The Young and the “Reckless”

“Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone”
Sunrise on Longs
Here I was looking at Mark Twight’s book Kiss or Kill: Confessions of a Serial Climber staring at all the pictures and all the places I dream about being. I’ve never read the whole book. I got through one chapter on his climb of the unrepeated “Reality Bath” and was simply stunned. “I got to do that.” Twight has been perhaps the boldest alpinist to ever live. While looking through the book, there has always been one picture in it that has caught my eye. The one with Will Gadd on Schobingers Chimney on non other then Longs Peak. This was mainly because it was my home state. Twight and Gadd put this route up in 1997 and rated it 5.8 WI5 M6. That was all that was known about it. Perhaps it has seen a second ascent or maybe not. One thing is for sure, it hasn’t seen many at all and it doesn’t come in condition a ton.
Photo by Chris Sheridan
Chris Sheridan sent me a message.
“Want to climb Saturday?”
Coming up Lambs Slide in lean conditions. Photo by Chris
ImageI know what that means. It never means sport climbing or trad climbing for that matter. It means a big day in the mountains on mixed. Last time I climbed with Chris, we did a big linkup on Hallett Peak covering over 2,000 feet of challenging mixed terrain in 11 hours c2c. (The Slit and Hallett Chimney) Chris knows his stuff and I always enjoy climbing with him. His specialty is alpine trad mixed climbing.

Getting ready for Alexanders Chimney

Past the M4 crux

We talked about Longs. Conditions were good last week so we were hoping with warm cold temps that the Smear of Fear was in. Though Chris has already done it, I’ve been waiting a while for it. I told him about Schobingers Chimney and that I saw a small amount of ice in it. When Twight and Gadd did it, Longs East Face had seen one of it’s fattest years ever. This year? Not as much. We were both stoked still. We packed the gear, not knowing what were going to get on, and headed up on the trail at 5 A.M. Sunrise approached us at about Chasm Lake and soon we saw a better update on conditions. Not so good. In a matter of a week, it looked like it went from Fall to Summer! Everything was melted out and gone. The Smear was hopeless. Fields Chimney was much more melted out. We had to get on something that never saw the sun, then conditions would be good!

Close to Broadway

We talked at Chasm Lake and decided to start on Alexander’s Chimney (WI4 M4) for the Lower East Face. Then we would traverse broadway to Schobingers Chimney and see what conditions were like. Or there was always the Notch Couloir. Chris was coming off the couch so he asked me if he could lead all of Alexander’s and then for me to take my block and lead Schobingers Chimney. I agreed but I was a little intimidated. We only had one rope so it made it a little more committing. Schobingers was looking thinner then last week. And what about that rating? 5.8 WI5 M6 in the greatest alpine ice/mixed climbers to perhaps ever live could mean anything. I knew it was the “big boys” terrain. And I expected sandbagged. But I knew I could get up it. The position of it is pretty “out there” too. Basically on the leftmost side of the Diamond, above Broadway, it’s committing. You can’t just rappel down the Lower East Face like you can with the Diamond. Retreat would be reversing Broadway. Up is just about out. The exposure is pretty cool as you’re climbing above the biggest part of the Lower East Face. Last but not least, two of the most accomplished mixed climbers you hear about did the FA! Put all that into one and it creates a memorable 3 pitch route. We started up Lambs Slide (lean) to the base of Alexanders, which is in FAT! Chris started up the first pitch and when he was out of rope, I started up as well. We decided to simul climb most of the route to speed up the process and save time. Soon I followed the mixed crux under the chockstone and belayed Chris on awesome (new? nah) terrain rock climbing with hands and the pons on. Soon I joined him on Broadway.

Chris on Broadway

Approaching Schobingers Cracks

He handed me the rack and I started off the simul climbing on Broadway. This was the first time for me on the “step around” move. All the other times I’ve went high on the traverse. This move wasn’t that bad compared to what I heard, even with snow. Big jugs though the exposure made it fun. Soon we were past the Notch traversing on sugar snow. I placed gear just to make sure no slides took us off. I just kept on traversing and soon enough, BOOM!, there it is. It looks way scarier then the pictures.

“OH man…..Dude, it’s a hanging dagger”

I continued up a moderate mixed pitch to the base.

