This morning was my 10th summit of Longs Peak so far this year, and the third this week. My previous two times up the mountain earlier in the week were both probably the toughest conditions I’ve experienced on the mountain. Temperatures weren’t unreasonable, but on both Wednesday and Friday the mountain was completely socked in by unforecasted, heavily-snowing clouds, and whipping winds sent constant waves of spindrift through the air. Though it was a week late, it felt more like winter than any of my previous true winter ascents of the mountain.
This morning was quite a bit different. On the way up there was plenty of snow blowing in the wind, but once I had made it to the west side of Mt. Lady Washington the wind mostly died and the rest of the day was exceedingly pleasant. All of the snow on the north face made the technical climbing feel easy and secure, so on the way down I just downclimbed instead of rappeling, and since the sun was now high in the sky I actually stripped down to a short-sleeve t-shirt at 13,000′ and ran back down to the trailhead in comfort.
Since my first ever trip up the mountain last June, I’ve taken quite a liking to Longs Peak. Its majestic east face that contains the Diamond and forms the Chasm Cirque not only makes it possibly the most visually striking 14er in Colorado, but also makes it a true climber’s mountain with proper technical routes instead of the Class 1 or 2 walk-ups that most of the state’s 14ers offer. I have a giant poster framed on my wall that details something like 98 different routes on Longs’ grand East Face. And it’s only a 45min drive from Boulder to the trailhead.
Hence, my recent decision to pursue a Longs Peak Project in 2013—climb it 52 times in a year (a once a week avg) and climb it by 12 different routes, a different one in each month. Like most things that I get inspired to do in the mountains, I’m not really breaking any new ground here. The venerable Bill Briggs was the first to try to climb it in each month of a calendar year by 12 different routes, but apparently came up one short. Bill Wright, however, completed the 12 routes in 12 months objective in 2008.
Both of these men are far better rock climbers than I, however, and could probably just pick 12 different routes to climb on the East Face (though Wright didn’t do that, as outlined in the link). Instead, I’ll have to get a little more creative, which segues into the obvious question: Why?
My motivation for this type of project comes from many sources. First and foremost is the fact that I love to get to know a place…really know it. Longs Peak happens to be one of the more special—beautiful, inspiring, intimidating—places I’ve ever been, so the motivation there is high.
Secondly, I know it will challenge me. It will force me to develop new skills and hone current ones. A challenge is the best (only) way I know to stimulate personal growth, and that’s a value I hold deeply. In order to climb it by 12 different routes, I will have to develop at least moderate alpine climbing skills that will involve steep snow, a touch of water ice here and there, and alpine granite crack climbing. Without a specific goal or objective, it is easy to remain static in familiarity and comfort. While the (hopefully) 52 summits will undoubtedly engender the familiarity and comfort that I like to develop with a place, the 12 different routes will force me to learn things about this place that it would be easy to otherwise ignore via inertia.
During a recent evening climbing in Boulder Canyon, Buzz Burrell told me one of my favorite stories yet about Longs Peak. As a man of the mountains, Buzz felt it his duty to climb Longs’ Diamond, so he enlisted Bill Briggs to partner with him and take him up the somewhat ironically-named “Casual Route“, straight up the middle of the towering 1700′ face. As the name implies, the Casual Route is indeed the easiest line on the Diamond, but climbing the Diamond is never really a casual affair. (The approach is something like 5mi and 3500′ of vert and involves 500′ of moderate 5th Class terrain just to get to the base.) Unless, maybe, you’re a Briggs brother (Bill’s brother, Roger, first climbed the Diamond when he was 16, has climbed it more times than anyone else (somewhere right around 100), and has many first ascents on its face).
Despite the long approach, of course this duo was going to do it car-to-car, in-a-day. That’s just the appropriate style. Buzz, however, was surprised when—in the parking lot—Bill was already putting on his climbing harness and racking up. That’s when Buzz realized the Briggs brothers were so comfortable and so familiar with the mountain and the Diamond that they basically treated it like most others treat a local crag. Most people climbing the Diamond will bivy at Chasm Lake or even on Broadway at the very start of the climb. Bill, on the other hand, racked up in the parking lot as if the hike in was trivial and any extra gear was unnecessary and extraneous.
I will never be able to treat the Diamond like my local crag, but that depth of a relationship to a mountain is inspiring to me and the one thing that I hope to get out of this project by year’s end.
The Nuts & Bolts
While there are a lot of routes on Longs Peak, it will still be tough for me to come up with 12, especially a different one for each month. So far this year I’ve used up Kieners in January (three ascents), the Keyhole trade route in February (one ascent), and the shortest, quickest North Face/Cables route in March (six ascents). Luckily, there are still a few other “easy” routes left over for the wintry last couple months of the year (the Loft, the Trough, Keplinger’s Couloir, maybe the Northwest Gulley, etc.).
I’m not sure what routes I’ll slot into which months, but I do know that I would like to get up the Casual Route this summer. I’ll pick my eight other routes from these:
The Loft/Clark’s Arrow
The Flying Dutchman Couloir
Longs Peak Grand Slam (could easily not be considered a different route)
The Beaver (skyline traverse from the Loft through the Notch and up the Stepladder)
Glacier Gorge Traverse