Preparing the Meal
BAM! The famous catchphrase of the chef Emeril is notably used when it is time for him to spice up that dish; add some garlic, dash in the exotic spices, toss in the rare ingredient that transforms the mundane meal into extraordinary feast for the senses. Long's peak, while far from being mundane, had melded itself into my palate as a standard staple of climbing fare. Like that favorite dish of Macaroni and Cheese or Chicken Soup that exudes comfort for one's being, after thirty successful summits, so too had this peak been relegated into my comfort zones. Half-mile of easy trail, three switchbacks, easy flat, four switchbacks, cross the bridge and you're above treeline. Such is the unflattering start so ingrained I hardly ever notice it anymore. So when the opportunity arose to modify the bland, oft-repeated recipes of my past via the Notch, a new route for me, I was eager to don my chef's hat and begin the feast. I welcome you along to enjoy the recount of our climbing feast via four courses of delectable edibles.
Course One: Appetizer
Relegating ourselves to an early start of 0100 on Saturday, bedtime came early Friday *evening* at 1900 in order to get some semblance of sleep prior to our leaving Ft Collins at 2345. I left the house while Friday night parties were still progressing in garages and picked up Andy and began the drive to the trailhead. It seems like these early starts are just getting earlier all the time...we'll soon be arriving before we've even left.
Upon arrival at the trailhead, we met up with Fabio and Michael, geared up, and began the hike up the well worn trail at 0115. Every feast begins with the finger food, easily consumed and just enough to ready ones stomach for the rigors of digesting the main course. Such was the hike up to Chasm lake; the miles evaporated quickly under our feet in the dark. It was fairly warm with no wind as we consumed our snack under a star-lit sky.
Unlike our recent forays up here
, we didn't have the side-track of Mt Lady Washington. However, recent rockfall from her face gave a slight spicing up to the standard fare as we approached Chasm lake. I filled up my empty water bottles at the lake observing that there were Earwig-like creatures scuttling around underwater. I made good point not to scoop up any in the water bottle.
We were approached here by another individual out to sample the tastiness of Long's peak as well; he too was to partake of the Notch, albeit solo. We followed him silently across the scree and rubble field north of the lake. As we arrived at the base of Mills glacier he had already started up Lamb's slide. Our appetizer complete, and our appetites primed for the next course, we sat down for snacks and gear preparation as the sun began cresting the eastern horizon.
Course two: Soup and Salad
I felt like crashing. No, not just felt, I was crashing. Hadn't even stepped onto Lamb's slide and I felt old and utterly exhausted. While the gear prepping continued, I lowered my head and pseudo-napped for a bit, trying to clear the fog in my head. Earlier in the week I had seen some photos of a prior climb in this area and apparently part of them got to me as I had uneasy premonitions about my well-being throughout the week. This felt like the culmination of it all; Pepto Bismol was no help at easing this indigestion. Nothing to do but push these thoughts aside and grind through this; the team is counting on everyone to help out in doing this.
Much like crisp, crunchy greens meticulously hand-picked for that light salad, such were the conditions up Lamb's slide. It was in the best condition
Mills glacier alpin-glow
I have seen it in a long while; hard firm neve and no rocks littered about its surface so much like inedible granite croutons. The soloist had produced a nice staircase of kick-steps up the face; eager to save our energy for the later courses, we followed up the nice staircase he made. Skiers had recently descended this nice couloir, and later readings revealed who the culprits were
. Just too like a gourmet salad, so was the Lamb's slide consumed quickly under our feet leading us to the saucy challenge of the day: Broadway.
This was the part I was dreading, but I kept reminding myself that the photos always make it look worse than it really is
Crux of Broadway
. Still the next hour or so we sipped away at this section served up to us as a spicy curry; it kept us burning slightly yet slowly filled our hungry bellies. It had melted away significantly over the previous week, however the crux still held some snow and ice. Moving around that bulge is spicy with rock shoes on; doing it in mountaineering boots and crampons adds several doses of imported chili powder into the mix. We opted to crawl under it. I set the lead and turned the rope in a via ferrata for the rest of the group.
