Date: May 16, 2009
Partners: Carl Dowdy, Marc Barella
Ascent route: North Face (4,850′ approx 6 miles w/shortcuts)
Ski descent: Keplingers Couloir (5,700′ approx 7 miles w/shortcuts)
For a few weeks now Carl and I have been discussing a ski of Longs‘ infamous Keplinger‘s Couloir, the original ascent route used on Longs by John Wesley Powell in 1868. One of the most solidified goals I maintained throughout the spring was a summit ski of this great peak, well we got it on Saturday.
Initially, conditions hunting was frustrating. Posts at 14ers.com and over at TGR yielded little helpful information and, as Carl found out in March, Longs is not a peak to carry skis to the top of without a just payoff. For weeks we put off the attempt, until finally the information came from a friend of Carl‘s that the Homestretch was caked, and our attention turned to hitting it as soon as possible.
Out of the gate at 6:30am from the Longs Peak TH, our initial thought was to hike the Keyhole route and ski out through Wild Basin where we had a vehicle stashed. A few shortcuts through Goblins Forest had us at treeline quickly.
With the sun out and spirits high, we rounded Granite Pass and entered the Boulder Field.
Eying the North Face, we were all thinking the same thing…a short team huddle yielded a new plan. We geared up and started kicking fresh tracks into the lower North Face snowfield.
Approaching the bottom of of the eye bolts, the slope steepened and we were faced with a small technical challenge (rated 5.4). I‘ve completed this move in similar snow/ice conditions in the past, however never without the comfort of a rope.
Carl went second, then I was up. I found the key to be getting an axe placement with my left arm up above the rock slab, then trusting it enough to pull myself up.
Then it was a few hundred feet of good snow climbing that led to the far end of the summit plateau.
We strolled onto the football field near the ten yard line and found a sheet of white, I‘ve never seen this much snow on Longs before.
After taking a moment to admire the beauty all around, Carl and I took turns heading over and looking for an answer to the big question…it was in from the top!
We enjoyed having the state‘s most popular 14er summit to ourselves for quite awhile, I fired up the Jetboil and cooked some soup in the meantime. I‘m really beginning to enjoy real food on summits, sure beats the crap out of energy gel.
Okay, time to head down and out. We geared up for the ski, touched the register, and headed over to the beautifully placed strip of snow leading off the exact summit. I remember back to my first climb of Longs 4 years ago, and how at the time I never would have dreamed of actually skiing off the summit, not in a million years…
From the bottom of the Homestretch the route traverses skier‘s left across what is undoubtedly the most precarious section of the route; a steep traverse above cliffs that links the Homestretch to the top of Keplinger‘s. I made sure to take this section carefully as a fall would grant you quick access into Keplinger‘s several hundred feet lower than preferred.
Once in the couloir, the skiing becomes less about survival and more about enjoying the fine corn snow (warning: abundant ski pics below).
After a 2,000‘ descent we exited the couloir and picked our way down and through an amazing alpine basin of house-sized boulders and rock outcroppings.
After our elation eased and our minds came back to Earth, the reality of the deproach really set in: 6 or so miles of rugged terrain and bushwhacking before we could enjoy the comfort of sandals and beer…to avoid making a long TR even longer, suffice it to say the car was not easily attained. Those who have done Keplinger‘s know what I mean.
14 hours after we set out, we loaded up at the Copeland Lake TH and drove to Boulder for some Thunderbirds burgers and beers. Another great day in the mountains, it‘s no surprise it was granted by Longs.