Saturday afternoon, under a weekend forecast for warm, calm weather - rare for Longs Peak - Kevin Craig and Doug Cook backpacked in from the Longs Peak TH to the Boulderfield. Despite the parking lot being nearly full Saturday morning, we were surprised to see only a few other climbers the entire weekend. We received two bits of erroneous information when we paid our $15 for a permit for a campsite at the Boulderfield. The first was that the privies, blown over sometime last Fall or Winter, we still out of service. In fact they have been rebuilt and are in full operation. Great air conditioned facilities with an open view to the sky, with TP and brand new seats! The second thing was we were advised to "hang" our food to avoid rodent incursions. This being a bit of a problem above treeline we wondered what we should do. As it turns out, there are food storage boxes (old ammo boxes) provided by the Forest Service at each Boulderfield campsite. We set off about 9:15 up the excellent East Longs Peak Trail freeway. The 6 mile, 3000 foot vertical trail from the Longs Peak Ranger Station to the Boulderfield was dry except for a few patches of snow surviving in the shade. Since we both have hiked this trail innumerable times, we opted for a little-used variation contained in the 2nd edition Roach guide. At the junction to the Battle Mountain group camp site, we took the un-signed fork on the Jim's Grove trail. According to Roach, this cuts about 0.25 mi from the trip to Granite Pass; it definitely eliminates the interminable traverse below Mount Lady Washington. The down side is that the trail is in poorer condition than the main trail and a bit steeper. When we arrived at out campsite (about 1:45, not bad for the loads we were packing), we had the entire Boulderfield to select from. No one else camped there the entire weekend.
Around 3:00 PM threatening clouds started to blow through which continued until nearly sunset. There was no thunder or lightning, and the winds remained mostly calm with a few gusts now and again. We bailed and purified snowmelt water which was flowing under the Boulderfield from a small pool in the rocks. We set up camp, organized our packs for the climb, and generally enjoyed the impressive scenery, including the intimidating Diamond face, until about 8:30 or 9:00 when we turned in for the night. The overnight temp was about 26F; the mud around the tent was frozen in the morning. We started out Sunday morning around 7 AM across the boulder and talus field to the start of the Cable Route. The lower section, below the rock band, was on hard, well consolidated snow. It was difficult to kick steps, but safely traveled with crampons. Just below the beginning of the "real" climbing, there was a short (6 - 8') band of relatively hard alpine ice that there was no obvious way around, but again, not a big issue with crampons though the angle increased noticeably.
At the base of the 5.4-5.5 rock band we set up a belay station on one of the original cables eye bolts. The lead climb, with crampons, was on mixed rock and ice. The route leads up a dihedral/crack and ledge formation. In addition to alpine ice remaining from the Winter, snowmelt was freezing on some of the rock. A few hexes, nuts, and SLCDs were placed for pro, in addition to slinging the eye bolts which remain from the old cables system. For the upper portion of the dihedral where there is still a fair amount of ice and snow, a "third tool" came in handy. After Doug lead the mixed route nearly a full 60 meters (including a sketchy step traverse out of the dihedral), he set a belay with an ice screw and ice axe and brought Kevin up. Lacking a technical ice tool, Kevin's alpine ice axe served well in surmounting the mixed section (life's grand on a top rope!).
The route then continued on a combination of steep snow that was well consolidated (but with a rapidly softening layer on top) and talus and scree to the snow covered summit. We carefully climbed and traversed the snowfields and rock bands above the top of the Diamond - an uncontrolled fall here could run over the edge of the North Face or Diamond and a free fall down the face to an abrupt stop in the rock below. Not a good run out! We summited just before noon, about a 5 hour fun climb on a variety of rock, ice, and snow.
The summit was warm with a light breeze under a nearly cloudless sky. We were the only people on the summit, a rare event on Longs. A few minutes after we arrived, two other climbers summited via the Keyhole Route. Two other people were below on the same route. Of note, the Homestretch is still entirely snow-covered. The climbers who summited just after us used only hiking poles for this section. (Ice axes or at least self-arrest grips on poles would be wise.) We ate lunch, chatted with the newcomers, and watching a very tame marmot investigate their packs. After the brief rest, we carefully heel plunged and traversed back down across the snowfields and set up a rappel on an eye bolt at the top of the rock bands. Two half-ropes provided the 200 foot rappel down across the technical mixed climbing section back to the top of the lower snowfield where we had established our initial belay station. It was interesting on rappel to check out the mixed route we had previously climbed.
We returned to our tent around 2:30 PM and broke camp. A friendly marmot had visited in our absence. Apparently we zipped up the vestibule but not completely closed the rear door zipper on the tent. It was a "friendly" marmot because all he left was a trail of muddy footprints on the floor of the tent - no chewed equipment or "jellybeans." On the trip out, our 60+ pound packs were a real burden as we trudged and stumbled back down the unending 6 miles back to the trailhead. The weather held for the entire weekend, and we felt a true sense of achievement having been fortunate enough to experience another of the great, classic routes on majestic Longs Peak.
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