We were through and finished the manky scramble to the base of the Notch couloir. Perhaps too much time had been spent at this course. It was close to 1000hrs and some clouds were flitting around in the sky occasionally forming puffy pastries before being consumed by the surrounding blue sky. Our appetites raged on. Bellies primed we dug in and begun our feast.
Course Three: Main Feast
The succulent meat of the Notch couloir route lies several hundred feet above the Chasm Lake basin and Mills Glacier. It runs roughly for 330m up to the notch between the summit of Long's Peak and its south-eastern slopes commonly known as the Beaver
. We knew it sustained fairly constant steepness (around 50 degrees), had some rock/ice steps, a dog-leg and a lot of gut-churning exposure. You basically start at the bottom, the bottom is basically the edge of Broadway which drops straight off for the aforementioned hundreds of feet. Iron digestive systems are required whenever you turn around as you are basically looking straight down for a loooooong way.
Start of the Notch
A week prior some hardy souls consumed this indulgent feast via protecting it in a series of about a dozen pitches. Given the conditions of the snow that we could see we could not fathom taking the time to do that. Much like the trepidation one must overcome in one's first tasting of Spam, so did we make the grim decision to simul-climb. Kids, don't try this at home unless you know what you are doing. It is perhaps not really grim, but it is a method whereupon many have died by not following the procedures correctly. You are basically soloing the route...tied via a rope to another soul who is also soloing the route at the same time. We placed protection in the form of snow pickets or rock nuts along the way, but there is no fixed belay anchor. If a climber falls, the other needs to be able to provide the belay in the form of their body weight and hope the (sometimes) tenacious anchors hold. When done properly in conditions befitting the skills of both the climbers, it can be a very efficient way to scale the mountain. But with everything in this passion, please practice the procedure extensively under safe, controlled conditions.
Due to the time of the day and the warm weather, the couloir was far from alpine ice conditions; it was going to be a snow climb. While some may cringe at the lack of aestheticism that simply climbing a "snow staircase" may impart, we were happy for this. I think our calves also thanked us heartily as they would have been on fire if we had to front-point this whole thing on hard ice (not that we weren't up for the task). Imparting a fair rating on the conditions, I'd rank it as Alpine Sloppy Snow 3+ (ASS 3+). Basically, we enjoyed the easy stepping...however this came with a price: the snow kept getting softer and less able to hold our footsteps as the day wore on.
Start of upper Notch
I've been in some weird belay anchor stations before, but the one Fabio set up around the corner of the first dogleg was...non-digestible. I came up behind him and Andy as they were switching leads. "Be careful, this belay stance is not so comfortable" said Fabio, "Well, good thing I'm climbing then." replied Andy. After Andy reached the Notch and Fabio followed, I squirmed my way into some vague form of only slightly freaked-out, not-very-comfortable position at the anchor and brought up Michael. Away he went and eventually it was time for me to go. Right from the get-go was some grizzled chunk of fatty meat-like alpine ice pretending to be stuck to the rock underneath it. Wasn't I lucky, everyone got to sample it and slowly break it up into various bits of crumbs before me. I quickly worked over those scraps and left them for whatever depraved dog might come and beg for them later.
Ugg. Let's increase the snow rating to a solid ASS 4; very loose and unconsolidated. Wallowing for a while brought me to another, but nicer looking section of alpine water ice. You are basically paralleling the upper part of Keiner's at this point. Pushing through the ice led to a final patch of snow and Michael and the top of the Notch. Woot! Cheers around, eat food, drink water, admire the view. What a climb. Unfortunately we had scarfed down the meat; in order to get to the next course the dreaded brussel sprouts and other forms of undesirable vegetables still needed to consumed. To further add to the indigestion, mashed potatoes covered in gray gravy were being thrust upon us over our heads further amplifying our need to finish this climb soon.
The upper half of the climb involves a minor scramble to the east and then north across some short slab to the base of a manky chimney called the Staircase.
