The Longs Peak Project (LPP)

By Peter Bakwin

Living in Boulder, as I have for most of my life, can be strange. Nearly everyone here, young and old alike, is insanely fit. Everyone has set some outlandish running or climbing goal for themselves, something to keep the sense of adventure alive and to expand their skills and experience. I myself have set many, and even achieved some, and this has been a lot of fun and very satisfying. These days, now that I’m receiving mailings from the AARP, I don’t go in all that much for goals or “projects”, preferring just to enjoy time out in mountains and on the trails without any particular aim. But, once in a while something still resonates inside my soul, a spark of an idea will come and I feel compelled to follow. This is intensely personal – I don’t care about setting marks, only about doing things that ignite my flame of curiosity and enthusiasm. Such has been the Longs Peak Project (LPP).


Photo Courtesy: Kendrick Callaway

The LPP was envisioned by local legend Bill Briggs. It’s a simple idea: climb Longs Peak, Colorado’s northernmost (and best!) 14er, by a different route each month for a year. It’s also a remarkable idea: How many mountains even have 12 worthwhile, unique routes? Longs has dozens, but many or most of them are on the Diamond and those are hard rock climbing – not something I’m going to do. I’m an avid scrambler, but not much of a real rock climber – I quickly lose interest when the gear comes out. Briggs never quite completed the LPP, but Bill Wright did it in 2008, and then repeated it in 2015 with Charlie Nuttelman. The local Boulder newspaper had a nice write-up on Bill & Charlie’s 2015 LPP.

Though I’m a Longs Peak enthusiast, I stumbled into the LPP sort of by accident. I had climbed Keplinger’s Coulior with Bill, Charlie and several of their friends in December, the final climb of their successful LPP.  Then in early January my friend Tina Lewis wanted to attempt a rare winter Longs Peak Duathlon (cycling round-trip to the TH from Boulder). That sounded totally miserable to me, but I agreed to meet her at the TH and do the hiking part with her. When we got back to the TH at 8PM it was already so cold that I considered trying to talk her out of cycling back down the canyon, but I held my tongue and she did it! Now I had 2 tough winter months out of the way – heck, might as well just finish off the other 10 months!

I know Longs Peak (14,259′) really well, and I’ve notched about 80 ascents. I just love this mountain, which is less than a 1 hour drive (or about 3 hours by bike) from my home. It’s big, dramatic, complex, austere. Knowledge and experience on the mountain is key for the LPP – you want to know when a route is going to be in good shape, and you want to go when conditions are good. This avoids epics, which I don’t enjoy. Being mostly retired really helps. Weather can be a serious issue – especially nearly incessant wind in the winter months (our first attempt in February was defeated by wind so intense you literally could not stand up), and frequent snow (leading to difficult and often dangerous conditions) in spring. You want study the weather and be ready to go when it’s good. Despite careful planning, we got blown out of the Boulderfield (at 12,500′) in February, crushed by wind again while trying to rappel off the Beaver (a 14,000+ subsidiary summit SE of Longs) in March, had sloppy, dangerous snow conditions on Broadway (a remarkable narrow ledge that crosses the dramatic East Face) during our first attempt at the Notch Couloir in May, and got rained out of an attempt at Mary’s Ledges in September (successfully climbed the following day). Both planning and flexibility (and determination) are key!

Longs Peak is one of the most frequently climbed 14ers in the state, and certainly one of the most climbed summits in Rocky Mountain National Park. The vast majority of all ascents are made via the standard Keyhole Route, which itself isn’t easy – it’s 15 miles round trip, with 5000′ of elevation gain, and sustained Class 3 scrambling above 13,000′. Even this standard route is rarely climbed in winter. I actually didn’t ascend the Keyhole Route during my LPP, though I did all parts of it on other ascents, and descended that way a couple of times. As part of this project I did 3 routes that were new to me: Alexander’s Chimney (Aug), Mary’s Ledges (Sep) and Van Diver’s West Wall (Oct). The latter was particularly rewarding, as it turned out to be an excellent, easy scramble (5.2), and I was unable to find a single mention of it on the entire Internet! (There was just a cursory mention in Rossiter’s RMNP guidebook.) I did many “bonus” climbs – 20 successful summits in 12 months – scouting out routes and conditions, doing some big traverses, and just enjoying this remarkable alpine playground as much as I could. I even got in another “project” – a traverse of RMNP’s huge Wild Basin, a 29-mile day with 14,000′ of elevation gain linking up 15 high summits (including Longs). This one had never been done, but had been on my “to do” list for several years.

