| Winter Tour De Long‘s
Winter summit and Tour de Long's Peak
Summit date: February 8, 2007
I also reccommend Davenport's photos of this route on skithe14ers.com
Conditions are still similar.
In spite of a series of setbacks, I was able to complete my winter solo of Long's Peak. I usually don't winter solo on a route which I haven't climbed before, but Davenport's trip report on skithe14ers.com made me think that the Clark's Arrow (aka Loft) route would be a good choice for a February ascent on Longs even though my three previous ascents were on the Keyhole route. I read a couple other internet trip reports and checked out a book in the library and was pretty certain I could follow the route. I have climbed to the Loft before in the winter in order to ascend Meeker and I had seen quite a bit of the west side of the mountain and Keplinger's Couloir when climbing Pagoda in November.
One major concern was how difficult it would be to descend from the Loft west through a gully that leads to Clark's Arrow and the traverse to Keplinger's Couloir. Several descriptions referred to it as third class and the crux of the climb; but Davenport barely mentioned this area. I decided to carry a rope, harness, slings, and a helmet in case I had to rappel (totally unnecessary, read on). I also carried snowshoes (unnecessary in current conditions), crampons and an ice axe.
I left the trailhead at 4:15am and I quickly walked the hard packed trail to the Jim's Grove area. There is one empty car in the lot; the occupants had left sometime before I woke at 3:30am. In the dark, I lost the snow covered trail and cairns and missed the turnoff to Chasm Lake; somehow I wandered about 500' up the south side of Mt Lady Washington. By the time I figured out my error, I had to crampon-up to descend a series off steep gullies dropping to Peacock Pool near Chasm Lake. No problem, I rationalized, it could happen to anyone (who wasn't paying attention!) I figure I lost 45 minutes on this excursion.
Now is a good time to mention the weather. Weather Underground predicted a 28˚ high, 70% cloud cover, 0% (Ha!)chance of precipitation and 10-15 mph winds. Don't bet on any of it. At 6:45, as I'm starting up the Loft Couloir, I batten down the hatches with full wind gear: bibs, face mask, goggles, and mittens as the wind comes down the col at 40mph with 60mph gusts. The skies are clear and the temp pleasant, but the wind acts as if it may cost me the summit.
Now, a slight mishap occurs. I stop to crampon-up for the climb of the Loft Couloir. I remove my mittens which have idiot cords draped over my wrists, but are not cinched down. A wind gust lifts one mitten right over the top of my hand and carries it 200' down the col where it dangles from a rock blowing out at 90˚ to the slope. Though I still have my storm mittens buried in my pack, I know I need to retrieve my all purpose mitten, so I downclimb the 200', grab the mitten and climb back to my pack. Another 25 minutes wasted.
The rest of the climb to the Loft is a battle against ever increasing winds. The crampons go on and off several times as I move back and forth from the col to rocky ribs. There is no problem following the route across the south-traversing, very wide ramp that gives access from the col proper to the Loft. Once at the Meeker- Longs saddle (the Loft), I must bend low and push hard forward using my ski poles for balance to make progress against 70-80mph winds.
I know that the summit cannot happen today, but decide to cross the Loft to scope out the descent gully to Clark's Arrow just to see how difficult the gully appears. As I follow the cairns across the Loft and start dropping slowly towards the gully the winds start to abate. Apparently the Loft was acting as a tunnel accentuating the wind speed. After dropping 150-200' from the Loft's highpoint, the winds dropped to 20 mph. I get to go on after all!
Two accounts indicate the descent gully to Clark's arrow is third class. No way. It is a very easy, plenty-wide dirt and stable-rock filled gully. The rope and harness would never be needed here, even by a complete novice. You'd have to wander way to far left to get into trouble here. The descent is about 500'. Halfway down the gully I turn right; I did not find the arrow, but the cairned traverse to the base of Keplinger's Couloir is obvious. One of Davenport's group turned back here and it is easy to see why. The view up the col and on to the summit emphasizes that you have a long ways to go. But, maybe not quite as much as it appears. When I reach the col, I decide to follow the rock rib on the left side of the col.
