This was it. The big hike of Meeker and Longs via The Loft route. A hike I have been looking forward to for a number of years, and after talking about it with Rich, we decided to do it in early September when the threat of thunderstorms was minimal but before it got too cold in the high country.
Saturday, Sept. 8th I headed up to Estes Park and went to the RMNP Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and asked about the weather. The ranger's answer was that it was going to be cooler, breezier than today with a possibility of snow above tree line late in the day, but no thunderstorms or rain. Then headed to Rich's to spend the night.
Sunday morning we drove up to the Longs Peak Trailhead parking lot, which was already pretty full, but we took one of the last parking spots. On the drive up we drove through a lot of fog. We started to hike right at 4:30 and there was a very slight mist in the air. By headlamp we started up the 3.5 miles up to the Chasm Lake trail. About half way up we finally broke out above the cloud cover. Shortly after that we passed above tree line (which is defined by whether or not you can hide an army division in the trees so it is not visible from the air - I kid you not). It is getting light enough that looking back to the east we can see the Twin Sisters mountain, and it looks as though it is floating in a sea of clouds. Near sunrise, we are on our way down towards Chasm Lake, with a perfect view of the magnificent east face of Longs Peak, unfortunately with all the cloud cover we don't get the early morning light on it to make what I was hoping would have been a fantastic photo, but to no avail. But we don't have time to wait, we have The Loft to get to.
To get up to The Loft we follow a faint, but obvious trail up a steep couloir, just to the south of what is known as the Ships Prow, a large, but narrow, rock outcropping that looks like a bow of a ship. The bottom of the couloir is at 11,600, and in the distance of about a half mile we climb up to 13,400. Near the top of the couloir the obvious way is blocked by a 20 foot cliff, but there is a 5 to 10 foot wide ledge that makes an ascending traverse off to the left for about 100 yards, that is followed by a switchback back to the right. The ledge is fairly easy to spot from a distance, but not as easy up close, but we found it relatively easily. There were a few spots along the first ledge in which we had to scramble up and over some rocks, but all of it was quite easy to do. From the top of the second ledge it is a simple hike across rocks, following cairns, to the top of The Loft. To the left is the summit of Meeker. To get there we followed a trail up to a small saddle and then scrambled up rocks to the summit. Meeker's summit is along a knife like ridge, but was easy to hike along if you stay to the north, just down off of the actual ridge. The actual summit is just a large, flat boulder upon which two people could sit upon. To get on top of the boulder all it takes is stepping up onto a small rock next to the summit boulder, and pushing yourself up onto it. Piece of cake!!!
But now it is off to tackle Longs Peak. So far the hike has been relatively easy, however there really isn't such a thing as an easy hike when you are above 12,000 feet for an extended amount of time. Now the trail gets pretty faint, the trail description pretty vague and no one else around to ask or follow. So we head northwest across The Loft, which is a large, slightly western sloping, high altitude, flat saddle between Meeker and what appears to be Longs, but isn't because The Notch (a big gash in the mountain separates what looks to be a southern slope up to Longs and Longs itself) is in the way, and The Notch is probably over 200 feet deep from the top to bottom. So the guide book tells us to find a gully in the northwest corner of The Loft, head down it for about 100 to 150 feet until we find Clark's Arrow and then head up another gully to the bottom of The Notch.
Sounds easy doesn't it? Well we think we headed down the wrong gully because at first we came to place where we could not go any further since there was a 20 to 30 foot sheer drop out with no way down except to jump and we were not willing to play Superman. So we climb back up and head over to the gully off to the south that we were trying to get to, but once we get there it seems as though we went much further than 100 to 150 feet down, but we did find a way to cut back to the north, and found a gully that would take us back up and we eventually got to the bottom of The Notch. We never did see Clark's Arrow. From the bottom of The Notch the summit of Longs is directly above us, but much too steep to attempt to climb up, so we make an ascending traverse off to the west where we finally hook up with the bottom of the Homestretch, which is the final 200 yards or so of the standard Keyhole route up Longs. The Homestretch is a 45 degree "climb" up smooth granite which has cracks running up to rock, but not so much across the rock, so it doesn't supply a lot of places to get good footing.
However off to the west there are dark clouds building fast, and moving east quickly. I hiked a little ways to the west so I could get a better view of these clouds and it looked as though a cold front was moving in. Remember that forecast I got the day before? So instead of heading up, we headed across the Ledges, which is a narrow ledge, shorter than what I remembered from when I did Longs 11 years ago (has it really been that long?) to the top of the Trough. Here it started to sleet on us, the wind picked up, so I pulled out my rain pants and put them on. By the time I had put them on, the sun came out, the wind died down and looked pretty nice out, but off to the west more dark clouds loomed on the horizon. Figuring it would take an hour to get up to the summit and back down to where we were, we decided that since it was a little past one, we were getting tired and the weather didn't look real promising, we begged off on heading up to the summit, so down the Trough we went, then through the Keyhole, down the Boulder Field and then down the trails to the parking lot and car. It sleeted/snowed/rained on us from time to time as we covered the 6 or so miles from the Boulder Field to the car. We got back to the car about 10 minutes to six, so we were on the trail for nearly 13 1/2 hours. Both Rich and I were sore, and while on the back side of The Loft and Longs I ran my right knee into a rock, and while it didn't bother me on the hike, but once we got off the trail it started getting stiff and sore pretty quickly.