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Peak(s):  Longs Peak  -  14,259 feet
Date Posted:  03/31/2015
Date Climbed:   03/29/2015
Author:  bergsteigen
 The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything: Skiing/42   

Longs Peak

Route: Keplinger's Couloir
Trailhead: Sand Beach/Wild Basin
Mileage: 16
Elevation Gain: 5,900'
Ski Vertical: Summit to 9200' (minus 80-100')
Partner: Solo

But what is the Ultimate Question?

That is likely different for all of us. This was 14er ski #42.

I've been looking to ski Longs via Keplinger's for a couple years now. So I've been watching conditions throughout the winter. Just waiting for a good time to strike. Previous TR's talk a lot about billy goating. I knew I probably wouldn't be able to avoid some, but I wanted it better than the last few years have offered. It's been dry as a bone recently. Last year a friend reconned the trip, and said it needed to be done during "first spring". That first stable window after winter and the last spring sticky storm, so that the exit could be done on skis and the route would be in as fat as possible. So as soon as I saw Kevin's trip was successful last weekend, and looked rather snowy, I was gunning for this peak. I immediately texted a few partners and found one who also needed Longs. Too bad a legit reason came up to bail, last minute. I was torn. To solo, or not to solo a big route? Turns out, I couldn't get this route out of my mind, it had to be done before it melted out and got worse.

So after a long day on Bald Mountain (longer than it needed to be *cough cough*), but still a wonderful day out on skis with fun partners, I headed out to the trailhead after dinner with Zach in Breckenridge. A few minutes after I arrived, it started raining! I'm really hoping for a lengthy snow up high at this point. But I quickly pass out dead to the world outside my comfy CasaSubi, oblivious to the outside elements.

I decided to give myself an extra hour of sleep, and got up at 3am, and hit the trail at 4. The first section of trail is dry, so I booted up in my AT boots. Snow is patchy until about 1.4 miles, and continuous after about 1.8. With the hard freeze the night before, I decide to just keep on booting. After the previous day of skate skiing for 4 miles of road, I figured using different muscles and rubbing different parts of my foot in my boots would be a good idea. Made it all the way to the lake without a single posthole or even significant snow depression.

Arrived at the lake for sunrise, but didn't stay too long after snapping a couple of photos. The wind was howling, and the trees provided some cover. Threw on the skis and skins, and headed NW until I found a snowshoe track that I started following.

Mt Meeker Dragon's Egg at sunrise

Copeland and Sandbeach Lake at sunrise

I kept following the tracks until I reached treeline, where I finally had to give up the wind protection. As I was skinning, I wasn't in much of a hurry. With winds like the summits were experiencing, the snow would not be warming up anytime soon. Would not be safe to ski unless the snow warmed up.

The higher I went, the better views of Longs were had. At first I got a tease of the homestretch in snow, then finally the rest of the route came into view. It was looking promising! Not as fat as most of us would like, but it would suffice.

First glimse of Longs summit - looking promising!

Howling winds over Pagoda and Longs - no rush today...

I left the snowshoe track, as I didn't know where it was heading. So I aimed for the base of Keplingers and navigated around boulders and lakes and frozen waterfalls until I met up with the snowshoe tracks once again. Arriving at the base of the couloir, the tracks did a big circle before heading back down. I guess they were just out for a nice looong walk.


Keplinger's looking pretty good, as compared to recent years

Looking south from the base

It seems as soon as I strapped on my crampons, the wind died, and the solar oven turned on. Great. I now have 2K of vert to boot up solo, and the snow has started the intense warming cycle. I was really missing the company and boot packing trade off of a partner. Game on.

Up couloir after first dogleg

Some nice smooth snow

Nearing the top of Keplingers

It was a bit of a struggle to keep a steady pace up the couloir. The snow was very firm, and I had to alternate front pointing and French stepping. It was also steep enough (40-45) that there weren't many rest places along the way, though I did make use of every semi flat spot I could find!

I wasn't completely convinced that I could summit in time, even though the snow I was on, was still good. I just promised myself that I would turn it around, if the snow reached the threshold of safety. But no need to turn around until I have to, my exit is skiing!

I'd like to say the snow is wonderfully continuous, but it's not. There's a short stretch by the Palisades that's less than ideal. Seems that's always the case though. I tested out lightweight aluminum crampons yesterday (along with a new skimo helmet) and knew I had to stay off the rocks with them. So with that, I can say that my feet stayed on snow all the way to the summit. Skis on the way down... won't be quite as pretty.

Arriving at the top of Keplingers, with the traverse upcoming, I now promised myself I would at least go up and see how it went. I was getting tired, the sun was sapping my earlier energy. Here is where I saw evidence for previous skiers. At least 3 of them, got the route a day or 2 previous. Now I knew why there were death cookies on the couloir. Snooze and ya miss the powder!

Looking up at the steeply sloping traverse

Looking back at Palisades from midway on the traverse

Top of the traverse, looking at summit area

Base of the Homestretch. It goes. Goes with rocks, but it goes. Exhausted, but there was no stopping now. Barely took a couple photos. The previous skiers did a *great* job of scraping off all the powder and leaving a very icy firm surface. Descent will be - less than ideal.

