| Longs Radical Slam!
For those not in-the-know, the Radical Slam is a route first proposed by Gerry Roach, author of the famous "Colorado's Fourteeners" guidebook. In it you climb Long's Peak (14,255 ft) and each of its four buttressing peaks (Meeker, Pagoda, Storm, Mount Lady Washington) and two ancillary peaks (Battle Mountain, Estes Cone). The total distance is 18.5 miles and the total elevation gain is 8,200 ft. 75% of this route is off-trail on rocky terrain. It's an idea I had toyed with for awhile, and it wasn't until my new housemate Kyle came along that for some reason we decided to tackle it. We arbitrarily picked the weekend that we were both free (and two weekends before Kyle's marathon too!) and before I knew it, it was Saturday night and I had everything packed ready to go. I wasn't sure exactly how much food/water to bring, but I knew from other reports that we could be gone all day so I brought ~4L of water
and quite a bit of food.
We decided that we didn't want to be hiking in tough terrain in the dark so we placed ourselves near the top of the Loft couloir approach at dawn, which would be around 6:30. We figured it would take us about 2 and a half to 3 hours to get up there so we started hiking at 3:45. Hiking up to Chasm lake was no problem. Passed maybe 6 other people and saw only 3 or 4 headlamps ahead of us. The moon was still nearly full so we took advantage of that and walked from the Mills Morane Junction to Chasm lake with the headlamps off. We
only spied one other person ahead of us but no one on the Loft route. After some class 2 climbing we arrived up to the top of the loft, no problem, with the pre-dawn light just catching the top of Longs. Right on time! I felt good and my initial tiredness had worn off. There was one person following us who was about halfway down the Loft route. We found the exit ramp no problem (as I had taken this route before) but there was one tricky spot where some water had iced over the ramp. It made for some tricky moves as one slip on that ice would have sent you over the side. Besides that there wasn't any other problems from early season snow and ice. We made it to the top of Meeker at 7:14 AM, 3:29 after start time. We were feeling really good, so we ate some food and got ready to move on when another fellow joined us at the top. This turned out to be Tom Lauren (www.tomlauren.com for more), who turned out to not only have completed the Radical Slam last weekend, but was doing it again today and was trying to set the speed record! I couldn't believe it! Only in Colorado can you go out to do some amazing feat, only to be showed up by a guy who had already done it and was just trying to get a faster time! Anyways you can read more about his story on his blog.
We left soon after Tom did, going quickly down Meeker and across the Loft, down to Clark's arrow rather quickly (I think). I had been this way a few years ago so we didn't waste much time routefinding. Then it was up and up Keplinger's Couloir till we met up with the homestretch along with 4 or so others who were coming in on the Keyhole route. Tom passed us again coming down from the top, he told us that he was a half hour ahead of schedule so we wished him luck and pressed on to reach the top. We summited Longs at 9:07 AM, 5:22 after starting and only 1:53 from Meeker. I was feeling great, full of energy and ready to keep moving! At this point I felt like we were making amazing time (little did I know...).
I was itching to get moving again so after snapping a few pics we were on our way to Pagoda. I was a little anxious about this part because I was most uncertain about the route from Longs to Pagoda. From Roach's book and other TRs I knew there was a hidden
cliff band blocking easy access, and that there was a gully which was the best way to get down the cliff, but no real good info as to how to spot the gully from above. We left the main trail right before the red sign that points back towards the Narrows and headed down to the cliff. The photo shows our general route and the approximate location of the gully. Don't go
too far to your right or you will overshoot it. In the picture there are some darker rocks visible that mark the top of the gully. Once you get to the cliff it should be fairly obvious where the gully is. We carefully decended the gully and ended up on a ledge that cut across the rest of the cliff and was an easy path directly to the top of the Keyboard of the winds. The view from here of the Keyboard were stunning! We also got some great views of the shadows of the keys as they appeared way down in Glacier Gorge. We kept going up the ridge to Pagoda fairly easily with some class 2/3 scrambing, and summitted here at 11:07 AM, 7:22 hours after start and 2 hours after leaving Longs. Four other guys showed up at Pagoda a few minutes after we got there, having come up straight from Glacier Gorge. Pagoda has an amazing view of the back side of Longs and one that probably doesn't get seen enough. Kyle and I spent maybe 15 or 20 minutes at the summit, enjoying the view and eating some lunch. Soon we packed it up and headed back the way we came towards the Keyboard of the Winds.
