How NOT to Climb the Casual Route, Longs Peak (800ft, IV, 5.10a)

The Casual Route on the Diamond of Longs Peak is anything but. It’s the easiest route on the face but even with perfect conditions you’ll still hike 6 miles one way to climb 800ft of steep, technical rock  up the highest big wall in the lower 48 at over 13,000 feet (~4,000 meters). Add a bit of rain in the mix and maybe a slow party to dodge and you’re looking at an unexpected night out while your dog impatiently defecates on your carpet back home.

An overview of the ~11 miles of hiking and ~4,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. (Granted you’ll climb and rappel an additional 1,600 feet).

There many possible strategies to climbing the Casual Route and one must choose wisely if they hope to succeed. I’m going to outline a method of ascent you can cross off your list (though, you’ll likely have to add it first).

First, let’s clarify some semantics. This isn’t a post on how to not climb the Casual Route, that’d be too easy, just go boulder at the gym and mutter about how you’re more of a trad climber. This is a post about how not to climb the Casual Route. As in, you did in fact climb it, but only by the most heinous method possible. See what I did there? Re-read as necessary, its pretty clever stuff.

The Casual Route seen from the Chasm View Approach Rappels. The guidebook calls the route 8 pitches but I linked 2+3 and 5+6, therefore doing 6 pitches. *This is a rough topo, don’t use it to guide your ascent!

So you’re frothing at the gills, what is one of the worst ways to climb the Casual Route? Solo. Not free solo mind you; not sexy-, fast-, big genitals-solo. But rope solo. Slow solo. ‘This kinda sucks’ solo. ‘Nobody is even gonna understand when I brag about this’ solo. (I’ve found it’s hard to brag about a route named Casual anyway.)

Now, if you have friends or a prefrontal cortex you may not have been exposed to rope-soloing, so what is it? It’s a way to climb alone but with the protection of a rope. This is the basic process: you lead a pitch self-belaying, then rappel the pitch, clean the gear, and then climb the pitch again. So you cover the same ground three times; up, down, up. It requires building anchors for an upward pull, using gear against the manufacturer’s recommendations, and generally a lot of faffing with equipment and ropes. Why the hell would anyone want to do all that? Because they cracked their skull as a child and the effects where asymptomatic until their late 20’s when the slow swelling led to the delusion that completion of ridiculous tasks would entitle them to love, happiness, and good fortune… duh!

So that’s the way I climbed the Casual Route. And I can’t not recommend it enough. Here are the key steps for such an ascent.

  1. Endanger the public by driving your house/car too fast. Pay the government 1/10th your “wealth”.
  2. Bring two ropes for the full length rappels. No partner means you get to carry them both as well as the double rack! Make sure the ropes are thicker and longer than necessary, this equates to plenty of extra work when stacking, pulling, and coiling.

    What a fully loaded dumbass looks like.
  3. Bivy below the route the night before. This will force you to carry extra gear for the 6 mile approach like a sleeping bag, inflatable pad, bivy sack, stove, fuel, and food. This also requires you to pay more money to the government for a permit, they must love me! Bring more food and fuel then you need and make sure your inflatable pad is not in fact inflatable.
  4. Drink stiff coffee instead of water in the morning. Do not poop.
  5. Start climbing. But climb slow; your hands are cold and you’re tired from the elevation, the heavy loads hiking in, and the terrible night’s sleep.

    About to get started. It says “SWAG” obviously…
  6. There are two traverse pitches on route. Since gravity does not pull sideways you can’t rappel a horizontal traverse which means you get to climb these pitches three times. Leading, climbing back, and following!
  7. Get your rope stuck in a crack below you when cleaning a pitch. Now you get to rappel it a second time, and climb it a third time! Bonus!
  8. Lead with a pack containing layers and lots of water (but don’t drink any), then follow carrying your second rope. This ensures that you are never unburdened and is especially lovely on the two (very tight) squeeze chimneys.
  9. Eat nothing but caffeinated Cliff Bars. Continue not pooping.
  10. Moving slowly? Forearms cramping? Good, cause the coming snow is timed perfectly with your attempt at the crux pitch.
  11. Send that goddamn crux in a flurry. Although, bonus suffer points if you have to aid it.
  12. Traverse the spicy 5.8 handrail that is now snowy and wet. Oh yeah, then traverse it back. Then back again!
  13. You did it! You climbed the Casual Route. Now rappel, pull the twisted ropes, and curse.

    STOKED and tired.
  14. Rappel, pull, curse.
  15. Rappel, pull, curse.
  16. Rappel, pull, curse.
  17. Rappel, pull, curse.
  18. You made it to Broadway Ledge and your bivy gear! Pack it up and…. RAPPEL AND PULL AGAIN.

    About halfway through the seemingly endless rope pulling on Broadway Ledge.
  19. Rappel, pull, curse.
  20. Rappel, pull, curse.
  21. Rappel, pull, curse.
  22. Get your ropes stuck on the last rappel. Ascend up, unstick it, and RAPPEL AGAIN.
  23. Pull that twisted goddamn rope for the last goddamn time.
  24. Pack everything poorly and start hiking out. Do not find the correct route through the boulder field. Stumble often, roll your ankle.
  25. DO NOT POOP. You brought that guy up and down the route, only another half mile to get to an outhouse. If you don’t make it you’ll have to shit in a bag and carry it 5 miles to the trailhead.
  26. Shit in a bag and carry it 5 miles to the trailhead.
  27. Take longer on the downhill hike out than you did hiking uphill on the way in. This ensures that your body is well and truly knackered and that you will feel horrible for the next few days.

Done. That’s all it takes. 27 steps to the most exhausting climb of your life. By the time you’re done you’ll have:

  • Hiked 11 miles
  • Gained/lost over 5,500ft of elevation
  • Climbed ~1,700ft or 18 guidebook pitches (8 on lead, 8 following, 2 down climbing)
  • Rappelled 18 times (3 approaching from Chasm View, 5 on route, 10 to descend)
  • Pulled ~1,650 and stacked ~1,150 feet of rope (your elbows hate you)

All with ~60% of the oxygen at sea level. So, for real, why climb like this? Because it’s hard. It’s hard to be responsible for every aspect of an ascent, and fundamentally I think climbing is about trying hard things. You alone are accountable for the planning, logistics, and strategy, as well as for the climbing itself; the movement, rope work, anchoring and technical aspects. You put in all the mental and physical effort; you create, feel, and change the emotions of the climb. You accept the immense challenge of potential self rescue. Finally, and perhaps most difficult of all, you need the audacity (or is it arrogance?) to actually fricken do it!

It’s also a great thing to spray about during your next gym sesh*. Just be sure to hold your chin high enough that you can’t see anyone’s eyes rolling.

*Or on the internet 🙂

 

[Cover photo credit: “Longs Peak” by Dustin Gaffke used under CC BY 2.0 / Photo modified by me]

5 thoughts on “How NOT to Climb the Casual Route, Longs Peak (800ft, IV, 5.10a)”

  1. This is the second best thing I have read all week. First Prize goes to another Kevin of Climbing Magazine fame. I enjoyed this a lot, and I also know what a rope solo is, so consider my kudos to have come with a high pedigree.

  2. Could have been worse…. Could have been raining the whole time…. Great, funny article. Loved it, even though I ain’t a climbing dude. 🙂

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