Notch Couloir, Longs Peak

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Longs Peak in late Winter Conditions

Date climbed: 5/28/16

I’ve long since seen, “mountaineering” as the ideal stage in which to set my practice of suffering in the outdoors. Although I’ve certainly danced around mountaineering, I’ve done so only on its periphery. I borrow its terminology with jealousy as the basis on how I explain the other disciplines I practice. For example, Alpine Style: going light and fast. That’s exactly how I explain bike races I do, that take weeks to finish. I also describe no-holds, lightning-quick bike rides as, “Disaster Style”, which itself is coined by alpinist, Kelly Cordes.

But, mountain biking is not mountaineering. Nor is trail running really, nor even rock climbing in the classic sense. They all take a small aspect of mountaineering and focus on this one thing, disregarding the rest. Which is a perfectly fine thing to do.  But mountaineering – I want to imagine at least, comprises a large set of skills to be competent in, to allow you to reach your objective and come back down alive.

So when Peter Bakwin and Kendrick Callaway invited me to climb the Notch Couloir with them – truly a classic mountaineering route on Longs Peak, I was excited to take it on, as well as relatively scared out of my little head. As much as others may want to believe, I’m not the boldest of climbers.

For the fourth time I’ve taken a ride in a motor vehicle this year (#1 bus ride to Denver and back to give back testing shoes (bike was broke),, #2 trip to Eldorado Springs to climb, #3 different trip to Longs Peak w/Peter and Kendrick), we all left for Longs Peak at some ridiculous hour – around 2:30am? Devastatingly early for a trio that likes to run up and down things such as 14ers. But the mountain was currently in Winter conditions – surprisingly, as it was almost June. Winter conditions meant a slow approach, which along with a late start at this time of the year would mean horrible snow conditions – even high up. We still had to move quickly.

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Kendrick approaching Lamb Slide

We reached the base of Lambs Slide a few minutes after the sun peeked out from behind Twin Sisters to our east in dramatic fashion. It had snowed very recently, which gave me worry, as the snow could be unconsolidated and dangerous. We decided to go up the 800′ Lambs Slide couloir anyways to check out the conditions of the Broadway traverse, which we would need to take to make it to the base of the Notch Couloir itself. Our team had tried reaching the Notch Couloir just the week before, but found worrying conditions on Broadway, and we bailed.

This morning, conditions seemed OK enough, so we racked up, and I set out to lead a one very long simul-climb, with Peter and Kendrick following me. How I got literally roped up into this situation is somewhat a funny side story: both Peter and Kendrick believed I had the knowledge and experience with placing protection, as well as climbing steep snow . So, who better to lead all the fun parts of the Notch Couloir route for them than I?

I must be an incredible bullshit artist.

To wit: I currently own about four cams, and four pieces of passive pro, and have lead maybe a 5.8+ single pitch offwidth at Turkey Rocks badly, as my crowning achievement in the world of trad climbing. If you asked me to knit you a hat, I’d probably have just the same amount of knowledge about the concept of knitting the hat, as I did with trad climbing competently, rather than possessing the skill to pull off something you can where on top of your head/lead you to the top of the mountain.

What I may have more understanding of – more than Peter and Kendrick at least, is building anchors and belaying a follower. Two things you can get pretty good at, even if you’re climbing easy stuff. My climbing partner was my ex-girlfriend, and well – it was someone I wanted to keep safe more than anyone, so I’d make sure my anchors were pretty alright. She taught me everything I know, and I’d list her as “extremely competent” when it comes to trad. climbing. Somehow, she was able to teach me a few things, without losing too much faith in my thick head.

Loaded down with gear, an ice tool in my hand, and a faint idea on where to go, I set off in unfamiliar territory. Even though I’ve crossed Broadway to get to the start of Kieners many times, it has all been in summer conditions, and Broadway looks completely different when absolutely buried in snow, as it was today. The snow, first layer being somewhat powdery  was also very deep. Tiring to move in, as you would need to kick under it all, to find sure footing.

