Peak(s):  Longs Peak  -  14,259 feet
Date Posted:  10/08/2021
Date Climbed:   09/25/2021
Author:  123tqb
Additional Members:   Alexisfoster11, WhitW
 A Long-Awaited, Lofty Goal   

A Long-Awaited, Lofty Goal

  • Date: 25 Sep, 2021
  • Peaks: Longs Peak
  • Route: Loft Route
  • Mileage: 13mi
  • Vertical: 5300ft
  • Time: 10 hours
  • Partners: Alexis, Whit

I've been wanting to do the Loft route pretty much ever since my first ascent of Longs. The fact that I have a poster of the mountain to look at whenever I'm sick of homework probably also influenced our decision to return to RMNP. Here I am yet again writing a report on an extremely well-documented, well-traveled route. I guess this will be more of a journal entry than to provide novel beta, but hey at least there are some noteworthy parts of the story. One of these days I'll provide writeups for my goals of climbing weird non-standard routes and making alpine first ascents, but that day is not today, and surely not even this year.

The story always begins with an alpine start. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's easy for some, and not for others; and that's exactly what happened today! I picked up Whit first, who had already responded to my texts and had made his way out the front door soon after I arrived. Alexis, on the other hand, seemed not to be responding to anything. Uh oh. We tried calling her to no avail, before I remembered her roommates were out of town for the night, so we could make as much noise as possible to wake her up. I recalled that she slept next to a sliding glass door that led behind her building, and so a plan was hatched. I banged on the door, likely right next to her ear, for a good few seconds before I was sure she had been scared awake. When I returned to the car out front, there was a light on inside. Success!

It took a bit of creativity to come up with our nerve-wracking wakeup call!

While she was still getting ready Whit and I decided we wanted some breakfast. To our dismay, every gas station within a mile radius seemed to be closed for some reason or other, so our only option left was to stop by the place every drunk college student at 3:00 in the morning goes: good old-fashioned McDonald's. Satisfied with our chicken-nugget-fueled pick-me-up, we swung by Alexis' apartment again and drove up US 36 towards Lyons.

Of course none of us had checked the traffic conditions (who else could be driving this early in the morning?), so we drove well into South St. Vrain Canyon before realizing the entire road was closed, and we'd have to drive all the way around through Estes. So our original 4:00 start — with all our detours this morning — was looking more like a 5:00 start. This left us enough time to still climb the route, we figured. We got to the already-packed trailhead at the predicted time, and made our way up the Longs Peak Trail. I think it's safe to say we made good time. In fact, almost too good time. It was still well before sunrise when we got to the intersection with the Chasm Lake Trail. We decided to drink some water (hydrate or die-drate, is what they say), and after a quick shivering break we continued on. In no time we made it below Chasm Lake and began to ascend Loft Couloir, still in the dimly-lit morning.

Alexis was doing a Flat Stanley project for some family friends in Texas.
The "view" from Chasm Lake Trail.
I judge myself for how grainy this photo is. Exposure settings are impossible.

This trip made me realize that I finally feel like alpine routes are getting easier for me. Loft Couloir was extremely straightforward. Working our way up we decided to scramble up the solid slab dead-center in the couloir rather than subject ourselves to more scree, meaning we made it to the ledge turnoff point with ease. The evidence of snow was still there, including a frozen waterfall at the top of the couloir, but otherwise everything was dry enough to not even warrant the use of microspikes (not that we brought any, since we had decided that if we had to deal with snow we would just call it a day). There was some short optional scrambling below the waterfall that I decided sounded fun, but otherwise the routefinding and technical difficulty in the couloir itself felt like nothing. We could see what looked like the ledge from a few hundred feet below, which did eventually turn out to be the right ledge! Whit went over his game plan for crossing the snow, which Alexis and I decided sounded perfectly logical and followed him.

Scree is not fun, but the striking terrain made up for it!
Climbing in the Flatirons has been immensely helpful for my slab skills.
The frozen waterfall up ahead, we could already pick out our exact route by sight.
The optional scrambling looked a lot like the rock Alexis is currently standing on.
Whit found a way to the left that crossed minimal snow on easy rock.

The ledge was a little more complex than if it were completely dry, but it was super manageable by staying closer to the exposure. The crux of the ledge went by without much thought. The only tricky part we really encountered was when the ledge switched back. The switchback was full of snow, meaning we had to climb a quick slab in order to get back on-route. This proved of little difficulty as well, and we were up and in the Loft proper within no time.

The exposure was increased being so close to the edge, but not unreasonably so.
Alexis making her way through the "crux" of the ledge.

