Longs Peak: Four Hours, Four Routes

chasm The last time I’d been up Longs Peak—the last time I’d been to 14k’—was back in early March for a Winter Longs Peak Duathlon effort. Shortly after that, my illiotibial bands—in both knees—started giving me fits and haven’t really let up since. Late last week, an attempt to use a bike approach to a day of high-altitude scrambling was cut drastically short by a critically sore right knee that had me literally crawling on all fours back down to the 4th of July Trailhead from South Arapaho Peak. Ugh. Well, at least I learned that biking and running are equally aggravating to my knees and I can’t accelerate said aggravation by compounding the activities.

So, no bike approach for Longs Peak this morning, which means I had a pleasant 5:15am wake-up, a leisurely breakfast of eggs and coffee while reading my book, and then drove to the trailhead like every other self-respecting, fossil-fuel guzzling citizen of this country (except Justin Simoni). Damn you, knees!

Of course, when I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, I was greeted by my buddy and regular climbing partner Kyle Richardson. Not really a surprise. Yesterday had been his first time ever up the Kieners Route and first time scrambling a (relatively) dry Cables Route, so he was back today to get the Cables dialed in. I smiled as I recounted the story of how when Buzz and Peter had showed me Kieners four years ago I’d been so inspired that I’d done it the next three days in a row, culminating in a 2:28 car-to-car FKT effort on the final day. Some people just can’t get enough of the good stuff, and Kyle seems to be cut from a similar cloth.

I was planning on at least Kieners myself this morning, and told Kyle I might even go for a link-up that I’d been contemplating for a couple years—up Kieners, down Cables, up Keyhole Ridge, down the Skyline Traverse to the Loft and back to the trailhead. Four of the best routes and two summits of my favorite mountain in the state, maybe the world. Knees, shin, fitness, and conditions all willing, of course. With my near-constantly infirm legs, I try to maximize my opportunities.

Kyle and I started out together but when we popped onto the long straightaway of the approach trail at Goblin Forest I was super psyched by the fact that I was on Longs Peak and gradually accelerated away, chomping at the bit to get up to the Chasm Cirque.

I felt good on these approach miles, picking spot-on lines through the forest and boulders and really enjoying myself. The weather was absolutely perfect—sunny, warm, windless—and my body was responding with surprising energy and a pain-free stride. Goddamn, life is good!

After traversing around the north side of Chasm Lake I had to kick up a few steps of snow in the approach gully I use to access the Glacier Rib (the ridge of rock adjacent to the Lambslide Couloir on the climber’s left side), and there were a few wet spots and patches of snow on the rib itself, but I was psyched to find that at 9:15am the snow of Lambslide itself was the best I’d ever seen it. Easy step-kicking all the way across to Broadway with no patches of ice.

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Two of the four climbers I encountered on Broadway are just past the snow.

Broadway itself still held a good amount of snow in the draining spot just above the Yellow Bowl and it required attention and care to find stable foot plants and not release any detritus down the rock face below. Just after that I encountered a roped-up party of four (!!) and was held up for a few minutes as one of the members in this group negotiated the crux bulge on Broadway. She was a bit nervous but was solid and pulled through it well, especially considering she (as was everyone in the group) was still wearing her crampons! That had to be a little awkward on all the dry ground.

There was still snow to the very bottom of the Notch Couloir so I had to climb a couple different cracks and chimneys than I normally do to start Kieners proper, but it went great and I was grinning ear-to-ear with just how incredible this mountaineering route is—such fun scrambling in an improbable position on a magnificent mountain.

The march up upper Kieners was about as tough as it always is, but I seemed to be feeling less affected by the altitude than I expected, and after pulling around the Diamond Step I was tagging the summit a couple minutes later at 1h45. Not my fastest, but certainly not my slowest either and my fitness proved to be at a bit higher level than I’d assumed. That’s always nice.

Except for a couple quick snaps and the few minutes of being paused on Broadway, I’d been giving it a continuous, focused effort up until this point, so on the summit I hung out for 5min, taking some pics and generally just buzzing with that specific high mountain euphoria.

On top.

On top.

Descending the north face down to the Cables was a bit heads-up with a lot of loose rock, wet slabs, and a few big patches of snow and ice still. A few minutes below the summit I ran into Kyle, who’d just come up the Cables and was having a slow, tired day. We chatted for a minute or two and continued our separate ways.

The Cables were running with water, but not a big deal and I was off them 11min after leaving the summit. The most exciting thing to me was that the snow field below the Cables was perfect for plunge stepping and then I only had a few steps on rock before I could kick all the way across the Dove and link into the Keyhole Ridge after the 3rd Class ramp at the base of the 2nd tower.

Line of steps I kicked across the Dove.

Line of steps I kicked across the Dove.

I’ve always thought this tower is the crux of that ridge and today it proved to be the same. The thing to remember is to trend climber’s right in search for the path of least resistance. It’s pretty easy to get into harder-than-5.6 terrain if you go too far left out onto the face.

Looking back at the Second Tower with the downclimb in shadow.

Looking back at the Second Tower with the downclimb in shadow.