Focusing on the task immediately at hand, I moved forward in a simple rhythm of kicking steps in, placing my tool, and looking for opportunities to plug in pro – which I could every 50 feet or so. I wasn’t planning on falling, but the contingency plan if I did was a bit grim for a motley crew such as us. I brought along enough gear to put together a prusik system to haul myself up, but in actuality, if I fell, my partners would also get uprooted, and there we would have three people hanging below the 700 foot lower east face squirming to get up. And that’s if the gear I placed held us.

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Photo on Broadway, taken while leading. Squint and you may able to see Peter and Kendrick by following the rope.

I didn’t have bandwidth to think about all this while on the mountain though, I just did my best to do the job and get to the start of the Notch Couloir. There were actually some pretty outrageous positions found en route. Traversing around the rock bulge made me laugh mightily. In summer conditions, it requires you to hug the wall, and find a hold for your right hand, before you shuffle your feet to the other side. You wouldn’t want to mess this up, as the exposure is incredible. Today, the entire block was buried in snow, and the, hug-then-reach-around song and dance wasn’t going to happen. Instead of hugging, I just walked right across the very temporary snow bridge that had built up besides the block, knowing full well there wasn’t anything but wishes keeping the snow under my feet together.

At another spot on the traverse, I was required to cross a pretty substantial and very steep snowfield, with no rock to put protection in. I nervously started to crossing it – obviously not wanting to lose my footing. It seemed a bit impossible until – of course! I remembered I had the snow picket!: A piece of angle-iron-shaped PVC plastic with a ‘biner on the end. More psychological protection than anything, but I sunk that sucker in deep and carried on. I only got a few footsteps, when there was yelling from my partners to hold up a bit. They were unaware, but they had me stopped in the very middle of this steep snowfield, wherein I was bombarded by small spindrift avalanches and other debris coming from above. I tucked in as best I could and just maintained until the rope came slack enough again to move forward.

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Peter (foreground) and I (way in the back) stopping for a photo-op

After one more perilous (to me) snow traverse right across the Notch Couloir, I finally made a bombproof anchor, ten feet above the start of Kieners – such was the level of the snow. The Notch Couloir ends at a absolutely vertical part of the Lower East Face – the exposure was exciting to say the least. My partners greeted me, and we attempted to sort out the gear, and I was off again for a very long, very slow, and very run out simul-climb – this time ascending the entire Notch Couloir. Spicy considering falling down meant falling off the bottom of the couloir itself, which seemed worse than swinging on the Broadway traverse, but I’m not sure exactly by how much.

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Starting up the Notch Couloir.

Again, I put in pro every 50 feet or so, until it slowly ran out, and I had to became creative. Rope drag became atrocious as I quickly ran out of long slings, but I could see the top of the bottom of the Notch after a long while, and with one more picket placement, I traversed over from the left side of the couloir to the right, and hip belayed from an enormous ledge.

The plan at this point was to do the Stepladder pitch, or pitches? We weren’t exactly sure. I was spent from the super long leads and offered the next lead to someone else, but got no real takers. It didn’t matter – the weather turned to all-hell, and none of us could tell where exactly to go. We opted, with a bit of reluctance, to go from the east side to the west side of Longs, and finish up the climb from there. Luckily for us, the top of the bottom of the Notch is a pretty convenient place to make this happen. With a quick squirm through a tunnel right below the low point of the Notch, we were on the west side. The work to get to the summit from here was at least an hour more of climbing and traversing on steep snow. We all lowered our heads and got to work, as conditions continued to deteriorate. Finally though, we got to the summit, with little fanfare. We snapped some photos and immediately started our descent down to the Cables route, not standing on the summit for more than 5 minutes or so.

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Summit shot

The North Face of Longs was also choked with snow of course. I didn’t share my worry, but I didn’t know how easy it was going to be, to find the eyebolt to rap off of. Thankfully, Peter knows the location better than most anyone that’s not a climbing ranger for RMNP – this was, I think, his 67th lifetime summit of Longs Peak. We found very steep snow to descend to the eyebolt, and getting everyone down from there seemed to take nightmarish amount of time. Avalanches can and do happen in this very spot, in this very time frame we were in, and none of us, including me, were really following protocol on how to make sure everyone is safe and on indirect next to an anchor. Of all the time we spent on the mountain this day, I felt the most unsafe here. Accidents happen the most on descent.

