Participants: cftbq, marcia
Date: 26 August, 2007
Peaks: Mt. Meeker, Longs Pk.
Distance: ~16 mi.
Vertical: ~5,450 ft.
Early Start Required
We got together in Denver and drove up to the standard east Longs Pk. trailhead on Saturday evening. After catching a few hours' sleep in the car just below the parking area, we roused ourselves at 2 am MDT and drove up into one of the last parking spaces available. By 2:45 am we were on our way.
The moon was two days from full and going down in the west when we started. By the time we made timberline, it had set, and we hiked under an inky black sky studded with summer stars for a couple of hours.
Dawn found us entering the steep gully that leads to the Loft. There are a few cairns here to show the approximate path, but we were often free-lancing in the semi-darkness. The route leads first to the climber's left, then back into the center of the gully, where some late summer meltwater was still flowing. The water has to be crossed at least twice. It was really just a trickle, but, earlier in the season, with greater volume, it might have posed a serious obstacle. As it was, the water was not the most difficult or dangerous part of the gully climb.
The hardest part was the occasional Class 4 move on the rocks. Most likely, expert route finding could keep the difficulty of this climb to Class 3. But the chances of doing this without having been there before are pretty small, as in negligible. Although it was still somewhat chilly, I ended up taking my gloves off, to grip the rocks better, for some of the larger steps and more exposed moves required.
Finally, nearing the top, the summit of Longs comes into view:
After crossing back (right to left) over the flowing water, the exit ledge system is a little tricky to find, although is looks obvious from a distance. We got temporarily a little off-route here before finding it and scrambling up to it. Once on it, there was no problem, and the second ledge, running left-to-right, is even easier to find, despite being narrower. What was surprising was how much distance was left, after exiting this ledge, before the actual saddle area of the Loft was reached. The slope relented quite a bit, but the climb wasn't over by any means.
We finally made it though, and, after a brief rest, started up the surprisingly clear climber's trail which leads southeast toward Meeker's summit ridge. Here it is, photographed later while on the traverse over to Longs:
The summit ridge of Meeker is spectacular, to say the least: very steep on the south side, and nearly vertical on the north. Plus, virtually every boulder which sits on the crest has a pointed top which echoes this pattern. I went on all fours across much of the nearly level traverse to the true summit:
I had to throw one leg onto the top surface, while reaching as far as I could with both arms, and then roll my weight over the edge to get up onto that unusual summit. It may be lower than Longs, but it was the high point of my day.
Back at the Loft a few minutes later (the entire side trip to Meeker took less than an hour: well worth it!), I put on my helmet in anticipation of rockfall potential on the traverse below the Palisades, and marcia discovered that she had left hers at the trailhead! Shortly thereafter, we overtook a party of four climbers going our way, with whom we stayed on the way over to the Homestretch.
The route finding on this section was not as tricky as I had feared it might be, but we did have to solve a number of small puzzles as to how to proceed around various rock ribs and across various clefts. Here, too, there are at least occasional cairns, but getting from one to the next can be something of a problem. At one point, we probably had to climb fifty feet out of our way in order to get to a point where we could first cross a rib, and then the adjacent gully, before descending a net thirty or forty feet to a cairn which we could clearly see. A few of the downclimb moves, particularly, were, well, interesting.
We soon passed Clark's Arrow, verifying that it does a climber going in this direction no good at all, since you can't see it until you come around the corner and find it two feet from your head. Here's one of the climbers photographing it, with marcia in the foreground:
From there, the route mostly climbs, at varying angles, past the Notch and over to the base of the Homestretch. Despite knowing what to expect, I was still taken aback at the two-way highway of people on the Homestretch when it finally came into view:
If you're comfortable with scrambling, the Homestretch isn't really difficult. But the only available ledges are very small, and I sure wouldn't want to have to try it—in either direction—if the rock were wet. Fortunately, the weather that held clear and fair, and the rock was bone dry.
We spent most of an hour on the roomy summit, both to rest, and to wait our turn for summit pictures on the small pile of rocks which mark the true high point. That's where the register is located, which we found to be nearly full after only two days. It had taken us nearly eight hours to reach this second summit.
The Other Side of the Keyhole
After descending the Homestretch, the rigors of this climb are not over. The exposure in a few places along the Narrows and the Trough is basically equal to that on the traverse from the Loft. The saving grace is that the route is much better marked, with those famous red-and-yellow "bullseyes." Still, there are several downclimb moves that require real care. I remember one in particular that required so much stretching of my leg to reach a foothold that I seriously wondered how anyone much shorter than me would do it, although I know that they do.
Nor is the climbing over, just because you are "descending." Before reaching the Keyhole, a substantial amount of altitude must be re-gained, and some of the steps are of considerable size. Here's the view approaching the Keyhole:
Finally going down
Once through the Keyhole, the intensity doesn't let up much. You can finally see where you're going though, so the small number of cairns isn't really a problem. But the going is still rather slow as you pick your way down through the tilted boulders. After several hundred feet of descent, the terrain finally levels out somewhat, and some semblence of a trail appears. It goes on for quite a ways, though, through the stony ground, before softer, more tundra-like ground is reached.
We finally got back to the point where we re-joined our ascent route, where the sign says it is 4.2 miles to the ranger station. We started hoofing it pretty good at that point, and I know we made the last 3.5 miles in 70 minutes, arriving back at the trailhead at almost exactly 4 pm.
It was a long but beautiful day, and it was very satisfying to have two peaks to show for the effort. Fourteener #32 for me, #40 for marcia. More photos are at:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):