| Mt. Meeker via the Iron Gates
First trip report here, so bear with me please.
With only one day left before our Christmas trip to Phoenix, I really wanted to get out one more time. There were three options: Northstar with ChrisFol(Chris) and d_baker(Darin), Twin Sisters with dswink(Dave) and Silverlynx(Jenny), or Meeker with Iman86(Matt) and his buddy Corbin. Having been up Twin Sisters earlier this summer, and wanting to climb Northstar as a winter climb after seeing it in Cooper's Snow Climbs book, Meeker was the obvious choice.
Ever since moving to the Front Range in 2005, I have wanted to climb the peaks visible from Denver. After driving on 72 to RMNP on many occasions and seeing the sign stating the height, 13,911ft, it somehow stuck in my head, definitely the only 13er height I have memorized. When Matt told me they were planning on heading up through the Iron Gates, I began researching the route and got pretty excited after seeing some trip reports and the route description from Roach.
Final plans were made for Corbin to pick Matt up in Denver on his way from CO Springs, and then they would pick me up on the way to the trailhead around 1:40am, putting us on the trail at roughly 3:00am, plenty of time to make it back before dark, even with these short days. At 1:10am I got a text saying Corbin had slept in but was leaving right away, and then at 2:00am another text saying his car had broke down and that Matt was jumping in his car ASAP to come get me. Now there were two of us, starting later than we hoped, but still going nonetheless!
After the quick drive to the trailhead we pulled in and happened upon something very, very rare, the elusive empty Longs Trailhead parking lot! We had assumed there would be at least one or two cars, but instead we had our pick of spots, and started to gear up for the climb. We left snowshoes and some technical gear in the car, but each brought our axe, crampons(which we didn't end up using), helmet and microspikes as we hit the trail at 4:30am under clear, starry skies. While Matt filled out the register, I got my music situated (Radiohead is the perfect music to walk through the dark woods listening to) and we started heading up the trail.
No one had signed in since the weekend, but the trail was still extremely well tracked and easy to follow, a luxury after the trailbreaking on Massive from a few days ago. Once past Jim's Grove we lost the trail, but easily made it up to the Chasm Lake junction in just under two hours. Having climbed Longs I had been to the junction before but never took the left hand turn down to Chasm Meadows. We took a break just down the trail by some large boulders and watched the beautiful sunrise. In my opinion, few things in this world are as great as an above-treeline sunrise.
Sunrise with Matt coming around the corner
We stashed some water for the return, put on our helmets, stowed the poles, got out our axes, and pushed on. It had been chilly all morning, with wind picking up above treeline, but nothing too bad. The brightening sky had revealed blue sky to the east, but clouds and snow just sitting on top of the peaks in the cirque. The snow and clouds turned the sky a very neat pinkish hue. To be honest, at this point I thought a summit was a longshot, but it was only 7:00am, so we pushed on.
Matt crossing the snowfield
The snowfield you cross to get down to Chasm Meadows was still pretty firm that early, but some steps by the weekend hikers made it pretty simple. That was the most snow we dealt with all day. Stowing the axes we looked up and could barely see Longs or Meeker, they were going in and out of sight as the clouds and snow swirled all around. To the south we could see the impressive north face of Meeker with its huge cliffs and rock formations. Our goal was to gain the northeast ridge at around 13,000ft by way of the Iron Gates. On the eastern end of the ridge, there are two huge rock towers guarding the entrance to the hall beyond, and a notch at the top, our access point. Some steep Class 2 got us through the Gates, but not without taking a ton of pictures; this is a really awesome area.
Starting up through the Gate's
Looking back down through where we came
Cliff at the notch to gain the NE ridge
View of Longs from high in the Gully
Towards the top of the gully there was a little bit of fun Class 3 before popping out on the other side of the ridge and seeing most of the remaining route. At this point the sun popped out, but only for a few minutes before we were once again in a cloud with snow flurries. The south side of the ridge did offer a little respite from the wind, which sure helps morale. Matt was still in the gully, and after waiting for a bit and getting cold, I started moving upward to warm up. This part of the hike was straightforward and pretty easy scrambling on nice big rock.
