Brian’s Lucky Day: Longs via Kieners

Neither Brian or I had ever successfully completed the classic “Kiener’s Route” on Longs Peak (I had failed on an earlier effort in June of 1996). Making this effort all the more unavoidable, this route is also called, “The Mountaineers Route.” Ensnared by the gravity of such inspiration, the limits of our so called “free will” were all too apparent.

And while this adventure shared many attributes with many other adventures, this one would be characterized by the lucky breaks Brian used to survive the day. For that reason, I call our ascent of Longs Peak via Kieners Route on July 3rd, 1998, “Brian’s Lucky Day.”

Start

We started at 4:20am and hiked up the trail toward Chasm Lake beneath the North Face of Longs Peak. It was a beautiful clear night with millions of stars filling the black sky. We took a left at the Y-Junction (right goes to Boulderfield) and arrived at Chasm Lake at 7:30am.

A preview of our plan to summit Longs Peak via the Kiener's Route

A preview of our plan to summit Longs Peak via the Kiener's Route

(1) Chasm Lake

As we approached the lake’s dam, we were hoping the lake would still be frozen over so we could hike over instead of around it. Going around is a significant bother as there is no “shore”; it requires a scramble over talus. And worse, the southern shore (the direct line to Lamb’s Slide) is blocked by cliffs, so we’d have to take a big detour to our right, around the northern side of the lake. But no; the ice was melted through in the center. We had to go around.

As I moved across the talus, I lost sight of Brian. I assumed he found a path lower down the talus, closer to the lake. Once I was about ½ way around the lake, I was surprised for a moment to see Brian walking on the ice about 20-30 feet from shore. But my surprise didn’t last as Brian frequently likes to push it when it comes to walking on lake ice.

Then I noticed he was shiny. He looked wet!

(2) Brian’s Self Rescue

Brian noticed me looking at him, and he motioned for me to approach. I moved down to the lake to join him, and found that the ice did not reach back to shore. Brian asked me to extend a hiking pole to pull him as he jumped the gap from the ice to the shore. He made it without adding significantly to his moisture level, so I asked how he came to be dripping wet. He explained that he had fallen through the ice, but had managed to escape a watery grave by crawling back onto it. I guess the ice was thin enough that when he went through, it broke up all around him into small floes: small enough to not trap him; big enough for him to get on.

He hadn’t yelled for help or even let me know he was on the ice. I would never have found him. He was lucky to be able to save himself.

(3) Complete the trek to Lamb’s Slide

After a short break to let Brian pour water out of his boots and wring out his socks, we continued around the lake and then up to the foot of Lamb’s Slide.

(4) Climb Lamb’s Slide

We reached the bottom of Lamb Slide and stopped to put on crampons and get out the ice axes. Then, we turned left to head up towards the Loft and Mt Meeker. We climbed about 800′ of elevation and exited at the first place it looked possible onto snowy ledges. We would traverse these ledges to the right until we reached the Broadway ledge proper. Along this thin ledge, we knew we would encounter snow & ice and at least one exposed technical section.

And, Brian needed to drain his boots again so we took another short break.

(5) Traverse Broadway Ledges to Horsby Direct Dihedral

The first corner we reached was covered in snow; I think it was the dihedral used by the Hornsby Direct finish to Stettner’s Ledges route. Brian headed across to check the conditions, to see if we needed a belay. He was planting his axe and kicking steps until about half-way across, he hit rocks just under the snow. Unable to gain secure footing on the main path, and with a large bulge of rock above him partially blocking his way, he moved lower to find solid footing on some exposed rocks below

I yelled out that the rocks looked unstable, and that we should setup a belay. Brian said he thought it would be okay. Just as he stepped down and put his full weight on a large boulder, it rolled over and fell out from under him.  It careened down onto Lamb’s Slide, hundreds of feet below. In that instant, I knew he was a goner. I stared blankly and screamed “rock” as a warning to anyone below.

By pure chance, Brian dropped straight down and landed squarely on another boulder only a foot or so lower that stopped his rapid descent into the afterlife. Brian looked back at me and offered up a profound, “whoa.” He then took the last step to reach the far ledge. We paused for a moment to listen for voices, but heard nothing but our own hearts pounding in our ears.

