This was to be my second attempt, and second failure on Mount Meeker, Longs Peak's little sister. I never wrote a report about the first try, but I attempted the Loft route several years ago rather late in the season and was turned back by ice shards being blown off the cliffs and some poorly placed snow.
This time, I decided to try the Iron Gates variation of the northeast ridge route given in the Roaches' 13ers guidebook. RMNP and the Indian Peaks are the places where access is especially good from Boulder and I reached the trailhead at 3am after a 1 hour drive. There was still plenty of parking, but several more vehicles arrived as I was gearing up. I signed in, and as I expected, I was the only one signed in for Meeker to that point.
The one major positive thing about this hike is that I was moving very well. I made it to the patrol cabin below Chasm Lake (4.5 miles and 2200ft) in less than 2 hours. Along the way, I briefly chatted with other people in the dark, comparing goals for the day. This was the first time I was able to use my 3-LED Petzl Tikka headlamp and it worked great. Just past the Jim's Grove junction, I was videotaping the crescent Moon and the Pleiades, when I caught a bright fireball out of the corner of my eye. I even managed to follow it with the camcorder, although it didn't come out as good on tape as it looked. It was about magnitude -6 (considerably brighter than Venus), and was visible along a long path across the sky.
Because I was moving so well, it was still a little dark when I arrived at the patrol cabin. By the time I continued up into the basin below Meeker's great north face, it was getting light enough to try to find my route. I actually had to get fairly close to the Iron Gates before I realized where I needed to be and paid for this with some awkward sidehilling on loose junk.
The Iron Gates are impressive buttresses that flank the ~100ft wide entrance to a moderately steep talus gully, with some unpleasant scree in spots. I put on my helmet here. This gully leads up to the north ridge. The going is a little slow in the loose spots. It is cleaner higher up, but also steeper. However, you only have to make a few Class 3 moves near the top of the gully to reach the ridge. During my ascent of the gully, the sun finally hit the top of the Longs; this is definitely the route on Meeker for great views of Longs! I made the right turn and hiked up the rough, but solid ridge over some false summits to the "real" false summit at 13860ft. It is easiest to stay on the left side of the ridge, but at times you end up on the ridgecrest and can look down 1000 vertical feet of the north face!
Up to this point, the ridge was just Class 2/2+ boulder hopping. Past the false summit is the infamous Meeker knife ridge. It looked interesting, but seemed reasonable. It definitely appeared to be quite variable, with sections of true knife ridge, some blocky areas, and maybe even some face climbing on the final stretch to the main summit.
I made a few exposed Class 3 moves to start off the ridge, which were fine. However, I soon encountered a sequence of moves that I did not feel was prudent. It was a sequence of long step-downs onto small blocks with some exposure. The sequence was not configured well to downclimb facing in, but the steps were too narrow to downclimb facing out while wearing a pack, particularly because at least the first step was about waist high (or perhaps "waist deep"). I sat there for a good 5 minutes trying to figure out a safe way down, but didn't see it. I explored around trying to spot a way to avoid this part of the ridge on the right (north) side of the ridge, but getting off and on the ridge looked sort of sketchy.
So, I turned around and came home. This is the first time I've been turned back on a peak by technical difficulties. I've turned back once because of avalanche danger and have lost a few peaks when not feeling strong enough (mostly when trying to do two peaks on one hike). I successfully climbed and desended Pyramid, which Roach rates as having some 4th Class moves. I had no problems with the descent of that route. I've climbed and descended some other Class 3 routes like the standard routes on Longs, Wilson Peak, and Wetterhorn, and have climbed a bunch of other Class 3 routes. It wasn't that I felt scared by the moves or the exposure, or wasn't feeling confident about the climb. The whole thing was remarkably clinical. I just didn't think the moves were safe enough with enough margin for error. Even a 1% chance of an injurous fall is way too high for this sort of thing. I consider these moves to be exposed Class 4; your mileage may vary, and having a partner might help in some way even if you don't have a rope.
Anyway...I retraced my route back down the ridge to the exit down into the gully above the Iron Gates. (This point is marked by a cairn, which might be useful if you get stuck in dense fog.) Some of this was still nasty scree; amazing that it hadn't changed since my ascent. I was starting to feel the effort, but started to feel a lot better once I sat down and drank a pint of water (actually Cytomax) and ate part of a sandwich. I didn't find the best route back down to the cabin, but it went. The weather was nearly perfect the whole time, with sunny skies and hardly any wind.
It again took less than 2 hours for the trail between the cabin and the trailhead. I encountered quite a few people coming up, some of whom were still planning on tackling Longs despite a rather late start. Most of the people were either coming up to camp in the Boulderfield or were just doing the hike to Chasm Lake. I was honest about my climb to those who asked, but most people didn't ask. I reached the full parking lot, and my 120+ degree car at 11am. I stopped in at the ranger station to see what they thought about Meeker and, not surprisingly, they recommended the Loft route.
If I had tried the Loft route again, I would have been fine because the route was certainly dry. However, next time I think I might try the long south ridge from Copeland Lake. Obviously, Meeker Ridge is out of the question because you still have to finish on the knife ridge. It remains to be seen whether I have any problems on the many remaining 3rd and 4th Class routes I have left on the 14ers and high 13ers. My guess is that I won't find anything worse than what I found on Meeker.
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File last modified: 30 December 2004