PB Chasm View

Since I started in December 2015, the final climb of the Project was November 2016. I’d carefully saved the standard North Face (“Cables”, 5.4) route for November, figuring I could get up that in most conditions. I’d failed to consider that this time of year the North Face gets NO sun at all, so the snow stays cold and doesn’t consolidate very fast. On 11/3 Kendrick Callaway and I encountered somewhat tricky conditions, with crappy sugar snow on top of the slabs, with very little ice, which made for some insecure climbing. But we managed to wriggle our way up safely. Once on the summit we were able to thaw our frozen hands and feet in delightful sunshine and no wind. What a great finish to an amazing year on Longs!

Here’s a nice pic of Longs – you can see Lamb’s Slide, Broadway, the Notch Couloir, Kieners and the North Face – plus a description of the easy routes with photos.

News item: Justin Simoni has upped the ante on the the LPP, and is attempting each ascent completely self-powered from Boulder, using a bike to reach the various trailheads (the LPP “officially” requires a least one climb from each of the 3 main THs). So far Justin has completed ascents in August, September and October. (Editors Note: Justin abandoned his self-powered LPP in December, as biking up to the trailhead, sleeping in light bivy gear, summiting, then riding back, all in sub-zero temps was impractical).

Here’s the list of my 20 ascents for December 2015 – November 2016. The ascents I’m counting as part of the LPP are asterisked. Links to Trip Reports are given where available.

*Dec06 Keplingers Couloir, 12h40m, Bill Wright, Charlie Nuttelman & 5 others.  A long (16 miles RT, with 6000′ of gain) ascent from the south, which was first climbed in 1868 by John Wesley Powell. Moderate snow, cold & windy on the summit.

Bill Wright & Peter Bakwin struggling against wind and cold near the summit on 12/6/2015. Photo by Charlie Nuttelman.

Bill Wright & Peter Bakwin struggling against wind and cold near the summit on 12/6/2015. Photo by Charlie Nuttelman.

*Jan04 Loft – Keyhole, ??h, Tina Lewis.  Moderate snow and some Class 3 scrambling. We got a late start and didn’t get back to the TH until well after dark.

Tina Lewis ascending the Loft Route, 1/6/2016. Photo by Peter Bakwin.

Tina Lewis ascending the Loft Route, 1/6/2016. Photo by Peter Bakwin.

*Feb17 NW Couloir – N Face, 8h16m, Kendrick Callaway.  Snow & ice covered Class 4 scrambling with a short section of 5.2, climbed in Kahtoola Microspikes.

*Feb21 NW Couloir – N Face + MLW, 7h46m, Kendrick Callaway & Cordis Hall.  Repeated the route from 4 days previous so Cordis could come along, and added Mt Lady Washington (13,281′).

*Mar03 Flying Dutchman – Clark’s Arrow – N Face, 11h10m, Kendrick Callaway.  Moderate snow with a tricky 50′ “mixed” headwall.

*Apr09 Trough from Black Lake, 6h47m, Kendrick Callaway.  From the Glacier Gorge TH, easy snow. Carried snowshoes but didn’t need them.

Peter Bakwin at Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge, 4/9/2016. Photo by Kendrick Callaway.

Peter Bakwin at Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge, 4/9/2016. Photo by Kendrick Callaway.

May06 North Face – Keyhole, 6h15m, solo.  Moderate to steep snow. A quick outing to ensure I had something in case the rest of May went to shit weather-wise.

May21 Lambs Slide, Clark’s Arrow – N Face, 9h15m, Kendrick Callaway & Justin Simoni.  Moderate snow. Was an attempt at the Notch Couloir, but the snow became too soft and unsafe.

Peter Bakwin crossing Broadway with Justin Simoni on lead, 5/28/2016. Photo by Kendrick Callaway.

Peter Bakwin crossing Broadway with Justin Simoni on lead, 5/28/2016. Photo by Kendrick Callaway.

*May28 Notch Couloir, Homestretch – N Face, 14h55m, Kendrick Callaway & Justin Simoni, Steep snow. A true & serious alpine route.

Jun16 Kieners – N Face, 5h34m, solo. Moderate snow, scrambling to 5.4. Longs’ classic mountaineer’s route which is a beautiful tour of the dramatic East Face.

*Jun20 Kieners – N Face via duathlon from Boulder, 10h29m, solo.  The duathlon adds 44 miles of cycling each way, and is a long-time Boulder endurance classic.

Jun26 Skyline Traverse (Keyhole Ridge – Stepladder – Gorrell’s – Loft Couloir), 6h11m, solo (long break on summit). Sustained, exposed scrambling to 5.5. This is probably my favorite link-up on the mountain!

*Jul09 Rossiter’s “A Walk in the Park” (clockwise), 10h53m, Kendrick Callaway.  A long outing with tons of fun scrambling to 5.5, circumnavigates the Glacier Gorge drainage, climbing Half Mtn, Storm Pk, Longs Pk, Pagoda Mtn, Chief’s Head, McHenry’s Pk, Powell Pk and Thatchtop Mtn.