No one had been hurt, and we wanted to keep it that way.  Brian set up a belay anchor, and then I threw his end of the rope to him so I could get a belay past the airy bulge.

(6) Complete Broadway Traverse

We continued the traverse past several loose, snowy slopes to reach the far side of the notch couloir.  The route directions in Rossiter’s “High Peaks” guide book indicated a start within the Notch, but once again (as in 1996 see my Kieners’ …er, Notch Route trip report) I could not spot a likely start.  We decided to stop beneath a broken rock face leading up toward some fins of rocks. This looked to be a way to get into the Kiener’s Route.

We stopped for a snack and to change gear. Brian took his boots off and poured out a combined pint of fluid.  I didn’t think to see if it was just water, or if he’d peed himself a short while earlier.

Sitting squarely in the center of the “East Face” of Longs Peak, I felt that I was in the best spot on the greatest Colorado mountain. The combination of spectacular views, modest danger of dying at the moment, and the thrill of expected excitement to come felt unmatched.

(7) Climb Kiener’s Route to the Summit of Longs Peak

The upper portion of the Kiener's Route

The upper portion of the Kiener's Route

Brian took the first lead up the broken rock and over a chockstone; it was low 5th class climbing. I took the second lead up a narrowing chimney (about 3 feet across) to its end, and then up a waterfall to a big, grassy ledge. This pitch was 4th to low 5th class, and was the end of the technical portion of the route.

To speed things up without completely throwing caution to the wind, we simul-climbed up the broad ledges at the margin of the face (above the Diamond) for about 500′.  Once the terrain became gully-like with good hand and footholds, we unroped.  From this point on, the climbing difficulty was never harder than 3rd class.

At the end of this section, we stood in front of a massive cliff that separated us from the summit. It was very imposing and looked impossible to overcome.  I remember that my heart sank the first time I stood on that spot and looked at the impassable obstacle until I remembered the escape used by my guide to finish a climb on The Diamond.

Brian and I headed up and right, toward the Diamond face, and looked for large blocky rocks on the right. We climbed over the blocks and around the corner on a ledge to mount the north face of Longs.

From here, it was a 10-minute, 2nd class hike to the summit.  We reached the summit at 2pm; naturally the weather was deteriorating.  In addition, the summit was covered by flies and gnats, so we got ready to leave quickly.

(8) Descend the Cables Route

Just as we rose to head toward the Cable Route raps, a cloud rolled in and obscured visibility beyond 50 feet. Fortunately, we were able to feel our way down, having made the descent a couple times before. In a short time, we completed the second rappel and were looking over the impressive “Chasm View” to admire our path.

The hike down from the Boulderfield was a long one, as always. But, in the end, we had suffered and persevered 14.5 hours to ascend approximately 4800 feet and accomplish a classic mountaineering goal. And Brian had a very lucky day.

Our "lucky day" route up and down Longs Peak. The "X's" mark the spots of Brian's found luck.

Our "lucky day" route up and down Longs Peak. The "X's" mark the spots of Brian's found luck.

Our route had 8 major sections

  1. Hike to Chasm Lake
  2. Traverse around lake and Brian’s self rescue
  3. Completion of traverse to foot of Lamb’s Slide
  4. Ascent of Lamb’s Slide to Broadway Ledges
  5. Traverse to top of Hornsby Direct dihedral and Brian’s second lucky break
  6. Completion of traverse to start of Kiener’s Route
  7. Ascent of Kiener’s Route to Longs Peak summit
  8. Descent of Cables Route to Chasm View and back to car

See all Trip Reports

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3 Responses to “Brian’s Lucky Day: Longs via Kieners”

  1. Longs Peak: Kieners’…er, Notch Route « PeakMind Says:

    […] It would take me 2 years to come back and finally get the Kieners Route done.  See Brian’s Lucky Day […]

  2. The Long Way Up Longs Peak (Stettners-Kieners) « PeakMind Says:

    […] Kiener’s Route (7/98) […]

  3. The “Casual” Route? « PeakMind Says:

    […] Wisdom atop the high peaks « Brian’s Lucky Day: Longs via Kieners Flying Blind: Wetterhorn & Uncompahgre […]

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