The downclimb off the 2nd tower has a microwave-sized death block that provides obvious and super tasty jugs for the steep moves, but today I was able to avoid weighting it by jamming and liebacking on the descender’s left side for a few feet. The rest of the ridge was uneventful, with the crux 5.6 pin face being less steep than I remembered it.

summit 2nd tower

Looking up the rest of the Keyhole Ridge from the summit of the 2nd Tower.

pin

Ancient piton at the crux face of the 3rd Tower.

On the way up the upper ridge I even bootied a purple BD stopper, which fills a gap in my rack that was created when Kyle and I got that size stuck on the upper pitch of Over The Hill in Eldo a few weeks ago. Karma!

Looking up the Stepladder pitch that I downclimbed to get into the Notch.

Looking up the Stepladder pitch that I downclimbed to get into the Notch.

Back at the summit of Longs for the second time (still no one else around), I didn’t stop at all and launched directly into the fantastic ridgeline that leads down to the crux Stepladder pitch of that descent. This was only a little wet—no snow—and once I dropped into the Notch itself there was a nice patch of snow on the south side that covered what is usually a lot of loose scree and talus.

Gorrell's Traverse---the key to getting in and out of the Notch from the Beaver.

Gorrell’s Traverse on the near wall in shadow—the key to getting in and out of the Notch from the Beaver.

After dropping maybe 50-100’ I cruised through the Gorrell’s Traverse that leads into the low-5th Class gully that accesses the Beaver. Once I popped out of that onto the boulders it was a quick bop down to the Loft where I found the 3rd Class sneak ledge and at 11am was excited to still be able to glissade a large chunk of the descent back down to below Chasm Lake.

Still some glissading to be had on the Loft descent.

Still some glissading to be had on the Loft descent.

I stopped for a few gulps of run-off through here, but otherwise I was still feeling great, both energy-wise and knee-wise. As such, I turned on the jets a little for the descent back down to the trailhead from Chasm Junction and had so much fun letting loose on a varied, techy descent.

It’s been a good nine months since I’ve been able to do that, and, basically, I was reminded of the sublime joy that comes from a proper alpine run. Completely unfettered, continuous movement over a wide variety of terrain—buff trail, forest ‘schwacking, boulder hopping, talus surfing, kicking across snowfields, scrambling technical rock, glissading—is the best thing in the world. I do a lot of different things in the mountains, but today was an outstanding reminder that the most simple and pure will always bring the most joy.

Even with my second-half leisure and 18min of casual stops for photos and chatting, I was able to sneak under four hours car-to-car (3h56—3h38 moving time) for a satisfying symmetry in my outing: four hours, four classic routes on Longs Peak.

(Strava file)

Winter Longs Peak Triathlon

DSC02919When I did a Longs Peak Triathlon last summer, I remember thinking it was only logical to apply the same tactics in the calendar winter season. Maybe unsurprisingly, there simply didn’t seem to be many attempts at such a thing, let alone actual completions of the task. To be sure, even in the age of the Internet, we don’t always know what exciting things people have been up to, but the only completions I could find were by Justin Simoni (a constant inspiration when it comes to bikes and mountains) and Tina Lewis, both in the 18-19hr range. Maybe I’m weak for wanting to wait for at least decent conditions—call me crazy, but this seems to be an important part of the tradition of mountaineering—but I couldn’t figure out how it should take quite that long. And riding dark roads at night doesn’t hold a huge amount of appeal for me. So I waited for good conditions.

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Power of Four Skimo Race — 2016

Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer / @mykehphoto / mykejh.com

Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer / @mykehphoto / mykejh.com

Well, that was worthwhile.

It’s not like I’m realizing anything ground-breaking here—in fact, mountain and ultrarunners crossing over to skimo in the winter months is treading perilously close to the tipping point of being cliche—but holy shit, what an absolutely fantastic sport! If you like moving quickly and efficiently* in the mountains, this style and format of activity is the only one that makes sense in the winter.  *(I prefer the “efficiently” adverb, because I believe it is one’s mindset and intent—not absolute velocity—that positively or negatively shapes the experience.)

Of course, the Euros have known this for a long time; they have a deep, intense pool of athletes over there who have been going at this for decades. Backcountry skiing or alpine touring in general is certainly nothing new here in the States, but it is definitely a growing sector, and with big advances in lightweight gear, runners (and others) with a bent for the mountains are increasingly being attracted to the sport’s extreme light-n-fast sector—skimo racing. So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Ultimate Direction is making the logical cross-over, too. Garment-like hydration vests/packs with front carrying capacity have become the norm in running; why not apply the same design principles to skimo-specific packs? I’ve certainly been enjoying testing the new products.

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East Portal to Winter Park and Back

Last month I was out at dinner with some friends when my friend Roch started talking about his hope to one day ski the length of the John Muir Trail. The JMT—the classic 200+ mile route through the High Sierra from Mt Whitney to Yosemite Valley—is an extremely popular summer hike, but Roch figured it had only been skied a couple of times. This conversation was quite inspirational for me—Roch is an undeniably compelling and confidence-inducing orator— and I started thinking about the kinds of things I could reasonably do on skis.

