Monday, August 24, 2009

The Longs Peak Climb

Hi - Brent here. As promised, I am making my blogging debut today to tell about my climb to Longs Peak in Colorado last week. My friend Adam and I decided earlier in the summer to attempt to climb this 14,259 foot peak as we had talked about doing a mountain climb some years earlier.

A view of Longs Peak from the town of Estes Park at 7,300 feet

We woke up early Friday morning at 2AM local time and were on the trail by 3AM. The Longs Peak trail begins at 9,400 feet in elevation and is a 15 mile roundtrip hike/climb. The flashlight we brought promptly quit on us an hour and a half into the hike. Luckily, Adam had brought his cell phone along with him which illuminated the trail until we were able to catch some other hikers farther up on the trail. We followed these 4 guys from Texas that had functioning head lamps until sunrise.

Near Granite Pass at 12,000 feet at sunrise

Near the Boulderfield, with Longs Peak looming in the background

We continued on to the Boulderfield (which is aptly named) to complete the first 6 miles of our journey in relatively uneventful fashion. We had some great views of the surronding area as well as Longs Peak at this point. However, we would soon discover that the truely daunting portion of the hike (well, climb at this point) was to come. Below is the view of the Boulderfield: Yes, we did have to traverse over all of these boulders to reach the Keyhole (see pic below)

View from the Boulderfield to the Keyhole (notch at the top center of pic) showing the 500 foot elevation gain over a very short distance. This part of the climb is where Adam and I began to slow down and feel the effects of elevation/climbing over huge rocks, which we did not anticipate encountering prior to setting out on this climb! Our pace significantly slowed at this point, and we would have been happy just to make it up to the Keyhole.

After getting up to the Keyhole at 13,160 feet, we took an extended break, as the most challenging part was just ahead on the back side of the mountain (see pic below).

If you look closely at the above picture, you can make out hikers on this part of the climb leading from the Keyhole to the Trough(this picture was taken from the bottom of the Trough towards the Keyhole). We were basically going up and down in elevation while trying not to look down over the vertical drop on our left. Some areas on this portion of the climb were quite narrow...our motto was to not look down! Both Adam and I were struggling at this point, making frequent stops to catch our breath.

The next part is touted as the most difficult segment of the Longs Peak climb. Over 6 hours in, we had slowed to a snail's pace as we began the steep incline that is the Trough. We would walk 20 seconds and rest for 2 minutes, which wasn't setting any land speed records. After somewhere between 1 and 2 hours we made it to the top of the Trough by scaling the last (probably over 6 feet in height) boulder and bruising our legs in the process. Below is a view of the 1,000 foot climb from the top of the Trough:

We were totally exhausted by this point. My legs were shaking from the constant climbing of boulders not to mention that we were both suffering from altitude sickenss (nausea, headache) due to our lack of proper climitazation (we were only in Colorado 30 hours prior to setting out on the trail...even though my parents insisted you needed at least two weeks to properly climatize. Who has two weeks??). We had made it over 6.75 miles and had been out there for about 7.5 hours. According to my Garmin watch, we were at 14,000 feet at the top of the Trough. All that was left was the Narrows and the Homestretch to the Summit. Adam and I at this point made the joint decision to turn around and head back even though we were so close to the summit. With my shaking legs & nausea and the fact that Adam was feeling very ill himself, we decided that we did not want to traverse the Narrows in this condition as one false step leads to a several thousand foot vertical drop. See the picture of the Narrows below...

Also, we made this decision knowing that each step we took towards the summit was another step we had to take on the way back. We both weren't sure if we could even make it back from the top of the Trough. So, relunctantly we began our decent down the mountain. Going down the Trough was just as brutal as going up, trying not to dislodge loose rocks that would go barrelling down towards hikers below, and trying to keep our balance while going downhill. Again, we were headed down very slowly. Several people passed us and asked if we were doing ok...I think Adam replied with the most appropriate descriptive word of how we felt..."like death." That is an exaggeration, but I have never been that fatigued and worn out in my life. One person even asked if we needed them to go down and get a park ranger for us...seriously, that would have been a low point in my life if it would have come to that. What was the ranger going to do anyway? Carry me across the Boulderfield to lower elevations without dropping me down a thousand foot cliff? We knew that we just had to tough it out and continue slowly.

We made it back to the Keyhole 10 hours into the climb. After another slow decent through the Boulderfield, we made it back to the marked trail and eventually made it all the way back to the Ranger Station at 5PM, a mere 14 hours since we started and over 13.5 miles traveled in total. Honestly, I think running a marathon would have been easier.

Both Adam and I agreed that this was the single most challenging activity of our athletic careers. Adam, a former Division 1 track athlete, could not recall a single practice or other athletic event that was this taxing both mentally and physically. I have been actively training for another half marathon that is coming up in a few weeks and consider myself in very good condition, however, it was not enough for a couple of "sea-level people" to make it all the way through this climb. I will probably give this mountain another shot some day knowing what I need to do differently next time. This was a great experience and looking down on 12,000-13,000 foot peaks was incredible. I will leave you with some pictures from the top of the Trough, which at around 14,000 feet, was the apex of the climb for us.


Bob and LouAnne said...

Oh, Brent. I was with you until you got to those boulders. Yikes.

Rachel said...

Kudos to you and Adam for making it as far as you did! That is awesome. And Brent, I think you do a great job storytelling, so maybe there will be more posts from you in the future?!?!

knighthawk said...

Nice report and pictures! Even though you didn't summit, the mountain will be there for you next time.

My buddy and I (from Iowa) took a similar trip to you the week before. We arrived at our campground just outside RMNP on Wednesday night then hiked on Friday. The altitude didn't affect me at all like I thought it would, and I attribute it to my being extremely hydrated. I had a liter of water in the parking lot then four on the way up, running out before we made the summit.

ashley said...

wow! what a great trip! all i could think about while reading this brent, was how dangerous your adventure was and whether lindsey knew that before or after it was over?!?! :)

Emma and Greg said...

Ugh... i think i threw up in my mouth a little bit... but GREAT JOB BRENT AND ADAM! Holy crow... I am soooo impressed :) Nicely done you two!

Lindsey said...

I did NOT know that it was so treacherous. Before he left, I heard that "Only 50 people have died there since 1913", which I still thought was a lot. When he got back, I believe the story changed to "Someone dies there every summer". No thanks!