Longs Peak (14255’)
Via North Face Cables (5.4)
11 miles RT, 4900’ gain
December 14, 2013
The 12 months/12 routes project on Longs stalled in 2013 with only one new month (grid slot) and no new routes. The best laid plans can be easily foiled on Longs with the fickle weather it is notorious for. Through Facebook posts, I discovered that my friend George Barnes is also working on the Longs grid! The Cables route on the north face has been on my to do list for a long time and George has been up it many times. This route has a storied history as it used to be the standard route to the summit with eyebolts and cables installed in 1925 as the route was becoming very popular. They were removed in 1973, although some of the eyebolts remain. The route is now used as a quick descent as it is efficient and direct to the Boulderfield with a rappel. The route can be soloed by a strong climber, but obviously snow and ice complicates things in winter conditions.
We were hoping to squeeze a Dec grid slot in, but good weather weekends in Dec are hard to come by on Longs. It seems like the winds are pretty stiff most days! We were concerned about there being too much new snow from a storm 9 days prior, but the webcam showed that a lot of the new snow had been scoured off by high winds during the week. Sarah is always up for an adventure, so we had a solid team in place! We set off at a somewhat less than alpine 6:18am start. You don’t want to start too early for this route in winter conditions because it’s in the shade all day, but there are limited hours to work with. There were only a few cars in the lot and we had the whole approach to ourselves. As expected, we didn’t need snowshoes as the trail was already beat down pretty good. We took the winter shortcuts and made decent time to Granite Pass where we were met with some pretty stiff winds. We were hoping the 35 mph gusts forecast wasn’t off the wrong direction! I could already tell this was going to be a two 5 Hour Energy day to halfway keep up as I hadn’t been above treeline in over a month and was feeling it.
Nearing Chasm Junction
As we approached the Boulderfield, we were encouraged to see that the north face had been scoured pretty good, but George said there was more snow than each of his other ascents.
The north face showing decent conditions
The wind had also backed off, although there was some spindrift higher up and an ominous cloud blew over the face that made for a sweet shot!
Swirling clouds blast by on the approach
We were hoping the winds would be nice through the technical section as you don’t want to be standing around on snow long! We geared up at the edge of the highest talus and made it to the base of the technical pitch at 12:45, which would give us enough time to hopefully get back to the trail before dark.
Boulder slog to the face
Approaching the crux headwall
To get to the base of the crux, we climbed decent snow and 4th class crack that was a nice warmup for climbing rock with crampons.
The technical section is a 150’ right leaning dihedral that goes at 5.4 when dry, but obviously is more complicated with snow and ice. George led on two 60 M twin ropes so that Sarah and I could be belayed at the same time on separate ropes to save time. The other advantage is you get to rappel the crux all at once, which is a great benefit when it’s so cold! George did a great job with the lead as there was enough ice on the route to make it significantly harder. He said the conditions were tougher than his previous times on the route. Luckily there are plenty of comfortable stances along the route to warm your hands up! The temps were hovering in the low teens with the lowest reading at 6 degrees after the final rappel.
George leading the ~150' dihedral
George on one of the awkward moves with ice.
Sarah and I followed George on our respective ropes and the system worked out really well. I really enjoyed the mixed climbing on this short technical pitch. There were enough holds on the side of the dihedral to help in the icy sections without the use of an axe, although there were a couple awkward moves. It certainly is a dramatic perch for a climb!
Heading up on twin ropes
View from George's belay stance down the pitch.
Sarah exiting the dyhedral
We worked efficiently as a team through the technical section, but we still burned an hour. Above the crux headwall was a firm snowfield that we followed tracks right on. Sarah and I stayed on belay going one at a time for this short traverse to a higher, cairned rappel station. This was basically no room for error climbing on hard snow here as we would have taken a long ride with a fall, but it wasn't that steep. There were a couple steep sections with some mixed moves above this on the hard snow that we felt comfortable on going up, but I knew it would be tougher going down!
Traversing hard snow above the headwall
The rest of the upper face is mostly no harder than 3rd class with a few 4th class ledges to climb here and there. We angled back left into the obvious wind scoured bowl and zigged our way up to the summit. We topped out at 2:40 and were treated with spectacular views of some low clouds swirling around the peaks to the west. It was the best view I have seen on my visits of Longs and was worth the effort! We hung around long enough to soak in the awesome views and throw down some much needed food for the descent, but with the cold temps it didn’t take long to get cold again.
2nd-4th class terrain on the upper face
Holy Smokes, what an awesome summit view!
Pagoda and Chiefs Head
Copeland amidst a nifty cloud show
Sarah at the top of the Homestretch
George and Pagoda
The winds picked up on the descent, so it took a few minutes to get warmed up after the summit break. The descent of the top of the face goes very quickly until we came to the hard snow above the technical section. Here we had to face in for about 15 minutes or so and do the “plunge axe spike into snow, move both feet into small bucket steps, and repeat” routine. The steps were trustworthy, but there is no room for error, so we took our time with footwork.
Heading back down
Sarah downclimbing one of the steeper sections. Photo by George Barnes.
Sarah starting the awesome long rappel!
We were relieved to be back at the eyebolts for the rappel to Chasm View. I was the last to rap and rapped the full length of the twin 60’s down to the initial 4th class crack. We had just enough time to head over to the Chasm View notch to the out of this world view of the Diamond! That perch ranks right up there as one of the most inspiring views I have seen in Colorado. Daylight and warmth was waning, so we regrouped briefly at the Boulderfield for the long slog out. We made it back to the cars at around 7:30 glad to enjoy another adventure on Longs for the elusive Dec grid slot!
The Diamond from Chasm View
Keyhole Ridge and Storm
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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