| Longs Peak 2nd Attempt - Winter via Trough
This trip was Aaron and my second attempt at Longs in the winter. It was also our second attempt ever climbing a mountain!! Still rookies, we had learned very much from our first climb, and we were very excited to put into practice those lessons. Ironically though, many lessons we learned on our first trip, we re-learned on our second. But more on that later.
We were once again accompanied by our friend Dan, who had unsuccessfully attempted to climb Longs in the winter 4 times prior. The three of us (Peter / Aaron / Dan) left Chicago Thursday night at around 7:00. The original plan was to leave directly after work; however, as in our previous trip and Dan's previous 4, there's always something that needs to be done or someone who isn't ready, so we left slightly late. This wasn't a big deal, but did cause us to arrive slightly later than we wanted in Estes Park Friday morning (after a 14 hour drive). The mountains were again beautiful driving in from the plains, but were covered in clouds, so we were slightly worried about the weather we'd face.
We had been watching the weather closely for the few days prior to the climb, and things weren't looking ideal, though not bad enough to keep us off the mountain completely. We had a semi-large following from the 14ers site for people who wanted to join the climb, but many of them dropped out due to the forecast. (Unfortunately so, as the weather turned out to be almost perfect for our climb).
The drive went quickly (Dan doing the most driving, followed by Aaron, with me doing the most sleeping ). I'm not a good long distance driver, especially not at night. We arrived in Estes at about 8:30 in the morning, and ate breakfast at The Other Side Restaurant, which is sort of becoming our tradition now. It's nice to mingle with the locals!! Aaron got to mingle a little more then us…unfortunately for him. I guess the breakfast really needed room to settle, because he clogged the toilet, and had to make the walk of shame over to the manager, and ask for a plunger…which they didn't have. So he had to stand there and watch as an employee of the restaurant cleared a path in the toilet with a coat hanger. Haha, classic. We were good to go about 9:30 or so, when Dan informed us that he had 2 conference calls to attend for work. Needless to say we were a little upset about this, but hey, life's to short to be upset about the small stuff, so we checked out the gift shop, and took some pictures in the parking lot while we waited for him. Aaron, who drove in to Estes, failed to realize that we were almost out of gas. We then had a classic "discussion" about whose fault that is, the navigator or the driver, and whose responsibilities are what. Dan and I tried to point the blame on Aaron, because it got him really aggravated. Anyway, we were half way to the TH after getting our permit and paying our fee, when he realized that we were on E. Literally, on E. We weren't sure how much farther it was, and debated for a bit on whether or not to go back and get gas before the climb. We decided to do so, which ended up being a good choice because we were running on fumes. So we drove back to The Other Side Restaurant, where a gas station sits…in the same parking lot…where we had just been…for like 2 hours. Haha…Classic.
We finally arrived at the TH to find that there were actually a bunch of cars in the parking lot, and snowshoe'ers everywhere. Aaron and I got dressed in the toilets (to block us from the wind, though the air vent in there allow big gusts to get in). We boiled some water and made hot chocolate in our thermos, took our obligatory "start" photo, and were on our way.
Aaron and I stopped for a bathroom break while on the trail, and Dan continued on. We ended up losing each other for an hour or so, and really hoped we didn't take different routes at 2 of the T intersections of the trail. (We each had walkie-talkies, but had also all failed to turn them on right at the start of the trip). We finally ran into Dan at a small pool of ice / large rock, rested for a bit, ate / drank a bit, and continued on together.
It was silly of me, but I was under the impression that the Glacier Gorge trail was relatively flat the whole 5 miles. That assumption was somewhat wrong. Though there really wasn't a large elevation gain, there were many hills, which overtime, really got to our legs. The snowshoeing wasn't THAT hard though, but it wasn't easy either. Especially once we became more fatigued, and the hills just kept coming.
Crossing Mills Lake was great, as the view was amazing. Though it wasn't sunny and full of mountains. It was kind of eerie. We approached the logs at the end of the lake, frozen in place, and we could only see some of the mountains and some of the lake because of the fog / clouds.