Looking west toward summit
Crazy cliffs above the Iron Gates
At about 13,500ft the wind and snow began to pick up and the rocks all began to get covered in a nice layer of rime ice. By nice I mean extremely slippery and annoying. Walking along the ridge is quite the experience; on your right side you are literally five feet from huge cliffs that drop who knows how far. That said, if you aren't into the exposure, there is a ton of room on the ridge where you could avoid almost all of those moments. At about 9:45am I finally saw what I assumed to be the summit of Meeker Ridge, an unranked peak.
These got slippery!
Rime covered summit of Meeker Ridge
As I scrambled up to the boulder strewn summit I could see why it is unranked, it looks to be the same height as the true summit, was extremely close, and only drops down about 50 feet between the two. What came next was the knife edge. I had read that this would be, by far, the crux of the climb. The only thing different from all the pictures I had seen was the layer of ice coating the entire thing, and the wind. Matt was still coming up behind me, but with the weather deteriorating I decided to start the traverse, not knowing if it was passable, or even if I wanted to see if it was passable. As is usually the case in the mountains, once I got up closer and saw what I was dealing with, it looked doable. With the wind and added layer of ice I had to move very deliberately, and a few of the moves did cause me to pause a bit, but nothing put me out of my comfort zone. There were two sections, maybe 15ft each, where I had to do the straddle technique, but usually there was another ledge just below the knife edge that I could walk on while holding onto the edge itself. When not directly on the knife edge, I was usually on the north side.
Me with Knife edge
Attempting to show the knife edge exposure
Exposure to the south on knife edge
After about 10 minutes and tons of pictures I had made it to the end and only had the final summit pitch to go before being able to check another centennial peak off my list. Assuming this part was going to be simple was a mistake though, with the ice I had to crawl in a few places and the exposure never let up. At 10:20am I was on the summit of Mt. Meeker!
True summit of Mt. Meeker
Me with NE ridge cliffs
Of course the visibility was horrible and I didn't get the views of Longs I was hoping for, but no big deal. I spent all of a minute on top for a picture and then headed back to reverse the knife edge and get back to the relative safety of Meeker Ridge.
Coming back across was uneventful, thankfully, and as I was almost across I spotted Matt up on Meeker Ridge. When we met up I gave him all the beta I could on the crux section and he started in that direction while I waited for him. By this time the weather had begun to get worse, and I could tell that concerned both of us. He got about a third of the way across but was stopped by a move that just didn't feel right to him. Me being 6'5” it didn't concern me, but under the conditions I can see how he felt that way. After turning around and trying it again, he made the decision that today was not his day to summit Meeker. I applaud Matt for making that tough decision so close to the summit, it shows he has a lot of common sense and that he listens to his brain when it says 'this isn't cool with me'. The mountain will always be there, and hopefully in better conditions next time.
Matt attempting the knife edge
Matt starting knife edge
Summit of Meeker Ridge
With that we started our descent and made amazing time back to Chasm Meadows. In prior trip reports people had complained about how loose the gully through the Iron Gates was, but with everything semi-frozen in place, it made for very enjoyable boulder hopping and scree surfing.
Cliffs and Iron Gates from above
Amazing rock formations
The rest of the hike back to the car was a breeze compared to the dark routefinding of the morning, and we got back to the trailhead at 2:30pm, a 10 hour, 12 mile day. Once back home and looking at the pictures and remembering the day, I might say that this is my favorite route to date on any mountain. The added difficulty of the adverse weather really made it a tough climb, physically and emotionally. Sitting on the plane typing this, all I can think about is what adventure waits when I get back to Colorado. Can anyone say calendar winter summits????
Longs and part of Meeker from the Jim's Grove
Beautiful afternoon stroll in the trees
Thanks for reading!
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