But, we all made it down safely. It’s a wonder how different things become from the top of Cables, to its base. We now just had to deal with the long slog back to the trail head – no more technical climbing awaited us. I was a pretty broken man at this point, and Peter/Kendrick were able to go just a little bit faster than me downwards. I lost sight of them, then forgot to take the Winter shortcuts, making me lag even farther down. I began running in my enormous mountaineering boots, somewhat out of my mind with fatigue, but knowing full well that the trail ends, and ends soon.

I joined back up with Peter and Kendrick at Peter’s car. Both men were splayed out in back of the car, just laying down in the parking lot. I joined them, and instantly cramped up. The Notch Couloir had one more adversity for me to overcome.

We drove back to my place, and I said my goodbyes. I had enough energy to stuff 4 hard boiled eggs in my mouth, and find my bed, where I instantly fell asleep.


Sailing Against Prevailing Winds: Longs Peak in Winter Solo, by Bike and by Foot

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I’m only in Allenspark, and the sun has already risen. I feel as if I’m very late to my own party. Allenspark is only seven miles away from the Longs Peak Trailhead – my riding destination, but as I summit the last punchy climb and await the downhill just beyond, I conclude that the downhill won’t give me the rest I’m hoping for. The winds are strong today – strong enough that I’m fighting to stay upright as I crest the hill, and belaboring with my never-ending pedaling to simply continue going forward while I start descending. These are the exact type of conditions that even the hard men that have established such challenges have tried to avoid, because it’s madness.

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Just Keep Warm and Keep Pedaling: 300 Mile Winter Sub 48 Hour in Colorado

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Cameron Pass

I’m on my hands and knees looking intensely at my just-now broke bicycle, right outside of the main drag of Nederland, CO: elevation 8,228 feet. I’m only 20 miles away from home – 20 miles away from finishing a 300 mile ride. But, my chain has lodged itself between my largest rear cog, and the wheel’s drive side spokes.

And it won’t budge.

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Routes: The Stevens Gulch Traverse

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From right to left: Kelso Mt., Torreys Peak, Grays Peak, The Remarkables, Mt Edwards, and a few other bumps along the way.

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The Front Range 14ers Grays and Torreys make an excellent beginner 14er hike – it was one of the first 14ers I ever did. Being so close to the Front Range Urban Corridor – less than an hour from Denver, it still affords some dramatic changes in environment, not the least because of the sweeping ridgeline going West to East to Northeast from Grays Peak, and ending essentially at I-70. When hiking up (or driving, I guess) up the beginning of Stevens Gulch, you can’t but feel that the world is closing in on you, and you’re now entering a different place altogether.

You may also, like me, have the urge to be on top of this ridge line. Not many obvious entrance points present themselves from the start of the Summer trail head to Grays Peak, to the summit of Grays Peak itself. The ridge is rocky and broken, with much rockfall danger. You could, and people have, find a weakness in the ridge to climb up, but I don’t suggest it. In this route, I outline what is sure to be a classic traverse over the entire Steven’s Gulch; bagging you two 14ers, a Class 3 ridge scramble, and at least 2 13ers – one of which (Mt. Edwards) is a Centennial. If that’s not enough, you’ll also go over a mountain that used to be labeled a 14er, McClellan Mountain – actually height: 13,587′ which faked out turn-of-the-century tourists!; as well as many smaller 12ers, in your hike to close out the loop.

Some stats of the route as I describe it:

  • 14.5 miles
  • 7,000 feet elevation gain/loss
  • mostly off-trail, w/Class 3 scrambling
  • no easy bailout point after Grays Peak
  • crampons/ice axe recommended until late in the summer season

This route is not to be underestimated, and it’s a requirement to get an alpine start, and not be afraid to bail, if weather comes in. Be strong in your logistics game.