Somewhere in the middle of the crossing, we encountered a LARGE gust of wind that blew me back maybe 6 feet. It was completely random, and we went from being able to see pretty far, to visibility just a few inches in front of us, with the snow blowing completely horizontal. It was like we were in a white-out, but it only last like 15 seconds or so, then the wind died down and visibility went back to normal (foggy). We encountered a few of those gusts while crossing the lake (maybe 3 total). Here's a cool pic of Aaron.
After Mills our hike was un-eventful, until we stopped for a break. Just a bit after passing the lake and our break spot we met some nice folks who had hiked to the end of the gorge, and were now returning. We talked briefly and continued hiking. Soon after we heard someone yelling for us. Aaron backtracked to find out what was going on, and that guy we met was approaching him, holding our tent poles. Apparently when Dan had laid down in the snow during our last break, the poles had slipped out of his bag straps, and fell into the snow. Thank God those people were there, and that they noticed the poles, and were able to get our attention. We would have been in for a quite a shocker if we had hiked the rest of the way and found that our poles had been missing.
When we arrived at camp, we were faced with a large hill, the last one that leads up to Black Lake. Just before that hill, there is another large hill, and we had struggled to get up that one. This last one seemed insurmountable for us at the time, and we decided we were close enough, there was a nice place to pitch camp in a few trees just off the trail, and so, we stopped right there. It was now 5:00, and we were running late…night was approaching, and we needed to get our camp up. I wasn't feeling well, but didn't really want to say anything to the other guys. I had drunk a TON of water/Gatorade on our drive up and at the TH, and so during our almost 6 hr hike in, I had less than a ˝ liter of water. I was exhausted and dehydrated. So, I took out the stove, and sort of pretended to cook, so I didn't have to move around too much, just rest there. Our Primus stove igniter/flame part had fallen into the snow, and I think some ice/snow formed inside the hose that ran from the gas to the actual flame head. I could not get it ignited, and if we forced gas into it, the gas would not make its way through, but rather come back out the receiving (gas) end. Luckily Dan had brought along a back-up MSR pocket rocket type burner, and we boiled with that. Its funny that I had brought up to Aaron several times that we should bring a back-up like that just in case, but we decided not to, and sure enough we needed it. Lesson learned, a back-up is important. Anyway, I wasn't feeling well, so I sat there and balanced our cook pot on top of the flame, trying not to be too active as I was getting nauseous. Finally the tent was up and we were able to move in. At this point I think the guys noticed I wasn't feeling well, as I just climbed into my sleeping bag, and laid there. The other two kind of made the place cozy, and boiled the water we needed for food. We had picked up a few of the "Mountain House" food packages from REI for our meals (they are delicious and MUCH better than Ramon Noodles). I however, could not eat dinner. I was feeling very nauseous. I ate one bite, which made me instantly worse, then I waited a tried another, with the same result. Although we all knew I needed to eat, it just wasn't going to happen. I was able to keep down gummie bears though, so I finished off a bag, drank a lot of water and Gatorade, and fell asleep. (Note: I do not think altitude had much to do with me not feeling well, we hadn't had much elevation gain, and I believe it was dehydration that caused me to feel unwell.)
There were 3 of us in our 2 person Mountain Hardwear tent (Trango 2). The tent is very roomy with 2 people, and slightly packed with 3. We weren't extremely cramped, but part of my bag did touch the side of the tent, causing some cold spots (dependant on how I turned/slept in the bag), nothing too uncomfortable though. I made great use of the pee bottle that I brought along this time, and since Dan had taken 2 Tylenol PM's, Aaron was the only one that needed to get out of the tent to "go" during the night, though he says it wasn't too cold out. The night was rather un-eventful, and we all slept well, or well enough to not complain about it like on our last trip. Thank God!! I did not sleep well at all on the last trip. My bedding consisted of a Therma Rest Ridge Rest foam pad, as well as a inflatable sleeping pad, and my 15 degree Marmot 800 fill bag. No complaints on any of the equipment. We didn't open the top vent in the tent enough though, so we had some condensation on everything in the tent in the morning. We need to be more careful next time. Dan had brought along his MSR stove lantern type thingy which we hung from the tent. It's a lantern that runs off gas, so it heated the tent up nicely, while also allowing for our gloves and small things to dry that were in the tent compartments above the lantern in the top of the tent.
