Long's Peak Trip Report (trip 5) - No Summit

Trail: Notch Couloir, Class 5.4, 12 miles, 4500 ft elevation gain

I try to keep these trip reports as a journal so prefer to be honest about how things occur.  This trip posed a slight problem though because the trail leading to Chasm Lake had been closed by the Park Rangers.  Apparently some rock had fallen onto the trail between Mills Moraine and Chasm Lake at some point in late May so the park service decided that they should get right on it and close it three weeks later in June.  So a bit of rockfall, three weeks earlier had neccesitated a closure and the cancellation of my trip, right?  Nope, I ignore nonsense whenever given the opportunity and this occasion wasn't going to be any different.  A friend of mine called the rangers and they told him he would have to hike up to Chasm View and do the three double rope rappels if he wanted to access Chasm Lake.  They also told him they were not seeking climber's input and the park would re-evaluate the closure in three weeks.  So, 2-3 more miles, 1500 feet more vertical, and three rappels in the dark all to avoid the possibility of new rockfall that climbers should already be mindful of.  Neither myself nor the three guys I went with felt this was worth paying attention to so we decided to go anyway.  Why do I go on about this?  Well it is because I am going to respect my partner's anonymity in this one and not name them.  It's unfortunate because they are good guys and experienced and I like to post the names of the people I climb with but in this one instance I'll forgo that.  On the up side the closure was lifted after three days and I'm pretty sure it was a mix of a greater response from the climbing community than expected and the input of the park's climbing rangers.

Prodded on by a couple recent trip reports stating that conditions were good and the imminent threat of warm weather obliterating the route I started making plans to climb the Notch. In honesty one of the guys who came along (I'll call him climber D) and I had already made plans earlier in the month but new snow and 100 mile an hour gusts had forced us to cancel.  We rescheduled for June the 22nd and it turned out that two other guys who were friends of D and one of whom I also knew would be aiming for the same day.  We conversed via email and ended up carpooling together.  I met the three guys in the parking lot of Neptune Mountaineering at 1:30  in the morning on Friday, June 22nd, 2007.  I'll refer to the guys as climbers D, K, and M.  We headed to the Long's Peak trailhead and arrived at 2:30 in the morning.  We packed up and were on our way by 2:40.  Climber K had been nice enough to bring a set of 50 meter ropes for us to climb with.  He and climber M would be on one set and myself and climber D would be on another.  When climber K handed me the rope I fell in love with it instantly.  It was a Beal Ice Line and was about half as heavy as I was expecting.  

Climber M knew of a shortcut that avoids the first mile and all the switchbacks and we headed up it almost immediately after leaving the parking lot.  This trail is even more beaten out and maintained than  the short cut up to loch Vale so I didn't feel like we were breaking any Leave No Trace ethics.  It almost has to be a ranger's trail that gets frequent use and it passes by the water purification system that the bathrooms and rangers hut uses.

We made good time and arrived at Chasm Junction in a under two hours. From here we headed off towards Chasm Lake and made a point to not see the closure signs.  Sure enough there were some rocks on the trail, the same rocks I saw in a photograph Chris Gerber had taken three weeks earlier.  The funny thing was that the rocks were not blocking or threatening anything.  As we had assumed it was a stupid closure.  We stopped briefly to filter some water and then headed up to Chasm Lake.  

Longs East Face

Our Destination - The Notch Couloir

Every time I view the sun hitting Longs east face I am overcome by how magnificent a peak it is.  For me there is nothing like Longs in Colorado and that is probably why, even though it was my fifth time on it, I knew I'd keep coming back year after year.  I really love that peak.  

We scrambled around to the east side of the lake and jumped onto thick ice that was near the shore line.  The ice was solid on this side and extended several feet down so we were able to make good time across the lake.  After the lake we hiked up one section of snow until we reached the base of Lamb's Slide where we donned crampons.  

