Longs Peak has always been a measuring stick for me. Ever sense I was 11 I wanted to climb it, and ever sense I picked up a copy of Mark Twights book, Extreme Alpinism, I wanted to climb it by a technical route, or in winter, or both, In a single push. At the time my personal climbing hero was a man by the name of Ken Lang. This guy is not known in the climbing world, or even able to lead a technical pitch, but he has summited all of the Colorado fourteeners, was an adult leader in my boy scout troop, and waited for me when I hiked my first mountain, (Grays peak) hours slower then everyone else. I soon became the best climber in the troop, and Told him of my plans. He said there was no way I could climb the north face (cables route) in winter, or in a day; I was determined to prove him wrong. When I was 13, after 3 tries over 2 years, I climbed the route in late fall (close enough to winter), leading every pitch, with my dad as my partner, in one day.
Fast forward 6 years, I am still obsessed with Longs peak, and after an off and on relationship with climbing I am ready to test myself again. For years I have been terrified of the east face, wondering If I will ever have the nerve to try even its easiest route. After a summer of climbing harder and more often then ever before, (including a 4 hr solo of the north face) It was time to give Kieners a serious try. My partner for the route was a friend of mine named Jonathan Peterson, who I had introduced to climbing about a year and a half before. He was bitten hard by the climbing bug, and It wasn't long before he was out pacing me on the approach trails. Jonney was by far the most important asset I had for this climb, for over the last couple years he had become my right arm. Our common style, personal tastes, dreams, and view of the universe had forged a friendship that has surpassed all others. We leave parties in the middle of the night to go bouldering or hiking. Keiners was just as much about climbing with Jonney as It was Longs peak.
On October 8th, 2005, I picked up Jonney from his house at 1:00 am for the drive from Loveland to the trail head, which we could cut down to about 45 min. There was little anticipation on the way up, just Ravi Shankar blasting from the Ipod and the sense of everything being in place for a great day. The morning was clear, and we had the trail all to ourselves. The pace was steady but not rushed, as we had plenty of time before sun up. We took a 45 min. nap in a really nice bivi cave right at the bottom of Lady Washington's large and steep south face, because I had once again over estimated the time required for the hike in. These naps are always quite refreshing, but also very disorientating; I expected to wake up in my bed, not staring at the diamond. After shaking off the confusion and warming up, we set off.
Looking up at the east face of Longs is a frightening thing, especially if your intent is to actually climb it. Soon it was time to stop thinking and start doing; to live in the present, on the route instead of dreaming about it as I have in years prior. Lambs slide was In good shape in places, powdery in others, and ice sometimes. We where about half way up when Jonny stopped and yelled up to me. He was having trouble with his ice tools, that he received by mail the day before, because he did not remove the leashless hand supports, making it impossible to plunge the shaft in the snow. Damn it Jonny, I told you to do that at home! I slid down to him to help him remove the plastic things, luckily he brought the required wrenches. In our fiddling another party caught us, intending to climb the notch couloir in fall ice conditions. We made our way to the top of Lambs slide
, took a deep breath, and ran across broad way before we changed our minds.
has always frightened me more that any other part of the route. I tried to do the boulder problem, freaked out and resigned to crawling under the thing. More terrifying unroped traversing on snowy ledges brought us to the notch couloir. The other guys were getting ready to go up the couloir as we busted out our gear. We brought along one 8 mm, 60m rope, which we intended to double up and use to simul-climb, figuring that it would be easy. It probably would of worked had we taken the correct route. I lead off first, climbing up about 100 ft looking for a place to start (in retrospect, way too far). I worked up a corner / finger crack which required two french free moves, not what I had expected considering I could onsite 5.10 in the lowlands. I reached a ramp covered in enough snow to make it slippery but not enough to bite crampons into. I needed direction, I went off right towards a blind corner and shouted down. What does It look like over there?
Jonny replied, as your attorney I advise you not to go that way. (We are both Hunter S. Thompson fans, I knew that meant trouble). With only 100 ft of rope to work with, I decided to build an anchor and bring up Jonny (so much for simul-climbing) All I could find was a solid looking cam placement and a loose looking rock horn. I belayed off my harness, with the rope going up through the cam and down to Jonny, and the horn as a back up (stupid!). Jonny climbed up past the cams and hung from the rope. He told me he couldn't get the cams out, as he had climbed past them. This confused and angered me, I guess Ill just have to lower him I thought. Just as I began lowering him, the cam pulled, producing a loop of slack. Jonny took what would of been a leader fall in a climbing gym right onto my harness, pulling me from my stance. I looked up in horror as we both now hung off of one sling around the rock horn, connected to it by my body weight only daisy chain. I then noticed the horrific death drop that was below us, 100 ft onto the couloir, then 100 ft down the ice, then 800 ft of vertical rock down to the glacier. The worst part is that we would probably try to self arrest in the couloir before being thrown off the lower east face, and have time to think about it. What Happened? asked Jonny.
Umm, directional pulled I said as casually as I could.
Ok, I can get the cams out now was his response.