If you can't smear in heavy, inflexible mountaineering boots, bring your rock shoes. We did and it helped a lot. Andy and Fabio were finishing up and Michael threw together an anchor so I could belay him up. I was feeling better and more focused now with more food and drink in me. The Staircase is technically nothing that hard; however it is fairly shaded, filled with bit of moss and vegetation and was wet. Yum! Roughly a 60m pitch and we were all up to the top. Back into the mountaineering boots for the last 100ft of class 4-ish scrambling to the summit.
Only one problem - very dark clouds now. It is thundering just on the west side of Long's summit. Not much else to do but see how bad it looks; if horrible we can scamper back to the staircase and hunker out the storm (we wouldn't be the high points then).
Some quirk of luck, the storm front stop thundering when we reach the summit; most of it is fairly far away. We are a bit relived but still quite wary; not quite food poisoning, but enough to warrant inspecting the final bites of food. The ritual feats of strength were performed in the form of push-ups. I got this from an acquaintance I made a few years ago; he'd do them on top of Denali and other big peaks. Suck some GU, dash some water, it's time to descend. We had ravaged our meals for twelve straight hours now; I wondered how much more we could eat.
Course Four: Dessert
Whipped cream over warm ice cream and caramel sauce. Ok, it wasn't that delectable. The whipped cream was runny, the ice cream too warm, and the kitchen forgot the caramel sauce. That was the feeling during the descent of the north face. Still lots of snow. In places it was decent kick-stepping, in others you pushed down only to have your crampon points skit off of rock just inches under the surface. In those cases it was all you could do to focus and not fall towards a massive fall over the Diamond face. During this whole time the storms always seemed to threaten, but not go all the way. Some snow fell on us and static built throughout the ether enough to cause my axe and pole to buzz every now and then.
We progressed towards the logical place where the eyebolt for the rappel would be, but with all the snow it took a while till we actually found it sticking up. We were showered with some late day sunshine as we rappelled down to relative safety of the final snow field which lead to the Boulderfield below. We cleaned the ropes, ate, drank and wallowed up to our thighs in oatmeal-ish snow until we finally and thankfully reached the rocks and boulders and the paved highway-like trail of the Boulderfield. Fully satiated now, we rather dreaded the impending finish to our journey much like a journey to the bathroom after an evening of eating hot and spicy Mexican food.
Paying the Bill: Death march to the car/Introspection
"You death-marching? Can I join?" quipped Michael on the way out. Unbelievable, the weather actually seemed to part away from our very existence and was exceedingly pleasant for the way out. We knew the bill would be large and we all dug deep into our wallets to help subdue the sticker shock imposed upon us. Out of water and extremely dehydrated, I worked at detaching my mind from my body and just allowed it to auto-pilot me down the trail. On and on it went; the local tax for this area was incredible but we sucked up and paid it nonetheless, we even tossed in a good 30% tip as a fitting tribute to the wonderful service given to us by the mountain. We had just conquered the Notch couloir! Life and everything around it felt so real and close to me; I had been through a long and weird year prior it was somewhere in the throes of the death march that things really started to clear up and brighten. This route really forced me back into the Now; or rather cleared my eyes that I had been there all along and just needed to open up to it.
The opening sequence of events regurgitated themselves in reverse as we approached treeline and before I knew it I was signing us out at the register: 1915hrs, 18 hours to the tick car-to-car. We disentangled all of our gear back to its appropriate owners and motored on down to Ed's Cantina for yet another delicious meal. Finally Andy and I made it back to Ft. Fun and I was crawling into bed...24 hours after getting up.
This journey not only re-invigorated my appetite for Long's peak, but also for reality in general. It is the hallmark of a good chef to be able to instill a meaningful life experience into his meals, and this mountain always delivers. Like life, do not take it for granted and its rewards will also return unto you tenfold...no matter which route you take, or how many times you've climbed it. My repetitive journeys up Long's have kept me at times from finishing up the rest of Colorado's fine crop of 14,000ft peaks. But I realized that doesn't really matter; this mountain has a special hold over me and I will continue to answer its call. When the other mountains are ready for me to sample their delicacies, I will still have room in my stomach for them. And as for what I thought was mundane on this beautiful mountain, I shall now look upon with renewed eyes and an invigorated, new appetite. Cheers!