Long's Peak Trip Report (trip 3)

Trail: Kieners, Class 5.4, 12.2 miles, 4850 ft elevation gain

Kieners at last.  I'm not completely sure how to describe what a great climb this was.   Ever since I first learned of this route early I my climbing career I have wanted to do it above all others.  I can't say it was the hardest climb I have done this year and in fact Lone Eagle just 3 days earlier was harder but I can say it was the climb I most looked forward to.  Now the climb is over, it was my third ascent of Longs Peak, the first time I  lead an alpine pitch, and will certainly stay high in my memories as a thrilling route.  It may be the finest overall route I have done to date. I know I say that allot but I always pick each trip to be a bit harder or more interesting than the last.

I met with my partner, Brian Espe, at the Longs Peak trailhead at 2:00 in the morning, Saturday the 16th, 2005.  Our goal was one we had shared since beginning climbing together more than a year ago.  At this point we both felt confident that it was a route easily within our comfort level and decided to tackle it together since we first layed eyes on it together.

The route begins fairly easily and climbs up through the trees to Mills Moraine at 11400 feet.  From Mills Moraine we trekked to the 4.5 mile point at a rangers cabin below Chasm Lake and headed off to Chasm Lake.  On the way Brian took a misstep and landed in a large puddle.  He ended up drenching both feet and badly cutting one of his shins.  Fortunately I carry spare socks and handed them to him.  We made our way up to Mills Glacier and hung out for awhile below the intimidating East Face of Longs.  I'd never been here before and was amazed at how overpowering the area was.  The lower face rose to the Diamond wall and towered above to the right us like some silent brooding giant.  Alexanders Chimney, Stetnners Ledges, and Lambs Slide loomed to our left.  Above the lower wall we knew was Broadway and that thought was exciting.  Broadway is a narrow ledge jutting out at the top of the lower wall.  By all reports Broadway was an exciting place to be with all of its 1 to 3 foot sections directly above a thousand foot drop.

In the picture below, the couloir is Lamb's Slide (given its name by the death of  Reverend Elkanah Lamb).  Brian and I began climbing the snow around 5:00 in the morning.  In front of us was a group of 4 heading to the Notch Couloir.  The snow was perfect.  It was very firm in and could almost be climbed in a pair of strong plastic boots.  There were occasional icy and hard sections so the axes and crampons were neccesities but pickets and screws were not needed.

We exited the couloir at 13000 feet.  For those seeking the exit look for well traveled dirt/scree ramps leading to the right.  The upper ramp is the more direct entrance to Broadway.  Do not try to climb to the solid rock ledges above these ramps, they are not the entrance to Broadway.

As luck would have it the only snow we would encounter was a field about 200 feet from the exit of Lamb's Slide.  This is easily passable in boots and lets out onto Broadway proper.

The following three pictures are of Broadway.  I think Roach describes this as an exciting place to be.  Talk about understatements.  Broadway is very narrow in places and you can't forget a thousand foot drop looms directly to your right.  There are places where Broadway is less than a foot and much of it is sloped and rock covered.  We choose to forgoe roping up (the  Russian climbers ahead had roped but let us pass) and moved carefully.  When we arrived at the crux of Broadway we stopped and thought for a moment.  The crux involves a block jutting out over the path which forces one to hang out over thin air.  I'm not sure how to rate this extremely exposed move but it didn't look interesting to me.  Using my finely honed rock climbing skills I executed the difficult and yet elegant 'Workman Crawl' and slid, on my belly, under the rock.  Brian had gone first via this method and pulled my bag under for me.  Ahead of the crux Broadway narrowed and the exposure increased.  We choose to climb up onto some ledges on the left and basically traversed past the narrowest parts. 

Very soon we came to the Notch Couloir.  I should say route finding was pretty easy.  The Notch is an unmistakable (and creepily steep) couloir that splits the upper part of the peak.  It is still covered in snow and looks quite doable right now (and if I get a partner in the next 2 weeks I'll climb it, if not, next year) but is probably heading out of condition soon. The path we choose to start on is right after the Notch and is a 5.5 chimney. 

Looking behind us we saw many parties coming over Broadway and up Lambs Slide.  At one point a climbing ranger passed and told us there were 40 people on the east face, that number kind of diminished the thrill but not too badly.  We stopped right below the chimney and waited for a guy named Jim to finish belaying his partner Brian up.  When he finished and took off, Brian set a quick anchor and headed up.  We were using walkie talkies to communicate so everything went smoothly and I quickly followed.

At the top of the first pitch we found ourselves in a sort of room with a good bit of water running through it and an exit to the right.  We scampered up to the right and found ourselves on a broad ledge.  I figured it was time for me to stop following and offered to lead the next pitch .  I choose a right angling path that probably never got much worse than 5.4 or 5.5 and stopped at a decent belay point almost a full pitch above.  I was really psyched about leading my first alpine pitch and felt great about it.  I got good pro in and was never uncomfortable, it was fantastic to take the next step in my alpine career.  Looking back at the climb I feel the whole thing was really comfortable and smooth and would happily lead all of it. 