Crossing Chasm Lake

Thick Ice Near The Banks Of Chasm Lake

Sunrise Over Chasm Lake

Climbing Lambs Slide

Lamb's Slide was in magnificent condition and we easily kicked in steps.  We took turns kicking up the slide and quickly found ourselves a the entrance to Broadway.  The snow conditions had been as good as any I've ever encountered, not too soft, not too hard, just pure fun.

We exited Lamb's Slide and headed up the completely melted ramps that lead to Broadway.  The first bit was dried out but we soon encountered some snow. For the most part it was pretty easily climbed over or bypassed but we did encounter one little stretch to downclimb.  We belayed one climber down this portion to make sure it was safe and when he reported good conditions the rest of us followed without a rope.  Compare our pictures to the much more serious conditions James Just encountered on his ascent two weeks prior.  You can see why we were in a rush to beat the melting out of the route.

Starting Up On Broadway

Scrambling Up Broadway

The First Bit Of Snow On Broadway

Broadway Before The Crux Move

Crossing Snow On Broadway

Crossing Broadway

Climber D had been up on Broadway before but the other two had not.  I think they thought I was joking when I told them the way I handled the crux move, a boulder jutting out over the lower east face, was to crawl on my belly.  I said, no, I was serious and that belayed or not I was going to be crawling on my belly. I've got little to no sense of pride when it comes to hanging my ass out over an 800 foot drop.  Climber D went ahead and crawled through the move and reported good conditions.  Climber M and myself still felt more comfortable with a belay which climber K thoughtfully provided.  Climber M stuck a few pieces in to prevent a swing and we headed off.  We moved through the rest of Broadway and climbed up one section of rock to avoid a little traverse over a particularly narrow section.  We all soon found ourselves at the base of the Notch Couloir.

The Skilled Technique We Used to Pass The Crux

My Skills On Display

The Start Of The Notch Couloir

Our plan for the Notch was to simulclimb in pairs, myself and climber D and climbers K and M.  We would go until a stretch that needed a direct belay was encountered or until we ran out of gear and had to swap.  Climbers K and D took the first leads.  The snow was pretty soft at the bottom but firmed up as we moved towards the first constriction.  Some of the steps had melted out and climber D felt it would be prudent to belay me past one section.  I'm glad he did as it required some delicate stemming and mantling on rock while wearing crampons.  The moves weren't to hard but the consequences of a fall back to and over Broadway were too big to chance.  I passed over the rock and made my way up to climber D's anchor.  At this point he handed me the rack and I headed up.  

The First Part Of The Notch Couloir

Heading Up To Dave

I found a decent placement for a cam 30 feet from the anchor but then had to traverse through a flow of water ice and pull over a bulge to return to snow.  At this point I was parallel to climber M who was waiting for climber K to finish his pitch.  Since we were at the first constriction I waited for him to head up to avoid crowding or crossing ropes.  He started up and I waited for him to move through then headed up myself.

Climber M

Climbing Towards The First Constriction

Me, heading Towards The Constriction

Chasm Lake From The Notch Couloir

In The First Constriction Before The Dogleg

Leaving The Constriction

The first constriction was a ton of fun and consisted of a three foot wide section of hard snow/ice.  I (and everyone else) was climbing with two tools (or a tool and an axe) and felt very comfortable here.  I placed a piece of gear every fifty or so feet and stopped to admire my surroundings.  The views were beautiful and Chasm Lake looked amazing down below.  When I reached the end of the rope climber D took down the anchor and started up.  He had the misfortune of having a crampon pop off on the water ice section I had traversed but luckily for him he is a much better climber than I am and took it in stride.  

Once climber D has his crampon back on I continued up and turned right at the dogleg.  At this point Climber M was on the front end and was at a completely melted rock step.  I climbed up to his right and put a yellow Alien in a crack as my last piece of gear was more than a hundred feet below.  I waited for him to clear his section and climbed up over the rock.  I love how well crampons bite into rock when you trust them.  

