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Winter camping on Longs Peak

Colorado 14er peak questions, condition requests and other info. 14er Trip Reports, Condition Reports
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Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby sdgull » Mon Dec 09, 2013 8:47 am

I am looking to do a winter ascent of Longs Peak. We did it last year but did it in one day under terrible conditions.

We were thinking we would do it again in early March, pack a tent/over night supplies and camp out around boulder field and then hit the summit early the next morning.

Has anyone does it this way in the winter time? We like the cold, the snow/ice, the wind, the exposure, etc.

Let me know your experience!

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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby Brian C » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:30 am

I've never camped up there in winter but I think the "standard" boulder field camp is camp potty (aka by the toilets) so they can function as a wind screen. My buddy John slept in the Agnes Vaille shelter and said it was not too warm either.

Photo by John Williams...
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I think Longs is best done as a day trip in the winter or otherwise setting up camp below treeline. Wind can cause quite the mess up there above treeline in the winter. If you like freezing and have a tent that you're certain won't tear into tiny pieces if the wind picks up then go ahead! I've always thought about building an igloo in the boulder field but the wind usually blows away all the snow!

Brian in the Wild
Lists of John
"Nature never did betray the heart that loved her." - Wordsworth

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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby crossfitter » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:58 am

Gumby story time: I did a February overnight in the boulderfield as part of my CMC graduation climb and it was cold as balls. It would have been the coldest night of my life, but the previous weekend of sleeping in damp clothes after digging a snowcave earns that dubious award (surprisingly, winter camping turns out to not be my thing). Neither my tentmate nor I had a 4 season tent, so we used a 3 season instead, which offered marginal protection at best. I spent the night having snow blown in my face with every wind gust and "woke up" to a quarter inch of snow over everything inside the tent. From the previous overnight I decided that melting snow sucked so much that I opted to pack 6 liters of water in instead - I'm not sure if it was a net win but not getting up in the dark to huddle around a stove was nice.

I would not camp in the boulderfield again, it's way too far to carry a bunch of heavy crap to save 3 hours in the morning. Unless you are really gung-ho to freeze your nuts off, sleeping in a warm bed and making a long daytrip is the way to go. If you are of the former disposition, the good news is there are a number of rock structures built up to give a little bit of windbreak.
- A mountain is not a checkbox to be ticked
- Alpinism and mountaineering are not restricted to 14,000 foot mountains
- Judgment and experience are the two most important pieces of gear you own
- Being honest to yourself and others about your abilities is a characteristic of experienced climbers
- Courage cannot be bought at REI or carried with you in your rucksack

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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby TomPierce » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:46 pm

I've done the winter camping thing on Longs before. Really delightful, on one occasion it was -10F inside a double walled tent with 3 climbers. Highly recommended!

If someone is really keen to do it, I think there are better sites just below Granite Pass; some decent platforms and bigger rocks to act as a windbreak vs. the Boulderfield. If you really want the Boulderfield experience, however, there are several rock rings that could be OK sites. Just be sure your tent is rigged well for blustery conditions (guy lines and snow loops where you'd ordinarily peg it down). I'd consider collapsing the tent as well once you left in the morning. If it became airborne while you were gone that might be problematic. Been there, done that (but not with my tent... :lol: )

That said, I agree with crossfitter, why bother? If you have somewhat decent conditions Longs is a manageable day hike in the winter (with a headlamp, of course). I think going to the Boulderfield looks good on paper but if you sleep well there I'd be surprised, it's typically just so damn windy. Then there's the whole human pack mule thing, humping a big load, melting snow, etc. etc. If you're training for an expedition OK, but otherwise personally I'd just trim my load and do it as a long day. Just my preference.

Good luck, be safe!
Last edited by TomPierce on Mon Dec 09, 2013 7:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby sdgull » Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:50 pm

Thanks a lot for the info! I will consider it all. Below tree line does make the most sense to get out of the wind and enjoy the camping gig a little more. We could make camp below tree line and then continue on up to Boulderfield/keyhole to check out the conditions, then come back to camp and then summit the next morning. (lots of different scenarios to just spend a little more time on the mtn if we wanted to).

Last year I did snow shoes up to above treeline and that felt very cumbersome. I am thinking this year to just leave the snow shoes at home and hopefully the trail will be packed down enough that the microspikes will work just fine. Last march Anton Krupicka got there a little before we did and he broke the trail for us. The problem was that he didn't use the switch backs, he ran straight up the hill.... literally. His tracks went one direction. :-(

I have to really decide on how/what to pack this trip.

