Longs Peak Stettner's Ledges
(Car to car in 26 hours!)

18-19 Jul 2003 - by Rob Mullen

I believe in a slow progression from south to north along the lower east face of Longs Peak to obtain the unknown. Two years ago it was Lambs Slide to Kiener's, last year Alexander's Chimney, this year the goal would be Stettner's Ledge. My longtime alpine partner Chris "Dunn-Westbay" Cavallaro and I left the trailhead at 5:30pm and made our way up to the Mills Glacier bivy sites in about 2.5 hours. We found a great small cave with just enough room for two, about 10 ft x 8 ft x 3 ft. The night was spent gazing upon Stettner's Ledges and watching a thousand Miller Moths send a crimpy V8 traverse with delicate feet. As darkness descended an eerie gray light enveloped the cirque, the energy from over 100 years of climbing creates a glow that is simultaneously amazing and terrifying. We crawled into the bivy space and rested, anticipation makes sleep difficult.

Awaking at 5:30am, we made the approach to the base of the Lambs Slide, I donned crampons and lead up to the rock band on the right, quite a ways left from the true start of Stettner's but we wanted to minimize the amount of snow encountered. I set an anchor and belayed Chris up to a ledge. From there he lead out on a rising traverse over to Stettner's, we probably missed the first pitch but we were able to simulclimb about 250 feet to the base of the crux, 5.6. There are many different lines that you could take to get to this point, the phrase "It all goes" comes to mind. Now for the crux pitch "The Piton Ladder" it's pretty obvious which way the general line goes, up the huge right facing dihedral, though the exact route finding is a little bit trickier. The best bet is to go up and if looks too difficult directly above look left for another dihedral. Basically there were several distinct dihedrals each about 30-40 feet long, lots of lie backing and stemming, just an absolute fantastic pitch of sustained 5.7 climbing. Some books rate this pitch 5.8 and I don't think that is too far off, its difficulty lies in its sustained nature not in any one or two moves. Lots of stone fall from Broadway so bring a helmet, it's like an air raid from the Kiener's climbers on this route. A great lead by Chris and hats off to Paul and Joe Stettner for putting this route up in 1927, a classic that has stood the test of time.

Lunch Ledge is 500 feet above Mills Glacier and just an awesome place to be, with blue skies and snow capped peaks in the distance it is moments like these remind me why climbing is about being in the beauty of the mountains. From lunch ledge I took the sharp end for a pitch that traversed south to the high end of lunch ledge below a steep right facing dihedral. On this pitch there was quite a bit of wet rock, sometimes you could avoid it, other times you could not. I traversed left around a high block then made my way back into the dihedral, wet 5.5. From there I headed up past the ledge even with Alexander's Traverse and the Dog Ear Flakes up about 60 feet higher to the base of the dihedral, we had to simulclimb about 30 feet to do this, but this allowed us to do the last two pitches of the Hornsby finish in one pitch. Of course we didn't know where we were going or where the Hornsby finish went, it just turned out this way for us. Which dihedral to take? What I thought was the true Hornsby finish; a right facing dihedral with a small roof just left of the large black water streak was very wet. About 20 feet to the right was another right facing dihedral that looked thin but dry, this was the route we took. Whether or not this was the true finish I do not know, but I do know that this was a superb lead by Chris and the climbing was amazing. Perfect finger locks, any thinner and we would have been in trouble. There was a little bit of a run out to Broadway after the dihedral but nothing too difficult.

So with Stettner's behind us and the weather looking good we headed across Broadway to Upper Kiener's. We simulclimbed through the technical section of Kiener's and unroped below the Devil's Staircase. The day was going smooth as silk so far, just a dream day on Longs. Alas, with each passing moment the sky grew darker and the thunder drew closer. It was around noon when the storm started; it hailed hard for 20 minutes coating everything in a glaze of frozen pellets. How fun!! We were able to find brief respite beneath a chockstone and when it let up we continued up very cautiously. Fortunately there was a break for about 2 hours, which allowed us to finish Kiener's and descend the Cables. Thanks to Denise and (forgot the guy's name) for letting us double up the ropes. We were able to rap from the 2nd bolt all the way to Chasm View past almost all of the snow, great teamwork.

The traverse over to the Camel Gully was beautiful. What saw I there!! The clouds dancing through the valleys like half and half dissolving in coffee, the smallest pika singing the sweetest song, and the rocks ablaze in a dayglow of lichen the likes of which I have never seen; such a strange magical energy!! A perfect moment when everything is aligned and all in the world is right and beautiful. Unfortunately, these moments do not last.

Around 2pm while descending the Camel Gully, another storm came in like a rhinoceros ready to take a blind run at an antelope. What made this storm so unique was that it did not move. Lightning strikes and the thunder roars through the sky in stereo, each strikes as close as the last with frightening frequency. Continuing on and on for an hour straight, this storm was going nowhere. The rain and the hail poured down from above, and drenched us completely doubling the weight we carried. A small overhang in the Camel Gully provided some shelter and a moment to reflect on the absolute insanity of the situation. Dear God, please let us get out of here safely as quick as possible; I repeated this prayer over and over in my mind. Persevering through the storm we completed the descent and made it back to the bivy caves at 4pm. We found a larger cave that afforded us some more room to change, unpack, and reflect.

The day was now done save for the short hike out. It is amazing how comforting a small cave can be with a new perspective. It was one of those moments where you are not sure what you think or how you feel; all I could be was grateful to God for watching over us.

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