Longs Peak - Western Couloir

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

May 21, 2006

Dave Svilar, Mason


Mason laces em' up for a long day on Longs Peak.

'Twas the week before the end of our first year as teachers and we had taken the weekend to prime ourselves for a most well-deserved summer.  Our first stop was Wyoming's Veadawoo and its abundant assortment of difficult cracks.  It didn't take long for us to realize that our long, gangly bodies were no match for the off-width no matter how easy.  After a thorough whipping on a 5.6 we realized the guidebook didn't offer anything easier, so our minds began to wander to some other objective that might give us a sense of accomplishment that we desired.  The answer was easy - a good old fashioned slog - preferably up the biggest thing we could find.  After ducking an afternoon thundercloud we high-tailed it for Longs Peak, the biggest thing in northern Colorado.

After my solo failure in early April on the Western Couloir I was anxious to get back and settle the score.  We set off from the Glacier Gorge trailhead at some ungodly hour, and with minimal post-holing reached Black Lake sometime around the break of day.  After a snack we booted up to the base of the Western Couloir (might be called the Trough Couloir) and began 2,000 feet of sweet step kicking to where the couloir joins the standard route on Longs.  Normally this would mean the end of our solitude, but even though it was a gorgeous Sunday, the standard route was considered "technical."  The hordes of 14er baggers wait until each and every spot of snow has melted off the route before laying siege to the peak. 

Having said that, the last few hundred feet (aka "the Homestretch") did require our attention and finally our crampons on the thinly snow covered rock.  With an eye to the building cumulous we kept summit dallying to a minimum, retraced our steps to the top of the Trough and followed the standard route back through the boulderfield.

Our plan to get back to the trailhead was not very well researched, and upon reaching the trail junction below the boulderfield we paid for our cavalier approach to researching the trail system.  I'll just say Mason was in no mood at this point to walk 7 miles in his plastic boots.  A series of ridiculous National Park-style switchbacks caused us to abandon the trail for a more direct route toward our trucks.  Our sense of direction wasn't much better than our off-width climbing skills and soon we found ourselves laying in the woods not sure on just how we would go about finding our vehicles.  Both of us were tired, hungry and beaten by the day's efforts.  Just before having to make the difficult decision to cut off Mason's leg for food we heard a faint, but familiar sound...  Voices in the woods!

In the unlikely case that someone may actually be reading this, you the reader may be under the impression that Mason and I are two hardcore outdoorsman.  This would not be accurate.  As Mason and I lay in the forest unsure if we could reach our trucks the voices that came to our rescue were those of three elderly couples taking a leisurly stroll through the forest.  "Hey there young fellers.  You boys look pretty beat."  With our pride hurt once again we thanked the elderly folks for pointing us in the correct direction, limped back to our trucks, and headed back to our classrooms for one more week of teaching failure.

Panorama of Black Lake buried in early-April snowpack.
Bug-eyed self-portrait at my high point on the same route in early April.
Mason reaches Black Lake and keeps charging towards Longs on our May trip.
Mason snacks above Black Lake.  Melting ice flow in the background.
Mason kicks steps up the 2,000 foot couloir on Longs western slope.
The bulls-eye marks the cattle route.
Longs Peak gets "technical."  Snow and ice added interest to the standard route.
Does anything seem painful about this picture?




Plastic Boots...  you can see the pain in Mason's gait.


-written November 2006

Take Me Home