One word: Wow!
This was my second attempt at summiting Longs Peak. The first was in September last year, but the mountain was awash in ice and snow, and I was only able to make it to the Keyhole. Because of this "expulsion," I just had to put it on the schedule for this year, but in August. Today was the day.
Nathan and I--the same team that tried last year's ascent--were determined to summit today. Nathan had already summited several times, but always via the Keyhole route. Based on my experiences this summer, I now prefer routes that are not the popular route; it's a more personal experience, just you and the mountain. We decided to ascend via the Loft route. We began our ascent from the Longs Peak trailhead at 2:45am. It only took us 1:20 to reach the Mills Moraine junction, where we took a small break before heading down towards Chasm Lake. Neither one of us had ever even been near Chasm Lake, and although we had both read and reread the details of this route, we were unsure enough of the route that we didn't dare approach it with only headlamps in the dead of night. We actually loitered for an hour just shy of the Ship's Prow waiting for enough light to begin the ascent towards the Loft. (We have both analyzed this decision, and still believe it was the right choice for our first ascent. Regardless, the trail once past the Ship's Prow is vague at best, and staying on it with headlamps would have been difficult at best.)
At about 5:40am, we felt there was enough light for us to proceed; we had paused for an hour. We didn't realize it then, but after looking at the map, we apparently were right next to Chasm Lake. Okay, I must say, from this vantage point, the Ship's Prow is a very impressive rock! It was too dark to take a good picture from the Prow's north side, but here's a not so bad picture from it's southern side:
As an aside, the Ship's Prow is the "abrupt" end of Glacier Ridge, which extends towards the northeast from the northeast corner of The Loft. This is the approach towards The Loft:
The key to this part of the route is to find the ledge series that take you to the top. Failure to find these ledges castigates you to a difficult climb to reach the Loft, whereas the ledges provide more a "casual jaunt." In the above picture, the first ledge is right above the black streaks to the left of the picture. (The streaks are just wet rock...) There are two methods to reach the lower, wider, ledge. Climb some class 3 rock, or follow a class 2 route on the stream bed. We found this ledge right away.
The sun started to peek over Mt Meeker's Northeast Ridge. The view of the basin below was spectucular:
By this point, the Ship's Prow wasn't looking quite as majestic as earlier:
Here's the wall below the main ledge, and the ledges themselves, including the "boulder" that's blocking portion of the lower ledge (easily circumvented around the right side.):
After climbing the ledges, and a short climb afterwards, we were on the Loft! It seemed so easy to get here! From the Loft, Mt Meeker almost seems like a joke:
The key to the Loft is to circumvent the Palisades at their base. This is done by staying to the left (south) of the west "rise" of the Loft and descend following the base:
Shortly after reaching the nadir of the Palisades base, I looked back (or down), and was treated with this view:
From here, it was a pretty straightforward climb to reach the Keyhole Route's Homestretch, and the summit of Longs Peak. It was a pretty busy place for a Wednesday!
On the summit, I met Gary and Mike, who were both celebrating their birthday today. (Gary, 60, had his birthday today, and Mike, 54, had his birthday yesterday. I hope I'm still climbing when I reach 45! (I only know of one other climber more advanced in age, Van, who I believe turned 132 this year--I could be off by a couple of years--but who is still quite an active climber.)
From the summit of Longs Peak, the Ship's Prow is truly miniscule:
Okay, personally, I found it much easier to ascent the Loft Route than descend the Keyhole Route, especially between the summit and the Keyhole. At some point, I developed a migraine, and each time I put either one of my feet down, my head exploded. This made for a slower descent. Of course, Nate--who is part mountain goat (I don't know on which side)--was way ahead of me. However, he did help me though some of the toughest sections. Here's Nate waiting for me:
After this point, Nate and I agreed to meet at the Keyhole, so I wouldn't slow him down. Since I had never been on this route previously, as I was nearing the Keyhole itself, I erroneously took the wrong path, and ended up going on a "trail" above the trail I was supposed to be on. This is in part because there were bulleyes leading up there, and because a couple in front of me had also gone up there. This normally wouldn't be a problem, except that the direct downclimb from here is steep, and there are not many footholds or handholds. It took me 15-20 minutes to negotiate this downclimb.
Made it to the Keyhole shortly after that, met Nate, and began crossing the boulder field. The last time I had been on the Boulder field, it was covered in ice and snow, so this was much better! The boulder field always has worthwhile views:
My migraine was getting worse, and I couldn't maintain the speed that I wanted. Because apparently I'm a dumbass, in the interest of speed, I didn't stop to take the migraine medication I always carry, or even to drink some water. I finally did this at Mills Moraine, where I took a break. What a difference! It only took me an hour to descend the 3.5 miles from Mills Moraine to the trailhead! I wish I had stopped much sooner! There is a nice-looking stream you cross on this stretch (my guess is that it's Larkspur Creek...):
I finally made it back to the trailhead at 3:30pm. This loop had taken me 12 hours and 45 minutes. I could've made it shorter, but it is what it is. But the day wasn't over!
-Drink when you need to.
-Medicate when you need to.
-Nate is a mountain goat!
-Granite is much better to climb than whatever that crap was in the Elk Range.