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Long's Peak East Face, Colorado

Author: Mike Sullivan

Participants: Mike Sullivan, Andy Grieder

Long's Peak (14,255') is the only fourteener in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's distinctive summit rises a full 9000' above the plains of northeastern Colorado. The East Face of Long's forms part of a magnificent cirque, with granite walls that soar

2500' above Chasm Lake at it's base. It's an amazing sight.

There are over a hundred rock and mixed routes to be found in this cirque, from a third class scramble up The Loft to a grade V 5.12d route on the Diamond. Our ambitions were pretty moderate - we planned to do a linkup of Stettner's Ledges and Hornsby Direct (totaling 6 pitches of 5.6 - 5.8 climbing) on the Lower East Face, and Upper Kiener's (1100 feet of third class - easy fifth class), to create a nicely varied route to the summit. It was a still fairly committing climb for the middle of thunderstorm season, and we only decided to do it after receiving a favorable weather forecast the night before.

We arrived at the Long's Peak trailhead at 4:30 AM, and were amazed to see that the oversized lot was already full, with parked cars lined up along the road leading to the lot. Jeez, I know we were kind of late in arriving, but this was only a weekday... I can't imagine what Saturdays are like! We hustled up the path, and by the time we reached the side trail to Chasm Lake, we had shot past more than 40 hikers headed up to do the standard Keyhole Route. What a circus...

We reached our first full views of the East Face in time to get a few good alpenglow photographs, and made it past Chasm Lake to the foot of the Mills Glacier by about 7:15. The "glacier" is really only a moderate snowfield at the base of the wall, but it proved to be the most exciting part of the climb. The upper part of it was rock-hard, with a 30 degree pitch. I had brought a basketless ski pole for use as a quick and light self-belay, but I wound up having to slowly chip out toeholds with the pole's tip to make it to the top. After reaching rock and setting an anchor, I dropped a rope to Andy, who was clinging to the base of the steep section with only a nut tool for self-belay. With the security of the rope, he quickly joined me, and we set up for the first pitch of Stettner's at 8 AM.

The climb was a little on the mossy side, but the rock was quite solid. The route was peppered with pitons of questionable quality (ha!), but it seemed better to clip 'em and go than to garden out the munge and place micro-stoppers. Good cam placements came along once in a while as well. On the third pitch, I stepped left out of the wet crux dihedral, in order to climb a more enjoyable (i.e. dry) 5.8 variation. On the final pitch, it took a little head-scratching to figure out which of the many dihedrals we were supposed to pick in order to finish up on the Hornsby Direct. We chose the deepest dihedral, just to the left of a large water streak. It worked fine and we reached Broadway (the main ledge system midway up the East Face) about noon.

We traversed north on Broadway to a spot just past the Notch Couloir, then third-classed the direct start on Upper Kiener's. The rock was of good quality and mostly dry, and we made good time. The middle section of the route was a talus-scramble. Near the top, we traversed right to the upper edge of the Diamond. "Gaze not into the abyss, lest the abyss gaze into thee..."

A final 200' boulder-hop brought us to the summit around 1 PM, where we met the expected hordes. After a few photos and a brief chat with some of the hikers, we retreated north down the Keyhole Ridge for some peace and a quick lunch. We then scrambled down the North Face, which was fairly loose and wet, with some slick patches of lichen. The best line went left down the ridge to avoid the water, then eventually cut back right towards the top of the slab above Chasm View. The slab is fourth class, but is ususally wet and icy. Three eyebolts from the old North Face Cables Route can be found there; the bolts are now used as rap anchors. We scrambled down to the second bolt, and two single-rope rappels took us to Chasm View. This is a very cool and airy spot, and we stopped for a while to gawk and take more photos.

From here, one can do three double-rope raps down to Broadway, and then 3 more double-rope raps to the glacier. Instead, Andy and I chose to hike east past the overhanging top of Chasm View Wall for 1/2 mile until we reached the rock formation known as The Camels. A scramble down and left from this point took us to the top of a chossy gully which provides an alternate descent back down to Mills Glacier. The weather remained very good all afternoon, so we loafed around the boulders where we had stashed our approach gear. We eventually wandered back past Chasm Lake and down the trail. I think we made it back to Andy's car around 5:30. Another memorable route!


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