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Routes: Boulder to Idaho Springs; Avoiding Black Hawk and Central City

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Ah, a good nice long ride in the Colorado Front Range foothills. If you’re like me, you like your rides to be challenging and engaging – as well as avoiding perils, such as traffic. A ride from Boulder to Idaho Springs (and beyond!) should be an easy target to hit. Idaho Springs makes a good resupply point, if you’re hoping to go further into the mountains, as there’s a good bike route from the Springs that you can take up and over Loveland Pass and onto the other side of the Continental Divide.

Unfortunately, between Boulder and Idaho Springs are the old mining townsites of Black Hawk and Central City, which now are home to gambling towns. Black Hawk seems to have quite an aversion to cycling in general, going so far as banning it outright in town. The reason?  Traffic from people coming into town to gamble – one of the only reasons one would come to Black Hawk and stay for any extended period of time. No gambling, no Black Hawk. This ban was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court, but Black Hawk has made it uncomfortable for cyclists to go through town, as they’ve made an out of the way detour that bicycles need to follow – you can’t use the main street, that goes right to Central City! Thus, cycling is still banned in most of Black Hawk.

I don’t necessarily like going through Black Hawk/Central City. You lose and gain a tremendous amount of elevation to essentially ride through the middle of a high-traffic area (ie:no payoff!)- an area that doesn’t even like you being there. But, if you don’t mind some gravel and a more adventurous route, there are alternatives:

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Transform Your Experience – Boa Technology

I was on a bike ride (of course!) and had just crested my high point for the day, when I received a call about working with Boa Closure System on testing some of their new designs. They needed someone that could abuse their gear and see just what the limits of their designs might be. It’s not much of a secret that my bike/gear and I sometimes go to then ends of the Earth and back in the name of fun and adventure. Naturally, it turned out to be a great fit, and I’ve used shoes w/Boa-equipped dials for my successful Tour Divide on a single speed MTB, as well as my own ultra adventure FKT around Colorado: The Tour 14er. To this day, I have yet to break a Boa dial after thousands upon thousands of miles pedaled – the rest of the shoe literally falling apart around these perfectly functioning dials. They are true engineering masterpieces. I beg to equip all my shoes with Boa dials.

Boa has just released a series of short films, to help tell the extremely varied and poignant stories from some of their most dedicated users. Here’s mine – it gives you a little slice of what it’s like to perhaps go on one of those long rides of mine that starts at sunrise and only pauses when the sun again starts to set; nothing but a great expanse of scenery to breathe in, and nothing needed to do, but ride slowly and consciously through it. If only the rest of life could be so simple. Thank you Boa Closure System for your continued support. It’s a honor to help you out with your testing, experiments and R&D, and it was a privilege to be featured in your Transform Your Experience series. I remain a devote fan of the entire Boa Closure System family.

See the family of short films at transformyourexperience.com


Import a GPX file into your Garmin eTrex 20

Although it took me a little while to warm up to the idea of using a GPS, once I got one, I found them almost indispensable. This walkthrough is my basic workflow on getting a .gpx file into my eTrex 20.

As much as the eTrex is a great piece of hardware, it’s software onboard, as well as on my Mac is a little, well, rough. I won’t shy away from the fact that I was still trying to figure out how to use the darn thing, when I was lining up a few years ago to give the AZTR a go. Since then, I’ve gotten a bit better in making it work for me (rather than against). So enjoy the how-to, and maybe I’ll be lucky enough to give the AZTR another go next year.


11/23/15 – 11/29/15

Mon Nov 23 2015 – Off

Looks like Monday is becoming me default, “off” day – work just needs to get taken care of, which is fine.

Tue Nov 24 2015 – Sunshine Canyon/Gold Hill up! Lefthand/Lee Hill down  (S)

Another wonderful ride up Sunshine Canyon/Gold Hill. I could write an entire love letter to this route. Came down view Lefthand, then bumped up Lee Hill. I would almost say that the start of this workout is Lee Hill, as Gold Hill is so long, you might as well save your matches for later. The turnoff to Lee Hill starts with an immediate, steep climb and then several false flats, until you rocket down the other side.

