Longs Peak: North Face from Chasm Lake

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Peak: Longs Peak, Front Range
Date Climbed: November 15, 2008
Partner: Ryan Scollard
Route: Camel‘s Gulley to North Face, Keyhole descent
Stats: 15 Miles, 5,500 Feet, 16 hours

A little sick of long drives to remote corners of Colorado, Ryan and I decided to continue our training on a mountain closer to Denver. Longs seemed perfect for the task. We decided on the North Face to mix up the climbing a bit and take another baby step towards Kieners (we‘re getting there). After a bit of research we discovered a gulley that starts at Chasm Lake and spits you out right at the base of the North Face; we thought it would make a great outing to link these routes together and descend the Keyhole, making for a full traverse of the mountain with Chasm Lake as the starting point. It turned out to be a great day, although very physically difficult.

We departed from the TH at 6:00am on the dot, fully prepared for the -20 temps the weather service was calling for. We ascended above treeline as the sun was coming up, arriving at Chasm Junction roughly 2 hours after our departure.

After another 45 minute jaunt, we found ourselves underneath the imposing East Face of Longs. I had never seen the Diamond this up-close and personal before. We made our way around the edges of a frozen Chasm Lake and began our ascent of Camel‘s gulley, which held some snow and was a somewhat pleasant climb.

One heck of a view.

The Camel‘s gulley ascends roughly 1000‘ from the far end of Chasm Lake and ends at the Boulder Field just below the summit of Lady Washington. There is a large camel-shaped rock marking the top of the gulley. The climbing began on nice, consolidated snow and then turned to frozen talus. After gaining some elevation, the gulley turns west back towards Longs and ascends a boulder/talus field to the top. This was one of the most grueling parts of the day.

Climbing the Camel Gully.

We topped out and took a break, eyeing the North Face. There wasn‘t as much snow as we had expected, the face still looked to be a mixed climb however. As we were waiting, we spotted another party of 2 heading for the lower belay station. We ascended to the first bolt and greeted the party of 2 from Fort Collins (Tim and Dan were their names), we would end up summiting with them before parting ways.

We waited for a bit as the guys above us negotiated the technical section, this was the coldest part of the day for us as we were just sitting motionless in the shade. After 30 minutes or so we were able to move into belay position, we tied to the bottom bolt but also had a stopper placed nearby. After sorting out the rope, I took the lead. The initial move was actually suprisingly difficult in crampons, and the fact that I could barely feel my hands didn‘t help the matter.

The short technical pitch.

I continued on up, dry-tooling on rock and ice. This portion was suprisingly difficult for me; the actual grade and climbing difficulty was not a problem, but the icy conditions made me very happy to have protection. I managed to clip in to the second bolt and place an ice screw shortly thereafter. After maybe 2/3 of a rope length, there was only one remaining difficulty: a waist high step with ice coating the top of the lip. I placed another screw below this move, then moved up to the left and then right again, clipping the final bolt. I belayed Ryan up shortly after, he was very happy to be moving again.

We were excited to get moving, and the terrain above us seemed to mellow out so we stowed the rope and free-climbed the rest of the face. We tried to stick to the pockets of snow as they provided much more stable climbing than the smooth rock slabs that comprise the North Face. This section was not without its difficulties; a few times we had to traverse left or right to find a feasible line.

The top of the face held a bit more snow, which was getting less and less supportive towards the top. The final hundred feet were really physically tiring as we had to climb through a deep pocket of sugar snow. We topped out at 4:20pm and reunited with our friends from the bottom of the face.

Precarious snow climbing higher up.

We discussed the best way down; considering the unconsolidated snow on the North Face and the fact that we were pretty physically spent, Ryan and I settled on the Keyhole. Tim and Dan chose to downclimb and rappel back to the Boulder Field. We parted ways, Ryan and I took a look down the Homestretch and liked what we saw; good supportive snow running in pockets all the way down to the start of the Narrows. Ryan‘s crampon broke just off the summit and he had to re-rig it, costing us 20 minutes. We plodded down the Homestretch and found the Narrows to be in decent shape.

Rime ice along the narrows. 

We were hit from above by ice fall twice along the Narrows, my helmet was finally put to good use. The trough was full of nice snow, we were able to descend very easily to the Keyhole traverse as the sun was setting. The views into the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies with the sun setting over them was gorgeous. I was captivated and just had to sit and watch for awhile.

Descending the trough at sunset.

We arrived at the Keyhole around 6:30pm as the sun was on its last gasp, the lights of north Denver and Longmont were visable along the skyline. We took a break inside the rock hut and busted out a Coors Light.

The mountains are blue.

We headed down into the Boulder Field and met our friends again, they were packing up camp and we hung out for a bit, prolonging the hike out. We departed the Boulder Field at 7:30pm as the full moon was rising over the city.  The rest of the way was nothing less than a death slog back to the car, we ended our outing at 10:00pm for a round trip time of just over 16 hours. Needless to say I slept well that night.

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