We woke up to some beautiful sunshine in the mountains. I kept saying, "what a view, you just don't have this view in Chicago". We boiled a ton of water going through all of our gas (or very close to it), making breakfast and water for our summit attempt. I was feeling much better in the morning, and the Mountain House Lasagna was delicious!! However, for whatever reason we were excited to get going, so we split one package for the three of us, and figured we'd bring the stove with us and make food higher up on the mountain for lunch/dinner if need be (how silly of us). My last real meal was the morning before at the restaurant and with no other food but a little bit of Lasagna, I was not fueling my body correctly for the climb ahead. I expressed this concern, but we decided to just bring the food with us (food that needed to be cooked, not highly convenient). So we ate and started to pack.
At this time, I exited the tent and proceeded to take some panorama shots/videos of the mountains around us. I was scanning around taking video when Aaron started yelling. "Hey Pete"…hold on I whispered…."Hey Pete"….hold on I said (I'm trying to make a nice video)…"Pete, do you have the toilet paper!!??!!"…I started laughing. There goes that shot!! So I tried again, started at the back, and while scanning forward I come across the hill we climbed up on, and 3 figures coming at me. Actually scared me for a moment because I was looking through the digital camera. It was the Colorado folks that decided to join us for the climb. Tom, Alan, Jim, Dan, and the rest (sorry if I forgot your name, its been a while and I'm terrible with names!!). We exchanged greetings, finished gearing up, and started our way up towards the base of the trough. We were part way up that last hill from Black Lake to sort of the base area of the trough when Dan stopped and gave us that "oh no" look. (here's a pic of Aaron / Dan / Tom coming up the hill).
He forgot his ice axe. We waited for Tom Pierce to catch up, and Dan asked him if he should go back for it. Tom looked down the hill, looked at him, paused and said…"don't fall"…"good enough for me" Dan said. We laughed and figured he could use one of our trekking poles up on the trough, and if conditions were bad enough, he could just turn around. Luckily the conditions actually favored trekking poles (held lower on the shaft) then an ice axe I think. The snow was pretty deep and powdery. I ended up using a pole in one hand and my axe in the other while going up the trough.
Here's some photos of the sun coming up Longs, and one of Tom Pierce and Aaron.
We climbed up the left, then across to the right to get to the trough, as to avoid some deep snow it looked like some of the other guys were having trouble in. This turned out to be unfavorable as Tom and Alan decided it might have cost us a bunch of time. Here's some pics of us traversing across and of the other guys climbing ahead of us.
Alan Arenette had climbed ahead of us and stopped to rest at about 12,400ft. Dan was struggling in the rear, and since Alan was turning around at that point, he decided to go back down with Alan. (Pic of Alan and Tom).
That left Aaron, Tom and I. We continued up a bit further, and Aaron decided to go back down. It was now Tom and I and we continued to climb even higher. Tom ended up having some issues, so he decided to descend as well. I was still feeling OK, though a bit on empty as far as energy was concerned, and decided to continue on. I was having a crampon issue with my left crampon for the majority of the climb thus far. It kept popping off my shoe to one side, even though it was tight. Once I separated from Tom I decided to fix this for good (I had been knocking it back into place with my axe up until then). The bottom sliding bracket was stuck too far out, causing it to be loose on my foot even though it was tied on tight. After fixing that problem, I continued up. It was 1:30 when Tom and I parted. I was alone now, but there was a comfort in knowing that there were still 2 climbers that had left earlier than all of us above me who were summiting, so I wasn't entirely alone. It was getting late, and my energy was going, so I decided I would turn around by 2:30 if I had not completed the trough yet (otherwise I'd be coming down in the dark for sure). Some climbers were coming down, and mentioned that they were going at a slow pace, it was at least another 2 hrs of climbing, and they were turning around so as not to be in the dark. This discussion we had was instrumental in me deciding to turn around I think. I climbed another 45 minutes or so, to around 2:15. I was exhausted, and decided to take an extended break (about 10 minutes). I thought a lot about whether I should turn around or not, and decided I would give it