| Longs Peak - North Face - Winter
Heather14 and I made a last minute decision to climb the North Face (old Cables Route) on Longs Peak after nice (albeit windy) break in the weather showed up in the forecast.
We hiked in on Saturday evening to around treeline on the way up the standard trail. There was barely any snow here, making winter camping a bit tricky, but we managed a pretty cozy spot.
The next morning we started walking at about 6:45 after two watch alarm failures (we had hoped to be walking by 6:00 at the latest). We made good time in windy but otherwise good conditions up to the Boulder Field where we saw another group of 2 just beginning the technical pitch on the route we were aiming for.
The route above the boulder field is shown in green, with the red dots marking the approximate start and end of the technical pitch.
We continued to make good time up the steepening slopes to the base of the technical pitch. Through this section we had the option of donning crampons and walking on snow or leaving them off and walking on the rocks. We opted for the rocks until just below the start of the climb.
Heather14 working her way up towards the base of the technical pitch
From the base of the technical pitch, the eye bolts left over from the old cable were obvious. Most were cut off, but 4 remain in tact. I led the route in a single pitch with a 50-meter rope, using the bolts for protection along the way as well as placing 3 cams. For anyone considering the route, I recommend bringing 6 cams of various sizes, all smaller than a #1 (I needlessly brought many more than this). I had heard a range of difficulty of the route ranging from 5.4 to 5.6. After completing the climb, I‘d lean towards the 5.4 end of this range, with the winter conditions making it slightly more difficult. The 50 meter rope was more than enough for completing the route in a single pitch. When we did it, there was a mix of snow, ice, and rock (mostly rock) covering the route. Consequently, I opted to climb with an ice axe in my right hand and a gloved left hand, which worked out surprisingly well. The ice was never thick enough to place a screw (apparently normal), so ice screws are not likely to be of any use. We caught the group in front of us at the top of the climb as they opted to complete it in 2 pitches.
Above the technical pitch the route follows a leftward traverse for a few hundred vertical feet to the summit on class 4 terrain. By carefully selecting our path, we managed to stay on snow almost the entire time.
Heather14 above the technical pitch
The decision to rope up on this section is anything but straight forward. The fact that a fall would send you plummeting over the Diamond makes roping up tempting. Heather14 and I decided that we both felt comfortable soloing this sections so long as we could stay on snow and not have to traverse any steep rock sections in our crampons, which we managed to do, so we didn‘t rope up beyond the top of the technical pitch.
We reached the top 6 hours after leaving treeline. Our entire climb (and the descent as well) was accompanied by 20-30 mph sustained winds, making the otherwise reasonable temperatures seem quite cold.
We descended in the same fashion as our ascent, using 2 rappels to descend the technical pitch. This was easily done with the 50 meter rope, and the remaining eye bolts are placed very well for doing this. A 60-meter rope would not allow you do use a single rappel here.
Heather14 rappelling the technical section
We made it back to the tent, packed up, and were back at the trailhead shortly after it got dark (5:30 ish), making for about an 11 hour day. This was a fantastic winter route and I recommend it to anyone with the appropriate skills and experience.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):