Jul26 Skyline Traverse, 5h50m, Buzz Burrell

Jul29 Wild Basin Traverse (Longs from SE Longs via Gorrell’s & Stepladder), 16h20m, solo.  Traverses the huge Wild Basin drainage, 29 miles with 14,000′ of elevation gain. This link-up had never been completed (though I came close 2 years ago).

*Aug13 Alexander’s Chimney – Stepladder – N Face, 8h42m, Buzz Burrell. An East Face route that goes at 5.5. Made (in)famous by Anton Krupicka in the film “In the High Country” 

*Sep05 Mary’s Ledges + Southwest Ridge – N Face, 8h50m, Kendrick Callaway. A route on the North Face that has one long pitch of 5.6, and a bunch of easier climbing.

Sep28 Van Diver’s West Wall – N Face, 5h46m, solo.  Amazing 5.2 route on the West Face that I’ve never heard of anyone else climbing!

*Oct01 Van Diver’s West Wall – N Face, 5h46m, Justin Simoni.  Justin and I snuck in this repeat of the route I scouted 3 days earlier in great, warm, dry weather. That night the West Face got plastered with snow!

*Nov03 North Face up & down, 7h48m, Kendrick Callaway.  Loose, sugar snow on steep slabs. My 12th time descending the North Face this year!

Wild Bruce Chase vs. The Bruce Trail: FKT

by: Chantal Warriner

18 Women from Ontario, Canada with One Goal

901.5 km / 563 Miles (with detours at time of relay)

Wild Bruce Chase logo

The Bruce Trail was built in the year 1960 and is known as Canada’s oldest trail. It also happens to be Canada’s longest marked footpath and provides access to the magnificent Niagara Escarpment. It is entirely built and maintained by volunteers who share a dream to secure the continuous conservation corridor that stretches along the escarpment from Tobermory to Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The trail attracts thousands of outdoor enthusiasts every year. It’s only logical that these hikers and runners would want to set end to end records. Isn’t that human nature?! There are men’s/women’s solo records, ladies team records and coed team records. Not forgetting the many others who share bragging rights.

On May 5th, 2016, a friend of mine emailed me about this “once in a lifetime opportunity to set a Bruce Trail ladies relay record”. The email was very motivating. It stated things like “YOU could be a Bruce Trail Record holder!; Are you in? Will you break the record with us??” How could anyone say no to that, right?!. Needless to say, the team was built and runners committed very quickly.

The fastest known time (FKT) for the ladies relay we were trying to break was reported at 5 days, 17 hours and 56 minutes. Our team, named Wild Bruce Chase, was hungry to break the record. The organizer of the event, Erin Dasher, Ontario’s 5 Peaks Race Director, had tirelessly planned and meticulously detailed the logistics of the end to end continuous relay event.

With almost 70 legs ranging from 5 to 15 miles, each runner spent hours researching their routes and maps in order to efficiently run the terrain and perform exchanges without a hitch. Team members also ran group and route specific training runs to prepare. This preparation, in addition to fitness and generous resources highly influenced the outcome of this richly rewarding adventure.

Less than two short months later, we began on July 1st, 2016. There’s something to be said about beginning such an epic attempt on our national Canadian holiday ­ Canada Day. We were feeling patriotic, confident but also nervous to see how the long weekend was going to be executed. If you’re picturing a beautiful morning of blue skies, birds tweeting and a big orange sun cresting the horizon, you couldn’t be more wrong. Our relay began at 5 am on July 1st, but the 1st of our 18 courageous ladies started the relay and 400m into the leg, it began to treacherously downpour! We began the 563 Mile Fastest Known Time attempt and our runner couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of her. Great!! It got real, real fast!! Gulp.

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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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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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The Quad Trek

“What a great trip! We didn’t get injured or lost!”

While Peter Bakwin enthusiastically agreed with this assessment, I noticed I was defining success not by how fast or far we went, the two usual objectives for runners, but by the fact we didn’t get hurt doing it.

So either I’m getting old, slow, and conservative – which I actually am – or the 5th class scrambling, elaborate route finding, and river crossings on this wilderness route contained enough risk that to have cruised it and enjoy every minute (except for the quicksand) was a worthy enough accomplishment.

Three full days in Canyonlands National Park, traversing all of its four Districts in one 85 mile loop – what’s there not to like?

Packraft PB

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Jared Campbell – the WURL FKT

You may have seen this guy around… maybe at his 10 Hardrock finishes including a win in 2010, finishing all 5 laps at Barkley, finishing Nolans 14, setting canyoneering speed records in Zion … or maybe you haven’t seen him because Jared doesn’t use Facebook, doesn’t talk about himself, doesn’t seek any limelight … and doesn’t run on roads.


