(Two reports, an attempt followed by a summit)
May 10, 2008 - The Loft- Snow (Attempt)
A beautiful Spring climbing day was promised by the long range weather forecast, a harsh blustery snow storm was delivered by Long's Peak. We left Cheyenne at 3:00 sharp and made it to the Longs peak trail head parking lot in two hours flat. The sky was getting light by the time we left around 5:20 under cloudy skies and gusty winds. The parking lot was a sheet of that frozen rain/snow crunchy mixture, enough that I had to drop the truck in 4wd to get into the parking spot. There were a few other folks headed for Mt. Lay Washington and one fellow who had just come from tree line. We chatted with him and he promised no visibility and "spooky" snow conditions. I looked at Ed and we knew this might not be a long day.
The start of the trail took me by surprise with lots of drifted hummocks where we usually encounter dirt or packed down ice. There was a freshn4 " layer and as we went higher the snow got deeper. I did not have snow shoes and I was not about to carry a set up this usually packed trail. I figured the worst case was that we would break tree line and the trail would be blown clear, as it always seems to be. The trail had a compacted core and we trudged upward and upward. We met a fellow by the name of Steve near tree line and he had just come down due to the blowing snows. Goggles and facemask were his battle cries but we figured to take a look for ourselves. We chatted for a minute and Steve opted to tag along with us as he all too correctly stated that the day was still too early and there were now four more boots to pack a trail.
We skipped the final creek crossing and trudged right up the creek bed to the last of the trees. As we came into the open the wind hammered us with snow and we all felt the sting of the cold as we trudged along. We went about another 100 to 150 yards and called it a day. We were not going to get a summit, we had chosen a route that provides serious slab avalanche opportunities and it was a prudent time to wish for a better weather day. Hence, we were back at the car by 8:30 and headed home. The Meeker loft would have to wait for another day.
May 17, 2008 - The Loft- Snow (Summit)
I have this old habit of returning to the scene of the attempt fairly soon after a failure to take another shot at a particular climb. Our failure to make any real progress on our climb of Meeker seems to have prompted a similar response, just one week after Ed and I tried to score this high 13'er. The G man had to work, Ed was headed out of town with family and Bob was nursing a sore knee. That translated to me having to find the motivation to go solo. I convinced myself that this would be a training exercise for the upcoming climb of Rainier, hence I might have a shot at getting out of bed too early in the morning and making the two hour drive to the Longs Peak trail head.
I set the alarm for 1:45 in the a.m. and the night before made sure I had a decent book on tape to help me through he two hour drive south all too early in the morning. Thing is I can look forward to a climb like this for the whole week, and the night before I leave but when I get up, I'm not really keen on the idea. The book on tape seems to get me into the car for the drive but as I get closer to the parking lot, I realize that I have just burned $25 in gas getting there and I'm just not really enthused. I think it is the solo thing as I really have to push myself to get out of the warm car, get that pack on my back, and start up the trail. Usually, it is an unreasonably early alpine start and it is cold. It is a struggle.
I left Cheyenne at 2:10 and hit the parking lot for the Longs Peak trail at 4:00 on the dot. No traffic of course and the roads were dry, unlike the previous week. The book had caught my interest and I did not mope my way south as I have in the past. I pushed the seat back, noted that it was a balmy 34 degrees out and swapped my approach shoes for the double plastic boots that are so light and airy. I had pre-packed the backpack and needed only to put it on and extend my hiking poles. It was still dark so I put the headlamp on my head and took a long glance at the snow shoes. I never take snow shoes on the Longs Peak trail but I am always there in the dead of winter when the snow is almost surely blown off the upper trail. The prior week had brought a foot of new wet snow but I figured it was cold enough up high to have the snow subject to a good hard freeze. I put the crampons in my pack and a single alpine axe.
As it was so warm, I knew I would be able to get water up at the highwall below Chasm Lake, so I packed the pump and poured out half the water in the single quart bottle I planned to carry. Why lug the extra weight? Do you see the pieces of a climbing falicy coming together? I've made an assumption about the temps, the need for the snowshoes and now the availability of water up high. When you assume, you make an ass . . . The bottom half mile of the trail was not nearly as badly hummocked as the past Saturday and maybe 30% of the trail had melted out to the summer surface. After that it was solid snow on the path all the way up to the cut off that climbed along the creek, avoiding the last log bridge just below tree line. I took care to stay on the center of the trail where the underlying snow was firmly packed by the winter's snowshoer traffic.
At tree line, I met two other groups, one of which was headed for the Martha snow climb on Mt. Lady Washington and the other that was clearly not talking to passers by at this hour of the morning. I played through and broke out of the trees, following a beaten down track that made a less curvy course for the saddle at Chasm view. The snow was shallow and beaten down enough that post holing was a non issue and I made pretty good time to the Chasm View solar eco-shitter and stock tie off. I made a steady course for the Chasm View ranger cabin, cutting across the much less traveled snow field that lies below Mt. Lady Washington and seems to often guard access to this area with the threat of avalanche. The snow was soft but just hard enough that I could gently kick a path without breaking through too often.