Looking down the first half of the homestretch

Looking up at the remaining steep part of the Homestretch

I reached the summit around 1pm, relieved I had made it in time. Walked over to the big summit rock, dropped my pack, took photos and transitioned - quickly. No time to get nervous, just time to get it done safely. Lots of side stepping, side slipping and other safety skiing techniques would go into play, thanks to the scraped conditions. With the snow that would have been on the route, my skiing may have been more elegant. But that's the lose some part of the skimo equation. I was still going to get a summit ski, so that's a blessing after all the work to get here!

Looking north from the summit

Mummy Range


Looking down on the standard approach

I didn't break out the camera again until I got back to the good part of Keplingers, since focusing on just getting down with the exposure was taking all my attention. The GoPro caught all the wonderful/painful footage, so you can watch that below.

I used my skis until it got too stupid to continue. I could continue on skis, scratching them up, and potentially sending rocks and pebbles down onto the route below, or just capitulate and take them off for the ~80' required to get through the thin section. In the name of safety and expedience, I did just that. In post-analysis, the elevation of the Palisades is the same as the base of the Cables route, where the snow would be gone on the standard route later in the season (necessary for most north face descents). So I consider that even. And I even got to ski for a heck of a lot more vert on this side!

Palisades from the end of the stupidity

Below the snow choke, it was fun time! All I had to do was avoid the icy death cookies left behind by the previous skiers who had timed it much later than me. Unfortunately, my GoPro ran out of memory part way down the couloir. So I started taking more photos of the route instead. Bad weekend for me and the cameras. Ran out of memory on my Canon yesterday, ran out on my iPhone, now running out on my GoPro. Dumb@ss!

Back to continuous wide snow





Back to the last dogleg and debris fan, I knew it was all over now. Made it just in time w/r/t snow conditions. The lower part was pretty hot already, but I would make it. So I linked some fun corn turns and headed out to the other side of the valley to collapse and view my semi-crazy accomplishment!


Spying the exit out of Keplingers

Looking back after collapsing on the ground


Pano from the base

Navigating around the lower drainage was interesting, and I eventually had to take the skis off for 5' to get over a mini waterfall. But from there I kept the skis on continuous snow all the way to ~9200' or about 5,000' of vertical skied.

Leaving the valley and going into the trees was incredibly difficult. I kept stopping and looking back up at Longs. Now I get why the snowshoer came up here, and didn't climb anything. Absolutely breath taking. If I didn't have friends & partners awaiting my OK text, I may have stayed longer. But as it was, I had another 6 miles to exit... uggg!



Love those clouds!

Valley of pillows

Once back on the trail, it was a slow painful exit full of stream crossings (with log bridges) and plenty of uphills. Postholes galore from the foolish spring hikers who forget afternoon snow is unsupportable. But eventually I got to a spot where all the stomping, shuffling and poling along the trail reached my stupidity threshhold (yeah I know, I have a very high stupidity threshhold ) Thankfully there was a nice log bench as I transition to booting again. There was only about 1.5 miles left of trail to go, before the glory of flip flops and jelly beans. Yeah, jelly beans. I was at the point of falling asleep back at the trailhead at 6pm, so downing sugar was a way to make it home to the comfort of a shower, dinner and bed!

This ski video may just lift the veil of glory of most hikers view of peak skiing. I almost didn't create it, since we skiers all know how important it is to keep up the appearance that skiing is the answer to everything. But heck, even with the stupid rock skiing, I still made it out faster. (I did speed up the rock walking sections, cause that's just painful to watch slowly).

Skiing is the most fun thing that I have ever done in my life. When it's glorious, nothing compares. Even a bad day of skiing, is better than the best day at work!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

Comments or Questions
Nice Job
03/31/2015 20:38
Well done. I was just talking about this route

03/31/2015 21:45
some friends and I were attempting Grizzly from LP the same day and were turned around be strong winds..
wonder how the winds compared to that area..
Very impressive to ski such a line solo (or with partners for that matter), well done !!

03/31/2015 21:47
did you use just one Whippet, or do you also carry ice axes for the ascent?

Glad you got it done
03/31/2015 23:43
So happy for ya! Remember the faster you get these darn 14ers done we can work on my lowest 100 list!

Way to get down with the sickness,
04/01/2015 00:22
but all that side stepping had me stupified. May I recommend to you a narrow, fully cambered ski? They are not as trendy as fat, soft, rockered skis, but they hold an edge like a sword. They’re perfect for steep, slick conditions where you really need to edge. You wouldn’t have to side step.

Those valley of pillows bring back painful memories. When I skied Kepplingers’, those valley of pillows were a valley of snowless boulders blocking my way (skis on, skis off, skis on, skis off...)

Way to get it done...that’s a huuuge day!

^ Disturbed
04/01/2015 00:49
Mike with Money is. ;)

Otina is Indestructible.

Way to go
04/01/2015 01:19
Otina, I’m glad you got it done! Congratulations.

Well done!
04/01/2015 01:55
Much impressed!! Thanks for the write up!