Anyway, when Brian climbed up we unroped and scrambled up a 3rd to 5th class gully heading to the right.

The gully continued up to a set of steps we thought were the steps described by Roach but turned out to be an intermediary.  Once at the very top of the gully we found obvious pink/red blocks stopping further progress.  When you aren't sure how to keep on going, you will know you are at the proper steps.  We contoured around to the right, following a worn path, and decided not to go over the super exposed path there.  Instead we re-roped, set up a belay, and decided to head straight up the blocks.  At this point Jim and Brian arrived back near us.  We had passed them earlier as they had stayed roped up for more pitches.  They waited for us to go up and Brian set out up the steps right before another pair of climbers came up and set up a belay station  The leader of this group rudely climbed up and over Brian's rope with his friend looking a bit embarrassed.   Now I had no idea what terrain Brian was in and let the other guy know what I thought of  his actions.  If he had sent Brian tumbling I would have lost my temper in a major way.  The belayer in this group apologized and said his friend was very impatient, I told him that was very dangerous and he agreed.  It turned out the belayer was a really nice guy and I was sorry to have any sort of negative experience with him.

Fortunately by the time the impatient guy had set up a belay Brian was safely sitting on 2nd class rock.  I hope I don't come across any more people so damn impatient they would rather risk peoples lives than sit still.  We were moving quickly, the weather was perfect, and he didn't ask to pass, he just crossed ropes and ran up. In any event Brian belayed me up and we found ourselves on the 2nd class slopes below the summit.  We packed up and made quick time up to the top.  We summited by 11:00.  This was my 3rd ascent of Longs and Brian's 4th.  The marmots were every bit as fat and bold as I remembered, I really love seeing those giant gerbils up high.

Marmot Summit Shot

Up top we were amazed at the numbers coming up Keiners.  There must have been 10 people from Keiners and a party of 5 who had come up Cables.  We hung out for a bit and started the descent of the North Face.  We made no real effort to move quickly because there was a ton of people moving ahead of us (Keiners, Cables, and Keyhole climbers descending the rap route) and we knew the double rappel would constitute a traffic jam. 

Heading down I realized my friend Brian Hynek and I must have taken the hardest route imaginable when we climbed Cables severeal months before.  The correct way down was mild and mostly had a path to follow, sure there were a few 4th class moves here and there and some icy spots but for the most part the slope was moderate and Brian Espe and I just cruised.  Looking up I realized that when I had climbed it before we had taken the treacherously steep slabs directly above the rappel point.  I feel allot tougher knowing how much harder the route we choose in April was.

Brian and I quickly reached the first bolt and rappelled to the point directly above the technical stretch.  For people interested there is one icy/snowy field on the way to the first bolt o cross on which and ice axe would be very handy but overall the melt out  is so extreme that the route should be dry in a few weeks.  At the rap station we waited for parties to pass and noted that the climbing portion is about a third to a half snow covered.  While we waited, Brian and Jim came down.  We talked with these guys for a bit (both employed at the Coors Brewery).  Jim had finished the 14ers some years ago and commented on climbing Longs Via the Cables Route when the cable was still up.  Brian was younger and had around 40 14ers under his belt.   Fortunately for us Brian (not my Brian) had brought twin 8mm 60 meter ropes and offered to ties them together for the rappell.  We accepted and went down..  There was still quite allot of steep snow at the  bottom of the rappell so we used our axes and plunge stepped down.  The pictures below show the snow and the sheer numbers descending this way.

At the bottom we said our goodbyes and headed off.   We were both dead tired and took a long time getting back to the car.  My feet were throbbing painfully from my recent 23 mile backpack/ascent of Lone Eagle and Brian's tendinitis was kicking up so we plodded most of the way stopping only in treeline to plunge our faces in some water.  We got back to the parking lot around 4:00 for a 14 hour day.  I think that we could have knocked it out in 11 hours if there wasn't a jam up at the rap station and if we were both a bit fresher.

We agreed to try for the Keyhole Ridge in September, said our goodbyes, and drove carefully home.  Kieners was simply fantastic. Brian is a great, safe partner and we felt like the route was fun but well within our ability levels. It's weird to meet a goal I've wanted for so long for and to feel like it was easier than I expected.  To me, this trip really felt like I was progressing well as a mountaineer.  I felt fine on the snow, the rock, the rappell, etc.   I think the best way to describe this route is to comment on the multiple skills needed for it.  To do this safely one needs to be comfortable with snow climbing, rock climbing, rappelling, exposure, route finding, etc.  This route seemed to require the greatest number of skills of any route I have done and is well named as 'The Mountaineers Route'. 

 I'd like to go back and try it from Alexander's Chimney soon.  If it wasn't for the walk out and the numbers of other climbers I think Longs would easily be my favorite peak.  I'll certainly climb it more than any other.

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