North Face or Cables Route
14,259 feet, 4346 meter
Longs Peak offers more than one hundred routes to the summit but most people take the Keyhole Route or the less crowded, slightly harder Loft Route. But the North Face or Cables Route is a historic climb that offers an easy technical climb of 5.4 in the summer and slightly more difficult in the winter. I climbed it with my friend Jim in August 2007. Please see my other Longs Peak pages for an overview of the mountain since this page will cover the North Face only. I recently descend the NF after ascending via the Loft route in September 2012.Click on any picture to enlarge it
The North Face was the primary route up Longs after a series of steel cables were installed in 1925. But they were removed in 1973 since they attracted lightning and were deemed a hazard. Thus the Keyhole became the most popular route on Longs. Even after the cables were removed the eye bolts remained thus providing convenient anchors for protection and rappelling. In fact the route follows these anchors so sometimes it can be crowded. But compared to the Keyhole route, the Cables has a feeling of freedom and abandonment.
It is reached by the same approach as the traditional Keyhole: leave the main trailhead at the Longs Peak Ranger Station and follow the well worn and marked trail to the Boulder Field. The North face is obvious to the left or south of the Boulder Field. There is no clear route to the base of the climb so just follow your nose and climb to the top of the ridge adjacent to the face - Chasm View. This is a slight detour but well worth it since you are rewarded with an absolutely stunning view of the Diamond, one of the world's most dramatic faces on any mountain. There are over 100 routes on the Face requiring advanced rock climbing skills since all are well above 5.10 in difficultly.
father and his sons, guided by a Colorado Mountain School guide, were
rappelling down as we moved to the first anchor so we waited for them
to clear the route before starting the climb. Jim,a very skilled rock
climber, took the lead and set a series of protection including a couple
of medium cams, a few nuts and a sling or two. This technical pitch is
only 160 feet long and very straight forward. The crux of this pitch
is waist high ledge that requires a slight stem to get over but is not
too difficult. This day it was quite wet with water literally running
down the Face. We were both soaked and the rope felt like a squeegee. This
would be a miserable climb in bad weather.
The route is actually a trail to the top marked by carins so route finding
was not too difficult never exceeding easy class 3. Jim recalled taking
a more direct line one winter and creating more problems than he needed
so we remained patient as we followed the natural ledge system that gradually
guided us to the huge summit of Longs.
Some people take the Keyhole route back down but this was a Cables round
trip so we departed the summit looking for the same route we used to
ascend. A wee bit of wandering ensued but we found the route easily and
soon were back at the top bolt. We set the rappel and I left first. I
made sure I had good friction with my rock shoes against the wet rock
as I rappelled down about 80 feet. Jim soon joined me as we set the second
rappel to the base where we started.
Much to our surprise, Jim's pack had been broken into - by pesky ravens. These guys can unzip pack lids and open pull strings. We found feathers as evidence of this thievery! They had taken his map, of all things! You would think they didn't need a map! Anyway, we downclimbed the slabs to boulder field and took the normal route back to the trailhead. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Colorado with a light breeze, clear skies and no thunderheads!
This was my 13th summit of Longs and first on the North Face. I had
twice attempted it but due to weather and logistics (a partner no-showed
and he had the rope!) never made it. So this was a sweet victory for
me. Jim was a great partner and a nice time was had by all.