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The night before I laid in my bed enjoying a wonderfully peaceful night. There was no wind at all and it was so pleasant out that I opened my window and enjoyed that crisp Colorado air. I was rudely awakened at about 11:00 by the howling of the now ferocious wind and the awful sound of my shades slamming against the window. The wind had arrived! Not to worry, I have all the gear I need to brave the wind, it would just be a little uncomfortable.
I picked Alan up and we were on the trail by 4:00 am. We made great time while pacing ourselves as to not burn out too early. We were soon nearing Jim's Grove and the morning was wonderful. A bit cool and very breezy, but relatively pleasant. As we were hiking along the trail, we noticed a guy in a sleeping bag just lying there exposed to the elements. His tent had been ripped apart by the wind that night and his tent poles were a twisted mess. We made sure he was ok, exchanged pleasantries, and were soon heading up hill once again. We took a small break just as the sun broke through the cloud bank to the east and enjoyed a beautiful morning. After stashing our snowshoes behind a rock, we were headed up Lady Washington.
We made pretty quick work of her mainly for the purposes of foolishly trying to outrun some weather that was moving in. By the time we got to the summit, the wind was easily gusting in to 60+ mph range, possibly much higher. Basically, it was a slow and tiresome struggle to maintain our natural and God given upright method of travel. We were crawling over the rocks because we simply could not stand. All except for the briefest of moments between these super gusts, we were struggling to maintain balance. We both noticed how strange the wind patterns were as well. Consistently strong gusts were coming from every direction, from the North, South, East, and West, No rhyme or reason, no purpose, and no consistency except for the ferocity of their strength.
After a longer than expected scramble, we were heading up the lower slopes of the North Face. I was pretty nervous as this was my first larger route, and to be doing it in the winter in the midst of such nasty weather was a little unsettling to me. But I knew that with my unmatched wisdom and flawless decision making I would keep myself out of harms way and get out of any sticky situation unscathed! Ha! Seriously though, I always go into a climb more than willing to "bail" if the conditions, my physical condition, my abilities or any other x factor don't fit in right with how that climb/hike should be progressing.
So, we got our crampons on and began the steep slog up toward the cliffs on the North Face. All I can say is that, even in the limited visibility, the scene at Chasm View is the coolest natural sight that I have ever seen. The drop off is extreme and the view of the Diamond (longs' east face) is absolutely breathtaking. I have never seen anything as awesome! I can't wait to make it back up on a nice day! We began the steep ascent and got to the first section that we considered to be technical. We got the rope out and I got set up to belay Alan as he was going to lead up this first small pitch. Well, he got up about 15 feet and fell. Not to far or hard, but enough to unnerve him a bit. One more try with the same results as well as rapidly deteriorating weather conditions (which we thought was almost impossible) was enough to solidify our decision to get the hell out of there. After Alan's second fall he was about five feet away from me as a gust kicked up. I couldn't see Alan for at least 30 seconds, the visibility was less than five feet! It actually scared me a little that the 'gust' went on for so long. I was beginning to think that it wasn't going to let up. This is when the cold really hit us. It must have been at most 10 degrees F with 70 mph gusts (at least). I don't know what that wind chill factor equates to, but all I really needed to know is that it was damn cold.
We were heading down the steep slopes below the North Face, making decent time as we were trying to warm up and wanted to get the hell out of there. I was walking down below Alan when all of a sudden he comes shooting by me. We had glissaded a little bit, so I thought he was just having a little fun at first, then I realized he was in an uncontrolled slide. I got a little concerned as his attempts to self arrest failed and the rocks below were getting closer, but he did get his axe to bite and stopped himself well short of danger. Whew. Enough excitement for this inexperienced mountaineer to take for a day. The weather had taken it's toll on both if us, physically and mentally. So we decided to go home with our heads hung in defeat, bypassing the other three mountains on our agenda.
We made our way around Mt. Lady Washington and down toward Jim's Grove when we discovered that Alan's GPS had not saved the coordinates for the rock we left our snowshoes under. Well, there were only a few thousand rocks out there that looked similar to the one we were looking for, so that got our hopes up! But, using my superior memory and the do-whatever-it-takes attribute that is engrained in my genes, I remembered I had taken those pictures of us by the rock and after looking at them was able to use the lay of the land to pin point where the rock could be...we were soon in the middle of a glorious, tear-filled reunion with our snowshoes. What a day!
We made quick work of the trail back toward the trail head and were both feeling strong and in good spirits as the weather was becoming very nice. So, we decided to go ahead and make our way up Estes Cone. We dropped our packs at the junction of the Longs Peak/Estes Cone trails, which our parched mouths would hate us for in a couple of hours. We left Bilbo to guard the packs so we felt more than confident that everything would be fine. We made great time to the turn off to Storm Pass, then we hit a wall. We laid down on the trail just below Storm Pass for about 10 minutes and and asked ourselves why we decided to do this. We had no rational answer, so we labeled ourselves fools and continued on. We gingerly made it to the summit in time for the sun to go down, took a couple of photos, checked in with those who were waiting for us at home, having to justify our foolishness once again, and then headed downhill! Oh, and the entire time we were on the Estes Cone trail, Alan had to use only one snowshoe! The crampons broke off of his right shoe, so he got to unevenly make his way those last five and a half miles with one snowshoe! Good stuff!
We made it back to our pack in what seemed like no time, but according to the watch, we took our sweet time. Bilbo had even given up on us. We found him napping on his bedroll as we returned to our packs. He got a swift kick to the face and got to spend the rest of the night, in fact he is still there (oops), in the Nalgene bottle of frozen Gatorade.
It was another half hour or so and we were eating steak and potatoes at Alan's. Just under 16 hours on the trail and 18 miles, give or take, of some nasty weather, nasty terrain, beautiful scenery, lessons learned, endurance testing, and one hell of a great day! Even if we moved a little 'slow' there at the end, we felt great about everything! We didn't summit Longs, but we had a great experience on a legendary mountain that will be there for another day.
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At 13,700 feet on the North Face of Longs as we begin our descent.