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Triple Trek pt2

10 o’clock at night, standing alone on the bank of the Colorado River in full flood stage.  Can I swim across?  Theoretically, yes.  Emotionally, no.  I conducted an inventory of my emotional reserves and made a rational decision:  I’m not going.  I measured, and my cajones weren’t big enough.

Span Bot

This trip I had brought a Space Blanket, so wrapped myself up in that and slept soundly, while learning that sleeping in a Space Blanket keeps you both remarkably warm and remarkably wet, becoming quickly soaked in your own perspiration.

Next morning I hiked upstream to allow for the fast current, eased myself into the brown water, and swam across with no incident, and without regretting the previous nights decision.  I busted butt up Red Lake Canyon (what lake?), across the various fins and valleys the Needles are renowned for, including the infamous Elephant Hill jeep road, reaching Squaw Flat Campground by mid-morning where I had a friend waiting for me with food supplies for the rest of the route.

Except instead of my friend, there was a note pinned to the campground sign which read: “You didn’t show up so I left.  Hope everything is OK.”

No food and 45 more miles to go wasn’t that OK. Kaput again. Busted.  Without further ado I put out my thumb and began the long hitchhike back to my car, pleased that I had extended the route, but also noticing that by failing at Spanish Bottom last year I got a direct boat ride back to the start, while failing at Squaw Flat meant it would take hours to hitch all the way around.  My second ride was pretty good though, peaceful because there was no radio in the car.  I asked why, and he explained he stole the car two days ago and had already sold the radio.


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Triple Trek

I pushed through the Tamarisk thicket on my hands and knees, being careful to avoid puncturing my air mattress, then waded out up to my waist in the cold, brown, swirling water, my shoes sticking in the mucky bottom, and while wearing a backpack, tried to get on my yellow inflatable mattress. It was an awkward moment. Peter and I had discussed practicing the technique in advance, but since Boulder had been cool and rainy, and we don’t like being cold, we skipped that part. So this was our first try – it was not going to be elegant no matter what – so nothing to do now but trust our plan, lunge up onto the mattress, and start paddling across the Green River.

We started as far upstream on Queen Anne Bottom as we could get, having first rappelled down a short cliff band, and were aiming for Millard Camp on the other side, after which the River pushed up against more cliffs, making an exit from the River impossible, and a much, much longer River trip probable.  I kept wondering how Peter was doing behind me, but never turned around – we really had to make that one exact spot – if he didn’t make it there was nothing I could do about it, and vice versa, so I looked toward my spot paddled for it. The Green was running 14,740 cfs, so I was “ferrying” – pointing myself slightly upstream in order to get as far across as possible while the strong current pushed us downriver. It was going to be close. The River turned left here and we were aiming for the right bank, so the water was moving much faster on this side – I paddled harder – hmm, really need to make this I thought, but the current was really strong now. A wedge of rock stuck out in the River, I figured there would be an eddy line behind it – yup, still 15’ from shore but the eddy line grabbed me just as I was being swept past the exit point – made it!

I scrambled onto the rocks, took off my pack, and looked for Peter. He was on the same line as me – he narrowly made the eddy line but recirculated twice before managing to get out, as his arm strength was too far gone.

Not too bad. Our plan worked. It was 10am on the first day of our planned 3 day, 100 mile trek in Canyonlands National Park.

16 River Gear

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TA SI SOBO: Adventures in Middle Earth

On a crisp early fall day Stephanie said, “Let’s go someplace warm this winter and do a long hike.” This seemed like a good idea, but didn’t take root until a while later when I got the flu for 2 weeks, giving me nothing to do but dig into the details of a trip plan. I could think of only one thing that interested me: traversing New Zealand’s South Island via the Te Araroa (Maori for “The Long Pathway”). This route, which was finally linked only in 2011, runs the length of both islands, but we didn’t have time for the full 3000 km. The 1300 km (800 miles) of the TA on the SI would be most suited to our tastes: rugged, remote, and wild.

“TA SI SOBO” was born: “Te Araroa, South Island, SouthBound” (Thru-hikers are as efficient with their jargon as they are with their hiking!)

Te Araroa

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R2R2R is a world-class route, staring on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, running 5,000′ down to the Colorado River, across a bridge, then 6,000” up to the North Rim. Then back again – “Rim to Rim to Rim”. I first ran it sometime in the 80’s, and it was quite the thing back then, but in the last few years this route has become extremely popular, particularly the R2R version, which has created conflict, controversy, and even caused the Park Service to institute Day-Use Permits for Groups of over 7 people.

We wanted nothing of that churn-fest, but did want to explore the millions of great things to do in the 1,900 square miles of the Grand Canyon besides getting in line, so we decided to run Rim to Rim to Rim – by a different route. It was a great plan. Super fun. No one had ever done it. That’s because there is no bridge – you have to swim across the River.

It’s not called the “PB Adventure Vest” for nothing!

PB Vest

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