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.


Gnarch Radness – Part 2

And now, the rest of the photos.

Nate felt like getting aggressive.

But it didn’t last.

Getting back after it:

Andrew, stylie as always:

Sends it! Smoove…We didn’t see anyone else all day except for one dirt bike as we were almost back to the car. Ace found that he lost all but one bolt holding his bash guard on about a mile from the car. After a little tightening, he was good to go.

After that, it was back to Fruita proper for a lap up 18 Road. I didn’t join, and drove the shuttle, as I was too beat from 16+ miles of biking (on my first time MTBing). At the parking lot, a couple guys and several dogs went out for a lap or two…

…while I took in the scenery. Andrew, Katy, and Nate rolled in a few minutes later. The minor issue with the bash guard turned major as one bolt wasn’t enough to hold everything together. He sheared off the big chainring on the way down, requiring a trip to the shop the next day.

We took off for dinner and a soak in the Glenwood Hot Springs, which were awesome. I’m envious of everyone who lives there and gets to drop in for a soak after a long day of skiing, hiking, climbing, biking, or any one of the many things that are so close to Glenwood Springs.

After a good night’s sleep, it was off to Beaver Creek the next morning. The conditions were horrible – cold, windy, dumping graupel and rime, all on top of a incredible ice crust resulting from weeks of sun, heat, and no snow. Visibility was nil. It was a struggle to make out two chairs ahead of you on the lift. Andrew forgot his boots at home, and I think he probably had a better day as a result.

Despite the crappy skiing, it was an awesome weekend in Colorado, and a great sendoff to the handlebars (which are now gone).

Gnarch Radness – Part 1

This report has 25 photos to go with it, so it’ll be spread across two posts. Look for the second one tomorrow morning.

This trip was in the works for months. Bike in Fruita on Friday and Moab on Saturday and Sunday, camping and bbqing and drinking and all the fun that goes along with that sort of trip. A week prior to leaving, the forecast called for a 20% chance of rain. As the days passed, the forecast was increasingly calling for an end to the weeks of sun and heat, on the day we were to arrive in Moab. Mere hours before we were to leave, plan B was put into effect. Camping was to be scrapped, we would bike Fruita on Friday, and ski Beaver Creek on Saturday. What a way to spend a March weekend in Colorado!

Thursday night Nate and I left Denver for Glenwood Springs. It was nearly 7pm by the time we were on the road. Fortunately the weather was good and the roads were clear, so we were at Andrew’s before 10pm. After some unloading and hanging out with Ace and his girlfriend Katy, Nate dug out this photo, circa 1969.

The next morning we were up around 8, and loaded up the bikes. It was dumping snow, though we were hopeful it would be dry and sunny where we were headed.

After a stop for breakfast and spare tubes, we arrived in Rabbit Valley to a perfect 55 degree, bluebird day. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. After some screwing around at the car with tubes, sunscreen, layers, cameras, food, and etc., we were off to the Western Rim trail. Most of the photos are of Andrew, as he was the most adventurous. None of me as I was behind the lens, and none of Katy because she wasn’t feeling well and turned back pretty early.
Just before the following photos, I had my first crash of the day. I was too far back pedaling up a steep hill, pulled up the front wheel, and flipped backwards, completely uninjured.

Nate decided to go for this little drop. As you can see, he didn’t quite commit to it.

Ace sending it!

Taking in the view (of which there are no pictures, as all I had was my telephoto lens).

Andrew pretty much killed it all day long.

That’s it for today. 10 or 12 more photos tomorrow, finishing up the day of cycling and a couple shots from Beaver Creek.

Bike to Work Status Update

Slow week on the blog front here as work has been running late and I’ve been preparing for a trip. I was looking at my bike/drive spreadsheet and plugging in some numbers to see what it would take to get to certain percentages.

As of today, I have biked in 34 times in 2009, and driven in 3 times. One drive was caused by 6″ of snow, one by having to go straight to the dentist after work, and the final was a result of dropping my bike off in the shop and not borrowing a replacement from anyone. This puts me at 92%, which is pretty darn good. I’m shooting for 95% now though, and to get to that level, I have to ride in another 23 days without a single drive day. If I drive once, I’m back into the 80s.

Accounting for estimated number of days off from work for the rest of 2009, I’ll likely have a grand total of approximately 230 work days this year, and 95% would require 219 biking days – not even one drive in per month. If I bump up to 240 work days (unlikely) I’ll be able to drive once a month. This could get tough, although thanks to recent upgrades to my bike, my ride takes less time than driving does – just a little more effort, especially in the wind. Summer will be easy, next fall could be a little more difficult. I guess I’ll just need to get some tires with a more aggressive tread (if I don’t have a mountain bike by then).

Hopefully I’ll have additional photos from skiing last weekend soon. Coming early next week: a Moab trip report.

Bluebird at Berthoud Pass

This has been an exciting week. Last weekend I found a bargain on a pair of skis I’d been eyeing for ski mountaineering season, and ordered them. On Monday, I ordered a pair of Dynafits – reportedly the most amazing backcountry bindings ever made. It all arrived Wednesday, and was in the shop that afternoon. Friday night the skis were ready. Saturday I got a pair of new skins trimmed for the new skis. And today, I was blown away by their performance. My skis with bindings are half the weight of my old setup, the touring performance is spectacular, and they ski better than any other binding I’ve ever been on (including the Dukes). It’s simply amazing.

Today was another fun day up on Berthoud Pass. The drive up was quicker than expected, and I was up at the pass ready to go about 7:45. Franz was running late, so I tagged along with a couple guys in the parking lot most of the way up Russel. At 9 they turned to head to the top, and I dropped into the trees to get back to the road, so that I could meet up with Franz. They were getting ready as I got back to the top of the pass, and we headed out.

Cast of Characters:

Brandon, and Hans’ girlfriend Mel in the background
We leisurely skinned up to Russel, enjoying the incredibly warm weather. It was so warm that I dropped two base layers at the car after the first lap, opened the vents on my pants, and strapped my jacket to my pack. Once we made the top of the ridge, we poked around and found a fun north-facing line off the bench. Just before we dropped, we saw two guys skiing down in the cirque together, ripping under the cornice and hucking a couple small rocks. We all thought out loud “wow that looks like fun!” immediately followed by “…that’s not a smart way down.” Keep in mind that the CAIC warned specifically to beware anything near cornices today.

Brandon ripping:
Mel enjoying the soft snow:
Hans at the top of the line, with Volkswagen-sized chunks of cornice debris in the foreground. I’m glad I wasn’t underneath when that fell:
And Hans tearing it up:
Immediately to the north from there is XYZ Chutes. We went down Z, a fun line to get to the trees in the 80s. Hans led off with style:
Then Mel threw some snow around:
From here it’s into the trees of Current Creek and eventually out to the road. I had a blast on my freshly waxed/scraped/brushed skis. It turns out Hans had never waxed his skis, and the warm snow did something I’ve never seen before – it stuck to his bases, and got thicker as he kept moving. He had a few inches of snow on his base when Brandon and I turned and made our way to the road.
It was nearly 1pm at this point, so we called it a day. I was absolutely amazed by the performance of the skis and bindings today. I can’t wait to take them out again.