I already had my May ascent of Longs Peak, as I had climbed it a week earlier with Mark Oveson when we did the Flying Dutchman, but there was a route back in here that I had been planning to do all season. There is couloir on the Chasm Lake side of Mount Lady Washington that has become quite popular in the last few years. It is supposedly WI2 or WI3 or WI3+ depending upon conditions and apparently quite similar in difficulty to Dream Weaver across the way on Mt. Meeker. I decided that a nice training day would be to linkup three snow/ice/couloir climbs on the three mountains that surround Chasm Lake. My plan was to climb Martha to the summit of Mount Lady Washington, Lambs Slide and then around to Clark's Arrow to the summit of Longs Peak, and then Dream Weaver to the summit of Mt. Meeker.
Not being much of an ice climber and never having been up Martha, I tried in vain to secure a partner. So I headed up solo for the third time this year. I nearly fell asleep on the drive to the trailhead, but arrived safely. I started up the trail around 3:50 a.m. I wore my La Sportiva Trango boots and carried pneumatic crampons and two tools. I didn't have a harness or a rope, of course, for there would be no one on the other end.
I made reasonable time on the approach, getting to Chasm Lake in less than two hours. I passed a few parties on the way in and noticed nine climbers working their way up the lower slopes leading to Dream Weaver. I was thankful that wasnÕt my first climb. When I arrived at the base of Martha a party of two was gearing up, slowly. I was ready before them, as I had only to strap on my crampons and draw my tools.
Starting up the route, I was fully prepared to abort if I thought it was over my head, but I also knew that once I got by a steep section, it would probably be easier and safer to continue upwards. As limited as I am climbing up ice, I'm infinitely worse downclimbing it and, yes, I know that makes for a bad soloing situation. Actually, my biggest limitation with ice climbing is placing the protection and keeping my hands warm, so soloing makes the climbing easier. I just needed to stay calm mentally and move securely from placement to placement.
Photo 1: The crux of Martha
The bottom part of this couloir isn't very steep and I quickly gained height. A long stretch of water ice had me concerned, but the angle wasn't great. I rested a couple of times before steep sections and this is a pattern I'd use later on Dream Weaver as well. I wanted to be ready to really push if necessary to complete the crux sections. Martha is usually climbed as five pitches and the crux is right at the top. Here the climbing was vertical, but only for about fifteen feet or so. The ice wasn't very wide, only a few feet, but it was plastic and my sticks felt very secure. Above this was a steep bowl and I climbed upwards to the top of the snow. The climb had taken me 47 minutes. I could see a pair of climbers just starting the Broadway Traverse from Lamb's Slide. I didn't know it then, but I'd soon be seeing those climbers again.
I stowed my tools and stripped off my crampons. I still had 20 minutes or so of tiring snow/talus climbing to reach the summit, which I did after 3h14m. Once there I immediately started down, trying to head for the Camel Cutoff. Unfortunately, I miscalculated and went too low. I had to climb back up a bit and traverse hard towards Longs Peak before finding it. Some steep, tricky 4th class downclimbing put me at the top of the very steep snow. It was hard and I had to put my crampons back on. I down frontpointed the couloir and was soon in the basin below the East Face of Longs Peak.
The weather was perfect and the sun beat down on my in this east facing bowl. I plodded across to the other side and started up Lamb's Slide. This couloir is 45 degrees and the snow conditions were perfect. I needed one tool and I just followed the steps kicked by the previous party. I'd been up Lamb's Slide before, but only to Broadway. As I pulled even with Broadway those same two climbers I saw before we now climbing back to Lamb's Slide. I suspect they were a bit intimidated by the traverse. This time of year Broadway is the crux of both the Notch Couloir and Kiener's Route.
There isn't much climbing above Broadway and 20 minutes later I was at the Loft, taking my first sit-down break to eat and refuel. The couloir ends here, but to make the link-up aesthetic I knew I had to summit Longs. This involved dropping down the other side and doing the Clark's Arrow traverse. As I made my way that direction, I ran into a solo climber coming back up. He couldn't find the traverse and was giving up. I offered to show him the way and we proceeded together to the low point. Once again I left my crampons behind here, hoping that the sun had softened up the snow. This time it was the right decision, barely. It was a long slog to the top of Longs, but one I'm familiar with, as it was my third time this year doing it.
I tagged the top and signed the register for the 6th time this year, but I didn't linger. I was 6h10m into my day and had one more mountain to climb. The other climber I had befriended took my photo on the summit and then I descended back to my pack and then up to the Loft. I took the ledge traverse around the ice cliff and then had the most glorious glissade. The snow conditions were perfect. I didn't even need an ice axe and I slid all the way down to the point where I had to start traversing over to Dream Weaver.
The crux of the day was postholing up to the couloir itself. It was now so hot and the snow so soft that I practically crawled. I inched my way fifty steps at a time. The couloir narrowed to just a few feet wide and I started the real climbing. Here I made a grave error. I continued climbing sans crampons until I was literally on ice, with just an inch or two of snow over it. Desperate, I barely was able to get my crampons on from my precarious stance. I tried to calm myself by reasoning that if I fell here, the runout was long and safe.
Once properly shod, I kicked confidently upwards. Dream Weaver had one serious crux below the bend in the couloir and it was the most difficult climbing of the day. It was nearly vertical and perhaps twenty feet long, plus it was mixed. The ice itself was only about a foot wide and I tried to step and stem onto the rock. I took my time and got solid sticks, but was a little leery about trusting my life to an inch of steel. I cautiously pulled over onto easier terrain and moved up to the bend.
Photo 2: The crux of Dream Weaver
The upper section of this couloir is classic climbing at its best. It stays very thin for most of the way with two or three crux sections of nearly vertical ice/mixed climbing, each about ten feet high. I took my time and used some chimney technique to rest mid-cruxes. This climb also has a very classic finish since it nearly ends on the summit. It was only 5 minutes of scrambling before I stopped on a small ledge just below the summit. I took a short break here to eat the rest of my food and down most of my fluids. I still had a 5000-foot descent to go, but I could get melt water down in the meadow. A curious marmot paid me a visit and I enjoyed the solitude and the view. I topped out Meeker after 9h17m.
Soon I was descending again, to the best glissade around. After that it was all over but for the marching. I got back to the car 11h10m after I started. My watch recorded 8000 vertical feet and it was probably 16-17 total miles. I know of no one else linking up snow climbs in this area, but it seems obvious now. Of course the classic link-up would swap out Lamb's Slide for the Notch Couloir, but I had done that route in April and had never completed the entire Lamb's Slide. Plus, the Notch Couloir is more intimidating. I'll leave that link-up for someone else... or for next year...
And so it goes..