The Ramp to Clark's Arrow to Skyscraper
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Katie on the second pitch of Skyscraper in July. ...
Clark’s Arrow (4th class) is a wonderful mountaineering route that is crowd-free and just as interesting as the standard Keyhole route (at a slightly harder grade). Skyscraper is a variant finish that I find absolutely delightful. Descend the North Face (rappel the Cables) for a great tour of the peak. Reversing Clark’s Arrow is a fine option, as is descending the Keyhole route. The description is for a mid-to-late summer snow-free ascent. See item (4) under NOTES for winter information.
THE RAMP (3rd class): Hike to the Chasm Lake patrol cabin (4+ miles), and go left around Ships Prow. Follow a braided path through talus toward the Loft (the broad saddle between Longs and Meeker). Upon reaching a steep headwall beneath the Apron (the permanent snowfield on the east side of the Loft), turn left onto a big, though exposed ledge system (The Ramp). Follow this (about 300-400 feet) around a buttress, and then switchback right on rising ledges to reach the boulder/talus slopes directly beneath the Loft. Hike to the Loft, and then cross over to its northwest corner.
CLARK’S ARROW (4th class): The initial goal is to find the correct access point to Clark’s Arrow, which is the route connecting the Loft to the Homestretch (on the Keyhole). It runs beneath the Palisades, a dramatic, west-facing cliff band between the Loft and the Notch. The trick I’ve been using for many years: angle to the right (north) side of the flat expanse that is the Loft as you cross to its west side. When the ground starts to rise (on the right), don’t go any higher. Just pick a contour and follow it (that is, follow the juncture of the flat plain and the rising slope on the right). As you reach the far corner of the Loft, and begin turning to the north, slowly descend along a cairned path through boulders. Turn a rib, and arrive at the top of a (roughly west or NW-facing) gully. Descend (3rd class) to a brief 4th class step. Continue down another 3rd class section to a little drop off where a large boulder is wedged into the gully. This section is the crux (4th class), a steep slot along the underside of the boulder. It can be avoided on the right (facing down) with a neat little face (easier 4th class) that begins ten feet higher, and eventually leads to the same spot. Scoot down one more short, loose section (3rd class) and then cross a rib to the right (exiting the gully). It is here where John Clark, a Longs Peak ranger in the early days of the Park, painted a white arrow on the rock buttress overhead to mark the way. Don’t worry if you can’t find it – it is very easy to miss when traversing from the Loft to the Homestretch, and there’s no guarantee you’ll see it on the return trip. Once the rib is crossed, the rest of the route is very straightforward: traverse beneath the Palisades to the backside of the Notch (mostly 2nd class), cross left over the head of Keplinger’s Couloir (exposed 3rd class, and often some snow), and join the Keyhole route at the base of the Homestretch. 700 feet of polished rock leads to the summit.
SKYSCRAPER (5.0): If things are going well and the weather is good, this is a highly recommended way to finish Clark’s Arrow. Scan the wall on the right while traversing over the top of Keplinger’s Couloir. About halfway between the Notch and the Homestretch, a curious tower should show up on the skyline (see photo). Skyscraper takes the 600-foot crack system that passes the tower on the left to reach the southeast ridge of Longs – it’s essentially a steeper version of the Homestretch. Three long pitches are required with a 200-foot rope, followed by a pitch-and-a-half on the SE ridge. The first pitch starts out very easy, building to a 5.0 finish; a good ledge appears on the right as the rope comes tight. The second pitch steps left into a left-facing V-slot, with solid jams in the back and good stemming opportunities (several sections of 5.0). Belay at the end of the rope in a tight stance on some chockstones. The third pitch is 4th class for most of the way (be careful of loose rock), with a 5.0 bulge at the top; belay on the spacious SE ridge (marvelous views). One more awesome stretch (300 feet of 4th class on perfect rock) follows the ridge to the summit of Longs: weave right and then left to negotiate the huge, stacked blocks on the steepest section.
1) Ratings vary to some degree depending on season, and exact line chosen. The hardest parts on The Ramp to Clark’s Arrow are: A) 3rd class to gain the right side of the Ramp, often done on snow; B) easy 3rd class to cross the Ramp in good conditions; C) Two short (10-15 ft) spots of 4th class on Clark’s Arrow in the descent from the Loft to the base of the Palisades; D) 3rd class to cross head of Keplinger’s Couloir in dry conditions, though it’s often sketchy 4th class, especially when the snow isn’t soft; E) the Homestretch is hard 2nd class to 4th class depending on season.