one last go. If I couldn't pickup my pace I was going to turn around, no summit fever. It wasn't worth the risks of climbing down in the dark with no energy. I climbed up just slightly higher, and plopped down in the snow. I wasn't going to make it to the summit. No way. I had NO energy left to climb up the last leg of the trough (though I was soooo close), then along the narrows, and then another couple hundred feet up the homestretch. In my thought process, I recognized I was exhausted, and at my pace still had another couple hours of descending to get to camp. I also realized that if I did get to the narrows, that adrenaline / the summit being so close would give me an energy boost to help me complete the climb (but that sill left me half 1/2 way, I still needed to get down), but that that would add an extra 2 hours I estimated to my climb after that adrenaline wore off. Add to that the fact that it would be dark, so my skills would have to be sharp. These facts (lack of energy/exhaustion, and lack of daylight left to complete the climb) caused me to turn around. When Tom and I departed, he said I needed to have my "A" game to finish, and that he hadn't brought his, so he was turning back. At that point I sort of knew I wasn't going to make the summit, but tried anyway until my turnaround point when I realized it wasn't going to happen, and that for the time being and under those circumstances, I was happy with how high I got. (ok, not really, but under those circumstances…yes. Well, not happy because I didn't summit, but I'm not crazy, I understood the what for and why I was turning around, so there was no reason to be sad!!) I came to the understanding that Longs' had beaten me…twice…but that I played a part in why the mountain was able to beat me this time, so I have a few more lessons learned (see the end of the TR). The mountain will be there in the future, and I hope to summit several times, over several different routes, so I'll be back. This wasn't a one time shot, and an all or nothing trip. I got about this high (slightly higher, but I forgot to take a picture and started descending, then remembered I needed a pic!!)
Here's a picture that Kruck took on the same day of our climb. He emailed me this (hope it's ok I posted), and said he noticed us at the base of the trough, and snapped some pics. I like this view as it shows the steepness of the trough very well. Thanks Kruck!!
Descending was not easy. Yes you're on a hill, and yes you're on snow, but it's not a children's sledding hill. In some spots the snow was waist deep, and in others it was only an inch or so over rock. So every step / jump / slide down had to be careful. In addition to those dangers, I was tired. Exhausted really. I did not have much left in my tank, and it was easy to get sloppy with my steps. I had to pay careful attention to mentally acknowledging what I was doing, and descend carefully. I was able to follow someone's tracks as they slid down, which made a nice groove in the snow, so that was quite fun. But mostly, it was just walking / trudging down. I had to break a few times, and at each point really force myself to not stop for too long (just 1 or 2 minutes). The longer I sat, the longer my down climb would take. I eventually made it to the bottom after what seemed like forever (the trough is long!!). Tom had taught us about the base of the trough, and what were some good spots and troublesome spots to be in when coming down, and what were the best routes completely off the trough. I tried to follow some tracks to where we stashed the snowshoes, but that wasn't easy to do, as they disappeared over the rock. I walked and climbed to my right for a long time, thinking I must have seen the snowshoes by that point, but they were nowhere in site. Aaron had walkie talkied to me that Tom tied a glow stick to my snowshoes, so that if I was coming down in the dark, I would see them. What a nice guy!! Thanks Tom, that was extremely caring of you. Care for another climber like that is extremely generous!! It was still light out, and I had hiked for a long time, and didn't see them. I literally gave up on them (figuring I'd come back and get them in the morning), then noticed them to my left a second later. They were stashed much lower then I had expected / thought we left them, and I had passed them by just a little.
I walked over to the snowshoes, and plopped down for a nice break. I laid there for a few minutes, and really almost fell asleep. Again, I mentally forced myself to get up and go, as I was getting close to the camp, and the longer I sat there, the longer it would take before I was in my sleeping bag!! I'm very happy that I found those snowshoes, as they made my hike down and my hike out much easier than would have been without.
