Dominating the northern horizon in the Front Range, Longs Peak calls out to climbers, and I have been up it several times. However, I had never climbed up the Cables Route, and thought it would make for a great CMC climbing trip. I also hoped to interest some students that had taken Basic Rock School or Rock Leading School this year, and thereby cultivate more trip leaders.
Successful on both counts, I was lucky to get Aaron Nichols as my co-leader, who completed RLS this summer, and Josh Bourdin, who had taken BRS last spring. Completing our team was Martin OGrady, an experienced member of the Denver group, who had led many trips and assisted in their climbing schools. I felt we had a strong team, and looked forward to our trip, on Saturday, August 10, 2013.
The Cables Route (read the Mountain Project description) owes its name to the fact that there actually were steel cables installed on it, from 1925 to 1973. Using 5/8″ cable through huge eye bolts built out of 1″ thick steel, it provided an easy access up the north face of Longs Peak for decades. Old photographs of crowds of folks using the cables can be viewed in the Longs Peak ranger station, which is full of such memorabilia, and well worth a visit. However, the ease of access and increasing crowds created too much risk of injury, not to mention acting like lightning rods! So, the Park’s supervisors had the cables removed. What remains are the big eye bolts and these serve, to this day, as reliable rappel anchors. There are many reports, descriptions and pictures of this route to be found online, such as this detailed one at 14ers.com.
We left Lafayette at 4:30am, but even arriving at the trailhead around 5:30am was not early enough to get a decent parking spot; Josh said he had go about a quarter mile down the road! Yep, Longs Peak is a busy place in August. Hiking at an average pace, we arrived at the Boulderfield Campground after about three hours. Talking with some of the campers, we learned it had snowed up there the previous afternoon. This was not so unusual, considering the elevation of the Boulderfield is slightly above 12,000 feet.
Rick in Boulderfield Campground
Though the route is in sight from the Boulderfield Campground, it took another hour and a half of picking our way through boulders to get there. We were finally ready to begin climbing by 10am. This was later than I wanted to be starting, but the technical part of the route is only two pitches of easy climbing, so I still thought we had a decent chance of making the summit.