This is long overdue…I hiked Long’s Peak about a month ago…but here’s my Post Hike Recap!!
Not gonna lie, I most likely will never ever, ever, EVER, hike Long’s Peak ever again. Maybe.
I would consider myself an athletic person; I feel like I am strong and fit and in shape…but man did Long’s Peak kick my ass!! This 14er is not for the weak at heart, mind, or body. It is actually one of the harder one’s to do in Colorado. According to the 14ers.com website, users have ranked it as the 14th hardest (of about 52, I think there is), and one of the harder ones of the class 3’s. It’s the 15th tallest 14er in the state, and is the farthest north; which is why me and my friend picked it because it was closest to both of us.
I conquered this mountain with my good friend David from Fort Collins. We go way back to the days of me being a lifeguard (oh god, I’m getting old – that was a long time ago!)! This was my second 14er and his 1st!! It was a pretty exciting day.
Since Long’s Peak is near Longmont, CO, we met in the middle at my Mom’s house and carpooled to the mountains. Sunday night, we followed the dark, winding roads, driving WAY under the speed limit, looking for the turnoff. The directions online falsely said it was only 9 miles down the road, but it was really triple that. We did end up finding where we needed to be, and parked to figure out what our next steps would entail. While stretching out of the car, we ran into some hiker’s coming DOWN the mountain. Keep in mind, this is sunday NIGHT. We got up there around 10pm and these people had just finished the hike! They warned us not to start too late (we definitely weren’t planning on it) and to bring less food, more water. Exhuasted, they piled into their car and we went to find the campground.
We threw our sleeping bags on the ground, no tent needed! It wasn’t that cold, and we were only going to be sleeping for a few hours. I’ve actually never just slept under the stars like that. It was quite relaxing.
When my alarm went off at 2 am. I didn’t want to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag at all!!! The chilly night air sent me searching for more layers. We loaded up our minimal “camping” gear, placed our head lamps on our heads, and took off for the tail head. If it were’t for having seen people walk to the trail head at the same time, I would have barely found it, never having been there before and not getting to see it during the day.
Then…we were off….. and 12 hours later, we would be back. This first 3 hours or so we so NAUSEATING!!! Same problem I had with running in the Wild West Relay with my head lamp. It really disorients me…does this happen to anyone else?? My hiking buddy didn’t seem bothered by it at all, nor did the other handful of people we passed. But man, hiking with the head lamp really messes with my head and I had to sit down, eyes closed, and regain my balance every once in a while. I did not like it one bit.
The whole time hiking in the dark was on a dirt/rocky trail up to the boulder fields. Beings super sleepy, we talked and hiked – well I talked, but this is what I do; I talk a lot, usually about zombies. Finally, the sun began to rise and I could take the head lamp off my head!!! The start of the boulder fields is about the half way mark (milage wise – not effort or time wise) and where you can set up tents for the night if you prefer. As we approached the tents, we smelled coffee and eggs – certainly jealous that these people got to sleep in a little.
Once past the campground, the scramble starts and doesn’t end until you reach the top pretty much. This is why I call Long’s Peak a climb..not a hike. This is the boulder field. It’s not the hard, per say, it’s just tedious having to go up and over and down and across a whole bunch of big boulders. There’s not a “trail” to follow, and really you can make your own way through it, but we looked for the cairns people built and hoped that this was the least difficult path to take.
At this point, you can see the Keyhole. This is what you’re aiming for. As you get closer, the rocks start getting steeper and you have to start using your hands.
There’s a little lighting shelter built right before the keyhole in memory of two people that lost their lives on the mountain. We rested here, because we knew the next part of the climb was going to be difficult.
As you pass through the keyhole, you no longer have a trial or cairns to follow. Now you scramble and climb over the rocks as your look for bulls eye marks. Actually, at this point, there’s only a mile left…but that doesn’t mean much to this mountain. You head toward the left, into the Trough. If climbing over all these rocks wasn’t enough, the path leads you down a slope for 50 feet only to lead your right back up. The remaining part of the trough is 100 feet of steep, slippery, loose rocks to navigate through. Even though there are bulls eyes to guide you up, they aren’t always on the path your take. Its up to you to choose where to put your feet.
At the top of the trough it a huge rock only manageable by an attached rope – which you’re using after climbing nearly 600 feet. I’m lead to believe that this rope isn’t always there and there are times people have to figure out a way up and over without it. I’m glad it was there this time to say the least. At this point, your legs are super sore, but as you look around the corner, there’s still more to go.
This is where you enter the narrows. While you’re not actually climbing over much, except off and on, it’s actually pretty flat for a bit….excpet the part on your right that drops straight down; hence the name. I wouldn’t consider myself afraid of heights by any means – it doesn’t deter me from doing things – but this was definitely nerve racking. My heart was beating hard in my chest from fear, not from exertion. Needless too say, this is where the “not for the faint of heart” comes into play. Or the clumsy. I definitely wouldn’t want to do this while it is raining…which you shouldn’t anyway.