This was another spot that that I was a bit unsure of the route, but it was rather straightforward (if difficult). Basically we went back to the Pagoda-Longs saddle, and then kept going back towards the cliff. Then we dropped down onto the glacier gorge side of the slope between the first two keys (the ones closest to Longs and the cliff band). The slope here was very loose and quite steep, but is by far the best route. We picked our way carefully until we could round the corner and start a (longer than anticipated) ascending traverse towards the Trough and the Keyhole route. I thought that the Trough was just the next couloir over but it wasn't, so we pushed on to the second couloir, but it wasn't that one either, so we pushed on some more until finally the third couloir was the Trough and we could see some other folks heading back on the keyhole route. While probably easier than going back up the cliff band to the Narrows from Pagoda, this was by far the worst part of the trip so far, mostly just due to the length and copious amounts of loose rock and scree that had to be dealt with. Once we finally reached the Keyhole, I was starting to feel tired from
all the rock scrambling, and the short hike around and up to Storm started to seem less exciting. But we perservered and contoured around to and up to Storm Peak! (hard to tell but it is the last one along the ridge away from the Keyhole). Peak #4 was in the bag at 1:27 PM, 9:42 hours after starting and 2:30 after leaving Pagoda.
It really is not a long distance from storm over to MLW, but boy did it seem it at the time. One of the final "big" peaks to bag and we were both slowing down quite a bit. After a quick stop at the Boulderfield Privy (good location for that) we went straight up to MLW (noting that the peak further away is the taller one) and summited at 2:31 - ~10:45 hours after start. As we approached the summit I got really excited and starting to shout and run the last little bit. Too much enthusiasm meant that I tripped on a rock and bashed my knee pretty good. I guess that's the mountain's way of putting you in your place once you think that you've beaten it! I got up quickly and tried to keep moving so that it didn't hurt too much, as we had a long ways to go to get down off of MLW.
MLW marks the end of the Grand Slam, and a good point to stop and evaluate our physical condition. We were both pretty exhausted at this point, but we also both knew that this would most likely be the only chance we would have at bagging the Radical Slam, and we felt confidant that we could make it to Estes Cone. Looking off in the distance, Estes Cone seemed to be a looong way away though (Hint: it was). We started our continual rock hopping descent of MLW ridge towards Granite Pass. After trying to remember the lyrics to "Allstar" by Smashmouth and scaring a few Ptarmigons we reached Granite Pass and for a few wonderful minutes we had a solid trail to hike on! You never appreciate how nice a simple trail is until you've been off of one for half the day. But of course as soon as we got on the trail we were off again to hit the less dramatic peak of Battle Mountain (read: unsightly rock pile). Walking across the open apline plains was a breeze and we made great time to Battle Mt, "summiting" at 3:31 PM exactly an hour after leaving MLW and 11:45 hours after start.
Six peaks down, only one more to go. And holy crap it's a doozy. To be fair Estes Cone isn't too difficult of a climb on its own, but after being out for nearly 11 hours already today and bagging 6 other peaks, it's quite the challenge. Added on top of that there's no good trail to get there. You've got to bushwack your way below treeline, and watch dishearteningly as you watch Estes Cone grow taller and steeper as you drop down into the valley. Anyways. We left Battle, and ripped across the open plain, enjoying how easy it was to walk here. Of course it didn't last. Our first mistake was dropping of the right side of the ridge, instead of following the ridge as it curved left. In doing so we placed ourselves on a slope that was covered with willows and small pines which severely slowed us down. We made our way north to the ridge we would have come out on if we had followed the Battle mountain ridge down because it was quite a bit more open. Once reaching that ridge we went even further North to get to a spot where we could easily enter the forest without wading through a ton of krummholz trees. Once in the forest it was fairly open and we just went down until with hit the Storm Pass trail (can't miss it) and turned right to follow it less than 0.1 mi to Storm Pass and the start of Estes Cone trail. After a quick regroup and pep talk to psych ourselves up for just one more climb we had at it. A nice trail turned into a mediocre trail with then turned into a not so hot trail. It was back to following carins through the woods and mostly rock hopping until (what seemed like hours but was probably only 45 minutes) the trail dumped us out suddenly above treeline. We met a nice older couple that informed us that there were 4 (!) false summits to get past, and that we had better hurry as it was getting late. Some more rock scrambling (hadn't had enough of that yet!) and we were on top at 5:13 PM, 1:42 from leaving Battle and 12:30 after start! All of the vertical had been gained! And looking back at Longs it was amazing to see how far we'd come and all that had been climbed. We wasted no time heading back, as there were no more obsticles to overcome. Also it was at this point that I ran out of water so I figured the sooner I got back the sooner I could get some more water (and pizza!). From some reserve of energy we started booking it from the bottom of Estes back on the Eugenia mile trail for the final 2 miles or so to the trailhead. Most of this is a blur to me, but somehow we managed to move even faster once we reached the junction with the main trail and knew that the TH was only a half mile away! We were back at the trailhead at 6:22 PM, 1:09 after leaving the summit of Estes Cone and 14:37 after starting the hike!
Exhausted, but there was still one more thing to do: the 50 pushups!
All in all a wonderful, exhausting day, beautiful weather (as correctly predicted by Joel Gratz) glad to have it done but don't feel the need to do it again anytime soon! Check out this link for more pictures: http://bit.ly/9Yf9Cb
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):