| Longs Peak, North Face: Cable Route
Longs Peak, North Face:
Route: North Face (“Cable Route”)
Approach: East Longs Peak TH
Length: 14 miles RT
Vertical: 5100 feet
Ascent Party: Hollamby, Dancesatmoonrise
Ryan Hollamby tops out on the Cable Route, Longs Peak, North Face.
A Look Back
Last winter, Matt, Micah, and I left town early on March 2, headed for Longs. We knew the weather window was not perfect.
We had a great time, but failed in our summit attempt. It was the first time any of us had been on the mountain.
The North Face throws some spindrift our way, March 2, 2011
In retrospect, except for the possibility of getting blown over the Diamond and off to Kansas, I’d say we had very little difficulty left to get to the summit. Still, when a gal on FW told me about her friend getting picked up by the wind on MLW two weeks later, and actually flying fifty feet (with injuries,) I realized we had made a reasonable, if somewhat depressing, decision. The solidtude and beauty of winter notwithstanding, I wondered what the mountain looks like in summer.
Last winter the place was pretty much closed. We like it like that.
So, Do I Have what it Takes for Summer?
Good question. From what I had heard, the throngs of visitors from every country on the planet, a parking lot backed up for a mile to Colorado 7, taking a number to get in line beyond the boulderfield, and sirens sweetly singing on high to lure the brave as greybottoms darken, sounded more like an Odyssean chore that a pleasant outing. Yet, the rite of passage for a 14er completer requires at least some measure of grief, if absent a degree of ingenuity. We certainly tried for the last weather window of winter; it retrospect, it had already passed. It would be my fate to don elbow pads and fight the crowds. I was ready! (I think…)
Yup, that’s it, that’s all the tracks in Mills Moraine in winter!
The Cable Route would be perfect for a first alpine roped-solo. A little backyard work proved the GriGri-2 a less-than-capable catch for the 8.1 half-rope. Surprisingly, it wouldn’t even hold an 8.9 single. So back to the old favorite, Rock Exotica's “Soloist.” I'd done quite a bit of solo lead bolting in 98 and 99 with this unit, and deemed it capable, though had no falls to speak of. The Soloist held the 8.5 Mammut half and the 8.1 PMI half, using the three-liter water bottle. The Gri failed to make the catch. So the Gri was out.
Joe-Six-Pack Backyard Testing... (Hmm...)
A day or two before the trip, I thought I better try a human on the other end. A bit horrifying, the 8.1, 8.5, and even the 8.9, wanted to “creep” through the Soloist on full body weight. This shook me, since I’d already been on a few local routes with the Soloist and the 8.9. (Back-up knots are usually tied on the free end.) It definitely held the 8.9 better than the others. But with the long approach, I really wanted to take the 8.1 PMI. For a sixty meter rope, it’s light, 5.5 pounds, and fits into the space of a soccer ball. So… back to the drawing board.
The only reasonable option for alpine roped solo?…
I decided on an old Yosemite roped-solo technique, the clove hitch. I found that two biners worked better than one (besides lending additional security.) It would require a little getting used to pulling the middle portion to dole out more rope on the free end, but it locked every single time, even with the 8.1. This should work. Besides, a 5.4 is nearly indistinguishable from a true 4th class route... as long as there is no ice.
OK, one TR showed ice in early August, 09. I’m a little more nervous after reading this, but still on. Come to think of it, is 12 hours too late to find a partner? I’m ready to solo it, but not entirely sure what to expect. At least there shouldn’t be spindrift at 80 mph. I pick up the phone and make a few last-minute calls while packing.
Haulin’ with Hollamby
About eight hours before time to leave, Ryan Hollamby gets back with me. Ryan has completed all the 14ers, and we’d been rock climbing about two weeks earlier, so I know he's a competent partner. I casually wonder to myself if putting the word out at the 11th hour is some hidden psychological desire to solo the route. But Ryan feels the same – he is fast, and when the chips are down, he is solo. Of the 58 14ers, he soloed over 40, and completed all 58 in under a year. Ever since hearing he does the Incline in 22 minutes, I wanted to do a 14er with him. I'm stoked.
Ryan bringing up the team quickly, through Mills Moraine
Getting There, Parking, Etc.
We left Colorado Springs at 5am. The nice thing about doing Longs on a weekend is that there is not too much traffic early in the morning on the front range.
Ryan had climbed Longs about this time last summer, and literally had to wait in line to get on the Keyhole. He said there were people as thick as ants all over the mountain, even though he had started at 1am. He swore he would never do Longs in summer again.
When we arrived, cars were parked along the side of the one-mile road from Colorado 7 to the Longs TH, as anticipated. Contrast this to winter: imagine arriving in the Longs parking lot at 7:30 am, and seeing the whole place vacant, except for your partner's car. Still, we lucked out on this weekend summer's day, finding a place in the main lot where just the front third of the car was over a “no parking” line. Ryan got the ranger, who came and looked at the car and told us we’d be fine.
“The Diamond,” as seen from the boulderfield in July.
Parking secured, we were off by the crack of 8:00, taking a moderately fast pace. We made Granite pass by 9:40 am. By 10:15, we were at the main camp in the boulderfield. Surprisingly, there weren't a lot of people. The skies remained clear, and the air, calm.
We arrived at our destination below the technical section at 10:45.
Here's how the route looked last winter...
And here's how it looks today, as we near the base of the business section.
The weather was perfect. As anticipated, we bumped into Carl and Marc. They were descending the north face after climbing the NW gully.
Carl, it was great seeing you guys up there.
Ryan makes way for the “bat”-shaped section of snow below the Cable Route.
Ryan can be seen below the granite wall to the right.
We took the dry line seen in red, above. The “up” arrow at top center depicts the Cable route.