Excellent, Otina!
04/01/2015 02:48
Looks like you’re back at full throttle! Good to see. Truly outstanding photography as usual! Yes! Clouds are stunning in that shot! Thanks for sharing!

that is badass dude!!!
04/01/2015 06:57
woop woop! man i was pumped reading this trip report. i’m about to look up all of your air cast adventures to send to my boyfriend : ) i can’t believe that was less than a year ago.
so stoked for you!!

Skiing or side slipping?
04/01/2015 14:58
Nice job on a long drawn out route. that route is in rough shape this year but don’t surprise me because of the lack of snow this season. one thing though....ease back on the side–stepping! plenty of real estate to make some jump turns and even a few parts where you could have linked up some beautiful turns. if you aren’t comfortable with jump turns, then practice before you tackle some of the bigger peaks (if you are planning on skiing them all). Not bagging on your accomplishment one bit, just trying to give some advice.

04/01/2015 16:08
Nice! The s. side of longs/meeker looked decent, albeit not great a few weeks ago. Seems to be deteriorating fast. Dont underestimate how good conditions can be on the line though. It has as much to do with wind direction as it does with seasonal snowfall. Spring weather is even more important. For example, it was fatter last season in june, especially on the home stretch. It still had a rock or two to hit in the couloir, and the usual late spring runnels. I’m also surprised more people dont ski it from the Longs trailhead. For an extra 1000’ of hiking, you can easily ski something like flying dutchman, loft, lambslide, or even n. face on the way back out. Seems mentally easier than the wild basin slog and still keeps it as a pretty reasonable sized day.

Thanks everyone!
04/01/2015 17:55
Fritz – It’s a great route, too bad the approach is so long!

mountaingoat–G – I’m rather glad I didn’t have to experience the winds from the morning! I used an axe and a whippet on the ascent. If the slope is 40 or below, I usually only use a whippet.

Zach – I know! Darn 14ers getting in the way of fun 13ers...

Mike – I knew you would appreciate the music choices, as well as comment on my side stepping! I was thinking about it while I was doing it, laughing to myself. I did wish for different skis up there. It’s why my resort skis are cambered and narrower (75 & 92). These do better on chop and softer conditions.

d_baker – Don’t jinx me now!

Bill – A little bit of stress was relieved afterwards, for sure. If only these peaks would be guaranteed "in" every year...

jmanner – Thanks

MtnHub – Full throttle yes, mostly. This was a major confidence boost for sure. Hard to tell when one is really back, until you challenge yourself.

Nat – Can’t let good beta like that go to waste

Sara – Hope your boyfriend is doing well, and keeping his spirits up! Though somehow I doubt he’ll be skiing Longs in a year That is, if he decides to even try skiing again!

bigmtnskier – I agree, I can certainly use more jump turning practice. My short fat skis have made me lazy. Had to jump all the time on my old ’90’s skinny long skis (190’s when I’m 164 tall). But since you seem to be new to the forum, you may not know my story. Check out my recent Huron TR for jump turns galore down the east face. Also you may want to read my Maroon TR for why I will always choose safety skiing over trying to impress the internet or look good. Conditions were such that I felt speed and efficiency were needed to get down before the lower slope got too hot. Believe me, I would have loved to have skied that upper section better! Another reason why I almost didn’t share the footage.

jkillgore – It’s a great line, just a hard one to get beta on, without a lot of effort! The original plan was to go up the Loft, then down Keplinger’s, but when my partner bailed, so did the car shuttle. An extra 1K of vert... Maybe in future years when I get the itch again, I may do just that. Longs is starting to grow on me!

Very cool!
04/01/2015 18:30
Thanks for posting.

nice work and thoughts on timing
04/01/2015 23:56
Solid effort Otina, timing this route is difficult, it really needs to be hit after strong upslope storms, a few days after that it’s really good. For beta purposes for other people considering this route, here’s a link to the TR from when we did it back in 2008, the difference in the snow conditions, especially on the home stretch is noticeable. http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php/121682–Longs–Peak–via–Keplinger–s–Couloir–4–27–2008

Good beta
04/02/2015 19:45
I also saw Kevin’s photos and thought "somebody should ski that peak". And you did. Congratulations! Huge day. Winds were annoying on Sunday.

Great line, Good day to do it!
04/02/2015 20:12
great report! i’ve been looking at this one for a while looks like the time is right to do it!

04/03/2015 14:48
I think you did a tremendous job. keeping it safe on a solo outing. no doubt. i would just try not to get too comfortable with the side slipping. I’ve seen a lot of bad things come of that habit. dangerous things. but, you were keeping it safe so props to you. keep on plugging away.

04/10/2015 00:11
You wouldn’t have a close up of Image 7 and Copeland would you?

04/10/2015 17:29
Fritz – I think I know what you’re looking for. Don’t have a great angle, but this is what I have: Copeland zoom

Schralp – Ahhh 2008, a great snow year!

cmartin1345 – Hope you got out and enjoyed a fun route!

Hitchers Guide
04/11/2015 01:44
Nice work Otina. Will send a PM.

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