Longs Peak Trailhead 9,400'
Ski Descent of Homestretch to Keplinger's Couloir to Loft Couloir
-Elevation Climbed: 5,000'
-Vert skied: 5,000'
-Mileage RT: 12.6 miles
Longs was on the queue for a week after canceling some plans to get Kit Carson. We had some beta on the Homestretch which showed the summit was ski able. Questions of whether or not a continuous ski into Keplingers couloir remained. Unfortunately, my trusted ski buddy Fritz came down with a cold Saturday night. It was down to me and Homi. We met in Boulder and he drove to the trailhead, we started at 4:30 am. Progress was swift on the trail below tree line, as well packed snow made for easy skinning. The temps were down right balmy, making us question the 30 degree high forecast. Skies were clear, stars blazed bright. Sunrise came shortly after we contoured over Mills Moraine.
First light joins the party
Longs and its plethora of alpine routes stretched above Chasm Lake. A thick layer of clouds rolled over the summit until we reached this point, then the summit revealed it self.
Homi skins toward past Chasm View
Longs peak stunning east face
Kieners and Broadway
The Loft Couloir
We skinned up roughly half the Loft Couloir's vertical from the forest service cabin on fresh dry snow. Here we stashed the skins and began the boot up the 35 degree slope. Snow conditions were stable and lent for anything between boot to shin deep steps. Clearly a foot or more of snow had fallen over the course the past week. The sun was warming the slope rapidly, sending a few rolling balls down at us over the cliffs above. I was happy to see a few clouds rolling in to halt the increasing wet slide / slab creep avalanche potential.
Booting up the Loft Couloir
We decided to ascend straight to the upper loft area by using a steep couloir with an ice covered rock step at its top. The couloir maxed out at 50 degrees with a near vertical 20 feet of mixed climbing, the crux of our route. I took off my crampons because they were balling up so badly in the warming snow so the climb through the crux was really interesting for me. I was happy to be able to get descent pick plants in the ice between the rock. Homi flashed it as he still had the spikes on.
The ice falls in the loft, our route on climbers right
The ledge used for the standard loft route
Homi booting up 50 degree terrain toward the crux of our day
Looking up at me approach the mixed climbing
Homi flashes the crux in solid form
The upper sections of Ships Prow
After the crux, a good deal of climbing was still required to reach the Loft plateau. This is a big loading area for snow. Avalanches must be quite impressive in this area, as huge slabs would fly over the cliffs below. This day the snow was stable and easy to boot.
We boot up 40 degrees slopes to the Loft plateau
We had a bit of every season on this day. At this point it was summer, as barely a wisp of wind flowed over the Loft, a generally very windy place.
Middle of the Loft, looking up toward the Notch on Longs
Finding the most expedient route into Keplinger's couloir from here has stymied many a hiker. I had found it before and was able to remember how to do it again. You essentially go to the NW corner of the plateau and hike down into a steep gully. From above, it looks nearly technical.
Looking down the narrow and steep gully used to downclimb into Keplinger's from the Loft
This gully has two sections of climbing, one is class 3 and the other is 4. We dropped our packs down the class 4 move.
Homi negotiates the class 3 move
Pack tossing in preparation for the 4th class move
Lower end of the gully
Traverse used to exit the gully
From the exit of the gully you peer across rough terrain. This is the fabled location of Clarks arrow. Its position is marked with the blue box in a following pic.
Looking ahead from the gully exit, route marked toward Keplingers
Looking back at gully used to ascend to the Loft, the faded Clarks arrow is boxed
The remaining route into upper Keplinger's couloir involves talus hoping and ledge traversing. Mostly class 2+ terrain however with the recent fresh snow, this section of the hike was extremely taxing on both of us. Progress slowed.
Ledges used to access Keplinger's
You don't get a view of Keplinger's couloir until you're nearly in it. There was definitely enough snow in its upper stretches for skiing and the Ledge was totally covered in a mantel of white.
Route ahead through the upper end of Keplinger's and across the Ledge
The snow on the ledge was not consolidated enough to breed strong confidence in its stability, so we traversed its upper end to avoid cutting the slope out. Homi made a great boot over this steep airy terrain. Thanks bud!
Homi on his way up to the traverse
Traversing on steep ground, note the horizon line
Moving toward the Homestretch
The weather went from Summer to Spring at this point as visibility dropped. Time was beginning to be an issue so I high tailed it to the summit. The final 100 feet of climbing had a boot in the fresh dry snow from a climber earlier in the day completing the Keyhole route. It was a nice break to the trail breaking.
The Homestretch with visibility dropping
The summit flatness came into view and I topped out. It was a great feeling to complete this peak in deep unconsolidated snow using an invigorating route. I certainly didn't loose my focus though; the remaining challenges ahead were serious tests of technical skiing with big consequences of failure.
As I was on the summit, Spring turned to Winter as a storm moved in. It was neat to have this summit to myself. I geared up and signed the register, something I haven't done on any peak in many, many summits. I was able to touch my tails to the summit boulder and ski over to the Homestretch, were I saw Homi 50 feet below.
My tails touch the summit block, time to ski. Yep thats a scratched up 14ers.com sticker on my right ski
Homi summits and gears up
Our turns were those of pure survival skiing, nothing pretty here. We were able to ski on continuous snow with one small rock ski, shown below, through the Homestretch and into high 40 degree terrain to access the Ledge. The snow condition was sketchy trap crust, careful turns ensued all the way into upper Keplinger's.
Homi skiing off the summit into the Homestretch
Looking over my tips down the Homestretch
Skiing the Homestretch
The one section of rock skied to access the Ledge from the Homestretch
Homi makes some nice turns considering the conditions over and down the Ledge
At this point, the skis came off for the traverse and climb back to the Loft.
Skis off, time to hike out
We were now trying to beat darkness back to the crux of the route, the downclimb through the ice fall below the Loft. Progress was pretty good with bootpack from our ascent. Some pack passing up the difficult climbing through the gully back up to the Loft was required. Winter made its presence felt in April.
Ledges used to get back to the Loft
I really wish I could have captured the downclimb through the icefall with the camera. Instead it was meant for our memories and this brief description. As the snow fell it blew thick over the Loft's east side. The icefall was the funnel for all this snow, so as we front pointed down the cliffs, a flume of snow poured over the tops of our heads. I remember looking down at Homi and just seeing snow spill off his body like he was in the middle of a water fall. It was a really cool moment. I wont forget it. Below the crux, we put our skis back on for 1800' of wide open powder skiing.
Skis go back on for the Loft Couloir descent
The turns ahead
After locating our skins, which wasn't trivial, we skinned out of the Longs Peak massif. A sheep played chicken with Homi for a bit.
Finishing the day with a wildlife sighting
The skiing wasn't really all that good, but as far as satisfaction per turn, it was up there with the best of them for me. Homi, it was great to get out with you again.