You come around the corner from the Narrows and see the last bit of your climb: The homestretch, named rightfully so. You’re still following the same bullseye markers, while looking for good footholds and handholds to get up, aiming for the thin crack in the rock to stick your feet in. This section I completed with my hands holding on the whole time. It is a class 3 climb, and I’m glad I’ve been leaning how to rock climb, because these skills came in handy here especially, but I used them throughout the entire climb.
Pausing every once in while to make sure my friend was ok and then turning back to look straight up the rock wall to the top, I kept trudging on. Sometimes, once you’re going, you just gotta keep going; if you stop, it’s all the harder to get started again. Just like running.
FINALLY! We made it to the flat top! Exhausted, we took pictures from the highest point and looked around. It was a very ugly/hazy day from the fires burning in the north west of the country, so pictures aren’t very good or prett. Being myself, I was hoping around exploring when I clumsily trip over a rock and fell. Fell hard. I hit my leg pretty good – it is was bruised with a bump for about two weeks – not kidding. I also caught myself with my hands and scrapped up my palms pretty good. My wrist was super sore on the way down, hindering my ability to lower myself down the steep rocks. *slaps forehead*
Needless to say, at that point I was ready to go home….but that wouldn’t happen for another 6 hours. We headed down the mountain the same way we came up…and no it was not easier; if anything it was just as hard or harder. Going down is dangerous, especially the Homestretch in reverse where you would have found me literally just sliding on my butt down the rocks. The narrows were still just as skinny, and the trough was a nightmare to go down. Careful feet placement is required and lowering your body down the mountain requires a whole different set of tired muscles.
To keep our minds off the decent, we chatted with a couple teenagers from Texas who seem well traveled and mature for their age. I’m pretty sure I had better conversation with those kids than I have with some people my own age!
3 hours later, we were back at the boulder field; and I don’t know about my friend, but I was super frustrated and just wanted to get off the mountain. I was starting to get literally annoyed with the rocks. I was tired and grumpy and probably had a small case of altitude sickness. We stopped at the campsite to rest and use the most disgusting bathroom in the world. No joke. Built like weird alien spaceship docks, these were the most horrendous bathrooms I have ever seen – and I’ve peed in China, where there’s literally nothing but a hole in the ground.
After finishing a sandwich, we started our way down the rest of the trail. At least now, there was a marked trail…not that it made it any easier. We felt every twig, rock and grain of sand as we stepped down the trail. Literally, I will never look at rocks the same way again. Being extremely exhausting having hiked on less than 3 hours of sleep, I was finding myself literally mad at the mountain. It’s hard to explain, but I was literally PISSED at the trail. Lol!!! If a step was really far down, I found myself cursing the ground – seriously mad at mother nature! Now that I think back on it, it’s totally hilarious, but I was infuriated at the natural world, something that I clearly couldn’t control.
This time, we hiked in silence – each of us dealing with different issues against the peak. David’s knees were hurting him pretty badly, especially with each “stair” step that we had to lower down. I was dealing with extremely swollen hands. I couldn’t even ball them into fists they were so swollen – which led to redness and pain! Oh the pain! I’m not sure if it had something to do with my fall or just the altitude in general (or maybe both) but I’ve never experienced anything like that.
At one point we were passed by two park rangers, joyfully bounding down the trail. They greeted us and asked us how we were doing. I mumbled some sort of reply about being exhausted and they asked where we came from. In unison, we replied: “the top” in grumpy voices. Since the rangers didn’t respond, I asked them where they had hiked to, seeing as we didn’t see them anywhere along the trail on the way up or down from the top. In a completely normal, almost happy, cocky voice, one replied, “oh we went to the top too” and they took off down the trail.
I was so annoyed at those park rangers!!! Lol!! We kept trudging down the trail, trying to enjoy the scenery since we didn’t get to see any of it on the way up, as we were hiking in the dark. At one point we came across a bridge with a beautiful waterfall!
As we neared the end, we looked for trail markers that indicated milage up the mountain, helping us figure out how much longer we had….at one point, we found a sign that told us we still had another mile and a half…crushing both of our spirits because we thought we were so much closer.
The trees began to thin, and we saw mirages of the parking lot. At one point, I thought I saw the red of a car peaking through the forest…. then sure enough, we were there!! We made it! We stumbled out of the forest, into the small crowd of park rangers who exclaimed “Man you guys looks tired! Went to the top, huh? Well congrats!”
Overall, I’m totally glad I did it, however, I wont do it again. (Maybe). It was long and tiring. I was talking to a friend on Facebook about his second trip to Long’s and he was talking bout RUNNING up/down. I told him he was crazy.
Having finished the trail and having a month to contemplate, if I were to ever attempt it again, I was change a few things up. Things I would do different: 1) I packed the wrong things. I would pack less food. I had plenty of water, but I didn’t eat NEARLY as much as I thought I would. 2) Gloves. I did fine, but it would have been much more convenient to have gloves for warmth, so I don’t have to shove my hands in my sweatshirt and they would be good for protection on the rocks. 3) I highly suggest climbing up one day, to the campground and setting up tents, sleeping and then hiking in the morning. On the way down you could either pack up and just finish or sleep another night and pack up in the morning.
Definitely an experience to say the least. Has anyone else done Long’s Peak???