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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby TomPierce » Mon Dec 09, 2013 7:53 pm

sdgull: There is an established campsite in the trees at Goblin's Forest, but I think that's really too low to be of much use, it's not far above the parking lot. Higher up near Jim's Grove (right at treeline) and around there you could easily establish a decent camp; the stunted trees would act as windbreaks and could be used to anchor your tent. Higher up still, just below Chasm Junction, there are several very large boulders just off the trail to climber's left that could be decent windscreens. And right below Granite Pass there are some flat spots in that little valley; from what I've read there used to be buildings there back in the 20's, I think, and those flat spots are where they were located. Just some camping site ideas.

As for snowshoes, you're right that if the trail is packed you won't need them unless there's been recent snow. The winter cutoff is right before the last bridge over the stream before treeline, look up to the right. It's usually pretty well packed in March. But if not, or if there's been recent snow, you could always carry them higher. It's one of those things that if you need them, you really need them. But you probably won't need them much above that, typically too wind blasted. If I'm going up on a day hike I usually clip my snowshoes to the trail junction sign with a sling and biner; it's easier to spot in a storm and ensures they won't be blown away.

Just some ideas. Have fun and be safe.

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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby TallGrass » Mon Dec 09, 2013 8:07 pm

TomPierce wrote:As for snowshoes, you're right that if the trail is packed you won't need them unless there's been recent snow.
Or it snows, blows, or drifts while you're there? :-k
Not sure if I'll do more 14ers. The trip reports are too tiring. :wink:

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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby sdgull » Mon Dec 09, 2013 8:20 pm

Continued thanks for the specifics.

This forum is WAY more helpful than some of the others I belong to.


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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby spadflyer12 » Mon Dec 16, 2013 6:24 pm

Story time: Made an attempt at Long's peak a couple of weeks ago, and learned the hard way to never trust a weather forecast. The plan was to hike to boulderfield on Friday 11/15 and climb something on Saturday. The forecast called for 20mph winds with 40mph gusts. We made it up to the Chasm Lake junction Friday night before the snow made it too difficult to follow the trail and decided that the stock hitching post would make a good bomb-proof anchor. We got camp all set up, and decided to just eat some cold dinner and hit the sack.

As the night wore on the wind picked up to the point where it sounded like a 747 was sitting next to the tent with engines maxed out. Even with earplugs in there was a constant low rumbling noise that made me think Mt. Lady Washington was going to come down on top of us at any moment. Around 3am there was an absolutely massive gust of wind, probably on the order of 100mph that hit the side of the tent and snapped a connector in one of the secondary poles. The side of the tent smacked me in the face and we immediately jumped up to brace the now wildly wiping tent wall.

With the wind strong enough to launch us forward off of the tent wall we made the decision that someone had to go outside to tighten up and reinforce the guy-lines and grab the trekking poles so we could make some internal supports. Somehow I got the job of staying inside to brace the tent while Greg went out and double checked everything. While outside he had to grab onto the hitching post several times in order to prevent the wind from carrying him away. Once back inside we used two trekking poles to brace the tent from the inside and then proceeded to back them up with our bodies. We then sat there from 3am to 7am bracing the tent against the wind. I actually managed to get a couple hours of sleep, Greg did not....

Once daylight hit we decided that we really, really did not want to be up there anymore and went about packing up camp. During the process we were knocked to the ground several times by the wind, we lost a sleeping pad, and I had to dive onto a 30lb pack to stop it from being blown off the mountain.

It then took us about 2 hours to cover the mile or so back to treeline. I think I was knocked down 3-4 times during that trek. We could only manage about 5-10 steps at a time before we had to stop and brace ourselves against a gust or be knocked to the ground. Once back in treeline we picked up the pace and made it safely back to the car.

It was pretty crazy, but the view of Long's peak in the morning with the blowing snow and sunlight was absolutely breathtaking. Definitely a Type III fun situation.

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Re: Winter camping on Longs Peak

Postby SchralpTheGnar » Wed Dec 18, 2013 1:22 pm

4x recommend the long day with the alpine start, if for no other reason that getting started early in the morning at altitude in the winter is miserable. If you start from car with warm boots and keep moving you will stay warm. I'd much rather do a 15 hour day than haul a big pack and freeze. Pick a nice high pressure day and get after it.

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