I got up pretty early and met Nelson at the library parking lot at 6:00. It was my turn to drive so he piled his gear into the back of my car and we were off. We made better time than expected and pulled into the Longs Peak Trailhead parking lot at a little earlier than our planned meeting time with Nelson’s hiking buddy Tom. I was surprised to find there was only one other car in the parking lot. I’m so used to coming up in the summer time when you’re lucky to find a spot in the parking lot even at 4:00 in the morning.
Tom showed up right on time at 7:30 and after we’d all got our gear squared away we took off. There was about a foot of fresh snow on the ground so we donned our snowshoes right at the trailhead. There looked to be only one or two sets of tracks through the fresh snow so we really needed the snowshoes. Nelson set a swift pace and both Tom and I were huffing and puffing to keep up. After the first mile or so we took a break to catch our breaths and Nelson notched down the pace a little so it was easy to talk.
We covered the next mile or so past Goblins Forest chatting easily as we went. Before long we reached the place where the trail crossed Alpine Brook. Instead of following the trail across the brook the lone set of tracks we were following paralleled the brook up the gulch. We followed these tracks as the ascended the gulch. After a while the trees started to thin out. As we approached timberline the wind started to pick up. Soon the tracks we’d been following disappeared – obliterated by the wind. It was also about this time that Meeker, Longs, and Mount Lady Washington came into view. It had been a while since I’d been in the area – and every time I’d been to this part of the mountain during the ascent it had been dark. I’d forgotten how cool these mountains look. The view of Twin Sisters wasn’t bad either.
Now that we were breaking trail the going was much slower and tougher. Tom and I took our turns breaking trail as we made our way towards Jims Grove. We were sinking about a foot into the fresh snow with every step and sometimes we were sinking up to our knees and even mid-thighs. When we made it across the open ground to southern edge of Jims Grove we took a break. While out in the open ground the wind had really bean cutting through my lightweight convertible pants and I was a little chilly so I put my Gore-Tex pants on over my convertible pants. I also got out my over mitts to put on over my fleece gloves.
After our break and my clothing adjustment we headed off once more through Jims Grove to the southern slopes of Battle Mountain. From there it was long hard slug through the deep snow and fierce wind up to Granite Pass. About halfway up we met a guy coming down. He said he’d made it to the top of Mount Lady Washington and was on his way back to the trailhead. It must have been his tracks that we’d been following earlier in the morning. It was nice to have run across him because we could re-trace his tracks up to Granite Pass. This was short-lived however because after about 20 minutes the wind completely obliterated his tracks and we were forced to break trail once more.
The closer we got to Granite Pass the fiercer the wind got. It was really howling! By the time we made it to Granite Pass I think we were all pretty tired and seriously doubting if we would make the summit of Storm Peak. We took a break and talked it over. We decide to push on and see how far we could get so we set off across the eastern edge of the Boulder Field. The wind seemed to have died down a little and the going was easier and flatter.
After making our way across the boulder field we began to ascend the eastern slopes of Storm Peak. I was breaking trail and I was hoping to traverse my way northwest across eastern side of the mountain to attain the north ridge. However, it soon became apparent that this was going to be easier said than done. With every step I was sinking to my knees and with some I was sinking almost to my waist. In addition to these difficulties the wind had picked up. We could see it whipping snow off the north ridge and the slopes closer to the summit. We still had close to 1,000 vertical feet to go and it was starting to get late (I think it may have been about 1:00ish). At the rate we were going in this condition it was probably going to take us in the neighborhood of another two hours to gain the summit.
The three of us took a break to discuss our options. Tom said he was through for the day and was ready to head back to the car. Since he’d driven himself he said he had no problem with Nelson and me continuing on to the summit. Quoting Clint Eastwood he said, "A man has got to know his limitations." Wise words. I was feeling pretty tired. I knew that if I turned around now, I could make it back to the car feeling really good. If I tried to reach the summit it would be a couple more hours of brutal work and I would be completely whipped when we made the summit and utterly destroyed when we made it back to the car. I left the decision up to Nelson. If he wanted to continue I would go with him. If not, I was more than cool with turning around. He thought about it for a moment and decided it would be best to turn around. I think all of us were happy with our decision. The mountain wasn’t going anywhere and we would live to attempt it another day.
We quickly retraced our steps down to Granite Pass where the wind was really howling once again. On the south side of Granite Pass there was no trace of our tracks so we took turns breaking trail down to Jims Grove. The going was much easier headed down with the help of gravity but it was still pretty stiff work, especially since the afternoon sun had softened up the snow some. We made our way through Jims Grove and across the open ground to the top of the gulch containing Alpine Brook.
Here we started to find our tracks from earlier in the morning. There were also some post-hole tracks on top of our snowshoe tracks. Some poor soul had been post-holing up to their thighs for the last quarter mile. Yikes! We followed this person’s tracks back down the gulch to the official trail. By this time it had warmed up considerably and we all shed our outer layers. The trail had seen considerable foot traffic since we had passed and was now pretty well packed down. We could have shed our snowshoes if we’d wanted to but it probably wasn’t worth the trouble so we all kept them on. We met several groups of people coming up the trail, all without snowshoes.
The last mile or so seemed to drag on but we eventually made it to the parking lot. Without the shelter of the trees the breeze was making things down right chilly and there were a few snowflakes in the air. We quickly piled our stuff into the car and decided to head down to the Wild Basin Lodge for a beer. Unfortunately when we got there we found that they no longer have their bar and restaurant open to the public. Instead all they do is weddings. The guy we talked to said they do 200 per year. That’s a lot of weddings! So after that defeat we decided to head back over to Estes Park. We found a little Mexican restaurant and had some nachos and beer and talked mountains. After our snack we said adieu to Tom and headed back to Fort Collins. I dropped Nelson off at his car and was home in another couple of minutes. All in all it was a great day. It was unfortunate that we didn’t make the summit, but I was sure I’d get it some other time.