September 25, 2016
Austin Porzak on Long’s Peak Rolly Co Staircase approach. Image by Dan Sohner
In this installment of BCA’s #unepicadventures blog series, Austin Porzak makes some intuitive maneuvers and backs off from an ambitious first descent on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Austin is currently on a mission to ski the highest 50 peaks in the park, following in the footsteps of his father Glenn Porzak, a former park ranger who climbed 100 of the tallest peaks in RMNP peaks back in 1974.
Written by Austin Porzak
Everyone has his or her local spot. The spot they first realized their love for the sport or the place that keeps them coming back. The spot they take their friends, and the spot where they go to be themselves. For me, the Longs Peak cirque is a bit of both. I have skied some of my burliest lines and had some of my longest nights under its 14,259-foot summit. And with that, come some of the greatest lessons I have ever learned.
Rolly Co Stairway on Chasm View Wall, Longs Peak. The line comes down from the lowest notch on the other side of the cirque. Image by Austin Porzak.
The plan on this given day was to ski a line I discovered a few weeks prior while on a Longs Peak Notch Couloir ski mission. As I got to the start of the Broadway Ledge that day, I looked back to take a picture of Dan Sohner. I noticed a steep line that appeared to be skiable…maybe. I was intrigued. I had actually seen the very top part of this line years ago while skiing the north face of Longs Peak, but I wrote it off thinking it ended in a thousand foot cliff. But here it was, caked with snow top to bottom, with what appeared to be a small rappel into the line and maybe another rappel just before the apron.
A few weeks went by and it was time to check it out. The forecast was very favorable, which really meant nothing at all. Longs Peak makes its own weather.
Dan and I started at 2am. We moved steadily through the flats and made it to Chasm Junction. Here, as our presence was revealed to the high alpine, the winds opened up and snow and ice screamed in every direction. We kept pushing, if not for the line, then for the recon and a solid day out. We kept moving for the love of the local spot. We wanted to see what the wind was doing and check on other lines. We wanted to get out for the sake of getting out.
We reached the bottom of the apron of the intended line just opposite the Diamond Face. If you know of the Camel Couloir, you’re familiar with the ridge that connects the Camel on Mt. Lady Washington to Chasm View on Longs Peak. Beneath this ridge is Chasm View Wall. This wall is known in the summer for 5.12 rock-climbing routes at 13,000+ feet in elevation. The setting here is amazing, the Diamond was just a stone’s throw away and we were standing beneath a line that, to my knowledge, had never been skied… Emotions were at an all time high. Could this rarely formed ice climb named Rolly Co Stairway be given the kiss of skis?
We stood for some time studying the outline of a faint possibility, with our backs to the wind, eyeing up and down the folds and bubbles of the snow. We followed the sinuous wisps of snow blown all over the line. Clouds were now forming directly above our heads; dark, swelling, massive clouds that sheltered the entire cirque. Snow was pouring off the Notch Couloir but it would never touch the ground. It was like an 800-foot waterfall that simply deposited into the wind. We stood in a vortex as the world as we knew it brooded. Honestly it was one of the most beautiful and powerful things I have ever seen in the mountains.
But back to the mission at hand.
Conditions were literally changing in front of our eyes and now it felt different. Something just felt off.
My intuition was at the forefront of my decision-making and we watched the snow as it was ripped from Lambslide Couloir and dropped onto our newly discovered line. It wasn’t right. Dangerous slabs were being created. Skiing this line in the current state was a no-go. The entire line is a no fall zone so we immediately switched gears and started the climb up Lambslide Couloir behind us, which was being scoured. Nearing the top of Lambslide we heard a huge roar. I started looking all around and wondering what had just happened. Then I saw it, our intended line, still being hammered with snow that had just avalanched top to bottom.
Had we pushed on into the unknown that day we would have surely been injured or worse. This is one of the reasons the mountains are such a special place. This was a hard one to ignore, but even harder to convey. Mutual understanding and respect for the elements is a learned trait and being able to interpret my emotions and check my ego is invaluable. Having faith in the person I’m out there with to do the right thing only furthers my understanding of this feeling.
An #unepicadventure, yes it was. We didn’t get to ski what we had come for, but we are smarter and stronger for it. Eventually Dan and I got back there and skied it safety a few weeks later.