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OSMP from Gold Hill

I’ve been avoiding this way for a while, as the construction on the downward side made the route a little less than ideal. Thankfully, that’s all been taken care of. For the three routes I’ve taken home after Gold Hill, Lee Hill seems the shortest, Olde Stage is the longest, and Lickskillet is the most difficult. All fantastic road routes.

I had an inkling of desire to go to the gym, afterwards, but that quickly dissipated after eating dinner. Tomorrow!

Wed Nov 25 2015 – Bouldering @ Movement, Sing Bike @ Movement

The bad weather seemed to be moving it, so I hit the gym. Had an OK bouldering sess, although I flailed on almost every V4 I thought I had wired, although made easy work on many of the V5’s I’ve been also working on. The rest of the session was fairly unfocused, until I started sessioning a V5 in the cave. I’m not strong enough to complete a V5 that goes up the middle of the cave proper, but this one quickly leaves the cave roof, the traverse the side of the cave, until pulling out onto the vertical wall on pockets. In that way, it becomes an endurance route more so than a power endurance route. After working it a few times, I was able to do everything in two segments, but couldn’t stitch it all together for a send – just too wasted after working on it for a little while. I’ll be happy to end it and it makes me feel that thee sorts of traverses are probably a great idea for me to do more of.

After bouldering, I did a two hour sess. on the spin bike, having the entire room alone, the lights off, the fan blowing, and some documentaries playing on my phone. It isn’t my ideal, but it’s a fine supplement when I need to do my thing, without too much outside stimuli.

After the spin bike, I attempted to do some campus training – but couldn’t make one move up the board – my upper body was just a bit too trashed. So, I switched to just doing a few sets of pullups and a few planks.

Thur Nov 26 2015 – Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fri Nov 27 2015 – Climbing @ Movement

Mob scene @ Movement. Totally mental breakdown for me (too many people). We left after just a few climbs, to find that we were boxed in on both sides of the car in the parking lot. Insult to injury. We almost never drive to the gym – but you know: it was 20 degrees out with freshly fallen snow, so we thought: what the Hell.


11/09/15 – 11/15/15

Woo boy. The difficulties of writing the things you do down, in order to keep some sort of history of said things.

 

And for what end? I’d like to say it’s so that I can use it to look back, and track progress and all that. I do it – or want to do it to keep myself committed to my goals of progressing. We all love a narrative.  We were there, now we’re here. And we’re much better, now!

 

Sometimes it works that way, other times, not so much. Many things have gotten in my way, mostly laziness; sometimes financial emergencies; or relationship issues; or I get sick for seemingly weeks.

 

Recently? I think I broke my foot! I honestly can’t tell if this is a broken bone, or a really bad sprain/strain. If it’s a broken bone, it’s one of those tiny bones that float around your foot, that you can’t really heal in any systemic way, so nothing to do about it anyways.

 

If it’s a sprain/strain, it’s a kind I’ve never had before. Partly because it’s on my left foot, and not my right. My poor right foot has seen countless sprains in my life, mostly due to skateboarding accidents. I’m used to feeling my right foot sprained, but my left foot, it’s aaaaaaaall new feels. But the pain doesn’t seem to be centralized in one area, which is bewildering to me. No real swelling – def. no discoloration.

 

So, how’d I do it? I fell on my head (mostly), and I guess my foot (a little bit) bouldering indoors. Missed the dyno. So lame! There goes my, “practice indoors because it’s safe” hypothesis.

 

My go-to for any injury is rest the thing that’s injured until said Thing doesn’t hurt as much. If that doesn’t do it in a few days, I usually just start again, because I will go insane just moping around.  I get all philosophical on the injury, too: “It’s either going to get better, or it won’t and I’ll die either way

 

So, I shall try again, to keep a weekly log of my tireless tasks at physical self improvement, starting this week, and ending at when it’s far too nice out to really find this minutiae important enough to make public.

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