"Anyone want to bivy on the summit of Longs this weekend?" When I read that in the email from Alan, my initial reaction was, no way, sounds cold and windy. Then I started thinking all the acclimatization I would gain for the San Juan Solstice 50 and proposed an alternative, sleeping in the Loft between Meeker and Longs. This giant plateau would hopefully allow several options for bivy sites and some protection from the wind. So we planned to take off late Saturday afternoon, head up to the Loft, bivy at sunset. The following morning we would climb Meeker, then Longs via Clarks Arrow, finally descending the Keyhole, completing our tour of Longs.
We shouldered our packs and set off from the Longs Peak TH just after 4p on Saturday. My legs were still feeling good despite skiing/climbing 2100ft off Trail Ridge Rd earlier that day. We made short work of the lower trail sections, arriving at Chasm Lake a little before 630p. After snapping a few pictures and filtering some water we began our trudge up to the Loft. Just after leaving Chasm Lake we donned crampons and axes in preparation for the long snow climb that would put us at our 13500ft basecamp. The weather had been toying with us all afternoon, overcast, but nothing too threatening. As we climbed up the snow(still soft from the day's heat) the clouds began to part and a beautiful afternoon presented itself. The snow made for easy kick stepping, but our progress was slowed by the large packs weighing us down. We finally reached the base of the ice fall/cliffs at 815p, just as the sun was setting and the light was beginning to fade. The remaining clouds lit up in hues of orange, pink, and red, quite a site from 13000ft+. As we traversed up the ledges the last of our light faded, and we broke out the headlamps for the final 100-200ft. The lights from Estes Park, Loveland, and Fort Collins created an orange glow behind us, while the towering shade of Longs Peak was silhouetted against the sky in front of us.
After a little searching we found a nice flat snow patch at the base of Meeker and bedded down for the night. Temps were mild(low 25F) and the wind was calm until 2a, even after that it was no more than 15mph. The night passed slowly, as sleeping at 13500ft is never easy. At 5a Alan rolled over and said “It's 5am, the sun is rising, time to move”. I had finally gotten some sleep, and now it was time to leave the warm comfort of my bag for the cold breezy mountain tops. We stepped out in the faint glow of the early morning light(pre-sunrise) packed up then headed for the summit of Meeker, without packs. The scramble up Meeker was quick, but the sunrise views were spectacular. It's been some time since I watched the sunrise from near 14K.
Off to Longs we went, descending from the Loft down toward where we thought the elusive Clark's Arrow might be. We descended nearly 300ft(apparently too far), then traversed the rock rib into the first coulier, just left of Keplingers. It looked like it went, so we began to climb up the steep hard snow. As we neared the top the route funneled between steep slabs on the left and a cliff on the right, we soon realized our mistake, 10-15ft of water ice right in the middle, and us with no ice tools. After much deliberation(and one attempt by me to climb the ice), we opted to remove our crampons/axes and climb the 30ft of class 4 slab to our left. At first the climbing was ok, good flakes for holds, pockets to set the feet in, then the holds slowly thinned and the pockets filled with ice and lichen. 20ft up I realized the exit was going to be quite sketchy; climbing with full packs on lichen, ice, and blank slabs. My options were to mantle over a couple 2ft steps caked in ice, an ascending traverse around the base of the steps on blank slab with pockets of ice and a few good holds, or traverse a system cracks to my right on slab with almost no hand holds. I headed right on the cracks, slowly making my way back to the snow. Finally breathing a sigh of relief as I stepped onto a 2ft wide plateau adjacent to the snow. Alan then started up, finding the same problems as I, though he chose the ascending traverse around the base of the steps, which he claimed was also quite sketchy.
Once above the ice we climbed up another 100ft, then traversed back into Keplingers and found ourselves at the base of the notch. We climbed up to the Notch and basked in the sun and enjoyed the views. After a snack/water break we descended back down and traversed over to the Homestretch. At 1010a we found ourselves atop Rocky Mt NP, winds were calm, sun was warm, and we were glad to be done with the uphill for today. After some food, a nap, and a beer for Alan, we descended down the Homestretch, through the Narrows back to the Keyhole. This entire section was plastered with snow, though patches of ice are beginning to show through. The Trough is still filled in, and would offer a great climb to anyone desiring so. We reached the windy Keyhole just after 12p, shed the snow gear and a layer for our long trudge back to the TH. The trail was moderately busy, though the Boulder field was quite empty. From the Boulder field down to 10K, snow was patchy though didn't require any equipment. We finally stepped off the trail at 215p, glad to be able to throw our heavy packs aside and to kick off our sweaty shoes and socks. Despite the relief to be done, the trip as a whole had been a beautiful journey around one of the most magnificent peaks in Colorado. Well worth the time and effort, though much harder than a rest weekend should have been.