Sunday, September 11, 2016

Longs Peak

Longs Peak
When you think of the mountains of Colorado, Longs Peak is usually at the top of the list. I’m not sure what the allure is about the mountain, perhaps that it’s a lone giant, the long history of ascents or that it is simply part of Rocky Mountain National Park. Living in the Denver metro area, Longs Peak is a part of the skyline to the north I see each day. Climbing Longs has been considered a classic and put on the list of many climbers, even before moving to Colorado I was aware of the allure of the mountain and was drawn to the idea of summiting it one day. I have been in Colorado for five years now and have for a long time contemplated the idea of Longs, on Thursday I convinced myself it was time to attempt the giant.
Longs Peak in no way is an unobtainable mountain. In fact through this report I hope you see that it is not a hard or technical mountain to climb at all. I think the naming of many of the features such as the ledges, or the narrows that create a lot of concern for people. I’m not sure exactly why I put it off so long, but I like to tell myself it was because of the route being nearly 15 miles and having to start around 2am. Over the past two weeks I couldn’t decide what mountain to climb, but the idea of Longs was always there. Late in the week I texted Cole and told him I decided on Longs and he agreed to join me, even though that required a midnight wake-up.
The Keyhole
The Longs Peak parking lot is notorious for filling up before 2am on any weekend. Even though the weather was going to be clear, we wanted to avoid as much of the traffic on the trail and still be able to park in the main lot. We decided a 3am start would work for us. I left my place at 12:30am and picked up Cole. The TH is located off of HWY 7 that runs in-between Lyons and Estes Park. We arrived around 2:30 am and snagged the last spot in the main parking lot.
As we were gearing up at the TH the temps were very cold and the wind was breezy. I decided to pack my heavier parka instead of my light one, which was a wise decision. We didn’t take too much time and were off along the trail by 2:45am. I was feeling pretty good considering the hour and lack of sleep. I told Cole to let me know if my pace got out-of-hand, he never complains and always keeps up. I had set break points along the route so I could ration my water/food, wanting only to carry only what was necessary.
The pace was more on the fast end, where we hit the Chasm Lake junction in an hour and half covering about 3 miles and 2,000ft. We took ten minutes to take in some fuel/water. The parkas were much needed as the wind was howling. The one bonus were the stars, you could not quite see the full Milky Way, but with a little less headlamp pollution it may have come through. I could not get a picture to come out showing the headlamp trail from all the climbers, but it looked like I70 on a ski weekend in the dark.
The next break was the Keyhole. The Keyhole is where the trailed section of the trip ends, about 6 miles into the climb. My goal was to be there for sunrise at about 6:30am, so far we were moving better than expected so I was confident we would make it to the Keyhole for the sunrise. From the Chasm Lake junction there is a long traverse to Granite Pass. From the pass there was almost a paved path of granite slabs, quite unusual, but made our travel very efficient. Not long after the pass the boulder field starts. We could gauge where landmarks were in the dark based on the line of headlamps in front of us. There is a trail through most of the boulder field, but good luck keeping to it in the dark. We probably made better time hiking more directly towards the headlamps just under the Keyhole than staying to a meandering trail anyway. We arrived at the Keyhole about 6am and the winds were howling at what felt like at least 40mph.
The Ledges
There is a memorial shelter just below the Keyhole and it was packed with people. I found a hole for us to crawl into so we could take in some calories. We started to freeze from the wind almost instantly, I wanted to see how Cole was feeling about moving along the route. He decided to stay at the Keyhole and I would push on the summit by myself. I knew I needed to get moving before I got any colder. Even though I wanted to stay and see the sunrise I knew I had to get a move on it. I put on my helmet and took off on the ledges.
For the scramble part of the route I had an idea of what to expect, but you never really know what it’s like till you are there. I figured it was a thousand feet over about a mile, so I planned on about an hour and a half to get to the summit. There are four sections: The Ledges, Trough, Narrows and The Homestretch. I started out along The Ledges with nobody in sight as most people were apprehensive to continue with the windy conditions. There are bullseyes along the route to follow which takes a lot of the challenge of a class 3 route away. Since I was running solo, I was almost on a trot during some sections as I didn’t want Cole to have to wait out the cold winds longer than was necessary. I’ll be honest, The Ledges are a cakewalk. But bear in mind I have quite a bit of experience, for someone that is more accustom to trails they would not see it as I do. For the most part I thought there was a trail, where you would occasionally pull yourself up over a rock, nothing to get concerned about. I would say The Ledges took me 10-15 minutes max, and this section leads to The Trough.