I doubt I’ll ever have the skills or confidence to be scratching and jump-turning my way down the really steep stuff in the mountains, but the thought of covering a lot of miles over the mountains on more mellow terrain holds a distinct appeal. More “ski touring” I suppose, than “ski mountaineering”. This appeal is facilitated in no small part by the fact that such activity relies on a physical capacity—all day endurance—that I’ve been honing my entire life, as opposed to the more skilled and technical requirements of steeper descents. Skills I certainly don’t currently possess. Maybe I’ll get there one day.

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A Brief History of My Relationship With Bicycles (As an Adult)

rollins2This summer, from mid-April to mid-August, I had a bone stress injury in my right tibia (reaction, fracture, it doesn’t really matter, treatment is the same) that prevented me from not only running, but really, precluded almost any pain-free, bipedal perambulation. Because I was necessarily relegated to biking for those four months, I had a real awakening with regards to the wonders and merits of it as a means of satisfying, continuous movement in the mountains.

Despite a fairly negative attitude towards biking (at least, as anything other than pure commuting) over the past few years, I actually have a bit of experience with the activity from my college days. In my first 10 years of running (1995-2005), I sustained something like 12 stress fractures. In high school, I was young and healed quickly and as a means of coping, I  would haphazardly spend some time cross-training on my mom’s stationary bike in our basement. Soon enough I was back out pounding the gravel and dirt.

In college, however, I distinctly remember having a conversation with the school’s athletic trainer, Bruce, asking him why this particular stress fracture was taking longer than the four weeks of downtime I would typically require in high school. His response?

“Tony, your’e not 15 anymore; your body takes longer to heal now.”

This was a depressing thing to hear at a mere 19 years of age.

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Transgrancanaria 125K+ (2015)

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Funny, that actually went about as well as I could’ve realistically hoped. TGC had been on my to-do list for a couple of years now. Friends’ descriptions intrigued me, and I found the surface-level details to be attractive: a route that logically traverses a geographic feature (the entire island!), travel to a foreign land, high-level competition, a long but still sub-100mi distance. Nevertheless, I barely made the trip due to a lingering shin twinge that left me woefully underprepared for so much running so early in the season. However, when my shin showed signs of affirmative health two weeks before race day, I put my faith in my consistent uphill skiing over the past two months and several reports that the track was steep and technical (i.e. giving me lots of hiking breaks), and began making some last-minute plans to race. Continue reading

Skiing

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In late October 2001 I was on I-70 driving east through the Eisenhower Tunnels with three fellow Colorado College freshmen. Our destination that evening was the Grays and Torreys trailhead, just a few miles down the hill (they would become only my 2nd and 3rd 14ers the next day; I’d been living in Colorado for all of two months), but as we emerged from the tunnel and glanced to our right, the driver immediately exited the freeway and careened into the Loveland Ski Area parking lot. One lift was running, two runs were open (due to copious manufactured snow), the cost was free (seriously, who would charge for less than an hour of artificial snice?) and the bed of our truck just happened to be lined with approximately half a dozen pairs of skis because, Colorado.

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UTMB 2014

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I didn’t commit to running UTMB this year until two weeks before race day. During the second week of July my historically-troublesome right shin became a worry once again, and I was able to do very little true running for all of July and August. In early August, in hopes of keeping my Hardrock Qualifier chances alive, but wanting to buy myself a little more time, I had even signed up for the Bear 100 and given up on racing UTMB altogether. However, my shin unexpectedly experienced a turnaround a couple weeks before the race, which made the opportunity to head back to Chamonix too appealing to pass up.  Continue reading

Hardrock 100: The Race

island_lakeWhile Hardrock is generally referred to as an “Endurance Run”, and while it is very much that, each year there is unavoidably a competitive component to the event as well. Having been a part of the event five of the last seven years as crew/pacer, I definitely appreciate the community-oriented vibe that the Hardrock Board has so assiduously cultivated over the years; it’s a huge part of what makes Hardrock so special. However, to anyone who wants to dispute the fact that there is at least a small bit of competitiveness going on down in the San Juans, I say, ok, then stop timing finishers and publishing the results (and basically every possible permutation of the finishers’ splits).

There’s nothing wrong with caring about one’s performance. I submit that doing so is even at least a small part of what makes running in the mountains so instructive—we try to be the best versions of ourselves, and in the mountains that means, of course, physically, but also mentally and emotionally. But that’s a discussion for a different time and place.

There is basically no debate that at the pointy end of the field, this year’s men’s entrants represent the highest quality and depth ever assembled. It all happens literally by the luck of  the draw, so, as a fan of the sport, I feel pretty damn lucky this year.

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Lavaredo Ultra Trail 119K

lava_rocks2After taking six of the previous eight months off, I finally started daily running again on April 23rd, the day I got back from a trip to Japan. The first week I began with 35-60min flat jogs, but only a month on I did my first race of the year—the Jemez 50mi—and after that knew that I wanted to find some kind of focus event for the first half of the summer. Ever since I DNFed in Trient, Switzerland (140km) last year, UTMB was always going to be the goal race for the second half of the 2014 summer.

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