Longs - via The Loft and special Clark's Arrow finding guide
My son and I did our first Longs climb three years ago via the Keyhole route. We did not want to do the same route again. In an effort to find something a little more challenging, we elected to do the Loft route via Clark's Arrow to the summit and go back home by the Keyhole route. Two of our four person party, my wife, Deb and my brother, Clay had never climbed Longs before. Fourteen hours and 16 miles roundtrip made for a long day but it was one we will never forget.
We started at the trail head at 2:30am Sunday morning and were back down at 4:30pm. The weather was excellent until we got just past the Boulder Field where we encountered thunder storms with lightning and hail. But the storm soon passed just prior to the Mills Moraine junction.
For anyone considering the Loft route this year (2011), there are two particular spots where one should be aware of the conditions, 1) the lower snowfield crossing the Mills Moraine trail just above Columbine falls and, 2) the upper snow field blocking the normal access to the upper ledge system to exit to the Loft.
The snowfield covering the trail at Columbine Falls is quite steep. It looked to be over 100 feet down and you must cross approximately 50+ feet of hard packed snow. We arrived here in total darkness with just our headlamps to guide us. It is "booted in" but many of those steps are off camber and a slip down would be disastrous. We found that with our hiking poles it was much easier to plant your lower pole firmly below your lower boot and take two steps and repeat. Although you don't need crampons, they would certainly help.
The Loft route had a tricky obstacle for us - a huge snow field at the top blocking the easier way up to the cliff ledge through the middle. We had chose a class 4+ climb up the left cliff to gain access to the cliff ledge system. I've read other reports of class 3 climbs and there are numerous choices. We enjoyed ours. Once on the cliff ledge we were able to climb out of the Loft couloir. Don't miss this route, the Loft was the most enjoyable part of our trip for sure! Just make sure you understand it is harder than Keyhole for many reasons. More climbing, more ledges, more exposure and route finding skills.
Finding Clark's Arrow: A Guide -
The next task was to find Clark's Arrow, which can be very difficult. Many have never seen it! Our little "Easter egg" hunt was a fun bonus. I studied countless trip reports, books, and web pages to make sure we would find it. I'm passing that information in this trip report for those who had trouble finding it in the past or those who don't want to miss it for their first time over the Loft route.
For those interested, I spent some time documenting our route from the top of the Loft, finding the correct down climb gully in order to walk directly to Clark's Arrow. There is the Gerry Roach 14ers book and his wonderful DVD on Longs Peak that shows him downclimbing the crux. This is not the same crux I've explained here. However the down climb we chose is less than 10 feet from his and we found it easier to find and move through. They both drop into the same gully where you catch the "exit ledge" to gain access directly to Clark's Arrow. In my research I have seen many other west side gullies documented by other trip reports ranging from harder to easier that you can go down. Some actually going down much too far in order to get around the gully's bottom North wall before you can even begin to climb up Kiplingers couloir. This could be the reason these parties are missing the location of Clark's Arrow which will typically be up on much higher ground and to the North. The route illustrated here has many benefits over the others:
1) It is the most efficiant way to go directly to Clark's Arrow.
2) It does not go too far down the valley to access the Kiplingers Couloir trail which means less climbing back up. You will exit out right on the trail at the base of the cliffs.
2) It is all scrambling on rock and boulders rather than dirt and scree.
The climb down is not a secret gully but we found it to be the most efficient climb down. While our team was there, another party came down right behind us. My guess is that most of those who choose to do the Loft route, know this particular climb down. One last thing, if you want to find Clark's Arrow on your own, which is part of the charm, then don't look at my pictures from the Loft forward since I've diagramed how to find it in detail not published before. We had a great time finding it since none on our team had ever seen it before. Obviously I found it be reading many other people's guide, but I was not confident until I compiled details and pictures from many trip reports over many years. I used that information to make our way directly to our goal and tried to compile that into one guide. Thanks to all those guides prior to this!
Let's run through it:
1) while on The Loft, head toward the middle and look in a NW direction. Then zone in on where The Loft is flat and starts to slope up.
