High Adrenaline on Longs Peak

Carrying lots of stuff is part of the game. Packing up before ascending to Chasm Lake

Chasm Lake and Mills Glacier sit beneath the east face of Longs Peak, which is usually referred to as the Diamond. We moved to a different bivy in the morning, and followed the progress of a team of three climbers who were attempting the D1 route, which follows the long crack / dihedral right down the middle of the face. They had come up in the morning, and made some comment about "going to get killed in the storm" before continuing past our bivy. We would watch their white haulbag go higher and higher throughout the day.

Longs Peak from the trail. The upper half of the Diamond is visible. The Loft is above the large snowfield to the left.

As for us, we elected to climb a gully to the left of Lambs Slide, which is a wide snow slope which runs to the left of the Diamond (the first part of Kieners follows Lambs Slide). We weren't sure where this gully was topping out, but we went for it anyways, figuring we would come down if things got hairy. On one of the snow slopes below the gully I practiced self arrest with my ice axe, and convinced myself that I still remembered how to do it. Not wanting to get too wet, this practice wasn't exactly intense, which was going to be key later on.

Climbing in the unnamed gully. The fourth pitch, before the hail.

Higher up in the gully, the snow got harder, and we hit some ice in a few spots. Victor was completely in his element. The angle of the gully must have been no more than 40 degrees, since it looked like it could still be skied. With Victor leading and placing some pro on the side of the gully, we were moving pretty well. I suspect my non-existent ice climbing technique made me work a lot harder than was necessary, but after about three or four pitches I got some rhythm and it got a little less draining. Seems like this kind of climbing is all about rhythm and persistency. As I covered the last part of the last (fifth) pitch the hail started coming down pretty hard. Above us, the gully got closed off by some steep rock right below the ridge that connects the Ships Prow with the Longs Peak summit ridge, so after some debate, off with the crampons, Victor climbed another 4th class pitch to the right of the gully. The hail lasted for about a half hour, and we couldn't see the haulbag on the Diamond any more. It must have been a really miserable half hour for those guys. Unroped, we followed some wide grassy ledges towards Lambs Slide, which we reached at a point which must have been about 300 feet or so above Broadway (a horizontal ledge that bisects the Diamond).

The sun came out, and we could see all of the Diamond up close. Although we were not on any summit, I was experiencing summit relaxation, taking in all the view. The haulbag on the Diamond started moving again, and we prepared for descending Lambs Slide. Victor said it would take us 15 minutes, and this is where I started making mistakes. The angle was a lot gentler than in the gully, and the snow was a lot softer, so I took my crampons off. Watching Victor merrily heel step his way down, and self arresting a couple of times after he had lost balance, I followed suite. Sure enough I lost balance and tried to self arrest. The snow was soft enough to not slow me down very much, and since I had planted the pick, I tried again with the adze. Not much better. Bad move. Panic started hitting, and on the fourth try with bad technique, high speed and a patch of ice to boot my ice axe goes flying out of my hand and I'm off to the races.

Fortunately for me there was a way to go to the bottom, where the rocks were waiting. Some presence of spirit returned and over the space of 30 really long seconds I managed to slow down a little bit, with my hands, my elbows, whatever. After a last tumble caused by an abortive attempt to stop, I started going right, towards more rocks. However, I had slowed down just enough to control my slide, and I hit the rocks feet first. I got up fully expecting the sharp pain of a broken bone. No pain, though. Rather skeptical, I moved all of my limbs ... wow ... was I lucky. Some climbers were yelling, asking whether I was OK. I yelled back, and then moved into Victor's field of view waving my arms to let him know as well.

Turns out this fall looked really impressive from above. One of the guys with the haulbag included it in his trip report.

I analyzed this event over and over again. Inexperience and fatigue are a lousy combination in mountaineering. Suffice to say, it made me realize I was a lot less prepared than I thought, for a more serious route like Kieners. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent watching the white haulbag up on the Diamond. The guys topped out right at sunset. Must have been an awesome day for them, with the storm and all.

End of the first day. Victor at our mucho comfortable bivy.

I decided to take it easy the next day .