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Longs Peak Winter Ascent via the Trough - March 17-18, 2007

Quick Details:
    Date: March 17-18, 2007
    What: Two day mountaineering trip to climb Longs Peak via the Trough
    Where: Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
    Weather: 25-60F, mostly clear/high clouds, light to strong winds
    Distance: 13 miles
    Elevation gain: 5,350'
    Technical Difficulty: Grade II, Class 3
    Physical Difficulty:4 out of 10
    Time: 6hrs 51min 02sec high camp to high camp (4hr 16min to summit)
    Calories burned: 7,367 total
    Map: Click Here for Map
    Photo Gallery: Click Here for Photos.

A winter ascent of Longs Peak has eluded me since 1996. It was in December of that year that Wayne, Derrick, and I drove out from Indiana, armed with our Nike hiking boots and Wal-Mart sleeping bags to climb Longs via the Keyhole. We arrived at the trailhead late and were greeted by temps approaching -20F. We camped there that night and drove back to Indiana the next day, having never stepped foot on the trail. Three more failed attemps (two of them under similarly ridiculous conditions) brings us to this year.

Mike, Marella, Charles, Peter, Eric Lee, Brian Kraus, Fabio, and I had been discussing this climb all winter. We finally settled on the weekend of March 17-18. Lucky for us, the weather turned out to be absolutely stellar for a winter ascent of Longs.

On the morning of Saturday, March 17, 2007 I picked Charles up at 6:30am, we drove to Peter's house to get him, then headed to Boulder to pick up Fabio. After a quick breakfast at Moe's Bagels we headed towards Estes to rendezvous with Mike and Marella at the RMNP Backcountry Office. Brian and Eric had headed up earlier, to get a headstart on building an igloo at Black Lake. After picking up our permit, we drove to the Glacier Gorge trailhead, packed up and headed out. Peter, Eric, and I were on AT skis. The others were on snowshoes. The trail was very hard packed, so I opted to carry my skis, bringing my pack to near 70-80lbs most likely. Fabio and I kept a reasonable pace and arrived at Black Lake in aobut two hours, a very good time considering the load we were hauling. The others streamed in over the next 45 minutes or so.

We spent Saturday afternoon building a bivy cave, setting up tents, melting snow, ice climbing, and lounging about in the very (unseasonably) warm sunshine. After melting drinking water, we made dinner and enjoyed Charles' margaritas and Mike and Marella's fine scotch. We debated our wake up/start time for a while and finally headed off to bed at 7pm with the decision to rise at 4:30am.

4:30am came quickly and we woke to a clear and fairly warm (at least for 11,000' in March) day. Peter informed us his hamstring was bothering him quite a bit and that he was bailing. Mike and Marella then decided they weren't going to make an attempt either. The rest of us dressed quickly, ate a quick breakfast and hit the trail at 5:28am. We made good time to the base of the Trough, arriving in 56 min (1200' of gain). We scrambled up the rocks another 150' feet or so, to skirt the cliff band at the bottom of the Trough. Here we put on harnesses, helmets, and crampons and started up the snow of the Trough. The snow was perfect for cramponing... hard wind blown snow that would take all of the crampon points and hold firmly. We made good time up the Trough, reaching the Class 3 exit move onto the Narrows in a little under two hours.

Crossing the Narrows is the technical crux of the climb, but it's not difficult at all. There's a quick Class 3 move at the very top of the Trough that dumps you right out onto the exposed ledge that is the Narrows. The only thing that made it interesting was that the wind blowing up the Trough was working hard to blow us right of the cliff towards Pagoda! One had to time his exit move to occur during a lull in the wind :-) We regrouped and crossed the Narrows and climbed the Homestretch to the summit. This was my favorite part of the climb because we exited the cold, windy, shaded Trough onto the bright, sunny Narrows. The Narrows and Homestretch were mostly snow covered with some icy patches. The difficulty was technically easy, perfect snow for climbing... I actually liked it much better than dodging tourists during the height of summer.

After a leisurely 30 minutes and lunch on the summit we began the descent. I made good time plunge-stepping, descending to the bottom of the Trough in 30 minutes. The others arrived over the next 15-20 minutes and we took off crampons and harnesses and hiked the rest of the way to Black Lake. Our total descent time was 2 hours.

At Black Lake, we quickly packed up our bivy gear and began the journey out to the trailhead. Eric and I were on skis, so we headed out looking for a fun run back to the car. Two things prevented this: 1. Skiing with a 60lb pack really sucks! and 2. The sun had warmed the snow so much it was quite slushy. The traverse around Jewell Lake and Mills Lake were especially grueling, requiring us to switch to tour mode and hoof it for a while. We still made good time, arriving at the trailhead in about 1 hour. The others arrived about an hour later.

Peter was kind enough to leave us a 6-pack of beer, buried in the snow, with a treasure map to it on my windshield! After enjoying a cold beer, we headed to Ed's for a dinner of Mexican and burgers. All-in-all, it was a great trip. We couldn't have asked for better weather.


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