Originally written 9/3/06
Time: 10 hours (within 3 minutes)
Distance: 14 miles
Total ascent: 6,621′
The weather in Colorado has been turning in the past few weeks, with snow showing up at higher altitudes. This weekend represented what may have been the last chance for the year to go have fun on Longs Peak, an amazing mountain with routes ranging from class 3 all the way up to 5.12.
Last year, I went twice in two weeks, and went up the standard route known as the “Keyhole” both times. This time, I went up the “Loft” route, and descended via the keyhole. I also ascended Mt. Meeker, at 13,911′ while I was at it.
I woke up at 10:50pm Friday evening, ate breakfast, walked my dog (who couldn’t come, since Longs is in Rocky Mountain National Park), and hit the road around midnight. The drive was fairly foggy, since there were some low-lying clouds. I was on the trail at 2am, and the first person to leave that night.
When I hit treeline, the sky was completely clear – not a single cloud in sight. The stars were amazing, although there was no moon. We’re at the first quarter, but the moon set just after midnight, so was of no use to me. I made my way to the trail junction at Chasm Lake, and ensured I wouldn’t see anyone else for several hours by heading away from the standard route (where it branches off to the left, for those viewing the gps track).
The walk in from there was truly amazing. I could make out the profiles of huge rock towers and walls all around me, and the only sound aside from my footsteps was that of streams and small waterfalls. I wish I could better describe it, but it’s something that truly must be experienced.
Things started getting rockier and steeper, and before I knew it, I was in the heart of the climb. Ideally, the loft route can be kept at class 3 difficulty. With the only available light being that from my headlamp, routefinding was dicey at best. Add my impatience to the mix, and you’ve got a great potential for getting off-route, and into more difficult terrain. I worked my way into some climbing that was at least some solid class 4. Better yet, I managed to get up to bases of not just one, but two waterfalls, and had to downclimb and work my way back around. A pain, yes, but still fun, so I didn’t mind much.
I finally topped out on the loft, and Meeker is a simple 10 minute walk with some very minor scrambling at the top. The summit is also very exposed, which made for some amazing views. Unfortunately, the sun hadn’t quite come up yet, so this is all I’ve got for you from there:
I would have loved to be there for sunrise, but I was starting to shiver and needed to keep moving. I walked back down to the loft, and the sun finally rose.
When it got light, the view over the plains was absolutely amazing. Those clouds I drove through 4-5 hours earlier were still there, down between 10-11k feet. Simply beautiful.
My next goal was Longs Peak, and I didn’t have any solid idea of the exact route to get there. As I got closer, it looked like I could just go straight up and over to Longs from the Loft, but I recalled what looked like a big gap along the way, and tried to reconcile this with the topo map on my gps. Here’s the view from the south, heading towards Longs.
It was hard to do, but I went around to the left, and dropped several hundred vertical feet to make my way around. It was steep but fairly stable, with gorgeous scenery. I finally got a view that made me glad I didn’t just try to go straight up:
A little farther and I was at the “homestretch,” and joined up to the keyhole route. Still, not a soul in sight. 6 hours on Longs Peak without spotting a single person is truly remarkable. I was over 14,000′ at this point, and made the last 250′ up steadily, expecting to see at least one group on the summit. Nope. Check the register, and I’m the first person there. I guess the clouds blanketing Denver made people assume the mountains would be under blizzard conditions. Not quite true:
About 15 minutes later, people started streaming onto the top, 7 or 8 in only a few minutes. I started descending, and passed another 10 or 15 people by the time I got back down to the trough. I didn’t take but a couple pictures on the descent, since last year I showed all of you plenty of pictures two weeks in a row. I did, however, get this cool picture of the trough, with clouds creeping back into the valleys:
Once I passed down through the keyhole, I was getting very warm, so I lost the shirt. At some point, I was hopping down rocks, and my tempo picked up steadily until I was at an all out run down the trail. Some old guy told me I was crazy as I blasted by. It was a lot of fun, and helped make the 6 mile slog go by more quickly.
Shortly before re-entering the woods, I caught up to the clouds. It was truly amazing, as they were hanging in one place with only a tiny amount of wavering.
It was a wall of clouds, and a few steps made a difference between clear, warm summer day and cool, cloudy fall day. I made my way back to the trailhead, signed out, and saw that I was the only person who summited and returned so far. The ranger asked me for some information about the mountain, and was surprised to hear that it was bone dry on the standard route; understandable, given how thick the clouds were.
I was pretty sore, so popped a couple ibuprofin, and headed down the mountain. I stopped at a liquor store I used to frequent when I lived in Boulder (Superior Liquors, for those familiar with the area), and picked up a 12er of New Belgium’s “Saison,” their fall harvest brew, for $11. It was a tough call because Sunshine was the same price. Later in the evening I had a couple, and I highly recommend that those of you who have the opportunity to try some do so.
My next adventure will depend on what the weather does, but there’s a good chance it’ll be up Mount Elbert, highest peak in the state.