My buddy was talking about doing a winter climb of Longs Peak so I figured I should make a run up it during the summer to get a good idea of what the hike/climb would be like. I called RMNP and made reservations of a couple of campsites. I started of a bit late for a summit run but I was only expecting to hike for 4 or 5 hours to the first site. Less than 45 minutes I was at the Goblin Forest Camp Ground, laughing. What was I going to do for a whole day!?!?! I pitched camp, which meant rolling my bivy sack out and putting my sleeping bag into it. I hiked up to the next campground area but the weather started getting a bit nasty and I turned back after poking around for a bit just around tree line.
The night was on the colder side getting down to 36 degrees. I was wishing I had my 20 degree bag along but I slept ok and was ready to go early. One thing I learned was that you are never really alone or “solo” when hiking up Long’s Peak. I met a few groups but spent most of my time chatting with a group of fathers and sons heading up to the peak along the same time frame I was. The next days hike was a better length and I felt like I actually did some work on the way up. I pulled into the Boulder Field campsite early and found what looked like a good rock wall to pitch my bivy behind. I broke out some food and was almost immediately accosted by a marmot. Cute, and really not afraid of anything. They just want some food and will go into your pack to get it even if you are sitting right there with only your back turned. Fortunately they have “marmot boxes” for your food. Here in MN we call them “bear boxes”. The weather was getting cold as the sun headed down and the wind was really picking up. About an hour before sun down two “kids” in shorts with day packs raced by heading up to the keyhole. Those of us as camp started chatting about what we had just saw and wondered how worried we should be for them. One of the two was moving slower and waited over 100 feet down for a bit while the other scouted the keyhole. Finally the second moved up to the other and they disappeared from view. Not sure what to do a couple of us rounded up some extra clothes and headed up to check on them. As we neared the keyhole the popped back into view on their way back down having decided to not summit or stay the night in the keyhole building which was what we were worried they might try to do. Turns out the two had some experience but had just gotten a really late start. The one who had stayed down below for a bit was suffering from some AMS but seemed fine over all. After a short chat they headed back down. That night was as cold as the previous night, only windier so it felt colder. Before sun up I was awoken by the sounds of people walking by. There were a dozen or so hikers who had started from the trail head hours before streaming by on their summit attempt. I figured it was time to head out after a good hot high cal breakfast.
I headed up to the keyhole expecting some wind. The day before very few had made summit attempts because of high winds in the keyhole. Also two days before there was over an inch of snow and that had deterred some hikers too. Mind you this is late August and I was feeling like it was November! There was wind but not too bad. I had a shell on so it was not too chilling and I moved on. Hiking on the ledges was fairly easy; you just ignore the feeling of exposure caused by the very large sheer drop to your right and look for the red paint dots that mark the trail. The Trough had ice and slow on the right side of it but was fairly clear. You have to be very careful to not knock rocks down on those below you as there are lots of them ready to roll down.
After that the Narrows offered a great time! Narrower than the Ledges and with a greater / steeper drop it made a few hikers turn back. Still very easy to hike on, just a lot of exposure which some could not handle.
Finally there was the HomeStretch, the long steep ramp heading up to the summit. I walked up most of it w/o needing my hands but pretty much everyone else climbed it with their hands. Which, for most, is the best choice because a backwards fall here would be very bad.
The summit was different than I expected, very flat and large. You could put a football field up there and not worry about losing the ball, or a player!, over the edge. The winds were stiff but not overpowering although I did see one lady get knocked over. I spent some time there, signed the summit log and reluctantly headed down.
I walked down the HomeStretch much the same way I went up it w/o hands but most put their butts down and slide/shuffle along. Again this is probably the safest way to head down that part. There were tons of climbers heading up. Lines were forming while we waited for climbers to pass the narrower sections. When I got down I looked back up at one little knot of climbers to see a couple turning back, their eyes a little bit bigger than normal and looking a bit scared. They asked someone I was walking and chatting with if they could come down with us because they were a bit scared. This was their first 14eener and were too unsure to make the final climb up the HomeStretch. Dressed in street cloths and tennis shoes I can understand why. We helped them, just walked near them and showed the way really, across the Narrows, down the Trough and across the Ledges. We climbed back through the Keyhole and stopped in the building there for a bite to eat. They offered me a tasty peanut butter sandwich that went down nicely J.
I hiked down to the boulder field and retrieved my pack, ate some food and headed out. I pushed pretty hard heading down the trail, feeling stronger and stronger the lower I went. For the last mile or so I jogged trying to see how fast I could do the hike. I can’t even remember the time anymore but at the moment it seemed pretty fast but the memory of the trip itself is what remains. I wish I had a camera with me to take pictures. The group of fathers and sons I was travelling with did take a bunch but I missed the opportunity to ask if I could pay them for some. Live and learn.
(I may have been sitting in the Boulder Field when the previous poster came down. I remeber some femal athletes coming through and the description of the winds turing back many hikers sounds the same as the stories many told me on their way down.)
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