Longs Peak via the Cables Route


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.

Aaron, Marty, and Josh at the Start of The Cables Route

The Diamond on Longs Peak
One starts the Cables Route quite close to Chasm View Wall, offering a stunning side-on view of the mighty east face of Longs, called the Diamond (See picture above!)

Rock Climbing The Cables Route
We formed two rope parties, I leading Josh and Aaron leading Martin. Taking separate lines initially, we regrouped at a big ledge where the first eyebolt is encountered. Here the route goes up an easy dihedral, though the interior of the crack was wet, and in fact icy where the sun had not yet reached.

Unfortunately, as I was building my first belay station after the first pitch, I looked up to see someone rappeling down. As he rapped past me, he said there were seven more people who were going to be coming down! This was one of my misgivings about choosing this route: it is, after all, a popular descent route. However, as it turned out, the rappellers did not interfere with us all that much, and Aaron and I were able to belay up Josh and Martin without difficulties.

What worried me much more was a rain cloud just to the north of us, with clearly visible rain curtains reaching to the ground; it was not virga! One of the hazards of climbing Longs from this direction is that you cannot see the western sky for approaching weather. You can just see up, and what I was seeing was not encouraging.

Retreating on Cables Route
As I am always cautious on CMC trips where I’m responsible for everyone’s safety, I reluctantly told the team I thought we had better do down.

Dark Clouds Above Longs Peak
So we beat a hasty retreat, and while no major storm developed, it turned out to be the right decision. Dark clouds formed above us, but fortunately only a little bit of grauppel came down on us as we hiked back towards the Boulderfield. Though we did not make the summit, everyone had a good trip nonetheless. It was good preparation for coming back another day, and completing the route.

(To see all my pictures, click here. )



One Response to “Longs Peak via the Cables Route”

  1. Tom Jones Says:

    Wow, that was one of my first 14ers — climbed the cables in 1955.


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