Longs Peak in no way is an unobtainable mountain. In fact through this report I hope you see that it is not a hard or technical mountain to climb at all. I think the naming of many of the features such as the ledges, or the narrows that create a lot of concern for people. I’m not sure exactly why I put it off so long, but I like to tell myself it was because of the route being nearly 15 miles and having to start around 2am. Over the past two weeks I couldn’t decide what mountain to climb, but the idea of Longs was always there. Late in the week I texted Cole and told him I decided on Longs and he agreed to join me, even though that required a midnight wake-up.
As we were gearing up at the TH the temps were very cold and the wind was breezy. I decided to pack my heavier parka instead of my light one, which was a wise decision. We didn’t take too much time and were off along the trail by 2:45am. I was feeling pretty good considering the hour and lack of sleep. I told Cole to let me know if my pace got out-of-hand, he never complains and always keeps up. I had set break points along the route so I could ration my water/food, wanting only to carry only what was necessary.
The pace was more on the fast end, where we hit the Chasm Lake junction in an hour and half covering about 3 miles and 2,000ft. We took ten minutes to take in some fuel/water. The parkas were much needed as the wind was howling. The one bonus were the stars, you could not quite see the full Milky Way, but with a little less headlamp pollution it may have come through. I could not get a picture to come out showing the headlamp trail from all the climbers, but it looked like I70 on a ski weekend in the dark.
The next break was the Keyhole. The Keyhole is where the trailed section of the trip ends, about 6 miles into the climb. My goal was to be there for sunrise at about 6:30am, so far we were moving better than expected so I was confident we would make it to the Keyhole for the sunrise. From the Chasm Lake junction there is a long traverse to Granite Pass. From the pass there was almost a paved path of granite slabs, quite unusual, but made our travel very efficient. Not long after the pass the boulder field starts. We could gauge where landmarks were in the dark based on the line of headlamps in front of us. There is a trail through most of the boulder field, but good luck keeping to it in the dark. We probably made better time hiking more directly towards the headlamps just under the Keyhole than staying to a meandering trail anyway. We arrived at the Keyhole about 6am and the winds were howling at what felt like at least 40mph.
For the scramble part of the route I had an idea of what to expect, but you never really know what it’s like till you are there. I figured it was a thousand feet over about a mile, so I planned on about an hour and a half to get to the summit. There are four sections: The Ledges, Trough, Narrows and The Homestretch. I started out along The Ledges with nobody in sight as most people were apprehensive to continue with the windy conditions. There are bullseyes along the route to follow which takes a lot of the challenge of a class 3 route away. Since I was running solo, I was almost on a trot during some sections as I didn’t want Cole to have to wait out the cold winds longer than was necessary. I’ll be honest, The Ledges are a cakewalk. But bear in mind I have quite a bit of experience, for someone that is more accustom to trails they would not see it as I do. For the most part I thought there was a trail, where you would occasionally pull yourself up over a rock, nothing to get concerned about. I would say The Ledges took me 10-15 minutes max, and this section leads to The Trough.
I want to say I was looking forward to The Narrows. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s a disappointment, or at least it was for me. This section reminded me of the hype for Chicken Out Ridge on Mount Borah in Idaho. A lot of hype, but when you get there, it was nothing more than a ridge climb. I caught up to the three guys taking a break before starting The Narrows, I chose to keep moving. For the most part The Narrows are not so narrow, there is a crack that is about a foot or so wide that you can walk in or the surrounding rock that gives plenty of room (many feet) to walk. To give you an idea on my descent I passed people breast-to-breast and didn’t even think about exposure. Stay on route and there shouldn’t be any issue. The Narrows leads to The Homestretch which is the last 300 feet of the climb.
I can handle exposure, climbing crappy rock, but the one thing I hate is slick rock. In my mind that was what The Homestretch was. As Lee Corso says: not so fast my friend. The rock is slick, yes, but very manageable. There are many cracks that flow directly to the summit to ascend. This section is steep, but for the most part you can climb upright with a hand down here or there for balance. Don’t get intimidated by the hype yet again. I spent maybe 10 minutes ascending this section. This leads you right to the summit.
|On the Summit|
We had a good time talking about my climb, and I took the time to eat and drink up. The hard part was over and we only had a 6 mile hike out. After a good rest we started our descent. This was one of the better descents I’ve had in a while, there was great conversation with a good friend and the sense of accomplishment that fed me energy. We made good time and were back to the TH just after noon. Both of us had cold beer and pizza on our minds so maybe that was some added motivation to get back to the truck.
Longs Peak is a great climb, if this is something on your list don’t get intimidated by the feature names. Get out there and give it a shot. The purpose of adventure is to live and learn, build your skills and then test them. The mountains are there for us, and they do give us a sense of freedom when we let them. Enjoy it…till next time.
Date: September 10, 2016
TH Elevation: 9,400 feet
Longs Peak Summit: 14,255 feet
Total Ascent: 5,043 feet
Total Distance: 14.7 miles
Moving Time: 6 hours 45 minutes
Stopped Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Climbing Partners: Cole