| Longs Peak - Mystery Solved
Preface: We wanted to climb Longs Peak again, but we also wanted to find the mysterious Clark's Arrow this time (via the Loft Route). (Clark's Arrow is an old painted arrow on a rock that points south, denoting the route back from Longs.)
At 2 a.m. on Sunday, July 22, Jen and I left our house and headed toward the Longs Peak trailhead just as Denver clubs and bars were closing. 57 minutes later we pulled into the Longs Peak Ranger Station parking lot. I just barely snagged one of the last three remaining spots available. By the time we signed in at 3:10 a.m., all the spots were taken.
This would be our fourth time up Longs (our second via the Loft Route).
On some climbing days I feel slow and sluggish. On this day, I felt pretty good for a change. I'm usually the one that's huffing and puffing on Jen's heels, but she actually had to tell me to take it easy on this morning. Regardless, we were both blasting up through the darkness at a good clip.
One hour and fifteen minutes after starting we arrived at Mills Moraine. A group of people congregated there, as it's a good spot to take a break (and there's a privy nearby). We stopped for a quick breather and then set off down the trail to Chasm Lake. Some hikers followed us, and I wondered if they knew where they were going. Even though there are clearly marked signs, some people just follow the other headlamps.
About a month ago, this section of trail was closed by rangers because of a rock and snow slide. I could see remnants of the slide, and at one point we had to hop around one boulder that blocked the trail somewhat. We moved quickly through this section.
Beyond the privy near the Chasm Lake turnoff, we noticed a couple hikers turning back. Perhaps they realized their mistake. In hindsight, as we left Mills Moraine, I kind of wish I had blurted out, "If you're taking the Keyhole Route, go thataway." But I didn't want to seem like a self-righteous jerk. And someone probably would've replied, "Uh, yeah, we know that, you self-righteous jerk."
We continued past the Chasm Lake turnoff and the hut ... and across the squishy-wet grass ... and up the boulders ... and then found the gravel-laden trail. As we ascended, the slope got steeper and steeper, and the rock became slightly looser.
We had been up this route twice before (once for Longs and once for Meeker), but it still felt new to us. And with all the vertigo-inducing walls of granite surrounding us, it was once again an awesome sight.
As we neared the ledgy slabs, the sun rose and cast a warm alpenglow on the rock.
Here's a photo (taken later in the day, on the descent) of our route up to the Loft (photo taken from Mills Moraine):
We ended up taking a new route up the rock this time. We kind of swung out wide left, then took some ledges to the right, and then climbed up some cracks. Then, instead of swinging right (to the easier way up to the ledges), we just more or less went straight up. It was some healthy, yet easy, class 3 climbing.
Here is the "crux" of the route up to the Loft, which is actually not that bad at all. In my opinion, it‘s much easier than what we climbed up to get to this point:
Beyond that little "pop up," there's just one zig-zag of ledges. The following photo shows the route, viewed from the switchback. It looks kind of steep, but it's not that bad (BTW, you can also take another "zig-zag" to the left and go up more solid rock).
Beyond the ledges, we joined up with one of the many faint trails that lead toward the Loft. We angled directly toward the Loft (to the right a little, above a snowfield), but it ended up being kind of loose. A better option would have been to climb straight up, at the fall line above you, where more stable rock lies.
Here are our shadows on the Loft. Red arrow shows our route:
In taking the "Clark's Arrow Route," we pretty much followed the advice of Gerry Roach and others: Climb toward the northwest corner of the Loft and begin a slight descent (maybe 100 feet or so of vert.). Some cairns marked the way, and rock scrambling was required at times. To our left, it got pretty steep, and I was wondering if we'd cliff out.
This is about when I flipped on the GPS. I had pre-programmed a waypoint using bdavis' coordinates for Clark's Arrow. Thanks, bdavis!
Funny enough, Jen and I ended up at the EXACT SAME gully that we did last year. Below the Palisades, there was really just one other gully to our right. I scrambled over to check it out and it ended up being a definite no-go, as it spilled out over a cliff. We didn't investigate to our left because the GPS was still pointing ahead of us, just 50 feet.