Not a good idea. The rib cliffs out in 200' and I need to downclimb to get back into the col proper. As I'm performing a forward facing dip move on the descent, my foot slips and I suddenly catch my full weight and my loaded pack's weight with my chest muscles. POP! My shoulder dislocates and pain covers my right side. Having seen Mel Gibson do it in Lethal Weapon, I slam my shoulder into a flat rock and hear another loud POP as it goes back in place. This happened to me once this summer while climbing, but the doctor insists it could not have been a dislocation as a "man your age (45) does not dislocate his shoulder w/o tearing the rotator cuff". Whatever. Big OUCH! I'm returning to the doctor with this story.
Back in Keplinger's Couloir, I put my crampons on and off several times as I follow the col and ribs on the right of the col to its origin at the Notch. From the Notch, a traverse takes you left 1/16 mile to the base of the homestretch. Davenport's website has a photo of Neil Beidelman making this traverse (Is he wearing crampons? I certainly was.) It is easier than it looks in the photo.
The homestretch doesn't have enough snow to ski now, but there is some good cramponing to reach the summit. 11:45 AM. Cloudy, snowing, 15-20mph winds. It took me 7.5 hours to reach the summit, almost two hours slower than Davenport's group. Of course, they didn't waste time wandering off track in the dark, drop any gear, get injured, or fight 70 mph winds. Oh yeah, and they are studly mountain men.
The summit register indicates that a pair of climbers sumitted earlier in the day and I suspect that they climbed and descended the North Face (According to the trailhead resister, this seems to be the most popular winter route). Hey, I've got a rope and harness; I'll follow them! Harness on, crampons stowed and rope accessible, I take off down the East Ridge in search of the North Face eyebolts. After following the cairns down 300', I lose sight of them in the snow. This is dumb! I don't even know where the route is, and I'm looking to rap a couple 5th class pitches that depend on me finding the permanent pro? Discretion (and remembered stories of several deaths from exacltly this scenario) send me back to the summit! Harness off, rope stowed, crampons on. About 45 minutes after arriving the first time, I leave the summit again via the Homestretch and the Bull's-eyed route.
I decide I can at least avoid the 500' gain from Clark's Arrow to the Loft by descending the Keyhole route for a complete Tour de Long's Peak. While putting crampons on and off several times, I cross the Narrows to the top of the Trough. The Trough descent goes quickly on good snow and there is plenty of evidence of earlier winter ascents. At the bottom, I stow my helmet and crampons and begin a climbing traverse of the Ledges toward the Keyhole. The visibility is poor with cloud cover, snow, and blowing snow.
Somehow, I lose the bull's-eyes and climb to a saddle in the Keyhole ridge (the false Keyhole) that I think is the Keyhole. One look down the other side tells me otherwise. I butt-slide back over several rocks back to THE route and traverse more towards the north. In short order, I'm through the Keyhole and pull may pack off at the Agnes Vaille shelter to put on my snowshoes for the first time today.
What snowshoes? They are gone, as is my helmet and a ski pole. I have lost them somewhere between here and the bottom of the Trough when I last had my pack off. Poor visibility, the waning day and my tired body all combine to make me conclude that I won't be trying to retrieve them. I get up and start fighting the against the increasing winds as I cross the Boulderfield and skirt Mt. Lady Washington. I'm really slowing down and starting to get a little cold (wind chill -25˚). Keep moving.
When I dropped below timberline at 4:00, I began to warm considerably and remove wind gear for the first time since 6:30 this morning. By 5:15PM, I'm back at the car to complete a 13 hour, 15 mile, 6300' (including 1000 avoidable feet) day.
Several setbacks, but plenty went right too. The route was stable and safe, not really complicated to find. The wind was bad, but dropped to tolerable between Clark's Arrow and the top of the Trough. I'd like to know the North Face route so that I could use it for a descent next time, but it was not in the cards for today. I'd choose the route again in the summer over the Keyhole, just to avoid the crowds. As a winter route, I'd say it was about the same difficulty as the Keyhole. Rope and harness are not necessary for the route, crampons and ice axe are. Snowshoes are not needed in current conditions and probably are rarely needed on the Loft route before spring.
If anyone finds my red MSR snowshoes, blue helmet (marked CMC) or Leki trekking pole, drop me an E-mail. firstname.lastname@example.org