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Cables Route Attempt

Climbing is the lazy man’s way to enlightenment. It forces you to pay attention, because if you don’t, you won’t succeed, which is minor – or you may get hurt, which is major. Instead of years of meditation, you have this activity that forces you to relax and monitor your breathing and tread that line between living and dying. When you climb, you always are confronted with the edge. Hey, if it was just like climbing a ladder, we all would have quit a long time ago.” – Duncan Ferguson

The Cables Route: so called because the NPS once had steel cables threaded through huge eyebolts strung down the N. Face and the route was the standard ascent before the Keyhole Route was pioneered and the NPS painted all those little bulls’ eye markers to guide the way. The cables were removed back in ’73 (because they were perfect lightning rods) and the route remains the second most visited on Longs Peak.

I woke up at 3:00 am to the usual doubts and heartache I face the morning before a planned outing… “I’m so sleepy, this bed is so warm, why not sleep in and then go out for breakfast? Maybe go gym climbing after that?” On Saturday morning I managed to overcome myself. I got out of bed and brewed up a fat cup of coffee. The adventure beckoned.

The dark, early morning hike up to the Boulder Field always induces a state of deep introspection and hypnosis: one step after the other. On this occasion I’m graced with a remarkably beautiful alpenglow illuminating the peaks while a near full moon sets in the west. OK, it’s already been worth the alpine start. The slog to Chasm View is another story, (snow covered talus sucks!), but kicking steps up towards the Cables Route was relatively painless on good styrofoam snow. I couldn’t ask for better weather. It’s cold, but clear and the wind isn’t too bad.

The route’s technical pitch (5.5, M2) is about 60 meters in length, followed by several hundred yards of class 4 and 3 scrambling to gain the large flat topped summit of Longs Peak. I usually feel pretty comfortable on this type of terrain – fourth and low fifth class rock in crampons – but right off the bat I began flailing on the powder-covered granite. The route had appeared to be relatively clear from below, but I found the right facing corner that the route follows to be drifted over with wind deposited snow. I attempted to clear holds with my gloved hands and tools, but thirty meters up the little pockets of wind-slab were consolidated and began cohesively sliding off the rock slab when I attempted to climb (swim) through them.

I threaded my 7.5 dynamic tagline through the second eyebolt  and began self-belaying (revolving loop belay) out on a clove-hitched biner. After wallowing through more steep, snow-covered slab I reached a large drift guarding the last couple feet of technical ground. I didn’t want to climb through it, fearing it would have enough power to take me off the rock if it slid. I looked for gear-placements but found the cracks to my left iced over. I could have climbed around it on the bare slab to my right, but with no gear (lack of courage) in between me and the eyebolt below, I decided to down climb to the bolt and then made two thirty meter rappels down to the base of the climb.

The slog out is always fun… But hey, I didn’t see another soul all day. How often does one have Longs Peak to themselves? I am feeling pretty self-conscious about being shut down by 5.5 groveling but shut down I was. I didn’t know what to do – climb with gloves, tools, or maybe I should have brought a snorkel and just scratched my way upwards through the drifts? – it was probably just the thought of more 3rd class scrambling up to the summit of Longs that turned me back… Yeah, that was it.

Things I learned this day:

Unconsolidated snow over rock is a whole new game to me. I suck at it, but I want to get better.

I’m not nearly as fit as I’d like to be and would benefit from more LSD hours, hiking and cycling.

The hike back to the Boulder Field feels like it’s getting longer and longer each time I do it.

The N. Face of Longs Peak can be an avalanche trap (the Diamond below) in winter conditions and even small pockets of wind-slab can take you off your feet and get you rolling. I had been studying the Longs Peak Webcam and noted fresh coverage on the N. Face following the storms last week, but I also knew the face was practically bare for a couple of weeks before that. I figured the fresh precip would be whipped away by wind by the time I got up there, and for the most part it was, though chimney systems and corners seem to hold onto the snow pretty well.

3 comments to Cables Route Attempt

  • A sassy route indeed. No shame in turning around at Not The Top. Those bolts sure are handy when the time comes, eh?

  • No shame in turning around, I did that once on the N to S Arapaho traverse (at the 3rd crux and almost finished) after a big dump. Felt lame but with no rope or pro it was too risky so I bailed.

    You’ll have to tell me about the rotating loop self belay on Tuesday!

  • Cool use of those eyebolts! I’m sure it wasn’t the first time and it definitely won’t be the last.