The down climb:
We down climbed the same section of rock as last year and I remembered the last problem, which is an awkward "pop down" off a rock. Not many handholds.
About this time, there were a few climbers above us (a couple with a climbing guide). The guide, noticing me staring at my GPS, asked me what I was looking for. I told him I was in search of the elusive Clark's Arrow, and then I asked him if he knew where it was. He laughed, and told me he wouldn't divulge. Then he explained to his clients what Clark's Arrow was.
I took a few steps down as I refocused on the GPS. It said the waypoint destination was just 3 feet away. I looked up on the rock above me and there she blew. Faded paint and all. Behold: Clark's Arrow!
Jen snapped a photo of me pointing at the faded marker, but it's a little blurry:
It was kind of exciting to finally find the damn thing, even though it doesn't really mean anything. I truly enjoyed the challenge of finding that little piece of history, though. And then, looking back toward what we down climbed, I got another answer to a different question of mine. I noticed the rock that Gerry Roach down climbs in his Longs Peak DVD (red line in the photo). As it turns out, we had down climbed just feet from his route (green line) -- both years. And last year, funny enough, we had passed right by Clark's Arrow. We just didn't look back to see it.
Jen and I continued on, staying high and hugging the base of the Palisades. We stayed high on the solid rock for as long as we could until moving into Keplinger's Couloir.
From the upper reaches of Keplinger's Couloir, here's a look back:
After some scampering and scrambling, and then making a slightly sketchy traverse over wet slabs of rock, we made it to the base of the Homestretch.
Last year we made a flash ascent up the Homestretch in just 10 minutes. This year, we wanted to see if we could beat our record (without being careless/dangerous, of course). Here's a pic of Jen at the base, waiting for some people to clear out of the way before we took off.
At 7:33 a.m., after a few big inhalations of air, we boogied on up the steep rock. It was kind of like a race against oxygen, in a sense. We kept having to stop and gulp in air, before pushing up further. I was on all fours, grabbing the edges of cracks with my hands as my feet pushed off on my grippy Vibram soles.
At 7:39 we stepped on the summit of Longs Peak for the fourth time, breaking our little Homestretch ascent record.
The broad summit held quite a few souls. This was our first weekend ascent of the peak, so we weren't used to seeing so many people. But they were all really nice.
Here's a pic Jen took of me on the top:
Climbing down the Homestretch was a bit slower, especially with all the climbers coming up. At one point, I climbed a bit high and edged some rock to get around some climbers that were coming up. Some of the rock is really worn and smoothed over, making it slick, so extra care had to be taken. It took us about 12 minutes to get down the Homestretch.
The Narrows were as exciting as ever. Some of the people we passed at the really exposed section seemed to be contemplating their lives ... and if they were going to proceed on or not.
There was one rock blocking the path that Jen and I didn't remember before. It looked like it had recently fallen onto the route.
Then we came to the big boulder that blocks the path. We carefully stepped around the outside of the boulder, tasting big air. Here's a pic of Jen on the outside of that boulder:
As we took a look down the Trough I was shocked by how many people were coming up. Again, I've never climbed Longs on a weekend, so this was new to me.
As we descended, I was thinking: The Trough really isn't that bad. It's not that steep; the rock is mostly solid, with only a few loosies; and it's not really that long. Years ago, I thought it was the worst gully ever. But since then, I've experienced some much nastier gullies. So I guess it's all relative.
Here's a shot I took, while descending the Trough, of an interesting rock, precariously balanced above:
Jen and I weren't out to make any records (aside from the Homestretch blitz ) on this climb, but we ended up climbing pretty fast and hard. We made it back to the trailhead at 11:30, just 8 hours and 20 minutes after we started. It was our fastest climb of Longs to date. Back at the register, we noticed someone had done it in 6 hours. That's Colorado for ya!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):