Longs also. That seals the deal. A midweek call from Layne and a late week commitment from Prakash brings our team to a strong party of four. Hopefully the weather will cooperate also.
Jamie and I drive up to RMNP Friday night, get ~5 hours of somewhat painless sleep at Glacier Gorge Trailhead before Layne arrives around 3am. As our 3:30 start time passes, Prakash is still nowhere to be seen. What now? Cell service is non-existent here and Longs won’t wait. To make an honest attempt today, we can’t either. We’ll give him 15 minutes.
3:50am, we start down the trail agonizing over leaving a team member behind. Hopefully he overslept and is enjoying a warm slumber. Forging ahead, we still the familiar shortcut, this time before the second bridge, and continue another minute down the trail to verify it’s the correct path before returning to it.
In the calm, cool dark of RMNP, the miles quickly go by as my headlamp begins to fade, die and regain minor strength. I consider pulling out the spare but the full moon along with the occasional, timely light from Jamie or Layne works fine when we enter heavily treed areas closer to the Glacier Knobs.
The entrance to Glacier Gorge isn’t problematic this go around and we cruise the uphills. Mills and Jewel Lakes are hauntingly beautiful in the eerie silence. The different blues and blacks of the ice mesh well with the starry night. We elect to take the longer path around their edges to play it safe. Beyond the lakes we find our trail from two weeks ago has been packed and repacked by numerous parties. Woo hoo! At 6am we arrive at Black Lake and take a break to refuel. Everybody is pleased with our progress.
Turning back to the task at hand we cruise up the weakness between the cliffs and begin making our way towards the Trough. Behind us sunrise on the Mummys is gorgeous. The warm light taunts us as we approach our snowshoe cache ~11,400’. We’ll be in the shadows for a few more hours.
Sunrise in the Mummys
The talus slope leading to the Trough is pretty bare, making for smooth travel. Ice axes and crampons come out at the base of the Trough. We’re ready to go but one of Layne’s crampons needs to be resized, and is stuck. None of us have any luck with this pest for the next ten minutes as we resort to tug-o-war and beating it against rocks. Finally it gives in and we’re on our way!
Immediately, our first obstacle is upon us in the form of slick ledges. Layne and Jamie probe the right side before heading left. I scoot up a dry line in the middle and join them above the lower cliffs. The upper cliffs aren’t as friendly. Layne follows me up an ugly section jamming an ice axe in a crack to aid with progress. Jamie has a slight issue being the shortest of us three yet manages somewhat smoothly to rejoin us above those difficulties. We’ll have to find a way around on the descent.
Jamie and Layne engaging the lower cliff bands
Now we’ve come to the good part, 2,000’ vertical of continuous snow. As we press upwards we pass the time with conversations about the slope angle, snow conditions, comparable climbs, foreign mountains and which of the surrounding peaks we’ve just passed in elevation. Every so often the angle looks to relent yet holds steady as we continue.
Jamie Nellis climbing the Trough, dreaming of the sun
Trough Trickery, the angle doesn't relent
Bull’s-eye! Huh, what? Layne turns back and points one out, and another, and another. Oh goodie, we have joined up with the Keyhole Route. Now how do we get that darn sun down here? Focus, we’ve decided to add rocks and weaving to the climb. Rounding a slight bend I smile as the chockstone isn’t far off. Good, we’re tiring and only want to rest in the sun and refuel.
The rockier side of the Trough
Layne enjoying the view with Longs' West Face
His second excited yell lets me know that Layne has climbed the chockstone and reached the warmth of sunlight. I’m envious and motivated to get there also. The chockstone is tricky in plastics. Friction climbing helps greatly and onto the Narrows we go, all of us basking in the sun. Snack time!
Layne in the sun!
Nice and warm we start across the dry Narrows. Small patches of snow and ice dot the terrain while our crampons screech on the rocks.
Dry Narrows, they don't feel narrow!
A rough climb over a larger than remembered block brings us to the bottom of a bone dry Homestretch, we’ll ditch the crampons now.
Don’t fool yourself; plastics weren’t designed with the Homestretch in mind either. That thought races through my head as I clumsily scramble my way towards the summit.
He's bigger than Waldo. So, where's Layne?
Jamie and I watch Layne’s final steps to the summit. That’s one! Back to the task at hand, we bob and weave back and forth climbing the easiest looking obstacle in the ugliest looking Homestretch climb ever. Then we’re there. Smiles light up our faces as we stroll hand in hand across the plateau towards the summit block celebrating the completion of a second range of Winter Fourteeners.
What a day! The three of us lounge on the summit of Longs, in the sun, for a half-hour.
Happy Jamies on Longs' summit
The Homestretch is even worse downclimbing. Layne floats along as Jamie and I ungracefully resort to scooting along on our butts. We begin passing ascending groups, 2…..3…..5 other people, everyone’s taking advantage of a nice weather window on Longs today!
Wonder if Layne has Tom Petty's "Free Falling" running through his mind also?
Re-crossing the Narrows we spot a familiar face ahead, Prakash! He informs us he overslept and has been leapfrogging with the others all morning. We wish him well and head on with promises to check in later.
The chockstone is no prettier the second time around. We survive, don crampons again and start through the snowy rocks. It feels steep, but never uncomfortable. Once the Trough opens up, we plunge step our way through mostly wonderful snow back to the cliffbands. Layne finds a tamer way around and we’re back in Glacier Gorge.
Snowshoes go back on and out we go. The short, steep downhills are brutal on the quads and knees. I’m surprised with the lack of tourists as we draw close to the vehicles, normally this place is jumping! 5:17pm sees us back at the parking lot. What a day and a fine close to Winter 2009!