Up until now the weather had been absolutely perfect.  It was not to remain this way.  As I climbed up towards a rocky outcropping a couple hundred feet from the Notch, I noticed that the clouds were building all around us.  Soon thunder began and from my vantage point I could see lightning striking all around us.  Due to the location of the other climbers I was the one afforded the best view of the strikes raining down around us.  It was still clear overhead but I was getting progressively more and more nervous.  I found a place to anchor myself and brought climber D up.  We all realized the gravity of the situation so I handed climber D the lead (he is a much better climber than I am).  He and climber K headed up to the Notch and climber M and myself followed.  This was the hardest part of the climb as it went up a thin ribbon of ice that fractured with every tool strike.  If it had all melted it would have probably been an awkward 5.6 off width but we managed to get through it on ice.  Above this we fell into many snow trenches and struggled up to the top of the Notch.  

We agreed that continuing on was stupid and made the decision to rappel into Keplinger's Couloir and escape via Clark's Arrow.  The descent to Clark's Arrow was wet, icy, snowy, and loose.  It took a bit of time to get down and all the time it was thundering.  It was 10 in the morning and a good reminder that shit happens in the high country no matter how early you get up or how carefully you follow the forecast.

Heading To The Notch

More Weather Moving In

Rappeling Out Of The Notch into Keplinger's Couloir

By the time we reached the entrance to Clark's Arrow it was graupelling and hailing but wasn't too cold so, while it was obnoxious, it didn't feel that terrible. The graupel also brought an end to the thunder for which I was greatly relieved.  We scrambled through a ton of fun 3rd and 4th class stuff on Clark's Arrow and I was happy to actually know where the route was.  On my first trip to Long's I had attempted this and ended up descending several hundreds of feet too low.  Even though we didn't summit I still finished the Notch, got to 13,800 feet, and learned two new routes.  Not too bad for a day on my favorite peak.

Annoying Graupel

Really Annoying Graupel

Climbing Through Clarks Arrow

At The Saddle Above The Loft

We soon found ourselves at the Mt. Meeker, Longs Peak saddle and made our way over to the Loft descent route.  We headed down the cliffs and plunge stepped down the Loft.  At the base of the snow we stopped and rested for 20 or 30 minutes.  It was cloudy and a bit foreboding but the danger had passed and we were happy to be down safely.  The hike out was beautiful as always and I marveled at all of the features around us.  We hiked back across the trail to Mill's Moraine and stopped for another rest.  At this point climber K discovered that a hiking pole he had stashed was missing.  It was probably a marmot who found the sweaty grips too tempting to pass up.  We were also passed by a party of several rangers who spent a lot of time staring at us.  It was probably obvious where we came from as they were descending the boulder field route but they didn't see us do it.  

We hiked back down to the parking lot and used the same cut off trail we did in the morning.  It was a pleasure not to deal with the world's longest half mile and I'll never use that first bit of the trail again.  Our total time was around 13 and a half hours and I'm guessing tit would have been a 15 or 16 hour day if we had finished.  I can't imagine going up the Stepladder and rappeling the North Face would have taken much longer than our obnoxious descent of Clark's Arrow but being up higher would have been a bad idea with all the lightning.

All in all it was another fantastic day in the high country.  My Rainier trip was canceled due to fitness concerns on my partner's behalf and I had bailed before the last pitch on Zowie a couple weeks ago (too tired to flail on a 5.9 offwidth that day and weather was rolling in) but I considered this day a success.  I'm more into route bagging on Long's at this point and finished the one I came to do as well as one I hadn't intended to.

Climber K drove us all back and I fell asleep for most of the ride.  I said goodbye to those guys and headed in.  I hope to get out with them again soon.  As I write this I am preparing to head out the door in a few hours to hit The Bell Cord and Traverse.

Meeker's Iron Gates

In The Valley Below The Loft

A Pretty Waterfall

Leaving This Beautiful Area

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