Now presented the only real routefinding challenge of the day: we had to find the cairn that led down towards Clark's Arrow. We took a sunscreen and snack break on the east side of the Loft, already having made excellent time. Crossing the Loft we knew to aim directly west, and spotted the dip towards the south that we knew would lead us down into Keplinger's Couloir. We encountered another climber here, and talked with him about the best way down. He had looked around for a while and couldn't seem to find the specified cairn, so we made a group effort to match the plentiful surrounding cairns with the one specified in the route description. What we eventually found was a large cairn above what looked to be downclimb-able terrain sloping west. The other climber mentioned that he had attempted this downclimb and felt that it was more difficult than necessary, so we took to getting as far down as we could to see if there was an easier way. After I went down through a few Class 3+ moves, I couldn't find a way to continue without making it Class 4 (not that this would necessarily be a problem). Whit came down after, and immediately pointed out a ledge-chimney-type feature to the north that looked passable. Indeed, it was passable! A few moments later and we were in Keplinger's!

On the Loft. Alexis found a weakness in the snow coverage that we exploited.
Whit and the Indian Peaks. We're so lucky to live in Boulder!
From R->L: The Beaver & East Longs, Longs Peak, and the slope to Keplinger's.
Whit in the Class 3+ downclimb move.

In Keplinger's we decided the best course of action was to stick to the far-right side on the ascent. This avoided much of the scree and kept us at the same elevation as where we had entered the couloir. We knocked loose a couple of serious rocks towards the top, reminding us that helmets are of huge importance on routes like these. Above us we could see the exit ledge, and with it the Homestretch. We made quick work of it yet again, and got the opportunity to see the awesome Palisades above us. We opted for the slab to our left instead of the scree (again), and were following the bright white exit ledge soon thereafter.

Above Keplinger's, so we didn't have to lose any elevation.
Some of the ledges above Keplinger's were sweet! Whit looking up at the Palisades.
Taking a quick rest on a slab. Better than scree for sure!
Almost to the Homestretch. Way too cool.

Whit and I had climbed the Keyhole route before, so we were familiar with the slippery slope remaining before us. We merged onto the Longs Peak Freeway (a.k.a. the Homestretch). The thing about Longs Peak (and the Park, for that matter) is that there's always somebody on your objective doing something way cooler than you. The summit was mostly filled with travelers of the Keyhole route, save for a few parties we could tell had done Cables or something similarly technical. I would venture to say I don't think this will be my last time on Longs...

We found a good spot to sit, took some photos, ate some lunch, and rested up. With how long we still anticipated being hiking, we wanted to take a good break. Since Alexis' birthday had been the day before, Whit and I forced her to wear her birthday tiara, and convinced the groups on the summit to join us in song! Summit shenanigans are becoming my favorite thing. In fact, this event only comes second to when we hauled a Coleman stove to the top of Bierstadt to cook pancakes.

And so we joined the conga line to the summit...
Whit is pumped to finally be at the summit.
Dammit Alexis, this took way too much effort for you to still be on the ground!
Nutritious lunch.
Horizon tilted? Check. Embarrassing clothing? Check. Whit looking tiny? Check.

After generous time spent above 14k, we decided it was time to get a move on with our day. Lucky for us, the routefinding for the day was over. Just an easy cruise down the Homestretch, Narrows, and Trough, and we were to the Keyhole in the blink of an eye. (Author's note: it's nice to actually have names for features on routes. It's so hard to explain our progress throughout the day when referring to "that one gendarme" or "the loose scree gully." Or specifically with every single couloir ever, "the choke." Ahhh, what a relief to be specific.)

Turns out the Trough is just always full of snow.
Alexis you're not cool. Stop whatever it is you're doing right this instant.
How is literally every aspect of this mountain so freaking awe-inspiring?

Now the part that none of us was looking forward to: the hike out. Whit and I knew from experience that the Boulderfield was going to suck, and it sure did. For some reason every time the technical parts of our climbs stop, Whit and Alexis decide to ridicule me. Who knows why, but this time was no exception. I put up with their crap through the Boulderfield and all the way back to treeline, where finally an intelligent conversation started I'm sure. Due to a couple of extended rest stops on the way down, we made it back to the car around 15:00 (if I recall correctly). Content with our timing, we drove out of the swamped parking lot back to Boulder, a good day had all around.

Bye bye scrambling. Hello endless slog.
Selfie with the mirrorless camera? I guess. One of our multiple random breaks.
Just. Wow.
The fall foliage, for what limited deciduous trees there were, was very pretty.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Still waiting...
10/12/2021 14:27
...for that TR of breakfast on Bierstadt. That would actually be some useful beta

Yeah that ain't happening
10/12/2021 14:39
You were there anyways...

10/12/2021 20:35

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