Saturday, September 29, 2007

Long's Peak - Clark's Arrow

I had three goals for this summer: Mount Elbert, Mount Evans, and Long's Peak. This then is the crown jewel of the summer, and as it turns out, for all time. Climbing Long's is a spiritual experience unparalleled. My general philosophy is that one should seek out new experiences and try different mountains, but Long's is such a unique mountain that I hope to return many times.

I got a bit of a late start arriving at the trailhead at 5:30 AM. Most books recommend leaving at 4 AM in order to get off the summit by noon. It turns out that Clark's Arrow route is shorter than the Keyhole route, so a 5:30 start is just fine.

I passed a few parties on the trail up the the junction where Keyhole and Clark split ways. Just before the junction I spotted a herd of elk just above tree line. Quite a scene and the start to a great day. The scramble up to the Loft was fun but not great. The climbing is not sustained and just not quite steep enough to be truly engaging. There is a ledge just before the final ascent which provides an escape route to the left. I've read that in some years there is snow and ice year round on the loft which would make it more challenging. On August 5, 2007 there was no snow, so an ascent straight up and to the right of the loft might have added the kick this section needed. Nevertheless, the views of the Ship's Prow from here are amazing.

Once on the saddle between Meeker and Longs I followed the white rock piles leading to Clark's Arrow. I wasn't confident about the weather so I decided a detour to Meeker's peak was unnecessary; I am not chasing the 13er list anyway.

When you get around the corner to the back side of Long's Peak the crux is near. The down climb here is challenging and fun. Once past the Notch Couloir you start to see climber's on the home stretch. The climbing here can be made more challenging if you desire.

The homestretch consists of two cracks loaded with people going up and down. My advice is to off route and bypass the crowd rather than waiting your turn. The summit has exhilarating views in all directions. I even met a guy who came up the Kliener's route (a route I hope to take one day with the guidance of the Colorado Mountain School.) One thing about the girls you see on peaks: most are quite shapely!

I decided to make a loop of it and take the Keyhole route down. Once I was back down off of the homestretch I got behind a couple who were descending very slowly. There isn't much room to pass without being rude, so I chilled and enjoyed the scenery. The trip across the narrows would be a bit nervewracking for someone not used to such exposure (see picture). At the top of the trough I seen my opening and bypassed the slow-pokes. The climb down the trough is somewhat loose, but otherwise uneventful. There were still people coming up and it was getting on to about 2 PM.

The trip along the NW ridge to the Keyhole provided more alpine experience as I didn't encounter any other climbers. Encountering the Keyhole for the first time is cool: it is quite a rock formation. From the Keyhole you descend the boulders to the boulder field, then it is simply a long hike back to truck.

On the way back I saw some ptarmigan (quite tame) and seen a middle aged woman who had sprained her ankle. Not good as she was still 5 miles from the trailhead. One last cool thing about the Long's Peak Trailhead: no charge to park here! Very nice.

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