I expected to water and shoot a Goo at the ranger outpost but the water that usually runs through this area was either under the snow or not yet thawed for the day. My plan for there to be water was now a bust and as I crossed this area, my plan to climb with crampons was also heading for bust. Seems like a conflict doesn't it, figure on flowing water but climbing with crampons. yea, I see some illogic also, but if you figure that the Loft had settled spring snow, it could be true . . it was true in Glacier Gorge when we climbed Chiefshead. I shot a Goo and took a swig of water, replacing the volume removed with a handful of snow that I figured would melt between the swig and the next water stop.
The climb up the Loft is a solid 2300 foot snow climb, height wise, the solidity of the snow was however another story. The surface started out with shallow crust breakthroughs and was followed by steps going in about six inches, assuming you take a good step and give the snow just a fraction of time to set. I climbed up toward the two big boulders where one cuts off to head for the Dreamweaver Couloir and by that point the feet were sinking about 8 inches with every step. That is not too bad, I'd rather have solid neve snow for the crampons but this is a training climb and I'm here to get worked. I climbed perhaps another 600 feet and the snow degraded to a wallow, with every step going in to just above my knee and most steps breaking back to cause a slide back of half the distance advanced.
I kicked my way up through that crap for about 200 vertical feet, giving serious thought to just quitting and walking away from this climb for the second time. I convinced myself that it might change and that I should give it a bit more height and the snow did start to firm up so that I only had to posthole to my upper shin for the rest of the climb. I know that the route climbed until a cliff band was encountered and then there would be a ramp off to the south. I really wanted to see this ramp from top and bottom as the G man and I were planning to climb Dreamweaver in the near future. There was enough snow that I never did spot the ramp. Instead, I spotted a thin finger of snow, maybe 3 feet wide that seemed to break the cliff band in a very short spot and that became my target.
I reached that point and had to stop to look at the moves that would be required to get over this short step. The slope below me was probably pushing 35 to 40 degrees but if I took a tumble, I did not figure I'd get hurt or swept down the slope as the snow was really going to crap and I'd have landed in an eight inch layer of mashed potatoes. I took out my axe, and with a strike or two, found some purchase and pulled and stepped my way up where the rock was too smooth to otherwise present a viable hand hold. I needed now to only continue oupward perhaps another 100 vertical feet to complete the climb of the Loft Couloir and arrive on the flat saddle separating Longs from Meeker.
The snow on the saddle was in crappy shape as well and once again I was post holing until I got over to the rocks that formed the ridge leading about 400 vertical feet to Meeker's summit. I was tired but I figured if I took my time and rock hopped, I could summit in 1/2 hour of so. Then I could come back down and either descend the Lamb's Slide or the Loft to head for the car. Lamb's Slide as a consideration as the Loft was really getting hit by the sun and I wasn't 100% keen on working my way back down through the one ice axe move. I figured the Slide would be more shadowed but a pair of climbers who had just climbed it described it as a bottomless wallow. Well, that decision could wait the hour it would take to score Meeker's summit and come back to the flats of the Loft.
I rock hopped and avoided the snow where possible and made good time though I was kind of bushed from the wallow I had experienced in gaining the loft just a few minutes before. But with every slow step, I gained a foot of climb and I seemed to arrive at the summit quite soon. A few photos, a sip, and another Goo, then I was headed down. I retraced my route up through the rocks and arrived at the Loft and the decision point. I knew that I had a set of steps in place and the other guys said they just left a trench. I knew the move I was fretting about was not that bad and that did not know how crappy the route around Chasm lake would be. I chose to go back down the Loft.
The move was a piece of cake and I heel plunged my way down the long slope to the Chasm Lake ranger cabin, which seemed like an ideal place to stop, eat, drink, take off my long U/W bottoms and shed the wind layer. I took in a bit of sum and after fifteen minutes of looking at the sun roasted snow field below Lady Washington, I put the double plastic boots back on and headed across that all too soft slope. Step, slide, cuss, step, posthole, cuss . . . it probably only took 20 minutes to make the Chasm View junction but it seemed like an hour as the snow had truly gone to crap and I was tiring. Another Goo and sip at the stock rack and then onto the well packed hiker/snowshoer trail leading almost 4 miles to the car far below.
I played the mental break it into pieces game, first get to tree line and then down through the woods. Just another psychological game I play when I'm tired. The trail in the woods was shaded and the post holing was far behind me as I made good time down the packed trail and the bit of dirt trail that seemed to have lengthened since I came though early that morning. Not a bad training day, though the 12 miles and 4600 feet of climb did manage to consume a bit over ten hours with a 2:30 p.m. trail head arrival.