| Longs Peak - Winter - Keyhole
This TR may be a long one, as it was my first real outing into nature I guess you could say, and a lot was learned. I'll try to answer some of the questions from my previous thread seen here: http://www.14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=16735&start=0
We left from Chicago after work on Wednesday November 12th. The original plan was to climb Long's Peak using the Keyhole route. We would drive 14 hours straight, arrive in Estes Park in the morning and eat breakfast, then pick up the permit, arrive at the trail head and move out. The plan was to climb to the boulder field, set-up camp and spend night 1 there, then get up early, summit Longs Peak, and depending on the time come back down and either sleep, or mess around on Mount Lady Washington, or just hike around and checkout the area. We were going to spend another night in the boulder field, then come down back to the car on day 3 (Saturday morning). The weather outlook was not good at all, some snow, but mostly 40 mph winds with gusts up to 60 and 85 mph.
I have wanted to get into this sport since I was a child. I remember as a kid watching a movie with my dad about Everest, and dreaming of being able to do that one day. Living in Chicago, there's not much getting out (into the mountains). I played hockey growing up (very time consuming), worked full time through college and my masters (still playing hockey for the school), etc… and so I was not able to travel to get into nature too much then either, however, for college hockey we did travel a lot and I loved seeing new places, eating up the scenery and the locals, etc. I did however grow up in a family of skiers, so that helped pickup the love for the mountains, though we traveled to Wisconsin/Michigan for those trips. So, I'm athletic and I love the outdoors (specifically snow), and that brought me to climbing.
This was my first climb, same with my friend Aaron. The other three guys were 3 time unsuccessful summiteers of Longs during winter. They had some climbing experience, but not as much as I would have thought (great guys who talk and know a lot about this stuff, but in practice it seemed like we were all new to this, will explain more later in the TR). This was obviously my first 14er, and some had asked why we wanted to do a 14er in winter as our first climb. To this I need to explain that I'm in any way a dare-devil or crazy, in fact I fear more than most probably!! When I do things, I like to do them the hard way. This doesn't mean if there's an easy way I purposely avoid it, it means I like to test myself. Longs is a classic mountain, and MANY do it in the summer. For me, Longs in the summer might not be to enjoyable (I don't know though, haven't tried). I do realize it is still a 14er and could be difficult, but I truly enjoy a challenge. Additionally, when I do things, I learn everything I can before jumping into anything, which helps with my abilities to succeed at most things I do. I plan and prepare better than most, which highly increases ones chance to be successful. Thus I read every TR on longs winter on the net. I researched and read all subjects surrounding the outdoors, survival, climbing, clothing, etc. Read half way through The Freedom of the Hills, and spent MANY days at REI picking the brains of the employees (yup, they offered me / Aaron a job, said we might as well work there)…without ever experiencing climbing a mountain, I read so much about it, that I feel like I've climbed so many already (through others' experiences).
Now there is no supplement for real world experience, actually getting out there and doing it. And that is why we didn't just go out on our own, but went with three other guys that had been to Longs in the winter. I thinking climbing in the summer would be fun, but I'm real drawn to the snow. I wanted to walk in it, sleep in it, feel the cold, the experience of a snow covered mountain etc. I really like the Alpine style, so we choose winter. I was pumped. We prepared for about 3 months. Physically I was good. I lift and do cardio 5 times a week, and still play hockey 1 to 2 time a week, so I wasn't worried about being tired, I was most worried about not knowing. Not knowing the little things like how to melt snow (silly, I know), pack the backpack correctly, climb with crampons, etc…so I read and read and read, tried on the gear numerous times, stood in a bathtub with my boots/gaitors/pants on to check for any leakage, etc, etc, everything I could think of to help me prepare… and we were finally ready to go.
We left Wednesday night, and after a last minute stop at REI, we were on our way. The gear was split amongst the five of us, and all the bags weighed in at about 40lbs. We rented a Hyundai Santa Fe for it's fuel economy (gas prices were $4 gal when we originally started our planning but dropped right around our trip), which just barely fit the gear, and did not have the power to work well in the mountains!! Even when flooring it, she barely moved.
This is the Santa Fe, packed to the rim. We again apologize to Hertz about the crampon hole in the roof liner. Someone wasn't careful.
Driving into Estes Park was awesome. This was the first time I had seen the Rockies up close, and the mountains were beautiful. We came to an intersection, and saw a stop sign spinning in circles from the wind. We knew it was going to be rough on the mountain. We at a small restaurant, and believe me, the people there will probably never forget us.
