Before I completed my first self-powered Longs Peak Duathlon (after a few failures) from Arvada, I knew of only a few others I was certain had made the trip: Bill Wright, The Briggs Brothers, Stefan Griebel. I never thought about who the first people to complete the feat were – perhaps the names were lost in mountaineering history?
No rest for the weary! My buddy David perhaps jokingly asked me if I wanted to go for Longs, via the Trough on Sunday (“Those Centennials ain’t gonna climb themselves!”) and I naturally went for the bait, on the condition that I’d probably be lagging behind given the climbing on my legs already for week, after Everesting Green Mountain.
Slowly, I roll to the gate. The Park ranger sees me from afar and returns to me only a tired stare. He himself walks slowly to the entrance booth, not resting his gaze. I now roll towards the booth even slower. Nervous. I feel as if I’m performing a border crossing, rather than just entering a National Park. The guard just continues his stare – his eyes looking right at mine; the rest of his visage saying absolutely nothing. I offer a hello, but get no reply. Meeting him at the booth, he continues his vacant look. Is he looking at me, or past me? I don’t know, but I hand him the entrance fee I just made change for at the coffee shop in town that I stopped at to regain feeling in my hands and feet after making that chilly descent into Estes Park. Having climbed out of town, I’m much warmer now. Unseasonably warm. Finally,
“Oh. Day Pass. Map?”
I accept, and that’s my entire interaction with this guy. It’s also the first time I’ve ever paid for entrance into the Park in my 5+ years of visiting it. It feel almost wrong. Some things, I ponder, shouldn’t be bought.
Gerry Roach’s Longs Peak Radical Slam as described in his 14ers book: top out on 7 summits in the Longs Peak area: (Meeker, Longs, Pagoda, Storm, Mt. Lady Washington, Battle Mountain, Estes Cone), topped off with 50 push ups at the trailhead.
What a difference a few weeks makes. Last month, we seemed to have just flown through the window for a Winter conditions ascent of the Notch Couloir. Since then, the temps started rising precipitously. When I rode back to Longs Peak last weekend, most of the snow had already melted. Incredible.
On this day, I was considering going for a Longs Peak Radical Slam, which is a challenge outlined in Roach’s 14ers book: tag Meeker, Longs, Pagoda, Storm Peak., Mt. Lady Washington, Battle Mountain, and Estes Cone in one go. I’ve done it once before, but didn’t ride up and back in the same trip. So that’s what the challenge for today was. The meat of it all was the 20 miles – mostly off trail to tag all these peaks. Riding up always takes a little bit of the spring out of my step, and the ride down usually is an experiment in mental suffering and fatigue. But I got a rep. to keep, ya know.
Longs Peak in late Winter Conditions
Date climbed: 5/28/16
I’ve long since seen, “mountaineering” as the ideal stage in which to set my practice of suffering in the outdoors. Although I’ve certainly danced around mountaineering, I’ve done so only on its periphery. I borrow its terminology with jealousy as the basis on how I explain the other disciplines I practice. For example, Alpine Style: going light and fast. That’s exactly how I explain bike races I do, that take weeks to finish. I also describe no-holds, lightning-quick bike rides as, “Disaster Style”, which itself is coined by alpinist, Kelly Cordes.
But, mountain biking is not mountaineering. Nor is trail running really, nor even rock climbing in the classic sense. They all take a small aspect of mountaineering and focus on this one thing, disregarding the rest. Which is a perfectly fine thing to do. But mountaineering – I want to imagine at least, comprises a large set of skills to be competent in, to allow you to reach your objective and come back down alive.
So when Peter Bakwin and Kendrick Callaway invited me to climb the Notch Couloir with them – truly a classic mountaineering route on Longs Peak, I was excited to take it on, as well as relatively scared out of my little head. As much as others may want to believe, I’m not the boldest of climbers.
I’m only in Allenspark, and the sun has already risen. I feel as if I’m very late to my own party. Allenspark is only seven miles away from the Longs Peak Trailhead – my riding destination, but as I summit the last punchy climb and await the downhill just beyond, I conclude that the downhill won’t give me the rest I’m hoping for. The winds are strong today – strong enough that I’m fighting to stay upright as I crest the hill, and belaboring with my never-ending pedaling to simply continue going forward while I start descending. These are the exact type of conditions that even the hard men that have established such challenges have tried to avoid, because it’s madness.
From right to left: Kelso Mt., Torreys Peak, Grays Peak, The Remarkables, Mt Edwards, and a few other bumps along the way.
The Front Range 14ers Grays and Torreys make an excellent beginner 14er hike – it was one of the first 14ers I ever did. Being so close to the Front Range Urban Corridor – less than an hour from Denver, it still affords some dramatic changes in environment, not the least because of the sweeping ridgeline going West to East to Northeast from Grays Peak, and ending essentially at I-70. When hiking up (or driving, I guess) up the beginning of Stevens Gulch, you can’t but feel that the world is closing in on you, and you’re now entering a different place altogether.
You may also, like me, have the urge to be on top of this ridge line. Not many obvious entrance points present themselves from the start of the Summer trail head to Grays Peak, to the summit of Grays Peak itself. The ridge is rocky and broken, with much rockfall danger. You could, and people have, find a weakness in the ridge to climb up, but I don’t suggest it. In this route, I outline what is sure to be a classic traverse over the entire Steven’s Gulch; bagging you two 14ers, a Class 3 ridge scramble, and at least 2 13ers – one of which (Mt. Edwards) is a Centennial. If that’s not enough, you’ll also go over a mountain that used to be labeled a 14er, McClellan Mountain – actually height: 13,587′ which faked out turn-of-the-century tourists!; as well as many smaller 12ers, in your hike to close out the loop.
Some stats of the route as I describe it:
- 14.5 miles
- 7,000 feet elevation gain/loss
- mostly off-trail, w/Class 3 scrambling
- no easy bailout point after Grays Peak
- crampons/ice axe recommended until late in the summer season
This route is not to be underestimated, and it’s a requirement to get an alpine start, and not be afraid to bail, if weather comes in. Be strong in your logistics game.
One of my mini projects this year has been to ride to the Longs Peak Trail head, and summit it, via they Keyhole route. I’ve now done that three times (once, in Winter), having tried about six times to summit. My method to do this, as they say, is now pretty dialed. One direction to go from here is to see how fast you can do this as a personal challenge. Another goal to hit, is the fastest known time to complete.