Longs Peak Attempt
September 28, 2003 - Kiener’s Route
Gary and I had talked on an attempt of the Kiener’s Route on Longs over the last six months and with the continuation of a spell of beautiful fall weather, the time was ripe. Actually, the trip had three goals, to just get out on a beautiful weekend, the recon the routes around the Long’s Peak Cirque and finally climb Longs via the classic Kiener’s or mountaineer’s route.
We arrived in Estes Park on Saturday afternoon and stopped at the backcountry reservations office to pick up the bivy permit Gary had reserved a few days before. We had been up into the cirque back in June and knew that the walk up to the start of Kieners was a haul. We had discussed an alpine light approach with a very early morning departure or the option of a bivy in the cirque. We chose the bivy to add that to our quiver of skills as we were planning some similar overnights into the Mummy Range and other peaks outside of Colorado. Kieners is a long haul so why not put a rest period in the climb?
We pulled into the Longs trailhead parking lot, which on a nice Saturday will be filled by about 3 in the morning. To our surprise a car’s backup lights came on and yes, we got a parking spot. It was a miracle. We sorted gear, divied up group gear and hefted our all too heavy packs onto our backs for the five-mile haul to Chasm Lake and around its interminably rocky shore to the bivy sites below Longs east face. We were told of a number of overhanging rock caves and figured to secure one of them for the night. The ranger indicated only one other party in the cirque for the night, so there was little fear of being shut out.
The trip up the trail to Longs seems to get longer and longer every time I do it but after three hours, we had once again dragged ourselve up the path and around the lake. For those who have not been around Chasm Lake, it is a hodgepodge of huge boulders; trail segments, and enough miscellaneous rises and falls to make the final hour of the hike in a real chore. We passed the first bivy cave in the wall of Mount Lady Washington and seeing it occupied, we moved on around the head end of the lake and up a hundred or so feet in elevation to scope out a number of other boulder overhangs. The first few were fit for but one person but up the hill a bit further we spotted another overhang that looked to have been improved upon with a rock wind wall. Sure enough, we found a lovely bivy spot, fit for four people without too much effort and promising to afford shelter from the wind in all cases but a straight on attack.
We dropped the packs and added layers for what promised to be a cold night out. We had decided on a cold dinner and set about stuffing ourselves and pumping water to hydrate in preparation for the morning. We spread out the sleeping pads and bags and exhorted the bags to loft before the soon to arrive moment of need. Dinner was forced down and then after ropes and marmot/pica sensitive gear was hung with care, we made for the sleeping bags. It was 8 p.m.
Our plan was for a 5 a.m. get up and to be on Lamb’s Slide by 6 at the latest. We wanted to make sure we were ahead of any one-day groups so that we would not be bombarded by rocks on Lamb’s Slide. We slept well until about 11 pm when we both realized our air mattresses were flat and it was going to be a bit longer night. No real problem, we were tired and I’d been “let down” by the Thermarest gig before. We’d survive. The alarm went off at 5 and we slept through it to wake around 6:15 or so. The sunrise was worth the wait as the glow of dawn covered the plains and one by one the lights of the Front Range blinked out to start a new day. We got up, packed the bivy gear and hoisted our now much lighter packs onto our back for the climb up Kieners.
The route to the base of the Slide is just another series of trail segments through the rubble and across a small flat to the icy toe of the snow slope. We stopped to add crampons and rope up for the slide was obviously going to require protected climbing once we left the snow and ventured onto what appeared to be dark ice. We chose a route up the right side, figuring to climb snow until the ice and then maneuver up the snow/wall interface, slinging rock for protection as we climbed. It was a good plan . . . Reality proved another story as we soon topped out on the good hard snow and tried to climb along the wall. The rock was loose and with another group behind us, we were in a bad spot in trying to climb and trying to avoid letting any rock fall. Having climbed Assiniboine, we both appreciated the effect of even a little whizzer hitting one in the helmet or worse yet face, but this slope was strewn with ten plus pounders all waiting to literally take out a climbing party below us.
We ascended and yelled rock a good bit for some small stuff got away no matter how we tried to avoid even touching them. After about 500 feet, we had run out of snow and as we now climbed up the interface we realized that the ice was predominant and the angle of the climb and adjoining walls was likely going to require more gear than we had to accomplish safely. We had alpine axes, a few screws and two ropes in addition to a full rock rack, but what we both needed were our plastic boots and technical ice tools. We knew this was a possibility but we consciously chose to “go light” and now there was a price to pay for our decision. We turned the climb.
I must admit one thing, for every ounce of failure to have the right gear to ascend; we were loaded for bear in the bail out department. We slung a rock, put in a nut and joined our two ropes to make 60m rappels out of harms way. We were off the Slide in a matter of minutes, making two rappels and then cramponing down the snow to a safe spot around the corner far below. We dropped the crampons, packed our ropes and soon enough were back at the bivy to gather the rest of our gear, repack, and move out for the parking lot. We did however make a packless detour into the Meeker Cirque on the way down to scope out the loft route (icy) and the approach for the Dreamweaver Couloir climb. But . . . those will be other climbs on other days. After our recon, it was back to the truck, Mexican food in Estes and on up the road to Cheyenne.