Summer Road Trip - Part 3: Longs Peak

My alarm went off early the morning of Tuesday, July 5th.  I sprung awake, not at all drowsy as I instantly remembered what the day had in store, a 5 mile hike, climbing over 3000 vertical feet, carrying a backpack full of camping and camera gear.  This is most likely a mundane task to the experienced backpacker, but I anot an experienced backpacker.  I packed up my sleeping bag, poured myself a quick bowl of cereal, then departed for the Longs Peak trailhead.  Once at the parking lot I made some last minute preparations, placing my food, clothes and other gear into my pack.  A quick chat with the Park Ranger and I was off up the trail.  As I made my way through the pine forests that surround the lower parts of the trail, I passed plenty of other people getting out to hike that morning.  The trail zigzagged its way higher and higher. Along the way I passed over streams, under trees, and stopped to take photographs whenever I came upon an inspirational scene. 

Alpine Brook coming down from Longs Peak

As I trekked on and continued to gain elevation the weight of my pack began to grow on me.  I kept my legs moving, trying to stop as little as possible.  When I reached the fork in the trail from which one path would lead me to the Boulder Field and the other to Chasm Lake, I stopped to have a granola bar and a rest. By this time I was well into the Alpine and the trees were especially sparse.  Small shrubs and alpine wildflowers were much more common.  Looking up to the Southwest I could see the Diamond and below it the shimmering waters of Chasm Lake.  After continuing up a few switchbacks I was on the final stretch toward the Boulder Field.  At this point the rocks along the trail began to grow more numerous, and eventually the trail was consumed and I began to follow the cairns that marked the rest of the way.  As I walked into the aptly name Boulder Field, I was surrounded by rock.  To my left was Mount Lady Washington and to my right, Storms Peak.  The crumbling summits of these two lesser peaks were dwarfed by Longs Peak which rose straight ahead of me.  


Alpine Brook, higher up the mountain.

Longs Peak and Chasm Lake

Exhausted from the hike, I slowly assembled my tent within a wall of stones that had been piled by the park rangers to protect campers from the elements.  After taking a rest inside my tent and eating a quick lunch I threw my camera in my bag and went to explore my surroundings.  I started toward the ridge that lies between Longs Peak and Mount Lady Washington, hoping to get a good view of Chasm Lake from atop the ridge.  After tooling around up on the ridge for a bit I made my way back toward my tent.  There was a pair of climbers making camp near me and I stopped to chat with them for a bit, and soon resigned to my tent for the day to rest up for the mornings’ ascent. 

Camp set up in the Boulder Field

My alarm went off at 5:10 AM on Wednesday morning. As I packed up my water, food, camera and other supplies for the ascent I could hear other hikers making their way past my tent.  After a quick breakfast and prepping some water for the descent, I started up toward the Keyhole.  More cairns led the way as I hopped from boulder to boulder and upon reaching the Keyhole vast mountainous landscapes could be seen laying on the other side of the ridge.  To the left, the path through  “the Ledges” was marked with yellow and red bull's-eyes.  After a short rest with some fellow hikers to take in the views from the Keyhole, I bound ahead along the Ledges.  The path here climbs up a little before dropping down, and was a nice respite before what in my opinion was the worst part of the climb, "the Trough."


Sunset at the Boulder Field

Climbing the Trough was an effort in both willpower and endurance.  I was making good time and didn't want to slow down, so I kept my legs pumping.  Up and up the rocks I went as bits of gravel were kicked from my feet down the side of the mountain.  Partway up the Trough I met the two mountaineers that I had met the previous night at the Boulder Field.  After chatting about how our climbs were going we started moving again with myself leading the way.  They had insisted that I was faster and should go ahead, and wanting to live up to their expectations, I chugged ahead as quickly as possible.  At times I had to use all four of my limbs and near the end of the Trough got to do what was likely an unnecessary mantle.  At the top of the Trough I stopped to catch my breath and take some photographs, and then I was off onto "the Narrows." 

Looking down The Trough


The Narrows was definitely the most exposed part of the climb.  To my right the mountain side dropped steeply, and a misstep here could be fatal.  However, the trail was rather flat and my psych was high so I rapidly made my way to the bottom of "the Home Stretch."


The Home Stretch was much steeper than the Trough and at times I had to scramble on my hands and feet on the way up.  As I got nearer to my goal my heart started to race.  I pulled myself onto the summit of Longs Peak, the sun shinning in my face as I did so.  Finally, I had made it to the top of Longs Peak!  Looking over the eastern edge of the summit I could see Chasm Lake below and the foothills of the Front Range. 


Looking over the edge of the summit with Chasm Lake below and the foothills of the front range ahead.


I ate my lunch on what felt like the top of the world.  After signing the summit book and taking some more photographs I started back down the mountain smiling from ear-to-ear.  Summitting Longs Peak was truly one of the most amazing experiences in my life.  While it was physically challenging, the beautiful surroundings of Rocky Mountain National Park kept me inspired to keep going.  I hope this is only the first of many 14'ers to come!

