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 am not 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!