The Trough
The Trough is as bad as the word sounds. By far the worst part of the climb. It was not difficult or dangerous, just annoying. As one would expect with a high mountain gully there was a lot of loose rock to deal with. Lucky for me there was only one group a few hundred feet above me and nobody below me. I would recommend a helmet just in case someone knocks down rocks, but I didn’t have to worry about that in my case. The crux of the climb in my opinion is the climb up the rock that takes you out of The Trough. It’s not that difficult, but it is something that you should take care with on the ascent. Once over the crux The Narrows begins.
I want to say I was looking forward to The Narrows. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s a disappointment, or at least it was for me. This section reminded me of the hype for Chicken Out Ridge on Mount Borah in Idaho. A lot of hype, but when you get there, it was nothing more than a ridge climb. I caught up to the three guys taking a break before starting The Narrows, I chose to keep moving. For the most part The Narrows are not so narrow, there is a crack that is about a foot or so wide that you can walk in or the surrounding rock that gives plenty of room (many feet) to walk. To give you an idea on my descent I passed people breast-to-breast and didn’t even think about exposure. Stay on route and there shouldn’t be any issue. The Narrows leads to The Homestretch which is the last 300 feet of the climb.
I can handle exposure, climbing crappy rock, but the one thing I hate is slick rock. In my mind that was what The Homestretch was. As Lee Corso says: not so fast my friend. The rock is slick, yes, but very manageable. There are many cracks that flow directly to the summit to ascend. This section is steep, but for the most part you can climb upright with a hand down here or there for balance. Don’t get intimidated by the hype yet again. I spent maybe 10 minutes ascending this section. This leads you right to the summit.
On the Summit
At 7am I reached the summit, from the Keyhole it took me about 45 minutes. I had the summit all to myself, which I though was amazing considering the amount of people on route. The summit area is huge, a football field at least. I’m not sure what it was, most likely a huge sense of accomplishment, but summiting Longs gave me one of the best feelings I’ve had on a summit in a long time. I think it’s been one of those mountains I’ve wanted to climb for so long, and mentally I probably thought it was beyond my ability. Not so much I guess. What a great climb, and a rewarding summit. I gave Kristi a quick call to let her know I was on the summit, guess I woke her up . The guys I passed on the narrows summited maybe 5 minutes after me. It was nice having my few minutes of solitude up there, but I enjoyed chatting with the group of three while I was up there. I walked around enjoying the views, I only wish I could take a decent picture, but I still have all the clear ones in my head. I was able to text Cole and let him know I was on top, so there is cell service (AT&T) at the summit.
Summit Benchmark
After about 20 minutes I started down. I wanted to beat the conga line down The Homestretch. I got lucky and there was only about 10 people on the ascent through The Homestretch, I was easily able to avoid them. Keeping your weight over your toes is the trick to not slipping on the slick rock. This worked for the most part, but I sure wouldn’t do this if the rock was wet. I almost wish I had a clicker to count the crazy amount of people along the route leading back to the Keyhole. Everyone wanted to know how far, how long, how scary it gets. I tried to be helpful and gave what information I could. The Trough was the busiest section. I had no problem passing people along the route, and I thought that would be rather difficult. Somewhere around 9am I made it back to the Keyhole and found Cole.
We had a good time talking about my climb, and I took the time to eat and drink up. The hard part was over and we only had a 6 mile hike out. After a good rest we started our descent. This was one of the better descents I’ve had in a while, there was great conversation with a good friend and the sense of accomplishment that fed me energy. We made good time and were back to the TH just after noon. Both of us had cold beer and pizza on our minds so maybe that was some added motivation to get back to the truck.
Longs Peak is a great climb, if this is something on your list don’t get intimidated by the feature names. Get out there and give it a shot. The purpose of adventure is to live and learn, build your skills and then test them. The mountains are there for us, and they do give us a sense of freedom when we let them. Enjoy it…till next time.
Date: September 10, 2016
TH Elevation:  9,400 feet
Longs Peak Summit: 14,255 feet
Total Ascent:  5,043 feet
Total Distance:  14.7 miles
Class:  3
Moving Time:  6 hours 45 minutes
Stopped Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Climbing Partners: Cole
GPX Track
Photo Album

Friday, September 9, 2016

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier - From Paradise
Plans to climb Mount Rainier started to materialize about a year ago when my friend Harsha extended me an invitation to join him. I previously climbed Rainier in 2008 with my Dad as part of the Summit for Someone program. I couldn’t head back up there without asking my Dad to join us; he immediately said yes. Harsha planned on using the Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated (RMI) guide service, which was the same guide service I had used previously. I was more interested in doing a non-standard route, but with this being Harsha’s first climb on Rainier we selected the standard Disappointment Cleaver (DC) Route. Our climbing team would be composed of six other climbers that we would meet on our first day of the program.
