Longs Peak Summit Ski Descent

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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)

“The monarch of the Front Range”.

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.

Ski carrying was a must below Lady Washington. Photo by Carl.

Carl and the Twin Sisters on a fine spring day in RMNP.

With the sun out and spirits high, we rounded Granite Pass and entered the Boulder Field.

The North Face is looking really nice.  Photo by Carl.

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.

At the base of the North Face with a cloud inversion to our south – this is a sweet place in any season. Photo by Carl.

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.

Marc moving up the rock.

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.

Thrilling.  Photo by Carl.

Then it was a few hundred feet of good snow climbing that led to the far end of the summit plateau.

At the top looking down at Marc and I.  Photo by Carl.

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.

A snowy summit football field. Photo by Carl.

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!

Looking off towards Pagoda and a few RMNP 12ers.

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…

And down we go…

Marc making turns down this popular section of the summer hiking route.

Carl skiing while Meeker and the Palisades provide a dramatic backdrop.

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).

Marc riding upper Keplinger’s.  Photo by Carl.

Steep terrain with great snow in a grand setting.  Doesn’t get much better than this! Photo by Carl. 

Carl making his way down the steep top part.

Photo by Carl.

Lower down. Photo by Carl.

Skiing out the bottom. Photo by Carl.

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.

These fellas give this basin a rugged feel.  Photo by Carl.

The route in its entirety seen from Wild Basin.

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.

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