14er Ski Descents – Longs Peak – May 14, 2005
Route: North Face to Trough Couloir
Team: Ted, Christy, Dirk Bockelmann, Sean Shean
Longs was the best. If I had to pick one day that stuck out as my favorite to date, it would be Longs Peak. Winter snow on the steep North Face was part of it, success after an uncertain and very long day added something, but most significant was the group— Christy, Dirk, and Sean, that made it the day it was. Of my friends I venture to the backcountry with– 14ers or lift-accessed, summer/winter, Colorado or abroad– these three have become my core group, and rarely are we all together. And coming recently from a solo slog on Mount Massive, Longs wouldn’t disappoint.
With a 4 am start we booted up past Mills Lake, then Black Lake to the base of the Trough Couloir. Ascending the Trough was tough though. Recent snow had yet to consolidate, so booting was tiresome deep postholing. Our speed slowed considerably and brought new questions. We had hoped to ascend the Trough to the Keyhole, then climb the steep North Face. With conditions as they were in the Trough, the North Face might be even more difficult, if not completely unclimbable. Though not our first choice, we thought it might be more expeditious to finish the climb on the standard summer Keyhole route, that is, from the Trough around the back through the Narrows to the Homestretch. Unfortunately this wouldn’t allow us to scout the ski line or assess conditions on the steep North side. We’d have to make it work.
Some lunch, pictures, and joking around on the summit and we were skiing from a pole touch of the highest boulder. Once at the edge of the North Face the mood got real serious. Not only did a foot or more of new snow cover the near 50-degree face, but the crux “pinch” area (where in summer you need 5th class climbing moves to overcome) looked real narrow. As if that’s not enough, there’s a slight tilt of the ski line to the right. While not quite a double fall line, a bad wreck could send you cartwheeling over the side and down east facing Diamond, a 2000 foot vertical wall.
Let’s not think about that. But how can you not? 50 degrees, big sharp rocks lurking beneath the deep new snow just itching to send you head over heels, Christy’s on telemark skis– it’s time to pucker up.
I made a few turns down to a relatively safe spot and everyone followed. Once it was realized we remembered how to turn and that the snow seemed friendly to our skis, the mood lightened and it all became fun, just a bit focused. Spying a potential ribbon of snow through the steep pinch, I guided Christy through, keeping our skis on the snow. Sean and Dirk felt comfortable with a more direct line. I took pictures of them airing out the crux.
At this point we were clear from the most concerning objective hazards. Watching each other take turns ripping up the powder on what is typically a dangerous and unforgiving mountain made for quite the moment. Some hoots and hollers were heard from observing day trippers atop neighboring Mount Lady Washington which added to it all.
Back down at the boulder field we couldn’t believe how this all turned out. It was some of the best snow I’ve ever managed to get on a 14er, and on such a cool, classic route and great weather day. After taking it all in we booted up through the Keyhole to meet back up with the Trough Couloir. It wasn’t long before we were skiing over Black Lake, past Mills Lake and catching the “Skiers shortcut” which took us to within 200′ of the car.
Back in Boulder that night we found ourselves at the Sound Tribe show, which kept the day going well into the night until we had made it a full twenty-four hours. For Sean, it was more like thirty-six.
He and I would hit Wetterhorn next.