2) The Loft can also be reached via Lambs Slide (superb way to start the day: 1500 feet of classic snow climbing). In soft snow conditions (much of the winter and into early summer), one can also make a rapid descent from the Loft by carefully glissading (or plunge stepping) Lambs Slide.
3) Add a great pitch of 4th class by ascending the stepped slabs just left of the standard route as you approach the right side of the Ramp.
4) In winter conditions, expect a snow gully on the way to the Loft (it doesn’t melt out until mid summer). It’s very mellow until the last 200 feet, where it gets steeper. The Ramp is also filled in with snow (4th class, and much spookier). Once the buttress is turned on the Ramp, it is generally easier to go more-or-less straight up steep snow, rather than perform the switchback described above. The head of Keplinger’s Couloir holds a snowfield for much of the year, and this can be the scariest part of the route, as it’s difficult to protect and a fall would have serious consequences. Skyscraper fills in during the winter and spring, becoming a wild, tight run of alpine snow (similar in difficulty to a summer ascent, though a little more exposed). An axe is a must in winter; you can get away without crampons some of the time (bring them for a winter ascent of Skyscraper).
EXTRA CREDIT: It takes 15-30 minutes to bag the summit of Mt Meeker from the Loft. The summit of the Beaver (about 14,025') is also easy to reach from the Loft (a little longer). The Beaver is the portion of the SE ridge that runs from the Loft to a wild drop-off into the Notch. If you bring ropes for the rappel into the Notch, this is yet another option for approaching the summit.
This is a summit route incorporating The Ramp, Clark's Arrow, and a previously unpublished finish (Skyscraper). It ascends from Chasm Meadows (the green area below the lake) to the Loft, and then goes around the "backside" of Longs to finish on the SW side. Skyscraper and the Homestretch are separated only by a few hundred feet, but there's a buttress between them, and as a result, this route provides peace and solitude the entire way, even when hundreds of people are climbing the Keyhole.
Bring an axe and crampons in winter conditions, and for ascents where Lambs Slide is part of the plan. Slings, a handful of wires and hexes, and a few cams to 2 inches should be sufficient for Skyscraper. The bold will have no trouble soloing all of this (in tennies during the summer), though Skyscraper is a considerable step up from the very short sections of 4th class on Clark’s Arrow. A short rope (60 – 100 feet) can be used to belay inexperienced partners on the tough sections of the Ramp and Clark’s Arrow. I’d suggest a long rope (8 or 9 mm is probably just fine) if you intend to belay Skyscraper, or if you want to rappel the North Face. This is a mountaineering route: "The leader must not fall" mentality is best.
BETA PHOTO: Approaching the Ramp from the right during an Octo...
Katie crossing the Ramp in winter conditions (Octo...
This is the gully you go down from the Loft to gai...
Turning the corner on the Ramp in winter condition...
BETA PHOTO: I believe I've correctly marked the easiest line t...
This is what Clark's Arrow looks like -- the paint...
The snowfield at the head of Keplinger's Couloir i...
BETA PHOTO: The approximate line of Skyscraper, easily identif...
Looking down the dried out gully that holds Keplin...
|Comments on The Ramp to Clark's Arrow to Skyscraper
By Ernie Port
From: Boulder, Colorado
Aug 19, 2007
I finally did this route yesterday under perfect late summer conditions, and it was fun. Bernard's description is spot on, (amazed at all the route details you describe Bernard!).
Gerry Roach describes the down climb from the loft to Clark's arrow as class 3, but there are a few class 4 down climb moves IMO, as Bernard mentions in his description. Don't think I want to try this in winter!
By Mike McMahon
From: Salt Lake City, Utah
Sep 22, 2007
So, I climbed the 'Loft' to 'Clark's Arrow' for the third time today and finally climbed (what I believe was) the 'Skyscraper' variation. I was pretty much exhausted when I reached this section, so some of my details might be a bit fuzzy. I don't remember the distinct tower on the right side of the Skyscraper; however, I was certainly in a narrow, pronounced gully right of a huge, pancake-stack-looking tower. I was really hurting by this point in the climb, and I thought this was harder than 5.0 (but that was probably just mild hypoxia and boots!) I've have also done the standard finish to the homestretch, and another variation listed in Roach's Fourteeners. This var. has the climber ascend into the Notch from Keplinger's, and climb to the summit via the Upper East Face (final pitches of Notch Couloir route), which probably goes at 5.4. However, if I wasn't ready to lose my lunch at any minute, the Skyscraper route would certainly be the finest finish I've done.