Over the year leading up to the climb, getting into climbing shape becomes the priority. Throughout the year I kept to my same workout routine, and would try and get my boots on the dirt as much as could on the weekends. I have the advantage of living in Colorado at an elevation of about 5,700 feet, so my primary concern was not the elevation on the mountain, but rather the technical elements that a glacier climb presents.
We arrived in Ashford on the first of four days with RMI on Monday August 15th. On this day we met our guides and the other team members in the group. There is an overview of what will take place over the next few days, then there is a gear check to ensure each climber is adequately outfitted to climb the mountain.  We found out our lead guide would be Jake in which he would have two assistant guides; Jesse and Megan. Jake was an assistant guide on my trip in 2008, so it was nice to see a familiar face. The rest of our team would be composed of the Callaway family.
The Team 
Before I get too carried away with this report there is another aspect of the climb I would like to mention, and that is the development of relationships with our fellow teammates, the Callaways. The family included Mike, the father; the four siblings: Andrew, Matt, Will, Amy and Neil which is Amy's husband. The family is from Arkansas and a couple of them live in Kansas City, so they are very much flat landers. The Callaways have a great history of doing adventures together; previously they have climbed Mount Hood, Pikes Peak and the Grand Teton, all very difficult challenges. I knew right away we were all going to get along and have a great experience together. I enjoyed getting to know them as we climbed the mountain together.
Day two was mountaineering school. This was basically the introduction to techniques of mountaineering. I had been through this last time on the mountain, but it was good to get a refresher. You learn how to walk all over again, there are various walking techniques that make you more efficient on the mountain. After you have learned to walk, it’s time to learn to fall…in style as Jake would say. Learning to self-arrest is what can save your life on the upper mountain should you fall. You get a lot of practice falling in different ways. The remaining time is used working with rope travel. This shows you how to ascend and descend switchbacks and the proper length to keep between you and the climber in front of you. While you are in school you take a few 10 minute breaks throughout the day to get you prepared to manage yourself of the mountain. Time goes quickly, so you learn to eat, drink, medicate, and adjust layers and gear during these quick breaks. The climb to Muir is tomorrow, so the rest of the evening in Ashford is used re-packing bags, fueling and hydrating our bodies.
Climbing the Muir Snowfield
Day three is all about making the ascent to Camp Muir. The climb starts from Paradise and covers about five miles and about 4,500 feet of vertical gain. We loaded up our big packs and hit the trail out of Paradise sometime after 9am. The first hour and a half stays on the trails surrounding Paradise, so some people chose to wear an approach shoe. I chose to climb in my mountaineering boots to avoid having to do a change during the ascent. The pace was very moderate, keeping to about 1,000 feet of vertical gain per hour. We took a ten minute break about every hour. This gave us enough time to fuel and hydrate up for the next stretch. We hit the Muir Snowfield after our first break and would remain on the snow for the remainder of the day.
The goal of the day was to climb to Muir “in style.” This was an opportunity to work on all the techniques that we learned the previous day. The more efficient we could climb today, the easier our summit bid would be tomorrow. I’m not sure how long it took us to get to Muir, but I would guess we arrived around 2pm. We had about an hour to rest and get moved into the sleeping hut before the guides came in to give us the low-down on how the rest of the day and tomorrows climb would be played out. With temperatures being fairly warm we knew we would have an early wake-up. The warmer temperatures heat up the ice which dislodges boulders down glaciers, so this is the reason to get more of the climb done while the mountain is ‘sleeping’. After packing for the summit climb we needed to fuel/hydrate, and try to get a nap in before the early wake-up.
Most of us tried to fall asleep around 6pm figuring we would be up around 11pm for a long day. It didn’t sound like too many people got much sleep if any at all, but I felt like I got a few hours so I wasn’t feeling too bad. The guides woke us up at 11pm and we had one hour to fuel/hydrate and gear up for the day. It wasn’t too cold out, but as the night progressed we would be working into the coldest part of the night just before summiting. Jesse was guiding me and my Dad. Harsha unfortunately decided not to join us on a summit bid. He will be back at another time though. We met up with Jesse a little before midnight and soon started along the first stretch of the route.
