Snowmass Mountain - 14,092 feet
Longs Peak - 14,255 feet
Meeker, Mt - 13,911 feet
Storm Pk B - 13,326 feet
Snowmass Mountain - 14,092 feet
Longs Peak - 14,255 feet
Meeker, Mt - 13,911 feet
Storm Pk B - 13,326 feet
|Snowmass S-Ridge, Meeker, Longs and 5 hour energy|
So back in June I had the crazy idea to finish the 14er list by the end of summer. I knew this would be a tall order since I only had 20 peaks to my credit and had done none harder than a class 2... Fast forward and with the end of September approaching, I was down to my final 12 peaks to finish the list. I had done far too many repeats this summer and was quickly running out of weekends before the snow would increase the difficulty of me completing my goal. At this point I decided DeCaLiBron would have to wait, and I would make it my finishing peaks on the first day of winter. I already had the Lake City 5 scheduled for the first weekend in October and my unofficial finisher Mt Wilson would be done via the traverse from El Diente the following Sunday. That meant Longs and Snowmass would both have to be done on this final weekend in September. I was assuming it would be too risky saving one for late October with the threat of snowstorms looming that late in the fall. The logistics of pulling off these two big climbs on back-to-back days including the drive from Fort Collins to the west side of the Elks and back was not going to be easy. I had 2 climbing friends that wanted to do Longs with me on Sunday the 29th, so that meant a solo Snowmass would be up first on Saturday.
Day - Saturday September 28th
14er - Snowmass Peak
Trailhead - Lead King Basin
Route - Up S-Ridge, Down West Slopes
Because I had to work until 9pm on Friday the 27th I didn't leave Fort Collins for Snowmass until almost midnight. It was a long drive so I was gonna have to do this climb on no sleep which is something I had become accustomed to this summer. Fort Collins was a nice place to live but not the most convenient city to climb 14ers from. So after what seemed like the longest 4WD road ever (not because of the length but because of how rocky it was) I parked my truck about 1 mile from the Lead King Basin trailhead and started my climb. It was about 7:30 am and a very late start for me. I had not planned on the 4WD road taking almost an hour and a half. Not long after passing the town of Marble the drive had become very rough and narrow and going faster than 5 or 10 mph was rarely possible. I quickly covered the last mile to the trailhead on foot and realized my truck would have easily made it there. I figured no harm done since it was an easy road walk, and I started down the trail towards Snowmass and was immediately treated to some amazing fall colors and a beautiful waterfall.
This had to be one of the most picturesque approach hikes I'd done so far on my 14er journey. I was making good time, and it didn't take long to reach my first objective which was Geneva Lake. From here I had my first real good look at Snowmass Mountain and it was not far away. Soon I'd be looking for the turnoff to the gullies leading to the S-Ridge.
After passing the lake I continued heading north on a very solid trail. I knew I had a long weekend ahead of me so I set a fast pass from there and quickly came to Little Gem Lake which is aptly named. It was here I left the trail and headed east towards the S-Ridge. Continuing straight on that trail would have put me on the west slopes which was going to be my return route.
I turned right and headed down a ravine towards the S-Ridge. My eyes were on the lower part of the ridge looking for the gullies that would allow me to access it for my climb to the summit.
After following a stream through a marshy area and going around a cliff band I started climbing a steep talus slope up towards these gullies. I then headed towards the one to the right as it looked less loose and more manageable.
The gully was easy to climb and not as loose as I had heard. Next came some steep slabs with bomber rock which led directly to the beginning of the ridge. The view back to Geneva Lake and surrounding valley was amazing and would only get better the higher I ascended the ridge.
Right out of the gates the ridge got steep, and from here to the summit it was a long, fun scramble with very few breaks. It was mostly class 3 with an occasional class 4 airy move to get around an obstacle. The best rock was usually to the right and that's generally where I stayed. The most intense exposure was also to the right, but the better rock made this line the way to go. To the left there was usually steep scree that looked climbable but not pleasant.
At about the half way point the ridge mellowed out a bit as it transitioned to the final climb. It was nice to get a break from the steep climbing and there was a catwalk type section here connecting the lower and upper parts of the ridge. The summit can easily be seen from here, and unlike so many other climbs I've done there was no false summit.
After making a snake like turn just beyond the half way point the ridge undulated a bit before a final steep section leading to the summit. As I got higher I started seeing traces of fresh snow, but it was never a bother.
I only stayed on the summit about 10 miuntes, but I could've stayed for hours admiring the views. It was a beautiful almost windless day, but Longs Peak was waiting for me so I quickly began looking for a way to begin descending the west slopes of Snowmass. I had briefly considered returning down the S-Ridge, but I knew the west slopes, even though horribly loose, would be much quicker.