Summer Road Trip 2014 - Part 2: Day 1 at Rock Mountain National Park

When I last left off Candice and I were departing from the Badlands to head toward Rapid City. Once in town we paid for a shower at a Flying J truck stop and then we made our way to Mount Rushmore. This was my third time at the national monument, and while once is probably enough, Candice had never been, so we made a visit. I was able to get a few nice photos and the walk around the Presidential Trail was not a bad way to spend the morning.

The next few days were spent celebrating the marriage of Seth and Alana, two of my good friends from high school. After a wonderful wedding on Saturday, Candice and I departed for Colorado Sunday morning, where Candice would unfortunately have to catch a flight back to Minneapolis to go to work on Monday.

Once I had dropped off Candice and sent some emails for work from a Star Bucks I started towards Estes Park, my base camp for the next five days. As I was making my way west the sun was setting over the Rocky Mountains and I maneuvered the winding mountain roads in darkness. The wild species wasted no time in introducing themselves to me as I narrowly missed hitting an Elk that ran across the road.

Once I made it to Rocky Mountain National park I met up with Tyler and we then went to our camp for the night. The air was cool as a breeze came into our camp, and up above the night sky twinkled gloriously as light emanated from the stars onto earth. I laid out my crash pad and sleeping pad, and got into my sleeping bag to fall asleep under the stars.

The next day we would be heading up to Chaos Canyon in the afternoon, but we had a few hours to kill in the morning. When we woke up, Tyler and I went to Kind Coffee to get our caffeine and Wi-Fi fix. This would become a regular hangout spot throughout the week.

Ian and Erin met us at Kind and we made our plan for the day. We would meet up at Bear Lake to head to Upper Chaos Canyon in the early afternoon. I had aspirations to spend Tuesday night camping in the back country of Rocky Mountain National Park, so before we went out bouldering I visited the back country office to arrange my camp site. At the office I discovered that July was a busy time in the back country of the Rockies. All of the most convenient sites were taken, but sites were available at the Boulderfield under Longs Peak. This seemed like a prime opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and do some back country camping and climb my first 14'er. So I made the reservation and got my permits, then met Tyler in the visitor center parking lot to head up to Bear Lake.

It was a busy day up at the Bear Lake parking lot but we were very lucky and found a spot on our first lap! We got our gear out of the car, met up with Erin and Ian, and set off on the trail toward Lake Haihaya. Having been in Estes Park since the beginning of the summer and regularly hiking to the boulders, Tyler’s fitness was high and I did my best to keep pace. The elevation didn't seem to be having too great of an effect on me, but hiking uphill sure did burn. On the way up we went through pine forests and passed over mountain streams and there are great views of Longs Peak along some of the slightly exposed sections of the trail.

The Bear Lake parking lot - in the background, Hallet Peak can be seen on the left and Flattop Mountain on the right.

The view of Longs Peak from the trail

Once reaching Lake Haiyaha the trail narrows and a footpath leads to a section of talus. I hadn't done much boulder hopping previous to this trip, but my sticky approach shoes improved my confidence as we jumped from rock to rock. Looking ahead I could see the tops of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain, between which our destination of Upper Chaos Canyon resided. After carefully moving through a small snowfield and some more boulder hoping, we arrived at the Meadow Boulder. 

Ian and Erin moving up a snow field with Lake Haiyaha in the background.

We warmed up for a while, trying the various problems on the boulder and making terrible jokes about the problem called “Chad’s Bulge.” Once we had groped the bulge enough we went over to see “Terrorism Arete” and “Riddles in the Park.” Tyler had completed both of these boulders earlier in the summer, so he gave us the spray on the problems. Terrorism Arete is a proud line moving up a ships prow-like boulder. After falling low on the boulder for my first few tries I sussed out the bottom sequence and started making it to the lip of the boulder on my attempts. However, each time I got my left hand on the pinch at the corner of the boulder, and my right hand on a small crimp just over the lip, I couldn't make it to the next hold which seemed a world away being so far off the deck. We moved the pads back and forth between the two problems and I gave a few tries on some of the moves of “Riddles in the Park,” but it was definitely beyond my skill level. I was getting tired from my multiple attempts and wasn't feeling any closer to making the next move on "Terrorism Arete". 

Once everyone was ready to move on we went to check out “Blood Money,” a hard Daniel Woods line Tyler had his eye on. The problem starts with some violent compression moves on a roof, into a heel hook-centric sequence, then the crux gaston moves. Tyler and Ian worked away at the problem while Erin helped with the spotting, and I tried to capture their attempts with my camera. Seeing these two strong, experience climbers figure out the boulder problem was a great lesson in rock climbing. With each attempt the beta was refined, and the two started to make some good progress on the boulder. Tyler was able to work out all the moves and with a little wait to rest and let the temperature drop, began making send attempts.

Ian attempting Blood Money

The day was getting late and the guys were having no luck getting the send, so we packed up; Blood Money would have to go down another day.  As we trekked down the talus it began to grow darker, and not wanting to be caught on the trail in total darkness, Tyler and I ran down to the parking lot.  We eventually got back to the trail head in Roosevelt National Park where we were camping and, it being another beautiful night, I set up my bed under the stars and fell asleep after a great first day in Rocky Mountain National Park!