Camp Muir and the Upper Mountain
The climb starts by crossing the Cowlitz Glacier, and then ascends Cathedral Gap leading to our first break on Ingram Flats. This section is a bit over an hour long, and covers about 1,200 vertical feet. The crossing of the Cowlitz Glacier is a nice warm up before hitting the rock/dirt path up Cathedral Gap. Or the “brown stuff” as Will called it. I heard rock/ice falling a few times as we ascended. This keeps you very attentive even when your body is used to being asleep. Once we hit the rock we short-roped through the gap till reaching the Ingram Glacier. You go short-roped in order to prevent snagging and abrasion to the rope. This is a good idea, but also presents some difficulties when you are working your way through the boulders. Once we arrived at the Ingram Flats break I pulled out my parka and had my pop-tart waiting for me in the pocket. During the breaks the guides talk to each climber individually to monitor how they are doing. I found out the Amy and Neil had decided to turn back just before we were set to leave. On the way up to the flats Amy and Neil were on a rope with Mike which was guided by Megan. There was some swapping, where Megan became our guide and Mike was added as our anchor.
Harsha, Mark and Me
The next stretch was the ascent of the DC, this is the crux of the climb in my opinion. This starts by traversing the Ingram Glacier to the base of the cleaver. I would say it was about 1:30am when we set off from the first break. Climbing the cleaver is no joy ride. You ascend wearing crampons climbing over 1,000 feet of crumbled rock. We were short-roped through this section, just like the Cathedral Gap section. Mike was having a rough go of it and at times I would be pulling the rope along with him. Megan could see this going on and when we got to the top of the cleaver for a break Mike had to make the decision to continue or descend. After he talked it over with the guides Mike made the decision to turn back. This broke my heart a little; I know how hard each of us train for a climb like this, and it’s hard to make decisions like that when you are so close to attaining your goal. He made the decision, but in the end he chose what was best for the team and himself, I have a lot of respect for someone that can make that call. From the DC our team now consisted of the Arkansas boys, and me and the old man along with Jake and Megan. It was starting to get colder and windy, so I added on my third layer then we took off for high break, another hour and a thousand feet to go.
Sunrise from the Crater
On the way to high break you climb on the upper mountain. The route was steep and there was significant exposure as the boot pack wasn't even wide enough for a mountaineering boot to fit across. I recall three or four running belays that are placed for added protection in zones where a fall has a higher probability or there would be no chance of team arrest. At one of the belay points I remembered looking over the edge into a crevasse that had no end. After a few belays we came to our first ladder crossing. Now, for all of you that have seen pictures of these from Everest, it wasn't like that...but that doesn't mean you don't pucker up a bit. The crossings were maybe 6-8 feet across a crevasse with a couple of 2x6 boards attached onto the ladder to walk across. There was a rope to hold for balance, but if you fell you were going into the crevasse and your rope team was the only line of defense.
After an exciting hour of steep climbs, running belays and ladders we made it to high break.
High break is at about 13,500 feet on the face of the mountain. This was by far the coldest break. None of us were doing a good job of consuming calories at this point. It's difficult when you are cold and tired to force any food down so we ate what we could. I chose to leave my parka on since it was so cold.
The Team on the Summit
About 30 minutes after leaving from the break I was heating up as the wind died down. I started unzipping what I could as we kept moving. This section went the fastest for me. I felt pretty good considering the situation. I recognizing the protruding crater rim rocks from my previous climb, so I knew we were close. A look behind us, we could see the deep red color on the horizon. Sunrise was within minutes. Our team made it into the crater we tossed our packs on the snow, let a few screams out and watched the sunrise over the horizon. I have seen my share of sunrises, but there is nothing that gets even close to experiencing one on Mount Rainier.
We all took in the moment and the high fives and congratulations were making it though the team. I went over to the Arkansas boys and said: “Not bad for a bunch of guys from Arkansas.” These guys are climbers, no doubt in my mind. What an accomplishment! We made our way to the true summit, which is called Columbia Crest. We signed the register as we climbed to the high point, it was neat being able to write down that this was my second summit.
The Descent
On the true summit we had the sun rising to the east and the moon setting to the west. That was something I had never experienced before.  We took 10 minutes up there taking pictures and enjoying the surrounding views. We need to get back into the crater to our packs to fuel/hydrate as the climb was only half over. The descent can be the dangerous part when the mountain heats and becomes alive. We had about an hour on the top of the mountain so it was time for us to start making our descent.
