Longs Peak Alexander's Chimney and Upper Kiener's

15 Jul 2002 - by Robert Mullen

What can go wrong just might go wrong, so be sure to prepare for it and deal with it. On July 15th, 2002 Mike Mullen, Gabe Fielding, Cab Cavallaro, and I arrived at the Longs Peak Trailhead at 2am on Saturday and embarked on a journey that would affect us in a deep and profound way. We started up the familiar trail to the Chasm Lake junction, skirting the lake on its northern edge, the morning light began to reveal the features of this famous cirque. The Flying Buttress, The Ships Prow, Lambs Slide, Kiener's Route, Alexander's Chimney, Stettner's Ledges, Chasm View Wall, and the almightly Diamond Face, all revered in the climbing world and forever ensconced in the annals of mountaineering. A truly magical place, it's equal I have yet to see.

Back to the climb, we arrived at the base of the Lambs Slide around 6am. Thinking that we could make our way up some snow to the 4th class rock we neglected to bring crampons and/or ice axe. The snow looked climbable, littered with rocks here and there and maybe 30 degrees at it's steepest point. Sure there was snow, but there was also bulletproof ice, and the rocks acted as ball bearings. I started my way up and my brother followed, with Cab and Gabe following behind. It was very tricky climbing, my brother made it to the base of the rock band but it was covered with horrible loose rock and we were pelted with pebbles and stones from above. As I made my way up, I lost my footing and started to slide on my stomach down the ice slope, fortunately I saw a 2 foot wide rock about 20 feet below me, I aimed for it, and was able to stop my slide. Needless to say Cab and Gabe were shaken, it's harder to watch a fall than to fall. Mike was able to fashion a less than ideal belay and lower some cordelette down to me, which I tied into and was able to climb up past him and secure a better belay. I proceeded to lower a rope down to Mike and pull him up to the belay. Now we had to get the rope down to Cab and Gabe; however, due to the low angle of the snow, our first two rope tosses proved less than worthy and the second got stuck trying to pull it back up to us. I lowered Mike down and he was able to free the rope and finally get a toss to within about 20 feet of Gabe and he boldly climbed up to retrieve it. Gabe asended the slope first up to our belay; Cab then followed. Finally we had negotiated the 200 foot ice field, it took us about 3 hours. I wish we had brought our crampons.

After gathering our wits about us, we continued our way to the base of Alexander's Chimney by scrambling up some delightful 4th class rock. To reach the base of the chimney just climb as high as you can on the ledges until there are no more ledges and the chimney is on your left. There is a good belay here. Cab and Gabe, climbing as one team, made there way up the wet chimney; while my brother and I climbed a crack to the right of it. We thought that this was the 5.6 crack that Roach describes in his guide but looking back we have no idea if that was the case. Unsure of where to go from here, Mike lead up the 5.6 crack and belayed at some fixed gear about 40 feet above the ledge. The chimney was wet and there are two dihedrals to the right of it, they looked like fun climbs with rock shoes but not in boots. Cab lead his way up the chimney and then toproped the three of us up the wet chimney, which wasn't too bad to climb even wet, the key was to get your legs out and stem it, a great lead by Cab here.

From here we did an ascending 4th class traverse to the right from beneath a huge chockstone, it is huge and unmistakable. The route is pretty obvious here. Cab and I lead this pitch out with me clipping into his gear. It's important to protect the second on this pitch as a fall would be bad for both the leader and the second, but there is good pro. When the ledge ends set up your belay beneath the "Dog Ear Flakes". There are several right facing dihedrals here and we took the furthest one to the right, but we think that the one directly above the belay was probably the actual route. Mike and Cab lead this pitch out and climbed too high, about an hour later they had successfully lowered themselves down and got back on route. The key here is to not go too high, go up from the belay about 40 feet then start traversing left. Did I mention that there are no footholds on this climb, the climbing is lower angled crack climbing, but the cracks are all very smooth, very tricky with boots and very scary. The rating for this climb is 5.5, probably is but felt more 5.7ish to us.

Anyway, they ran the entire 200 feet of rope out and established a belay in the Yellow Bowl. From here the climb goes up the far left hand side of the bowl for about 60-70 feet up to Broadway, about 5.4 and enjoyable. Alexander's Chimney was now behind us, 5 pitches of interesting and varied climbing.

It was probably around 1pm now, probably because we forgot our watch. The weather looked ok, not terrible and not good, the quickest way out of here would be up Kiener's and down the Cable. Get to it.

The traverse across Broadway was enjoyable and it was nice to know where we were going now, as Cab and I had both done Kiener's route before. We all stayed roped up, and Gabe belayed Cab up the Kiener's Chimney, while my brother and I simul climbed the route, we made good progress through here, the climbing was enjoyable, and the weather looked to be holding, the day was getting better! Alas, one problem of climbing Longs Peak from the east side is that one cannot not see what clouds are building to the west, it's best to just assume that clouds are building and it will rain/snow/hail/thunder. We climbed the Devil's Staircase up to the step around the Diamond and Kiener's was now behind us. Due to impending weather we wisely decided to forgoe a summit bid and get down, it was a smart decision.

Our descent down the Cable Route went smoothly, albeit intensely. Gabe and Cab went ahead to set up the rappel as the storm enveloped us and the thunder moved closer. There were some intense moments but nothing terribly scary. One 200 foot rappel puts the difficulties of the Cable Route behind you. As I was standing and waiting my turn to rap, the clouds broke and a magnificent rainbow stretched from Chasm View to Mount Meeker, it was absolutely breathtaking. The dichotomy of this situation left an indelible mark upon my spirit and I was moved to tears. Soon enough we were all down in the relative comfort of Chasm View sharing snacks and thrilled to have made it here safely.

Still the daunting prospect of a 7 mile hike back to the car lay before us. It was no around 5:30pm, we had left the car 15 hours earlier and were still 7 miles away. Nevertheless the hike out proved to be somewhat enjoyable; we made it back to the car around 8:30pm.

18 hours, 13 miles, and 5,000 vertical feet later, we lay in the parking lot absolutely wasted from the day. We wondered out loud why do we do this. Looking back on the climb now I forget how scared I was and remember how much fun I had. I recall with excitment the breathtaking exposure, the enjoyable climbing, and the magnificent surroundings. That is why we keep going back.


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