When he unweiged the rope I put the cam back in and pulled on it. As I pulled the crack it was in visually widened, reveling that I was really just a loose, frozen block that I could have knocked off. I though about weather or not I should tell anyone about how close we had come to taking the big ride. Jonny reached the belay and we acknowledged that we were off route. We came up with some options, we could rap down, then traverse, or try to go straight up, or bail. We deiced to go straight up. Above us was a 25 ft slightly overhanging hand crack next to a corner with some small crimps, what was above that we couldn't see. I never even thought about trying to free it, down low, with rock shoes and a t-shirt, maybe, but here in mountain boots, no way. My intent was to quicky aid climb it. I climbed up a few feet to a fixed pin, clipped it, and tried to put in a cam with no luck. We brought a small rack, I just didn't have the right size. I pulled a couple of free moves and tried again. I got the cam in, but when I pulled on it for a test it slipped sideways, yes sideways and got stuck. I was to pumped to deal with it, so I continued. What happened next was the hardest and most scary bit of climbing I have ever done. I some how pulled up the overhanging hand crack, which I honestly think deserves a 5.9 or 5.10 rating, in gloves and boots, with one old pin for pro, 6 ft above the belay. I survived and build a good anchor, and Jonny followed, disgusted at how easily the cams I tried to put in pulled out.
Now we were committed, but the ground above looked promising. Above us was two easy looking mixed chimneys, one going off to the left, one going straight up. Based on the route descriptions we had read, we picked the left one. I happily led It, finding a fixed pin and some webbing at the top. all right, were back on route I yelled down. Jonny quickly followed, and I set up again (why I led so many pitches was silly, but it made sense at the time). I was soon at a dead end, a vertical, completely blank wall falling back into the couloir. You would need a bolt kit to climb it I told Jonny after down climbing to the belay. The fixed gear was no belay, It was a rap station, made by others who made the same mistake. Now things were getting desperate. We had anticipated a nice 5.easy simul-climb, not this epic. 3 pitches up and at a dead end with only one choice now, rapping back down. We rapped and pulled the rope, until it got hopelessly stuck.
Now It was really desperate. We were taking way longer than planed, were off route with no end in sight, up 800 ft of alpine ice and 3 difficult rock pitches, with no rope. Im not one for profanity, but this situation called for it. I didn't care anymore, we went into survival mode, and I did what I thought was necessary. I calmly took off my pack and the rack, grabbed my ice tools (we had sense discovered that dry-tooling was easier then trying to rock climb the mixed snow rock pitches) and soloed back up. I re threaded the rope, tossed it, rapped back down, and very carefully pulled it down. Jonny had a look up the other chimney, and said that it looked like It would go. In the interest of time I got ready to lead (again) and went up. After 100 ft I told Jonny to pull the anchor and just go, we would finally be simul-climbing.
It had been a wonderful day, completely still, temps just around freezing. It was dark, snowy, cold, and stressful on the wall going from the couloir to the upper slopes. I reached a large ledge and a different world. In the sun It was warm, dry, and happy. The adrenaline wore off and I got tired, so I built an anchor and belayed up Jonny. Things were looking up as I handed him the rack and he (finally) took the sharp end
. We could of soloed from there, but were both beat mentally and physically enough to rope up on the snowy 4th class ground
. After about 300 ft I yelled up to put me on belay and wait up
. We put the climbing gear in our packs and started scrambling on the now snowless ground
. I had luckily read a few trip reports and knew to go right of the tower to find the Diamond step-around, which we did quickly. The step around was not as exposed as It was hyped to be, and allot less scary that broadway. I was sick of this route by now, and ready to be done. I went into high gear and sprinted up the last 200 ft to the summit (which at altitude with a pack means a steady walk). On the familiar summit of Longs
(this being my 7th visit
) was an old park ranger, a lone scrambler, and a pair who did the cables route. The pair that we met earlier in the notch couloir were long gone. Jonny had been concerned about the integrity of the bolts on the north face (our decent route), and asked the ranger. There strong, they have been there sense the 1920s was the rangers response. This was not what Jonny wanted to hear, and only made him more nervous as we started down the north face. I was relived that the climb was over, and glad to be on familiar ground. I think Jonny was still a little stressed. He repeatedly asked me If I knew where I was going, and where the bolts were.
Don't worry man, Iv been on this route 3 times, I know where the bolts are I tried to reassured him. I cant blame him for his concern, the way the day was going it seemed completely possible that I would just lead us off the Diamond. Thankfully I do know the route well, and found the first bolt quickly. We made 3 simul-rappels (one climber on one half of the rope, rapping at the same time), and did some down climbing to get down with our one rope. We looked around, drank some water, and prepared for the hike down. At the bottom of the boulder field I looked down the trail that goes off left, then right towards chasm junction. I have always hated that part of the trail. I faced Jonny and said, screw granite pass! and started off in a straight line around Lady Washington towards chasm junction. If some one got mad at us for short cutting I would of attacked them with an ice tool.
At chasm junction we took our first long break sense our nap in the cave. We were now in a different world
. It was sunny and warm, there were hikers in shorts and little kids running around. We told our story to a curious hiker and stumbled down the trail, looking completely trashed.
We stopped in Estes park and got some victory sobies, a tradition for completing a hard climb, and called home to tell our parents that we were still alive. The climb had taken us 16 hours round trip, 6 hours longer then planed.