Scott and I had been eyeing the Dragon's Tail Couloir on Meeker's south side for a couple of weeks, but as the weekend approached, I started second guessing that plan. With the recent warm spell, the 6 mile hike below treeline would certainly be a slushy mess later in the day and even make for a very tedious approach. So, figuring the Longs Peak trail would be well traveled we turned our attention to the Loft. First priority was to hit up Meeker and then we'd see where the day would take us. On Sunday I received a call from Astrobassman who dug up a partner in the IPW at the last minute. His partner was interested in joining us so we now had our third. I picked Ryan up at 4 am in south Denver and we made our way to Boulder to get Scott at 5. After moving his car 15 feet (literally) to accommodate Bolder Boulder parking requirements we were on our way to RMNP.
We were on the trail a little after 6 am and it was pretty well dry for the first mile except for a boggy 20 feet. After that it was "rolling" snow banks for another mile until around the first stream crossing where the snow was pretty much continuous to treeline. The cold evening froze the snow making for pretty quick travel. The trail was pretty well clear after treeline to the Chasm Lake junction. We took our break below Lady Washington's east slopes to grab a snack and put on our crampons just to be extra cautious crossing a snow slope where a slip would dump you in the lower lake a couple hundred feet below. Just before we headed up our route, I took a quick detour to Chasm Lake to snap a couple of pictures of the Diamond. It had been a few years since I was back here and I forgot what a wondrous place it is.
The loft was in excellent condition for a climb. Last year was my first snow climb season and I was eagerly awaiting my next opportunities. Heading up was pretty uneventful other than a stiff headwind that would occasionally throw some ice our way or knock us off balance. We exited the couloir onto a ramp near the top and picked our way through the boulders to Meeker's summit. We were all expecting a little more scrambling but since we took a straight shot the summit came as a surprise. I was the last to arrive and I was stunned to see the guys take a seat as I thought we still had 100-200 feet left. Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise and we each took a spot on the several "benches" that line the summit ridge.
From the Chasm Trail Junction
No Introduction Needed
Ryan and Scott heading up the Loft...
And Passing Me
Ryan on Meeker's Summit
Longs from Meeker
After spending about a half an hour on top we figured we'd keep climbing and try to head over to Longs. The weather was absolutely perfect but none of us were very familiar with the route. I had some print outs just in case so we hiked across the loft and mistakenly started up the incline. We all thought the "Loft" consisted of the ramp as well as the flat expanse. Don't make this mistake. Apparently Clark's Arrow is around the place that the incline begins. I wouldn't know for sure, we never found it. So we found some great scrambling along what amounted to the SE ridge of SE Longs. About ¾ the way up we found some cairns above a skinny gully. Figuring that was the route, we descended about 30 feet before coming to a consensus that this route (while probably doable) was harder than what the route called for. I heard that this route was only slightly more difficult than the Keyhole. This way would have significantly surpassed that guideline. About this time, for added entertainment, a few military jets buzzed Longs' summit making for a great airshow as they banked toward Boulder for what I assumed was the flyby to kickoff the run. We scrambled back up to our ridge and followed the ridge (lots of exposure to the west) trying to find the correct way. Before we knew it we ran out of ridge and we were peering straight (and I mean straight) down the notch.
All of us had been on Longs' summit but none of us had been on SE Longs. Happy with a new summit and no interest in descending and trying again, we settled in for over an hour enjoying the day since the wind had seemed to subside.
Lady Washington from SE Longs
For those of you wanting IPW beta
Nope.. not the correct descent
and it's as steep as it looks
Meeker from SE Longs
Scott on SE Longs
The snow patches made for quick and easy travel back down to the flat expanse above our route. Scott was in the lead and decided the steep upper section was doable so he descended first with me right behind him. Ryan met up with some climbers descending Meeker that came up the Flying Dutchman and retraced our ascent route around the upper steep portion and along the exposed ramp. Scott and I found our first exciting (and for me, very nerve wracking) experience when we had to navigate either an icy 6-8 foot downclimb using the slush (Scott) or rock (me). Scott was having trouble with his way and pretty much swept the gully clean of any snow so I took the rock which I learned once committed that it was also covered with over an inch of solid ice. Scott was understanding as I chipped away at the ice with my axe to allow myself some sort of rock to grip. Safely down, it was now time to test my self arrest skills. Glissading the upper portions of the route proved pretty dangerous as gravity took over my 250 pound frame a little faster than I could control it. After a couple of flailing attempts to come to a stop I decided to plunge step to more gradual ground before resorting to laziness. I still got probably 1000 feet of a nice slide in before meeting Scott back at a large rock in the middle of the couloir. Ryan was just starting his descent when I finished and, except for a couple of self-important skiers that we ran into on the way out, the trip back to the car was fairly pleasant and uneventful.
Looking back on the long glissade
Martha looking thin