When I first got into winter mountaineering Kiener’s route, on Longs Peak was the first route I really remember. It was considered an ultra-classic with a long history. First climbed in the winter of 1925 by Walter Kiener and Agnes W Vaille. It cost Vaille her life and Keiners his fingers and toes. Though extremely well-traveled today in the winter it still posed a significant challenge in an amazing setting. Yet for some reason or another, though it has been at the top of our list, we put if off till this year.
Spoiler alert: I’ve summited Longs via the key hole, the north face, the notch couloir, and the diamond, but still not via Kiener’s. But I did try, twice this winter.
Our first attempt took place on a cold weekend on Longs Peak. We went expecting to climb in -10 degree temperatures. We got what we expected.
We ( Jay, Brock and myself) left boulder at 2pm as soon as Jay got off work. We would have liked to have gotten out earlier but that wasn’t possible. We skinned up the trail in good time but had to ditch our skies a little ways above tree line when the snow became sparse.
An hour and a half later we were scrambling frozen rocks in the near dark to make our way up and across a frozen Chasm Lake.
It was GORGEOUS up there, in the middle of a frozen mountain lake, at night, with a near full moon and Longs Peak looming over us in the dark, the diamonds outline and face distinct and huge. I love Longs!!!!
I had never gotten to the other side of Chasm so quick and easily. We headed up the boulder field on the other side and found our bivy site filled with snow head high. Brock and I got to digging it out, building up a wind barrier and creating a level sleeping platform.
We were all stoked to have our packs off and be so close to sleep.
As we dug Jay continued to puke his guts out, an activity he had begun about an hour earlier. We determined he was super dehydrated based on his puking, splitting headache and neon rank pee. We hit the sack.
At 3 am our alarms all went off simultaneously. No one moved. Jay informed us he had been sick all night and that he wasn’t going to be able to go. At that point I didn’t want to either. -10 degrees and wind didn’t seem like fun from my cozy bag. After about 40 minutes we were dressed in our bags and a little after 4 we were packing out Deuter Guide 45+ packs in the dark by headlamp.
By the time we were taking off Brock and I were warm and excitement was growing. We basically ran up the rest of the hill and hit the base of lambs slide in 20 minutes. We dug a snow pit at the base to test the avalanche conditions which the CAIC had listed as considerable for the area and aspect we would be on. It was perfect, Brock ran up it breaking trail the whole way.
(Quick note about Brock; He moved to Colorado 5 months ago from Georgia. He had never touched snow before or climbed on ropes. On his third day here I took him up the Notch Couloir just before the snow melted out. He crushed it, super athletic, super confident)
After lamb slide we climbed up some loose rock and snow to arrive on the start of Broadway.
As soon as we hit Broadway the snow was waist deep and the going got slow and cold. My right foot was already numb. I had been on Broadway before but never in the winter and it was basically unrecognizable. Everything was steeper and the snow was not super stable. We were moving too slowly.
We simul-climbed most of Broadway with one anchor at a sketchier spot. Finally we reached within 100 meters of the Couloir where the climb turned more fun and technical. We had to make a choice, continue and possibly have to finish the climb in the dark or turn back. With our unfamiliarity of the route and my toes frozen it wasn’t much of a choice, we turned back disappointed but sure in our decision.
We simul-climbed back making much better time following our tracks down hill. We glissaded down lambs slide in about 5 minutes
and made it back to camp where Jay was feeling better and having watched our slow progress and eventual bail had boiling water waiting. I got into jays sleeping bag and warmed my feet with a hot Deuter pouch of water while jay and Brock broke down the rest of camp.
We got to our skis in an hr as it got dark. From there it took 20 minutes to ski to the trail head where we had some food and whisky waiting. And that was that. Our first winter attempt on Kieners had come to an end.
Two weeks later, after a trip out to the Ouray Ice Fest
Brock and I were back at the Longs Peak trail head.
This time we decided to leave our skis and snow shoes and boot pack it. We got a much earlier start leaving the trailhead at 2pm. We hoped to get to the bivy site by 6 pm so we could be sleeping by 7pm and up by 1:30am. Ahahahahha, that didn’t happen.
We made ok time up the trail. Snow was deep in places due to the much needed dumping we had gotten that week. The sky was super overcast and we could hear winds howling from higher on the mountain.
We hit tree line around 5pm. A few hundred meters later things got awesome! Suddenly it was like we turned a corner into a wind tunnel. We lost all visibility as 90 MPH winds blew constant throwing snow in our faces. We hunkered down behind some rocks and got our goggles on and made sure not a speck of skin was exposed before we continued up. Or kind of continued.
Each step was a huge effort, the wind was amazing. Each time we lifted a foot for a step we would get knocked back. A few times we were literally lifted up and thrown down hard on the rocky ground. I had never seen or experienced anything like it.
After 30 minutes of pushing slowly forward without a single lull we realized it was impossible. At this rate we would get to camp later than before if at all and tomorrow was calling for more wind.
We turned back but walking down was just as hard going. Trying to control our downward momentum as the wind not so gently urged us to run blindly.
As soon as we hit tree line the wind died and we had a relaxed hike back to the car. Though not a success the hike was very nice and the wind was awesome. We will be back again I am sure.