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!

I Love My PB

With Stephanie Ehret and Peter Bakwin

“I think we met while drinking whisky out of a bottle and wrestling on the couch. I accidentally poured some in Peters eye.”
“It stung.”

That was in the 10th grade – 37 years ago – and this ultra couple has been together ever since, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this last December.

Peter Bakwin is of course, the signature on the award-winning “PB Adventure Vest”. But he’s not on Facebook, ignores all social media, and never speaks of himself. So who is PB??

PB Garage

PnS 1

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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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Wind River High Route

The Wind River High Route is possibly one of the best backpacking routes in the world. It runs along the spine of the Wind River Range in northern Wyoming, probably the most wild and remote range in the Lower 48, is modeled after the famed Sierra High Route, and thus is mostly off-trail and above timberline.  I put together the great team of Andrew Skurka and Peter Bakwin, and July 29-Aug 3 we gave it a go. It still has never been done … Alpine Pass

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Tenmile Range Traverse

June 21, 2014 – – –

The “Tenmile Traverse” is a classic long mountaineering route near Breckenridge, Colorado, which links ten summits uncreatively named Peaks 1 through 10. But, the route covers only half of the Tenmile Range, and the lower, easier half at that. The true Tenmile Range Traverse” (TRT) is simply the entire range, which adds six high 13ers and some really gnarly terrain to boot. Buzz and I were looking for a long training day, he won’t do anything that isn’t both classic and interesting, and I happen to be probably the world’s foremost expert on traverses of the Tenmile Range (for what that’s worth :-)… so let’s get on it!

TRT Ridge

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Dark Needles Loop

Spring is in the air. This can mean many things, but for Peter Bakwin and I, spring means, “go to the desert!”

This year we were going for full value: a 3 1/2 day, 110 mile backpacking route starting from the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, thru the very remote country of Beef Basin and Fable Valley, and down into the bottom of Dark Canyon. Then back again (can’t forget that part). Backpacking allows us to get into the really remote places, to watch the sun come up and watch it go down again, to see the stars, and to experience the desert environment up close and personal.

“Lawrence, only two kinds of creatures get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.”

“No, it’s going to be fun.”

– Lawrence of Arabia


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A Lifetime of Adventure

I never intended to become a runner. As a kid I hated running as a sport…

I never really thought of myself as an athlete. I didn’t do organized sports at school. Fitness and “exercise” were things I associated with that old dude in the sweats on TV. But I grew up skiing, and have been doing it as long as I can remember. When we lived in western Mass in the 1960s, my father had part interest in a small ski area. I had lace-up leather boots, cable bindings and skis longer than I could reach, and I remember being picked up off the ground regularly by the rope tow.

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Transcendent Running

Running into the tiny village of Guipry, in France’s Brittany district, on August 31, 2002, I was feeling pretty worn. It was the fourth long day of La Transe Gaule, an 18-day stage race across France. I’d run maybe 25 km already that morning, and had another 45 or so to go – a typical 70 km day. This was beginning to seem like a long race!

My low mood was not helped by the pretty town – as I loped along Rue de la Liberation, feeling sorry for myself, I was unmoved by the beautiful late summer weather – sunny but not hot, with a gentle breeze. I was aware that my pace was starting to lag from of my target pace, and it just seemed like too much work to pick it back up.

As I ran through the central square bells began ringing, and a wedding party poured out of the town’s small church. It was a lovely scene, but what flooded my consciousness was the ringing of the bells, which were heavenly. I felt my whole being lighten as they continued to chime, my heart suddenly opened, my step quickened. In a few seconds my whole mood shifted to pure joy. Running felt easy, almost effortless. I finished the stage easily.

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