Longs Peak Cirque
June 7, 2003 - Flying Dutchman Couloir to Lamb’s Slide
(see also Clark's Arrow route for Longs Peak for additional photos of this route)
We planned to give the Flying Dutchman Couloir on the flank of Longs Peak a try as a spring snow climb and to practice our steep snow and ice climbing techniques in preparation for the summer trip to Canada. We knew from last year that the trip north would definitely require both technical skills and that in order to complete the full day Canadian routes, we would need to be well practiced beforehand. The Flying Dutchman Couloir route is just before and quasi parallel to the well known Lambs Slide often used to access the classic mountaineering routes on Long’s Peak. We knew that the route would involve about 1600 feet of 50 to 55 degree snow with a rock and ice crux near the top at about the same angle. This would yield practice in simultaneous climbing on the steep snow if conditions warranted and then a protected climb up the crux pitch using rock and ice protection.
We left the Longs Peak trailhead a 2 a.m. and made decent time to the base of the climb on the far side of Chasm Lake. The initial portion of the walk was highlighted by following the tracks of a good size cougar which had ascended the trail we were on probably less than an hour before. We met up with the daylight just beyond the trail junction below Mount Lady Washington and then traversed to the flats below the base of the Loft snowfield climb. As advertised on various climbing forums, the stone shelter that had been at this location for 70 some odd years had been catastrophically converted by a huge avalanche into various piles of debris scattered about the tundra below the Chasm lake headwall.
We mounted the headwall and made our way around still frozen Chasm Lake to the far side where the base of the Flying Dutchman Couloir is located. We dropped some of our extra weight and geared up for the climb with crampons and helmets now in place. The base of the climb is mild but after a few hundred feet the slope angle is pretty uniformly graded at between 50 and 55 degrees and on this morning was composed of a series of alternating bands composed of either six inches of fresh powder or neve snow. We proceeded individually and over a period of time stretching almost to forever, made our way up to the rock pitch clearly visible at the pinched head of the couloir. The climb dragged on, as we both seemed to be having off days, mine highlighted by a touch of what turned out to be the start of an intestinal bug, now beginning an acute effort to sap my strength. Finally . . . we got to the rock band.
Gary had led the technical pitch on the North Face, three months earlier, and it was now my turn to take the pointy end of the climb. Thankfully, Gary set up the bottom belay as I stood there and churned, experiencing not the joy of anticipation but instead a dread of defecation. He finished the rigging and I put my mind to the task. I took out my second ice tool, grabbed the sling of rock and ice pro and started up the completely iced over pitch. Most of the ice was thin but we found enough to take a half screw and nut before I went up another 8 to ten feet. Then I was able to sling a horn and with that security, I was able to place a rock solid 22 cm screw full depth, making for dependable protection. I continued upward in ten foot increments, placing protection in rock another three times before coming to the top of the pitch and starting to look for a point to build a belay to bring Gary up from below. No such point was to be found so I kept moving upward, now back on good climbing snow, until I gained another 30 feet and was able to sling a boulder and place an additional pair of nuts to make a solid belay anchor.
I reassured Gary that I was on the move but we both had already been inundated by sloughs of spindrift falling from the sides of the couloir and were getting cold. Now bear in mind it is the beginning of June and though it should have been warm, the thermometer was reading a steady 20 degrees, the wind was blowing and the sun hit had not made it to our position yet. I got the equalized anchor constructed and Gary came up the line, pulling pro as he progressed. He reached the belay and we rested a bit while racking gear and rope and then heading directly across the couloir and up another 100 vertical feet to the crest of Lambs Slide. It was eat and drink time but we did not want to dither around as the Slide had 6 inches of fresh powder from the night before and the sun was warming it up fast. The Slide is about a 45 degree angle and we figured getting back down to Chasm Lake was the best move in sight.
We walked and glissaded down to the slopes below the Diamond, pausing for a moment enroute to scope out the Broadway Ledges and Kiener’s Route above them. Looks like a neat route but not for us on this day for sure. We recovered extra gear at the boulder stash and headed on down to the trailhead. The walk out was pretty quick with a stop or two to eat and drink before we reached the trailhead at 4 p.m., 14 hours after the start of the climb. In hindsight, the climb was what we expected it to be: an exercise in stamina, protecting steep ice, practicing climbing on steep snow and one final surprise. If you aren’t smooth and quick on ice and get worked . . . beware the temptation to kneel on the ice while resting a pumped out leg, the reward is frostbite, even in June. The lessons never stop . . .