June, '02



Finding Adventure on Kiener's Route

in a Party of One



    Kiener's. I've thought about this route a lot. I've even been in position to climb this route twice before and instead, gone home, shamelessly lacking the motivation to go-for-it after completing the 5-mile approach. I was not truly unhappy with those decisions, but at the same time, I wanted to climb this route all  the more. Last week, I left Fort Collins at 2:20am and drove an hour to the Long's Peak Trailhead. I signed out on the register as a party of one, setting out to climb Kiener's Route.

    I passed 5 or 6 parties on my way to the Chasm Lake trail junction. At this point, most summiteers turn northwest and hike toward Granite Pass. My path however took me directly west toward the east face of Long's. Making good time, I was soon on the west end of Chasm Lake where I passed a pair of climbers who were sleeping under a giant boulder called The Hilton. A short distance farther, I stopped to enjoy the sunrise. The Diamond loomed proudly above me and glowed red from morning sunlight filtered through the haze from distant forest fires.

    The first section of Kiener's ascends a snow/ice couloir called Lamb's Slide. No need to guess how Mr. Lamb came up with this name. At the base of the snow, I donned my crampons and took out my ice axe. Earlier, I had noticed a pair of climbers hiking toward the base of Lamb's Slide so I was not surprised to see them 500 feet above me in the couloir. They looked to be roped together so I kept out of their fall line as much as possible. The snow was in perfect condition for kicking steps with one firm kick producing a solid half-foot stance. In some places, I was able to use the steps kicked by the party ahead of me while in others, I kicked my own way up so as not to be directly below them. 

    After ascending the couloir for 800 feet, I traversed right over a section of alpine ice and onto a ledge called Broadway. I almost opted out of the traverse as the party ahead of me had done. They continued up the couloir another 300 feet to an easier traverse which led back down to where I was sitting. After thinking it through, I decided not to let them influence my decisions. Tentatively, I stepped out onto a 2-inch layer of harder ice and sunk the pick of my axe above. I pulled down on the axe to make sure it was firmly planted and committed. A few body-lengths of sketchy moves took me to Broadway where I stopped for a quick snack. Happy with my decision, I took a last look at the other party and set out across Broadway. I would not see them again. 

    The only technical section of Broadway is a block that you must step around which hangs your backside over a 700 foot cliff. The move is very easy though and I was soon past this and at the base of the technical rock climbing. I stopped for 15 minutes to hydrate and slow my breathing. I was now at 13,000 feet and I did not want to launch into the rock climbing un-roped and short of breath. Now climbing in rock shoes, I followed the path of least resistance (5.4) for several hundred feet which left me at the base of the Devil's Staircase.

    The Devil's Staircase is the final leg of the climb and is relatively free of danger. At this point, I started taking more short breaks to catch my breath and to take in the incredible view. Chasm Lake was sparkling far below and beyond that, the trail I had taken in the morning darkness traced a line down into the forest. 

    In another hour I was on the summit with a handful of other summiteers who had taken the Keyhole Route. It was almost 9am. I signed the summit register and had someone take my picture before I started down the north face. Down-climbing the north face turned out the be one of the more exciting sections of the day. The 150 feet of 5.4 rock climbing was running with water and seemed slippery in my mountain boots. I debated putting on my rock shoes, but I wanted to get down and felt that I could do it safely.

    Back in the Boulderfield, I rested and talked with a family from Tiffin, Ohio who had come out to climb their first mountain. Long's Peak! After a nice lunch, I set off down the trail where I ran into three more kids from Ohio. We took pictures of each other and I continued down arriving at the trailhead nine and a half hours after leaving. I had finally done it, and it was worth the wait!

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