We had some heated discussion (albeit friendly) about which way to climb. Because of some 14er input in my thread about our trip (thanks guys), I prepared all the info we needed for a different route (other than the Keyhole, as a plan B), which you guys recommended to be slightly less windy, and probably a better attempt for us. Aaron and I as rookies were stating our case on why we should follow through with plan B. We had facts, maps, gps coordinates, pictures, etc. Everything we needed. However, the other guys, specifically one of them, was not very receptive. He basically said fine, you guys do your route, we'll do ours. He and one other guy wanted to stick with the keyhole, and they were very "immature" about it, I might add. Rather than look at the facts before them, they were set on the Keyhole route. And that's it. They would not hear anything else about it. To this day, I cannot comprehend how this table conversation went down, why it went how it did, and how they were behaving. It was very weird to say the least. Personally I set my self up for success in everything I do. If plan A turns out to be bad, I'll abandon it and follow through with plan B, C, or D…whatever it takes to succeed. These guys were setup for failure from the beginning, and were OK with that. But not so much OK with it, they just thought everyone was wrong about the weather, climbing difficulty, etc. They thought it would be hard, but that's all. Even when I explained how we needed to camp below tree line, they were pushing for the boulder field. I just didn't get it. Guys with real experience on 14ers have said, avoid the boulder field. What's so hard to understand? Listen to experience. They wanted to be closer to the mountain for the hike up to the summit. Again, I didn't get it; the distance from the tree line to the boulder field is not that great to warrant necessitating we sleep in the boulder field. We were doing a possible 1 day climb in 3, there was NO reason to rush things, or push higher for no obvious reason. As my arguments are fact based, I wanted some fact based argument back from these guys. They had none. It was their way or our own way without them. This is where I realized that maybe there was a reason these guys hadn't summitted in their previous 3 attempts (haha, sorry guys!!). So I made it clear to rely on my own experiences and knowledge from reading vs. their experience in action. Again, they are super nice guys, but not the mountaineers I perceived them to be. More examples later. (NOTE, I'm not trying to knock these guys in any way, great guys, again, just didn't agree with their mountaineering decisions).
We made a decision at the beginning that all decisions would be made as a group, so a vote of 3-2 was needed to decide anything. It was 2 against 2 on which route to take, and the third guy was in the middle. He wanted our route, but didn't want to upset his other friend. So we decided on the keyhole route. However, when we were speaking with the park ranger, he also stated that the keyhole route might not be the best idea, and we were finally able to convince the guys otherwise. However, we were driving trying to figure out how to get to the start of our Plan B route, when we got to the "standard" (I guess you could call it), trail head which would take us up the Keyhole Route. Everyone was antsy to get out of the car by this point and start climbing, so we just decided on the Keyhole Route. I wasn't ecstatic because I knew this meant we had 0% chance of summiting, but whatever, I was in it for the experience more than anything, so I accepted this fact and focused on learning. Although the goal was to summit, I had to settle on my personal plan B of just gaining experience and being satisfied with that.
It was cold and windy in the parking lot, and there was no one else around. One car, but no person, and one other car that pulled in, but I beleive left. Here's the parking lot, and Aaron and I.
We dressed, donned the gear, and headed up the trail. The conditions were very good in the tree line, and we needed to focus on not overheating / sweating. The trail had no snow on it at this point.
We'd rest every so often, and eat small snacks all along, all the while drinking plenty of water. Eventually, at the bridge, we ran into a guy who was descending (he took our picture here, thanks!).
He had planned to ice climb a bit, but the conditions weren't good, so he was coming back down. We continued up and just inside the tree line there was a small clearing where Aaron & I strongly recommended we setup camp, as we could hear the wind above us. The majority of the group wanted to go higher and higher, thus we kept going. (Big mistake). Here's Aaron near and above the tree line.
At the sign that shows Longs Peak is 5 miles, they decided it would be good to setup camp, behind some shrubbery off to the left. This was not a good idea, and in my opinion impossible. The wind was so strong that there really was no point to even attempt this (the gusts were knocking us over at some points!!). You can see in the pic how unhappy I am (haha, I'm just sitting there, eating some cheese, watching them). The second pic is of Dan trying to setup the tent.
So after a little bit of that, we decided to pack-up and move down hill. I wanted to go down down, into the trees, but they STILL wanted to be up as high as possible. It was getting late; we were tired and hungry, and settled on a spot behind some trees. This was not ideal, but it did have ok coverage from the wind, and a nice view!!
We setup the tents, and made some food. Ramon for them, some mac & cheese for me. I really didn't wanted to eat it (wasn't nauseous or anything) just had no appetite by then, but I eventually did finish the little cup. It was starting to get dark; we got in the sleeping bags and went to sleep. I must note here that our choice of camp was nestled on a rock slab, angled downhill. Thus, we kept slipping down in our bags to the bottom of the tent, and this night was probably the worst night of sleep I have ever experienced. It just plain hurt. We fell asleep about 6 or 6:30pm, and shortly thereafter, I awoke because "nature called". I looked at my watch at it said 8:30, oh thank God I thought, the painful night is over. But no, when I unzipped my sleeping bag and popped my head out, it was still pitch black out. I first thought the sun hadn't risen yet, then figured by 8:30 the sun would have rose (assuming it was 8:30am), then slowly I came to the realization it was still 8:30 pm that same night!! Only 2 hrs had passed!! Oh boy, this was going to be a long night. The Marmot down sleeping bag (rated for +15F) did a great job, as I was warm the whole night. However, I was VERY uncomfortable sliding down the rock the whole night. The wind was blowing like crazy on and off, and when I did get out of the tent again (nature called again), the sky was beautiful, and the surrounding mountains and city looked amazing. We just can't see the stars like that in Chicago!!
