A Great Day on an Alpine Classic: Kieners Route

Date: July 25, 2009
Partner: Tom Pierce
Routes: Kieners up, Keyhole down
Time: 13.5 hours

Tom Pierce and I got out Saturday and climbed what I would consider to be the most fun route I‘ve been on to date.  I‘ve been thinking about Kieners for a few years now and the opportunity came up for me this past March to try a winter ascent (pretty ambitious for my first time up the route).  Tom, a friend of his, and I made our way up to the base of Lambslide and elected to save it for another day due to a large cornice overhanging the Notch, as well as a rather slow approach time.  Although somewhat disappointed, I think we all felt the right decision was made in the end.  At that time Tom and I made plans for a return trip during the summer months, which ended up being on Saturday.  Tom is an excellent climber, I was excited to learn all that I could from him.  He is also nothing short of a Longs Peak expert, having climbed many routes many times over the past 10 years, so naturally I felt I was in top notch company.

We met at the Longs Peak TH at 4:30am and were off by 5, a bit late for a route like Kieners but we figured we‘d be okay unless the weather hit unusually early.  Some mindless marching landed us at Chasm Junction and then Chasm Lake shortly thereafter.  The route looked like it was in excellent condition, and later Tom would decide it was the best he‘s seen it in his eight times on the route.

Morning light on the Twin Sisters. A great day in the works.

Early on we were a bit apprehensive about the weather.  Clouds kept rolling in and out, we had some drizzle here and there, and it really looked like it could go either way.  We were very close to calling it at one point but reasoned we should press on until forced to make a decision.  Well this thinking payed off as the skies parted blue and clear upon our arrival at the base of Lambslide.  It was 8am, crampons and axes came out and we were treated to the spectacular view of the the East Face getting a gradual bath in sunlight as the clouds retreated. The snow in Lambslide was absolutely perfect for kicking steps, not too icy for this stage of the season.

The route as seen from the far side of Chasm Lake.

After 45 minutes of moderate snow climbing we arrived at the black rocks marking the entrance to Broadway.  I took this opportunity to slip my harness on and waited for Tom, who showed up a few minutes later.  It was clear from the lack of tracks up Lambslide that we had the route to ourselves on this July Saturday.

Broadway entrance, marked by black rock formations.

After a long break we geared up and started up the Broadway entrance ledges, which are incredibly loose.  Tom and I discussed how sticking to climbers left in Lambslide is a must given the cache of surface to air missles ready to be deposited into the couloir.  Around the corner and a perspective of Longs I‘d never seen before came into view.

Fifty yards or so and things got a bit narrower, 15 minutes after we left Lambslide we came to the summer crux: a boulder that juts out over the lower East Face.  We‘ve all seen the pictures of people army crawling under it, but on this day things were dry enough to simply hang our butts out over the void and step around.  I led this first section, there is a solid piton just around the corner as well as several good cracks.

Going for the thrilling move. Photo by Tom.

…with some slight exposure to the east.

Tom flashed the move quickly and we were on our way.  The apparent crux of Broadway was sort of an afterthought on this day, although I can definitely see how it could get quite a bit sportier with snow added into the equation.

The road ahead – A gorgeous route in a spectacular place.

10 minutes of simul-climbing had us perched at the bottom of the Notch.  The weather which we were initially so apprehensive about continued to hold just fine.

We regrouped, set an anchor, and broke out the axes again for a short climb up the Notch to the small flat area Tom calls “lunch ledge”.

In this photo the entrance to Kieners Chimney is about 50 feet above Tom‘s head and slightly to the left.

The ledge is about 10 square feet and offers a great belay station for the pitch leading up to Kieners Chimney.  I didn‘t get any photos of this portion of the climb but essentially the first pitch wraps around to the north from the ledge and crosses back about 20 feet higher to the base of Kieners Chimney.  This section requires 10 feet of climbing directly above the lower East Face and was fairly thrilling to say the least.  Tom led this portion and then brought me up.

Finishing pitch below Kiener’s Chimney, the belay ledge can be seen behind me. Photo by Tom.

The chimney requires a short pitch of class 4/low 5 to the base of the wall at the end, then cuts climber‘s right up and over a mantle move.  Once out of the chimney, the route splits into several different variations for the next rock pitch. We found a good line up the next pitch, set another belay anchor, and Tom headed on up.

Above Kiener’s Chimney, the exit can be seen over Tom’s right shoulder.

Tom signaled me to come on up and after a few minutes of climbing I found him sitting in an absolutely perfect rock chair.  He was pretty thrilled to find a lawn chair in the middle of upper-Kieners.  It reminded me of the Flinstones.

At this point the moisture started to roll in and the upper portion of Longs Peak was engulfed in fog.  I was actually a nice reprieve from the sun and made for nice, cool climbing to the summit.

With the rope stowed we made good time along the rest of the route. Photo by Tom.

Just as we arrived at the Diamond Step it began to drizzle, we were relieved at the timing as an hour earlier and we would have had a much tougher task climbing wet slabs. The step requires a fun section of climbing with a few mantle moves required.  The blocks wrap around to the north above the Diamond and meet up with the top section of the North Face.

Closing in on the summit of Longs with a fog rolling in.

Diamond Step.

We topped out around 1:15pm and had the summit to ourselves save for one couple.  Once again I was pretty amazed at the lack of crowds.

We elected to descend the Keyhole as the visibility was weaning and Tom and I both hold the opinion that it is a quicker descent than the North Face anyway.  We packed up the gear, refueled on some energy bars, and began the long slog back to the parking lot.

Rounding the corner along the Keyhole route, the last scrambling of the day.

We hit pavement at 6:30 for a round trip time of 13.5 hours.  This was an amazing route in an amazing mountain, and its in nearly perfect condition right now.  Thanks for reading!


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