My mental battle continued. Chris and I agreed this was indeed a big boy route. I was more scared just looking at it. Chris was encouraging me just to check it out and take it one step at a time. If it was too dangerous, then no problem with bailing. This was leaner then the pictures I’ve seen on the FA ascent. Chris was the perfect partner for this. A lot of other people would’ve just bailed off it with me but Chris wanted it as much as me. I didn’t want to wuss out. I needed to do my part. He encouraged me and pushed me to do it. He knew I had it in me. I knew I had it in me. I’ve done stuff harder then this. But this is different. The position, altitude, exhaustion, tired, and it all adds up. I just needed to block out the inner evil and go for it.

I’m here for a reason. This is what I live for. This is what I want to do! I’d rather be no where else then here today!

Mid crux

Looking down from the belay of P1…Crappy hanging slabby ice belay

Chris hands me the gear and I tie into the middle just in case one rope get’s cut, I’m protected with the other. “Dude, it’s freaking overhanging!” I start off and slowly make my way up. I feel like throwing up. Stomach problems seemed to be occurring all day. Sure enough, there is enough gear to proceed. I even got a heel hook for a rest behind the hanging dagger. M6 drytooling brought me to a gnarly transfer to the hanging dagger. I made my way up vertical ice and soon got to place a screw, and then another. I built the belay. “Off Belay!” Chris was really psyched for me and seemed impressed. He followed and we both agreed, this WAS the best pitch of ice in the park! I asked Chris if he wanted the next pitch. I needed a break after that pitch. He took it. Some vertical ice brought you to this overhanging sort of chimney that had absolutely NO holds to chimney with pons on! Chris sent it and soon built a belay. I followed and struggled up the chimney crux of it. Old school M6. I was pumped plus it didn’t help that I was trailing the follower pack. Soon I plopped up to the ledge really tired. I looked up and there’s another roof. I make my way up and soon join Chris at the belay. I’m worked by this point. That was a another hard pitch! Of course all of this is above 13,000 feet.

Chris leading P2

Finally getting to the nice ledge at the end of P2 with relief

Chris on the Eubanks Chimney finish

Chris then took the final pitch up a couple more roofs to the top. I followed in better style and soon was on Kieners. Woohoo! For a while there, I thought it was going to get dark on route. I broke trail and soon made the step around move to the slog to the summit. My second summit of Longs Peak! I never set out on Longs with the goal of the summit. The summit of Longs is sort of a sacred place for me. I make sure every time I do end up there, it’s after REALLY challenging myself at my limit. My first time was after climbing the Casual Route two years ago. I was 18, Danny was 20 when we did it. It was a break through for me at the time into realization that yes dreams do come true! But they don’t come easy. These last two years have been filled with me living life. A lot of the time, I wake up and wonder why I choose to live this life. I could be chasing a career or going to college or getting married for that fact. Why have I dropped everything in the past several years for this pursuit many consider selfish? I realize, it’s me. Climbing is a part of me. It’s not a hobby. It’s my life. It’s all I’ve seemed to want.


All smiles on Upper Kieners

Upper Kieners with Chris

We descended the North face at sunset. We were both basically out of water. We descended the Camels Gully back to our stash at Chasm Lake. I was really tired. I hadn’t had much sleep in the last two weeks. I was almost falling asleep on the trail. I was hallucinating at times. My legs hurt, my whole body hurts. We drop some iodine tablets into water and drink up soon. It was a Long way back. It’s always longer back when you’re tired. Finally we reach the car, finally.

Step Around Move


It’s over.

I fell asleep once in the car and soon make the drive home. It’s always crazy leaving home when the drunks are leaving the bar, and coming back when the drunks are leaving the bar. All in all, I think it was a hard earned 24 hours bed to bed? I don’t really remember that hike back that well.

I think it was Alex Huber that said, you remember a memorable alpine climb forever. This is one of those that I’ll always remember. Hardships and battle’s won. My best day I’ve ever had on Longs. This is why I love alpinism.

This is what I want in life. Just when you think life can’t get any better it does.



About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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2 Responses to The Young and the “Reckless”

  1. keithnoback says:

    ’cause I can’t double-like it. Beautiful climb.

  2. Kick ass Noah! Looks like an amazing climb 🙂

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