The start of finding the Clark's Arrow from the top of the Loft
2) continue in this direction and start looking for the small cliffs and make your way towards them and to their base
continuing to walk in a NW direction, you will start to see the tops of small cliffs. Head for them.
3) find and head for this easy to find cliff. All the gullies on your left, down slope, are the scree filled and the wrong ones to do down. From this cliff, continue in a northward direction and start to climb up a bit in elevation. Start looking for the "Key cairn"!
This was your goal, to find this cliff. from here you will head in a northward direction and slightly up
4) As you continue past the initial cliff - start to climb up. You will now see the "Key cairn". You are very close to your target now. Look for this ledge rock with the key cairn
As you come around the cliff and moving upward, start looking for this "key cairn". If you don't see it right away, keep going, it's
5) Go past the key cairn on it's north side. As we turn around in this picture and face south, we see the Key cairn we just went past along with Mt. Meeker. Directly down slope is the down climb gully.
After you found it, continue past it to the North. There is a gully before it and one after it. Yours is after it.
6) Climb down 30 feet or so until you get to an 8 foot drop or so
After going past the Key Cairn, the look left and down that gully. This is your down climb!
6) Don't despair as it's an easy problem to solve. From here you can look up to the key cairn and look directly across at your foot hold to climb down. You can also look across and to the right to see the down climb Gerry Roach suggested. No worries, yours is much better where you are
Climb down 20 feet or so till you get to a very small drop off. This is the so-called crux. Sit on the right side and prepare your move.
7) The move is totally easy. Sit facing south where up the gully is to your left and place your foot on the rock across (see picture). Work your way down a bit and there is an obvious hand hold between the rocks. You find yourself in the gully. Walk down a few feet or so and look to the right to immediately find the "exit ledge". This is your last step! Get on the exit ledge which is a level ledge to the right as the gully you climbed down continues to go down
We have just completed the crux move and climbed down only a few feet. My boot is point down our gully, but Deb has found and is on the Exit ledge
8) Climb around the cliff rock on the exit ledge and notice the big rock ahead. This rock is directly under Clarks Arrow. You are now just about 15 feet away.
Deb is still on the ledge but look at the rock behind her. She is only 15 feet away from Clark's Arrow.
9) Climbing directly on that rock behind Deb in that previous picture, stop, turn to your right and look up. Clark's Arrow is just about 12 inches from your head.
Steven actually still on the final part of the Exit Ledge, under Clark's Arrow and ready to step directly on the trail up Kiplingers.
10) Continuing off the rock under the arrow and on the trail at the base of the Palisades, you can take a quick look back to register it all in your mind
Shorting after exiting the secret ledge and looking back, let's see how it looks from the North looking back
Note: We took over 190 pictures and the complete guide can only be found in the link below due to the picture limitation for this site, feel free to visit. Highlight the link and paste it into your browser.
Okay, that's our guide to help you find Clark's Arrow and the best down climb to gain access to Kiplinger's Couloir.
For the climb up Kiplinger's Couloir, hug close to the right steep cliff walls of the Palisades, (the west side of the Beaver). This is a fun scramble with some of the best views of the trip. As you make your way up, you'll see a large slab of solid rock that you will take a left onto when possible. At this point you can also see the masses on the lower end of Homestretch. Head that way and join in for your last pitch to the summit.
We arrived on the summit about 10:30 am for a quick lunch and pictures. It was a great trip and we found it far more exciting than taking the Keyhole route up and back. The Loft - Clark's Arrow - Kiplinger's - Summit - Keyhole round trip is highly recommended. However, please note that the climbing effort and skill is much more demanding that the Keyhole route. If you find Keyhole route challenging then the Loft route may present you with some difficulties. It requires class 3 and 4 climbing due to the snowfield this year. You must be proficient in your route finding skills not only find Clark's Arrow, which is not really required to be successful, but more importantly, to find the proper down climb out of the Loft and into Kiplinger's Couloir.
As a courtesy for this report, I will not provide pictures or details of our route home via the Keyhole....you're welcome.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.