A Very Long Day on Longs Peak – The Trough

Saturday March 14, 2009
Longs Peak via The Trough, 14,259′
12 miles RT, approximately 5,200′ of elevation gain
Car to car time: 12:45

For a few years now, this route has been on my hit list. Yes, I’ve climbed the mountain a few times before, but always in summer or fall, and never with skis. When I saw a group was forming a few days prior, I checked the weather and jumped on it. In the days leading up, the forecast called for a high in the high-20s around 13,000′ and a 10% chance of snow. On Friday, it was calling for 29F and no snow or wind…perfect.

Friday night, I ate, and ate, and kept on eating until I was stuffed and it was time for bed, around 8:30. At 2:30 the next morning, I’m awakened by my alarm. Sigh…time to get up. Fortunately I had packed the car the night before, so all I had to do was get dressed, eat, and go. I was on the road just after 3am, and pulled into the Glacier Gorge parking lot right around 5. At 5:10, the hudge group (of 6) was off!

An hour and a half later, it started to get light. It was nice to kill the headlamps, and to be able to enjoy our beautiful surroundings.
The sun was making its presence known, though I knew it would be a while until we got any direct sunshine.
We took occasional short breaks, which were helpful in keeping energy up for the long approach.
When I don’t get out like this for a while, I can forget why it’s so amazing. I remembered yesterday morning why I love it so much.
We made great time on the approach. Here’s the group past Black Lake, which only took about 2 and a half hours to get to.
From the same spot. Rocky Mountain National Park is truly amazing.
Not much later we got our first view of the objective. Longs is the big rectangular protrusion, with the Trough cutting down below it. Keyboard of the Winds is just to the right of it.
Here’s the group nearing the end of the approach.
There were several bighorn sheep waiting here, not particularly concerned about us. In this same spot on the way out, a big herd (15-20) ran by. It’s amazing how nimble these things are.
I believe that’s McHenry’s on the left and Arrowhead on the right. I could be entirely wrong though. What really matters is how gorgeous it was. Not a cloud in the deep blue sky. The air was crystal clear and crisp.

This is where the group split briefly. Carl went left of here and had a super-easy time. Stephanie and Sean went to the right and had to backtrack a ways. Kiefer and I went straight through here, and it was a disaster. I was drytooling with my whippet to get through here. Carl got some photos from up above, which I can’t wait to see.
Immediately after that section, we hit the Trough and the real climb began. There was good styrofoam snow most of the way up, though at the top it became extremely rocky. The average pitch of the Trough is 30 degrees, so a pretty mellow climb in good conditions. It’s long though, at about 2,200′. Here’s Sean, enjoying the great snow.
And Carl.
We carried our skis to roughly 13,250′, about 600′ from the top of the Trough. That was the end of the skiable snow, and it was great to get them off our backs.
At 10:52, the sun finally crested the ridge. It was a very welcome sight, and great to get a little bit of warmth finally.
At the top of the Trough is a chock stone that I remembered (from my first two trips up here) as near-vertical. Turns out it’s not, and I scrambled up it with crampons on without an issue (and it was nearly devoid of snow). We took a break here before taking off the crampons, and heading for the narrows. This is the most exposed portion of the route, but wasn’t too bad.
The Homestretch was absolutely miserable in ski boots. What can nearly be walked up in the summer (wearing trail runners) was a fight for survival in AT boots. If it had been snowy (as it is most winters, and as it appeared a few weeks ago) it would have been a straightforward climb up. Nevertheless, at 1:15pm, we hit the summit.
Sean and Kiefer had been there for a little while, enjoying the absolutely perfect weather. Around 30 degrees, calm winds, and not a cloud in the sky.
Some summit shots, from roughly the same point (because I was exhausted).
It’s amazing how big and flat the summit is. We discussed how awesome it would be if there were a summit cone instead of the huge plateau.

Carl touching the official summit.
Meeker, to the south.
Look how extreme I am!
The descent back to the Trough was miserable. The homestretch took forever, and the narrow, off-camber ledges of the narrows were much more apparent in my exhaustion. I moved slowly, as I didn’t have the energy to be both quick and safe. Finally, we made it back down to the snow, and everything was right with the world.

Shortly thereafter, we got to our skis. The snow was pretty funky. It was a mix of powder, sastrugi, ice hardpack, and breakable crust. Unfortunately, it randomly varied on each portion of the line as well as in vertical space. Fun, but not fast or easy.

At the bottom, we had to take our skis off and carry them a mile or so over rocks and dirt. Once we were finally able to put them on, all was right with the world. I have no more photos from this point, but hopefully will get some from Carl.

The lakes were semi-unpleasant. Long, flat stretches that we had to pole across. I stayed extremely close to the edge, as I heard some popping and cracking as I went over some sections. It seemed like forever, but we eventually got to the trees. It was fast and fun, with enough random obstacles (that were entirely inconsequential on the ascent) to keep things interesting. After ducking fallen trees, jumping rocks, and dropping small cornices for half an hour, we finally were back to the parking lot. It was 5:55pm, a full twelve hours and forty-five minutes after we left. I’m glad to have done it, but that’s one trip I’ll probably never repeat.

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