I climbed down the rest of the way, meeting some nice folks by Black Lake who were going to stay the night, and summit the next day. I explained a bit of the route and warned them of the storm that was going to come late Sunday. Hopefully they summited and got out before the storm came. I got back to camp at about 5 or so, Aaron made some food, we ate, and rested about an hour, then decided we wanted to get on our way. We had a few hour hike out and a 14 hour drive home, so if we left then, we could be on our way and home early Sunday morning. This meant that just as we had setup camp, we were going to take down camp in the dark. Dan dropped his flashlight in the snow, and when he turned around, he could not find it (thin LED flashlight). So that was a bummer for him. He'd had it for a long time, and he had a good relationship with it, so he was sad to acknowledge that we couldn't find it.
We made great time snowshoeing out at first (took an hour to get past Mills Lake). We specifically enjoyed "POOP" which someone wrote in giant letters in the snow. After the lake though, our pace slowed, and we actually got lost (sort of). We hit a T intersection and couldn't decide were to go. Dan said right, and Aaron said left (I just sat and waited to see who won the argument and which direction we'd go in). Dan insisted right saying he remembered the route. Aaron had the GPS which plotted our hike in, and he insisted it was left. So we went left. Unfortunately it took us an hour and what felt like 1,000 feet of elevation gain to realize that we were not on the right track. I took a look at the GPS, and sure enough we had strayed away from our tracks. So, we backtracked, and continued on. From then on it was an uneventful hike out (the whole time under a full moon…how gorgeous. Thank God the storms were holding off!!). We had left camp at about 6:50 pm, and reached our car at 11:40. We were making such good time in the beginning, but in the end it took us 5 hours to hike out. Just another lesson learned. You never know what you will come up against, thus you must have reserves to get you out of an unplanned for situation. Aaron and I spoke about this after, and although we were ok, we felt that maybe we had came too close to "empty" on our energy, and that we must address this for our next climb. I'd like to make not that for me at least, it wasn't conditioning (lungs or legs) or altitude that caused my lack of energy, it was simply lack of fueling my body. If you don't put gas in the tank, it doesn't matter how good your tires are, they won't be able to spin.
We packed up and drove out to Boulder I believe where we hit-up a Taco Bell (oh wow that was delicious). After that I passed out in the back seat, but woke up at 4 am to us sitting in a gas station parking lot. Apparently Dan drove to about where the highway was, and parked to get a power-nap. We were there for about 3 hrs. At that point I took the helm, and started our drive out (left at 4 am for Chicago). We had a great drive back, with a little scare from an Iowa State cop who messed with us for a bit, but no other interruptions. Aaron wanted to stop by the famous Iowa 80 truck stop, so we did, and eventually made our way back to Chicago (I really must publicly thank Dan and Aaron for their hours of driving, as I'm not very good at long distance driving, so they held down the majority of the drive, though to my credit I do usually get the shaft on my turn to drive (2am +) !! ). We returned the rental, this time in perfection condition with no crampon holes in the roof, and headed to our own homes.
What a weekend. Leave Thursday night from Chicago, drive 14 hrs, snowshoe 5 miles, attack a mountain, snowshoe out 5 miles, then drive home 14 hrs. I loved every minute of it. As someone else stated in a recent post…I love living in Chicago, and don't mind driving out for a good climb. It makes it an adventure!!
-Trekking poles. I had bought some generic type (but solidly constructed) trekking poles off ebay. I bent them both. Oh well, that's what you get for $26 shipped. On to a good / solid pair of poles.
-The Redfeather snowshoes we had discussed on this site performed perfectly. They were easy to use on flat surfaces, no snow to deep snow, and on inclines and declines. I have heard some complaints on inclines from the other guys with the REI rental MSR's, but these however worked perfect. However…they are clearly not to the caliber as some of the other guys. I could see them as being great recreational snowshoes, but not built to withstand mountaineering conditions, so I'll be picking up some "good" ones in the future before any further winter climbs.
-Our Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 tent was awesome. It went up easy, came down easy, and was light enough to carry comfortably. It was a little cramped with 3 people, but hey, it's a 2 person tent!
-Our Aether 70 backpacks were great once again, though this time both Aaron and I had rubbing on our hip bones, so we'll need to figure out why that occurred this time.
-The pee bottle was excellent. It was a wide mouth and I wrapped hockey tape around it so there was texture to it, so there was not mistaking at night which bottle I was drinking out of.