Morning eventually came, and it was time for breakfast. We were about 15 yards below the trail in our camp site, but someone had the idea that the water ran below us just about in the trees. So we down climbed the side of the hill looking for that water. We continued down and down and down, eventually getting to the realization that it was easier to just keep going down rather than go back up to get to the trail (the water was approximately a 5 min hike along the trail from where we were at camp). After about an hour we found the water, filled the bottles and had to climb all that distance back up. Wasn't too fun considering it was early and we were hungry and thirsty, but actually… it was kind of fun hiking in the woods like that, with the snow and all. We did unfortunately waste a lot of energy we didn't have. Anyway, it was Ramon Noodles for breakfast. 3 of us climbed up a bit back to the 5 mile marker to check the weather. It was still very windy, but not as much so as the day before. On this "scouting" hike, we crossed two guys that were going up and planning on spending 4 days ice climbing. (Later on a couple of our guys crossed them again, this time they (the ice climbers) were descending because of the weather). We kept going up and up, and the weather was beating us down. It was partly cloudy, so the sun would come and go, and the wind really didn't let down too much, but was a steady blast. Aaron, Omar, and I moved ahead of Dan and Chuy. We encountered a nice guy around the Mt. Lady Washington area (I believe), who was on his way down (saw a total of 4 people other than us).
We reached to the flat boulder field area before the keyhole where Aaron and I turned back. Omar continued on to almost the base of the keyhole, before he turned back. We encountered Dan and Chuy on our climb down, and they ended up getting to the base of the keyhole area too before coming back. Aaron and I made it back to camp about 2 hours before anyone else. We were extremely thirsty, and realized other than our own bottles that we carried were almost out, and all the extras had been put into one of the other guys' backpacks, so we drank what we had left (too tired to go for water), and climbed into our sleeping bags. We awoke about 2 hrs later when they other guys had returned. It was now about 5 pm and it was decision time. The plan was to spend another night and climb down on day 3. The weather was supposed to be better, and we might have been able to summit on day 3, but that meant another night on that rock slab. We decided we had 1 hour left of sunlight and that we would not stay another night. We needed to pack-up quickly before we ran out of light, so we did. Just as the last rays of sunlight disappeared, we started our way down. It had snowed enough that the trail was covered in snow, but it was only a few inches deep at most, and the other climbers had left tracks for us to follow down.
It's too bad that we didn't stay the second night and attempt to summit the third day, because the weather was good that day, and there's even a TR on here from someone who did summit (could have been us too!!). I attribute our leaving early to a few reasons. Mostly we were tired. We had only eaten 3 meals in the 2 days, other than the small snacks (breakfast day 1 in Estes Park, dinner day 1, and breakfast day 2). We simply didn't have the calories or energy to really push another day. We had the food in our packs, we simply didn't eat it. Also, our sleeping situation was painful. We had a hotel in Denver waiting for us, or that rock slab on the mountain. Had we had a better camp, I would have been all for staying another night out; however, I really did not want to sleep on that rock and at that angle for one more night.
We got back to the car rather quickly and encountered another 2 climbers going up near the bottom of the trail (total of 6 other than us). Somehow we had left a light on inside our car, so as we got down, we thought we'd be stranded a little bit waiting for help, however, thank God, the battery was still fine and the car started right up.
- Eat good meals and eat often. 3 meals for 2 full days of climbing won't cut it. We weren't exactly hungry, but we should have eaten to eat anyway.
- Drink more water than you think. We went from fine to, wow… I'm thirsty, pretty quick. It was on our minds to drink and drink the whole time, but we still didn't get enough (in my opinion).
- The camp you choose is very important to determining the comfort in which you'll sleep. Choose wisely.
- A down jacket would be nice to have. None of us invested in one before; however, I definitely have since, and will have one with me on all my future winter climbs. Around camp and in the tent, your layers just don't do it.
- Trekking poles help. They're not 100% needed, but I was glad I had them, and will always take them along, just in case. A nice convenience.
- Always have a plan B, C, or D…and share it with the group beforehand. Understand when to forgo plan A and use plan B, and get everyone on the same page before you start out. We had planned for 3 months prior to the trip (coming from Chicago), but still we weren't 100% prepared. We thought we were, but things still came up.
- Check your gear and make a list. I had a list and doubled check everything. I had everything I needed that I was supposed to carry. Other guys forgot basics like eating utensils/cup/bowls (we had 2 cup-bowls for the 5 of us), a first aid kit (that's right, it was left at home…and that's a 100% bring all-the-time type thing!!), headlamps, etc. I understand it's possible to overlook things, and mistakes like forgetting something can happen, but we could have done better I think.
Overall I think we had a great time and did a great job with our climb for the amateurs that we are. Aaron and I learned a lot from our first trip, and with further experience we'll only get better at this great sport and I look forward to many more Colorado 14er winter ascents and beyond.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):