Circled in blue is a line that I’m guessing is 5.7 or so, fingers and hands. It looks like a fun alternative on a busy day. Has this been done?
The Diamond is gorgeous from Chasm View.
Carl and Marc, good seeing you guys!
Looking down from the base of the technical section.
We spent a half hour gearing up and chatting with Carl and Mark at the base of the route. We began the technical section around 11:15 am, and coiled the ropes shortly after Noon.
Here’s what it looks like the other time of year:
Getting to the technical section, last winter.
The start of the Cable Route.
This route, in dry conditions, is probably no more than fourth class. Some of the photos make it look steep, but it is not. It is probably about 45 degrees most of the way. On the upper fourth class section, it is difficult to find a move of third class. Much of it is 2+, if you stay on-route. Going straight up at the top of the Cable Route is steeper, but more solid; basically fourth class or low fifth class granite slabs. Going up and left from the top of the Cable Route, there are cairns and a bit of a trail. For those that have been on Pyramid Peak, the latter is more like true class 3-4 in its upper reaches, than the section above the Cable Route on Longs.
Start of the technical section. What a difference a season makes! It’s not near as steep as it looks in the photo. In the next photo, this same section is viewed from above.
The first eyebolt can be seen just above the start.
There are four eye-bolts on the route. The shaft of each “bolt” is about one inch. While they are hefty, the ‘eye’ of each bolt sticks out nearly six inches, resulting in some leverage. I doubt they would fail in a fall, but prudence suggests girth-hitching the base. A slightly better method is to take another round or two, like making a prussic at the base of the “bolt.” The first eyebolt is close to the belay. The next two are run out, but the climbing can barely be called fifth class.
Views from the technical pitch: looking out over Chasm Lake, Peacock Pool, and the Tahosa drainage.
The second eyebolt.
Keep in mind there may be a significant amount of water running down the route, as was the case when we ascended. During an early morning ascent, this could be icy.
The section from the second to the third bolt is the most run-out. I initially chose to place a #2 BD Camalot, before realizing that the third eyebolt was about ten feet above. The third eyebolt takes one out of the dihedral, resulting in rope drag, so I downclimbed and removed the cam. Even though this section is run a bit, it’s still within the realm of most fourth class routes on most 14ers. Snow, ice, or water can, of course, make it more hazardous.
There are a lot of chopped bolts on the route; maybe seven or eight. Most are in the runout between the second and third eyebolts. This section would easily take 1-3" cams or passive gear, if desired.
An example of one of the many chopped bolts on this route.
This looks steep, but keep in mind nothing exceeds about 45 degrees.
The third eyebolt.
The third bolt takes one out of the dihedral, to climber’s left.
This is the top eyebolt. One could do a prussic-type girth on this, but I chose to sling the eye, then girth the base.
The terrain above the last bolt. The best way around is to go a little left, then up to the snowfield, then left on a cairned trail.
Ryan pulls the last boulder at the top of the “technical” pitch!
The so-called fourth-class section above the technical pitch was an unknown concern to us last winter. However, at least in summer, there are no more than a few moves of third class on it, in my opinion. It can be a little loose in places, but we've seen worse. Ryan left on his climbing shoes for this section; the snow was no problem. I opted for approach shoes on the entire route, TH to summit, which worked well.
Ryan negotiates talus above the 5.4 slabs.
A days work…
We topped out at 12:55 pm, just under five hours including breaks, photos, roping up, etc. While we made pretty quick time on the approach, we took our time to enjoy the alpine.
There are actually four – count ‘em – four – USGS benchmarks for this peak. I don’t know why. : )
As one might expect of a summit above Colorado's version of big wall climbing, the register is held in place by a 5/16" bolt.
We didn’t have to worry too much about other parties on our route.
The “Homestretch” looks steeper than what we came up.
We chose to descend the ascent route. A lot of parties like the Cable Route for a descent, after ascending other lines. It would appear to be a more direct line to the boulderfield. However, most of the folks we saw on the summit were already at the boulderfield by the time we got there, so while we moved quickly, we didn't think the line overall offered much in the way of efficiency over the standard route, at least in summer.
Jim motors down from the summit.
The snowfield above the technical section is not as steep as it looks in the photo.
Pretty negotiable on a nice summers’ day!
The boulderfiield from high on the peak.
Aerial recon of the boulderfield: Not bad for a weekend.
Here’s the beta on the rap: At least two raps with a 60m rope. In the photo above, the ends of the 60m rope are hanging just below the third eyebolt. So there is probably about 80-90 feet between the top (fourth) and the third eyebolt.
One can make a second rap from the third eyebolt, and downclimb the rest. However, since we had the ropes out, and our harnesses on, and we like playing with ropes and stuff, we chose to rap to the second bolt, then down across the snowfield to the rock below, making a total of three raps with a 60 meter single rope. This worked well. I’m not sure if a 50 would make it from the top to the 3rd, but it probably would. I am sure that a single 30 would fall short.
We love playing with ropes; even when they get tangled on 45 degree alpine routes!
Ryan enjoys living on the edge…
There are more shots, which I would like to post in the near future. One of these will be published in Rock and Ice Magazine, October issue, #197, which will likely hit the stands in mid- to late August. The photo will be on the Table of Contents page. The publisher has asked that I hold similar photos for now. I’m really excited, as this will be my first legitimately published photo in a major publication.
It’s a long way down… : )
Overall, it was a great trip, and a couple days later I even had the opportunity to look into the future of alpinism.
Pithecanthropus Erectus? Or the fearsome Homo Tourismus?
These budding young mountaineers exhibited no fear as they climbed crumbling towers worse than what any of us has encountered, Colorado 14ers and Utah desert notwithstanding!
Here’s to our next generation!!! : )
Thanks for reading…