-The Mountain House food is excellent. I mean its so good you could eat it as a regular meal while not climbing, so while climbing, its exceptional (in my opinion). If you have the room and budget for this, I'd highly recommend it over ramon noodles.
-Lantern. Dan brought along his lantern (same or similar to the Snow Peak Giga Power Lantern). This thing was awesome. It heated up the tent (yes we had vents open to air the place), as well as dried some pieces of clothing that were hung above it. Also worked well to warm the hands.
-Thermos. We had not had a thermos for the first climb, but brought one along for this climb. It was great. Nothing like "hot" hot chocolate when you're hiking/climbing.
-Crampons. The petzls were great, however they weren't put on properly by me (rather they had a problem that wasn't fixed right away), so I sort of dealt with it along the way, and finally fixed it up higher on the mountain. Should have fixed right away when I saw the problem occurring. Other then that, they performed and gripped very well.
-Car Rental. We originally had a 4 Runner as our rental, but on the day of pickup they called and said they couldn't get on in until later, so offered us a Rav 4. We took that. It was actually the perfect car for 3 people for a long distance trip. Much better then the Santa Fe we took last time out. The Rav 4 had a small engine so it didn't drink a lot of gas, but the biggest plus was that the back seats reclined, so you could be comfortable in front, and in back. A comfortable back seat is a luxury on a 14 hour drive.
-Eat and Drink. Keeping your body fueled sounds so simple, in theory. Even after reading so much about it, and even experiencing some dehydration on the last trip, I still managed to dehydrate myself this time as well. I drank so much the day before and during the trip, that as we hike in on day 1, I just didn't have the urge, and even though I needed to drink, I didn't. The same goes for food. I fueled myself well at breakfast, but after that, we didn't eat much. Our original plan had us setting up camp, and eating lunch; however, we didn't get to camp until late (dinner time), so we skipped lunch (which we shouldn't have), and by that time I was nauseous and didn't want to eat, so I skipped dinner as well. Although I knew I shouldn't, I just couldn't get the food down, so I ate gummy bears and drank water. We should have brought better snacks as well. Aaron's g/f made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for us, but he forgot them at home. Better snacks like the tuna sandwich that Tom had would have been more satisfying on the mountain then snickers/granola bars/etc. alone.
-Checklist. This really helps with making sure you don't forget anything. I had a checklist and followed it as I packed. Others did not, and forgot gear they would have like to bring along.
-Pee Bottle / Tylenol PM. I used the bottle, Dan used the Tylenol. We didn't have to get out of the tent at night to use the washroom. Both work well.
-Misc. Lessons. Tom taught us a bunch of miscellaneous lessons about the route, proper technique, how to read typical crampon or trekking pole marks on the ground in case you were in a white out, etc. Thanks Tom!!
-Headlamp. Always bring along your headlamp along, even though you may think you'll be back at camp before dark, sometimes summiting will take longer than you can predict, and you may be returning to camp in the dark. So even though we did the climb as a 2 day climb and did not expect to be doing much moving in the dark, we ended up setting up / tearing down camp in the dark, and almost climbing down the mountain in the dark, even though we did not plan for the summit attempt to take so long. (yes we did have headlamps, but I'm just stating the point that we did not expect to do much night work, but did anyway).
-Walkie-Talkies. We had them, but didn't turn them on at first. So the lesson is, turn them on!! They don't do any good when they're off.
-Packing. Dan lost those tent poles, so we learned that its important to pack down the gear tight, and double check it. Though we already knew this, a situation like this helps to show the importance of proper packing.
Overall, I'd say we had a very successful trip. We had a great time and no one got hurt. We didn't summit, but we'll be back and take care of that issue in the future!! We continued to learn a lot of lessons, and re-learn some basic lessons, but that comes with the territory of being rookies. Personally I was much more comfortable on this climb then our first, as I sort of knew what to expect, and so I can't wait for our 3rd attempt. I'm not sure we'll be able to make it out again this winter, but definitely over the summer we'd like to continue growing our skills by getting a little more technical. I also loved seeing those water falls, and would love to pickup some ice tools and try my hand at ice climbing as well for next winter. Lots of research to be done and lessons to take. The mountains are very addicting.
Congratulations to anyone who had the patience to read this entire book/TR!!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):