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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.