Descent Route: Homestretch To Keplingers Couloir
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Ski Descent #54
January 19, 2007
Forty-eight hours ago Longs Peak battered us with terrible winds and freezing wind chills, eventually sending us down the mountain licking our wounds. I drove back to Aspen Wednesday night dejected but not demoralized. On Thursday I spent an hour checking various weather sites, wind forecasts, and many great images that folks have been emailing me. Armed with all of this information, I knew the only chance I would have to give Longs (my final 14er of my project) another shot would be Friday. So Neal Beidleman and I turned right around and drove back to Boulder Thursday night. Nick Devore made an all-time rally and drove from Salt Lake City, meeting Danny Brown in Glenwood Springs, and arriving in Boulder at 12:30 a.m. For Nick, this was nine hours in the car. I deeply hoped it would be worth it for all of us.
We woke at 4 a.m. and were skinning up the Longs Peak Trail at 6:30 a.m. Having experienced the full wrath of the winds on Longs and seen what it had done to the North Face (the route I really wanted to climb and ski) we opted to try the south side. We headed for Chasm Lake and the Loft Couloir, which would take us up to the Loft, a high plateau between Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak. The climbing in the Loft Couloir was fantastic, hard, plastic snow. Near the top Neal, Danny, and I headed left across the traverse under the big cliff band, while Nick decided to do some rock climbing and headed up an off width straight through the cliff. Once at the Loft, we took a break and ate some food. The weather today could not have been more different than Wednesday. Skies were a deep, cobalt blue, temperatures were in the high 20?s, and there was absolutely not a breath of wind. I?m not sure how many days on Longs Peak each year are totally without wind, but I?d imagine you might count them on both hands. From the Loft we down climbed south and west, eventually ending up two-thirds of the way up Keplingers Couloir. The couloir was filled with hard sastrugi, wind sculpted snow that is safe from avalanches and provides exciting skiing. At this point Danny wasn?t feeling great so he turned around and headed back towards Chasm Lake, where he had left a time-lapse camera. Nick, Neal, and I climbed the couloir towards the Notch, and then headed left across a sloping traverse called the Ledge. This traverse eventually intersects the Homestretch, the final pitch to the summit on the normal summer climbing route. Above us, the incredible Palisades gleamed in the sun with deep hues of yellow and gold. Back at the Loft I had said to my team that all of the elements for a successful trip were in place, if only the Homestretch would have enough snow. As we rounded the corner from the Ledge above Keplingers, we finally got our first good look at the Homestretch, and it was perfect. A little thin right at the bottom, but plenty of snow for skiing.
We made the summit at 1:30 p.m., five hours after setting out. Our spirits were soaring with the combined influence of such a beautiful day and the fact that we were so close to accomplishing my goal. I felt humbled and proud on that summit, yet kept focused on the task at hand, which was a fairly steep and dangerous ski descent. We have all heard of too many stories of climbers that reached the top, only to perish on the way down. As Nick filmed and Neal shot photos, I dropped in off the top and made VERY controlled turns down the Homestretch. Near the bottom I stopped to watch Neal and then Nick work their way down. From this point I had to ski on rocks between patches of snow to connect down to the Ledge, which was nicely covered. I?m not sure how my Salomon Fury?s have withstood the beating this year, but they hung in there on the rocks today and got me across to the firmer snow. We skied across the Ledge and into Keplingers Couloir. The top one-hundred feet of the couloir, just below the Notch, was icy and rocky, and required more ?rock skiing? and a 30 foot down climb over a rock band to link to the solid snow below. Once in the main gut of the couloir we experienced two thousand feet of exhilarating, steep couloir skiing, all the way down to Wild Basin.
The last few turns of this run were the most special for me. That is when all of the emotion and impact of this project finally hit me. I yelled for joy as I skied out the bottom, and collapsed in the valley, thanking the mountain for welcoming us today and allowing me to finish all fifty-four Colorado 14ers in less than a year (this Sunday was the cut-off date) I could write pages of reflection about this project, and most likely will, but for now I really wanted to thank everybody that helped out along the way. Most especially my dedicated, strong, and inspirational ski partners; John Hagman (24 peaks), Nick Devore (18), Neal Beidelman, Ted Mahon, Danny Brown, Will Cardamone, Christian Pondella, Mike Cuseo, Ben Galland, Adam Myscinski, Chris Knackendoffel, Charley Mace, Brendan Cusick, Mark Welgos, Jonathan Selkowitz, Lou Dawson, Scott Smith, Lindsey Yaw, John Webb, Chris Anthony, Eric Warble, Carl Cocciarella, Frank Shine, Patrick Doyle, and Tom Zuccareno. These folks are some of the finest skiers anywhere. Thank you so much. I also want to thank those ski mountaineers who came before me and paved the way on Colorado?s 14ers, most especially Lou Dawson. Without Lou?s sage advice and counseling I would have been inspired less and lost more. Also Sean Crossen and the entire Crested Butte crew for always getting after it, and to Jay Ivanic, for boldly skiing these mountains alone. Thanks to everyone who emailed me peak photos, weather and snow reports, websites of interest, and inspirational messages. I couldn?t have done it without you.
I will keep you all updated on the movie and book project. So until then, thanks you for everything, and I hope to see all of you out in the mountains!
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