Rocky Mountain National Park

Long's Peak

Notch Couloir

It took three tries before we were able to even get up to the Notch Couloir on Long's Peak. I had my eye on this route even before I had moved to Colorado, as it was one of the classic lines on Long's, but it took some doing before I finally was able to climb it.

All three attempts were with a friend named Stan. Our first attempt was in December of 1995. There had been only a little snowfall so far that year, and conditions for an attempt on the Notch seemed perfect. We headed up the long trail to Chasm Lake and the bivi spots below the East Face. It was cold and wintery, and it was after dark by the time we reached the bivi sites. We were looking for a cave that Stan had slept in several years back, but we overshot it by quite a bit, and ended up taking shelter among some large boulders. We awoke very early the next morning to very cold weather, and began to make our way up Lamb's Slide in the dark. Unfortunately, we misjudged the distance to the big ledge, (named Broadway ledge) and kept going up Lamb's slide until we were well past where we should have cut back on Broadway. A bit puzzled, we finally did cut back onto Long's and headed up a series of steep, ice-choked gullies and chimneys. After several pitches of ice and mixed climbing, we realized that we were nowhere near our intended route, and so we bailed out and headed back down. On the way down Lamb's Slide, we located the Broadway cut off, but by now we'd had enough fun for one day, and decided to come back another time.

East face of Long's Peak, the Diamond on the right, the Notch to the left. (Click on picture for larger version.)
Our second attempt was also unsuccessful, although for different reasons. The next year, also in December, we again slogged our way up the approach trail toward the Notch. The main enemy this time was extremely heavy winds, which made the approach very difficult, particularly when we got above tree line. The gusts were so bad that they made walking extremely strenuous. Just before Chasm lake, we met a party who was trying to recover their stuff from the remains of their tent. They had a nice "expedition" dome tent that had been completely torn to pieces by the wind. They had come up to do the Kiener route, but were retreating. It got really interesting when we began crossing the frozen Chasm lake. At one point, a large wind gust knocked me down, and then the wind began pushing me back across the frozen lake. I kept trying to get up or stop myself from getting blown across the ice, but had been blown about 30 feet backwards by the time I managed to stagger up again. This time, we found the cave that Stan had slept in before. The entrance was very low, and you had to crawl in on your belly, but it got a little bit higher inside, enough at least to sit up a bit. It was very snug and protected from the elements, and we spent the night out of the wind, glad not to be in a flapping tent.
Stan in the entrance to the bivi cave. (Click on picture for larger version.)
When we awoke the next morning, the wind was, if anything, worse than before. We headed off to Lamb's slide, having to fight hard for every footstep. The hardest part was that the gusts were erratic, knocking you off balance as they changed direction and intensity. There was a huge plume of snow being driven off of the summit of Long's, and we were worried what the winds were like up there, given that they were so strong here in the lee of the mountain. After a while, we decided that neither one of us wanted to be on top of Long's under wind conditions such as these, so we turned around and headed back home again. We were 0 for 2 now in our attempts on the Notch Couloir.

Our third attempt was in Late September of 1997. Given our experience of the previous attempts, this climb went relatively smoothly. We found the bivi cave without much difficulty. We woke up early, and cruised up Lamb's Slide and found the Broadway ledge. It was hard to believe we had missed it on our first attempt. The guidebook said that crossing Broadway could be tricky and required a rope for some sections, but we never felt the need to rope up. There was little snow on Broadway, so it was mostly scrambling on dry rock. We finally got to the base of the Notch Couloir, and headed up it. The first pitch was soft snow, which rapidly gave way to a mix of hard neve and water ice. The climbing was pretty easy, as it never became very steep. We protected the climb with a combination of ice screws and rock protection. The narrowness of the couloir was comforting to me, and lessened the feeling of exposure. After about 4 pitches of ice, the route became dry, and we spent the rest of the time climbing without crampons; up some moderate chimneys and gullies until we could finally traverse right along ramps toward the summit. There was one puzzling section at the top, trying to get from the ramps up onto the final ledges which led to the summit, but we solved it without too much trouble. Then it was a casual hike up to the top. We stayed there for a while, accompanied by a couple of guys who had come up via the keyhole route. Then we headed down the old cables route for our descent. We rappelled from the huge eyebolts on the cables route, and began the hike down.

Stan, finishing up the last mixed ground in the Notch. (Click on picture for larger version.)
It was getting dark, and we were both exhausted. We decided to forgo the descent down the "camel" gully, and simply hiked down the trail then back up by Chasm lake to retrieve our stashed gear. We were both truly whipped, and when we arrived at the Chasm lake cut-off, Stan offered to go get the group gear we had stashed if I would remain behind and watch our climbing stuff. (What a nice guy!!) I agreed without too much urging, and after a while, Stan re-appeared with our stove and sleeping bags. We re-packed our gear and headed down, completely exhausted by our (finally) successful climb of the Notch Couloir.

We celebrated with pizza at Estes Park, then headed back home. All in all, it was a good route, and an excellent way to the top of the mountain that I see almost every day on my drive to work.