So I began carefully descending the west slopes on steep talus looking for any sort of trail. The talus quickly gave way to a mixture of steep loose scree, slabs and rocky ledges. None of it was difficult but extreme care needed to be taken with each step. I was glad there were no climbers coming down above me as I could easily see how rockfall could be an issue here. There was no trail I could find or a "best" way to go down that I could figure. I just kept slowly working my way down following the path of least resistance. I had a gpx track and followed that as best I could and made good time without incident. It was a long way down, but eventually, I came to Little Gem Lake and was heading back towards the trailhead.
I was back to my truck by 3 pm and heading down the forever 4WD road and on my way to Rocky Mountain National Park to climb Longs Peak. Having not slept the night before I was exhausted and stopped along the way a couple of times for some quick 30 minute road naps. Once at the Grays Peak 2WD lot off I-70 and again along the Peak to Peak highway. I pulled into the Longs Peak trail lot around 11 pm or so, and parked along side my buddies car. He was already fast asleep, and within 30 minutes after getting my gear ready and sleeping bag out I was too.
Day - Sunday September 29th
14er - Longs Peak
13ers - Mt. Meeker and Storm Peak B
Trailhead - Longs Peak
Route - Up the Loft, Down the Keyhole
After what seemed like 5 minutes I heard a loud thumping noise on my truck window. It was my friend Keyton trying to get me up. Holy crap! He was crazy, it was like 2 am. I was hoping he'd let me sleep til at least 3 (or 4 if I was really lucky). Ha, he is obsessed with summit sunrises so I should have known better. I reluctantly got up from my much needed sleep knowing it would be useless to ask for another hour. Our other buddy Jeff appeared as if out of nowhere (he had been sleeping in a bivy under a nearby bush as he so often does) and we were on the trail by 2:30 am. There were plenty of other cars in the lot, but we didn't see any other climbers heading out. We made quick work of the Longs Peak trail and were at the Chasm Lake trail junction in no time.
From there we continued on towards the Loft in complete darkness minus our headlamps. We soon crossed Mills Moraine and entered the bottom of the Loft. By this time we were walking on snow, and looking up the Loft we could tell there was plenty more in the couloir itself. An early season storm had hit Longs just a few days prior. Luckily it didn't slow us down too much, but we did have to take extra care and watch every step. It was at this point I noticed (or I should say Keyton noticed) I was falling behind and appeared to be falling asleep while scrambling up the slippery class 3 rock slabs. The consecutive nights with basically no sleep, the 14 hours of driving and the Snowmass climb were catching up to me (not to mention the 70 hour work week I put in). We all stopped to take a quick rest and this is when I discovered 5 Hour Energy. Keyton said "here, drink this and you'll be good". I had never had one before or any of those caffeine energy drinks for that matter. I was always skeptical that they would help, but figured I had nothing to lose. Lo and behold soon after drinking the 5 Hour Energy I got my mojo back and was good to go the rest of the climb. Not long after we were on the exit ramps and working our way towards Mt Meeker (a quick detour from Longs). From there to Meekers summit it was basically just a steep class 2 boulder hop, and we had timed the sunrise perfectly.
From Meekers summit we had a good view of another 13er, Meeker Ridge, and briefly thought about going that way to climb it's famous knife edge. It looked both snowy and icy, so we decided to stay the course and headed back towards the Longs.
It was an easy boulder/talus hop from Meeker down to the Loft. From there we headed northwest towards Clark's Arrow and the west side of Longs, and the link up with the Homestrech which would take us to the summit.
We followed cairns down and around Longs eventually entering the top section of Keplinger's Couloir. Fortunately, there was little to no snow back there and lots of fun scrambling. With the palisades behind us now, we found a challenging wall with excellent rock to climb, and we then maneuvered onto a ramp which led us to the Homestrech. At this point we were expecting crowds coming up from the Keyhole but saw no one. We scampered up the steep rock wall following the bullseye markings and hit the summit right around 8 am. Our early start had paid off! Not only did we get an incredible sunrise on Meeker, but we got Longs summit to ourselves. We took in the views and savored this as long as possible. After living in Fort Collins for more than 20 years it was amazing to finally be standing on the summit of Longs Peak.
After about 30 minutes of peace and quiet on the summit we started our descent down the Keyhole route. We dropped into The Homestretch and immediately saw 6 or 7 climbers coming up. We went across the Narrows, down a snowy Trough and through the Keyhole.
From the Keyhole we decided to hit one more peak and headed north towards unranked Storm Peak. This was a fun little peak and an easy add on when doing Longs. It's further away than it looks with several smaller sub-peaks to negotiate around and over. It was all easy climbing on solid rocks and boulders. At this point my buddies veered off towards Lady Washington to complete the Grand Slam. I had already done this peak, and I wanted to save my strength for another long work week and the 5 Lake city 14ers I had planned for the following weekend. We parted ways and I headed down the switchbacks and then jogged the Longs Peak trail back to my truck finishing at 12:30 pm for a 10 hour climb. I crashed exhausted in my truck for an hour waiting for my friends so we could all grab lunch together at Oskar Blues. The End.
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