"Prelude To Winter" linkup on Longs Peak

"Prelude To Winter" linkup on Longs Peak

Like so many climbing trips and adventures, this one started with an email. It was from Buster, and attached to the email was a picture of someone following The Flying Dutchman's (TFD) crux ice section:


While Front Range Colorado has been drifting between crisp autumn days and warm remnants of summer, the high country now bares the frosty harbinger of winter. From my house I can see a select number of mountains from Mt. Evans, to the Indian Peaks, and finally Longs Peak, the northernmost 14er in Colorado. Longs is massive in its own right, but it is a giant amongst the other peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Relative to the larger mountains in the southern scope of my view, Longs appears bone dry, but its North Face, sunken gullies, and culoirs, have begun to sprout the winter crop. Longs goes from summer playground to winter testing ground...just add water.

Two days after the email, Buster was at my house, and we were packing our bags. We drove to the trailhead and slept by the car. My phone woke us up at 355am. We brewed some hot drink and started making tracks at 445am. The moon was about 80% full, making headlamps unnecessary. After an hour we were above treeline and as first light silently rumbled in the eastern sky, we gained our first full view of the Longs/Meeker Peak Cirque. The east side, from Chasm View to The Loft, glowed under the high moon.

I looked at the mountain differently than I had the first time when I climbed it via the Notch Culoir. I saw it as something I knew intimately. I looked up at the moon and wondered if those who have walked on the moon can look up from anywhere in the world, and really know what they are looking at.

The first 1000 feet of The Flying Dutchman is a steep snow climb, and the snow was shit. In the mountains there are many types of snow that mean many different things to the mountaineer, and like the Eskimos and other people of the North Country, there are many names for snow. I am not sure what the snow on TFD was called, but it gave way underfoot with the ease of a sugarcube, so the going was laborious.

After about 30 minutes we reached the crux, and in fact the only technical section of the route, where 60 degree water/alpine ice glazes over a steep section in the culoir. I halfheartedly mentioned to Buster that we should just solo the thing, since it was only about 50 feet tall, and he quickly agreed before I had time to retract my statement. While one could easily lead this pitch on either the right or left side placing rock pro, Buster charged up the completely iced over center, and I followed suit.

It was 930am when we topped the ice section, and we began the slight decent down Lamb's Slide to gain the south edge of the Broadway ledges.


We simul-traversed the mixed snow and rock ledge for about a quarter mile without an actual plan. Buster merely wanted to recon the conditions on some of the higher routes on the mountain. As we reached the southern base of the Notch Culoir, Buster casually asked me, "you wanna climb Kiener's?" I said sure, knowing full well that Kiener's is a grade III mixed route which ends on Longs' summit. This route would commit us to reaching the summit and another 1500 feet of climbing, then descending the North Face and doing the endless death march back to the trailhead. But both of us secretly knew that we did not come all the way up through the forest in the wee hours of the morning to climb 50 feet of ice and do some "recon."


We swung leads for 4 pitches, working up mixed chimneys with abundant rock pro, and frozen moss to sink the ice tools into.


In retrospect, I believe we followed the North Chimney's which a guidebook states are harder than Kiener's route and a common routefinding error. Nevertheless, they offered exciting mixed climbing for 4 pitches until we gained 4th class ground. We soloed the roughly 800 feet of class 4 which meanders just beyond the top of the dead vertical Diamond. The summit Plateau greeted us with a biting West wind.


We descended and were back at the car by 6pm, 3 hours later we were digging a party in Denver, PBRs in hand, alpine glory in our grins.


The Flying Dutchman is grade II, and the ice was about WI3-. Kiener's route is grade III and low 5th class when dry, but offered exciting mixed terrain with ample dry tooling. c2c, the whole trip took us 13 hours, with an hour break before the Flying Dutchman to eat some food, get suited up, and drop a duece. P=G, get ready for winter!