MOUNTAIN: Longs Peak
ROUTE: Flying Dutchman (Steep Snow, WI2)
RT GAIN: ~4,100′
RT DISTANCE: ~11 miles
RT TIME: 10 hours
CLIMBERS: Keegan, Sam, Jeff
Sam, Keegan and I had never climbed together as a team. Keegan had a little jaunt to Alaska to worry about, I was recovering from shoulder surgery and #SSSala was always busy trolling Facebook. With only two weeks before our trip to the Pacific Northwest, we figured at least one dress rehearsal probably wouldn’t be the stupidest thing we’ve ever done.
We settled on the Flying Dutchman because it replicates what we’ll be facing up in Washington (Kautz and Adams Glaciers) — a multi-hour approach, steep snow and a brief section of WI2/3. The Dutchman ended up being one of my all-time favorite routes. Better yet, we spent the day in solitude while party after party swarmed Dreamweaver. As an extra bonus, if you’re a teenage French-Canadian, you can climb it in tennis shoes!
We set off from the trailhead a little after 5 a.m. and reached Chasm Junction on a dry trail in about two hours. I’d been up that way several times before, but somehow this was my first trip ever taking a left and heading toward Chasm Lake. Always love treading new ground. Snow patches began to appear, but most of the route remained dry and easy to follow. We crossed around the left side of the lake on boulders and snow to arrive at the base of the route.
By the time we’d taken a break, geared up and discussed tactics, it was about 9:15 a.m. We decided to rope up from the start to practice glacier travel and pacing. Sam was to lead, so we saddled him with all the gear and rejoiced as our backpacks dropped dramatically in weight.
The fun started from the get-go with a small, low-angle ice and mixed patch to enter the couloir proper. From there it’s an ever-steepening snow climb up about 1,000-1,200 feet to the ice crux. I’d estimate it started around 40 degrees and maxed out at 55 or 60 degrees on the WI2 step. Sam carried a couple pickets for protection, but we never felt the need to place any. We pulled off to the rocks a couple times when a good rest ledge presented itself, belaying each other in and out.
Finally, the ice step appeared. We weren’t really sure what to expect and were thrilled to find what looked like good ice, though a bit sunny and wet. It was much shorter and lower angle than we were anticipating. A few sticks saw us over and back onto lower-angle snow. Sam briefly considered building an anchor for a proper belay, but it looked easy enough that we just simul-climbed it. Sam placed two cams (one below, one above the ice step) and a picket for peace of mind. It was my first time swinging tools since shoulder surgery in January, and even though I was horribly inefficient, the stoke levels were off the charts.
We reached the exit and regrouped on easier terrain at 12 p.m. The wind had been annoying all day, and now dark clouds were building to the northwest. None of us really cared all that much about a summit after having so much fun on the route. With burgers and beers at Oskar Blues beckoning, we unroped and set off down Lambslide. The snow was still hard enough to warrant crampons. No glissade, unfortunately.
The Chasm Lake cirque is simply stellar. I found myself stopping every few minutes to just stop and look around. You hear about all these famous features, but it’s a totally different experience when you see them in person, close enough you can almost reach out and touch. We went around the opposite bank of Chasm Lake this time, hoping for good views of the Dutchman. We weren’t disappointed.
The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful, with each of us retreating into our own thoughts (mostly of bacon cheeseburgers and Dale’s) for the slog out. The snow is melting quickly up there. Go get after it while you can!