The trek down the mountain seemed to go by pretty fast. We didn’t take our first break till we reached the top of the DC. With the sun out we could get a good idea of what we climbed up during the dark hours of the early morning. Some of the crevasses that had ladder crossings had views of blue ice with no end. One area we crossed under a fairly large serac, and I thought to myself about the “motivator” that Ed Viesters describes from K2. It was neat walking through this area, but I was glad to be out of what I considered an area of danger.
Once we were on the DC, we took our crampons off for the descent to make our travels more efficient. This was a pretty nasty section, must like the ascent, but in about a half hour we had made it down to the Ingram Glacier where we put our crampons back on. We followed Megan’s zig-zags through the crevasse field till we made it to our break at the Ingram Flats. This was our last rest till getting back to Muir. We were able to swallow down the last of our water since we knew we had water waiting at camp.
Mount Adams from DC
The last leg of the trek to Muir took about 45 minutes. We dropped over Cathedral Gap back onto the Cowlitz Glacier. As we got closer to camp we could hear the cheers of our fellow climbers that were waiting for us. It was nice to see our friends/family back at camp. They all made a tough decision to end their summit bids early, but I would not consider their attempts as failures. Each climb presents new challenges that you have to overcome, for a lot of people these are simply mental barriers. I think everyone got something out of this experience that they will be able to build off of for their next adventure. After chatting with everyone we had to get prepared for the next leg of the trip. We had an hour to get our big packs loaded up before heading down another 4,500 feet to Paradise. I took my boots off for what time I could. All my socks were damp or wet at this point so my heel blister needed taping again. I crammed all my gear into my bag, it was a mess.
On our way down the Muir Snowfield we tried to ski-glissade when we could. The snow was pretty snow-cupped so it was a bit difficult to slide for too long. After a while we came across some glissade chutes, so I grabbed my garbage bag out and made a diaper out of it. This way I could cruise as far as possible down the mountain. The rest of the hike down to Paradise was more of a march. My feet and body were beat so it was all about getting off the mountain and unloading the heavy pack from my back.
It was a relief to be off the mountain, summit day is one of the more exhausting experiences I’ve had in the mountains. In all you gain near 5,000 feet and descend about 9,000 feet that day. Once we got down to Ashford our group dove into a 12-pack of beer I had waiting in the truck. A nice luke warm beer and a cheeseburger sure hit the spot. It was nice to sit and talk with the others in our group about their experiences for the day and unwind a bit before the drive back to Portland.
Ingram Glacier
This climb I was in much better shape than I was eight years ago, but the mountain was much more difficult than I remembered. The route seemed narrower and steeper. The technical nature of the mountain was higher as the crevasses were more open requiring multiple ladder crossings and running belay protection points. So even though I was in better shape, this climb was more taxing and more rewarding at the same time. I was very thankful to be able to climb the two highest volcanoes in Washington over the week. I’m motivated to keep in shape to continue climbing mountains back home in Colorado.

A few times with different people during this trip we discussed the types of mountains we enjoy climbing the most. I did enjoy climbing Rainier, and am grateful to be able to climb it twice successfully, but in the end I do not prefer this type of mountaineering compared to what I do in Colorado. Though climbs like this may be more rewarding, I feel a lot of the experience is spent looking at a rope, and not enjoying the surroundings as much as I would like. I enjoy self-reliance as opposed to group-reliance, and being able to adventure more freely. I probably will not climb Rainier again, or even do roped mountaineering travel, they are just not my cup of tea. I am perfectly content with climbing mountains in Colorado and Idaho, there are plenty of challenges I have yet to face. Get out there and climb, and If you would like come climb with me, I am always in the search for a new adventure.

Date: August 15-18, 2016
TH Elevation: 5,440 feet
Camp Muir: 10,080 feet
Mount Rainier Summit: 14,410 feet
Total Ascent: 9,352 feet
Total Distance: 12.6 miles (TH to summit back to Camp Muir)
Class:  glacier climb
Moving Time: 9 hours 50 minutes (Add at least 2.5hrs for descent from Camp Muir to TH)
Stopped Time: 6 hours 41 minutes
Climbing Partners: Harsha, Mark, Mike, Andrew, Matt, Will, Amy, Neil, Jake, Jesse, Megan
GPX Track
Photo Album
RMI Guide Blog Post