Ascent of Longs Peak on 1994-07-12
|Date:||Tuesday, July 12, 1994|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Motorized Transport to Trailhead:||Car|
| Elevation:||14255 ft / 4344 m|
Ascent Trip ReportToday I climbed Longs Peak, at 14,255 feet one of Colorado's 54 famous "fourteeners". Although far from the highest, it is definitely one of the most famous and dominant peaks in the state and in the entire country, its famous sheer east face, called the Diamond, giving it a truly impressive appearance. I started up at 5:15 AM, after making the short drive from my campground to the trailhead parking area, and began my hike up the only non-technical route to the summit, the "Keyhole" route, a very long, hard hike of eight miles each way with a vertical gain of 4,850 feet.
I had thought that I was getting a nice, early start, but was amazed, when signing in at the register, to see that there was already a page full of people who had left before me, starting at 3 AM. Nevertheless, I made good time in the pre-dawn chill, and after a few switchbacks through forest I emerged above timberline, and by dawn I was resting beneath the sheer Diamond at a trail junction with lots of other hikers, one of whom I got to take a picture of me. I then followed a trail that slabbed around a ridge, talking to a guy from Orlando as we hiked fast, switchbacking up to a viewpoint of the Boulder Field underneath the Keyhole, a very distinctive notch in the skyline ridge.
I was cruising along faster than the Orlando guy, so we parted while he stopped to rest and I plugged on. The trail died in the Boulder Field, so I rock-hopped uphill for an hour, steering for the Keyhole, at 13,100 feet, which I hit at 8:20 AM. I rested there in intense wind before passing under the dramatic overhanging rock of the Keyhole, and then followed the well-marked and, at times, crowded trail along the steep slabs of the Ledges, and then up the discouraging couloir of loose rock called the Trough. This was the crux of the route, a miserable uphill slog leading up towards a notch on a ridge far above. It was still early, and the trail was in shade, and after climbing up a ten-foot cliff I found myself at the start of an exhilarating traverse high up on the cliffs of Longs called the Narrows. There was quite a bit of exposure, and the way was narrow, but well marked with good footing. This stretch of path ended at a large area of slick, sloping slabs, the Homestretch--I didn't know its name at the time, so was pleasantly surprised when at the top of the slabs I suddenly emerged up on the large, flat summit area of Longs Peak. I had expected more difficult climbing. It was 9:30 AM.
At the summit I took a long rest, doing the usual: taking pictures, eating some food, admiring the view, and exploring the area. There were a fair number of people there, and I got one of them to take my picture. The summit was a surprisingly flat boulder field that dropped off in cliffs in virtually all directions, and after walking to the far end of the ten-acre expanse I was ready to descend. I had the most minor possible headache, but otherwise felt good about my physical condition, feeling great after a strenuous climb to 14,255 feet, great considering I hadn't been higher than 4,200 feet in all 1994 until now. I felt ready for my planned Rainier climb next week.
The long descent was uneventful. On the Homestretch, the Narrows, the Trough, and the Ledges there were many hikers still on their way up, and they frequently asked me how much further it was. The Trough was especially bad, since coming down crumbling rock is never any fun. I took a long rest at the Keyhole, where I checked out a little rock emergency hut, and then easily rock-hopped down the Boulder Field to the campsites at its base. There were some rangers with llamas there, and I passed them and headed down the long switchbacks before they passed me when I stopped to rest.
At timberline I drank the last of the three quarts of water I had brought, so I was pretty thirsty for the last stretch on very easy trail through forest back to my car, where I was talking to a lady I was hiking along behind--she had started before me, but had only made it to the Keyhole. Soon, though, I passed her, and, very tired and thirsty, returned to my car in the small, crowded parking lot at 3:10 PM.
I signed out in the register, bought a post card at the tiny, cramped ranger station/visitor center, changed into regular clothes, and then drove down the steep but short road back to CO 7. On the steep drive back to Estes Park I was behind the rangers I had seen on the mountain, with their llamas in the back of their pickup.
I needed a place to sleep, and thought about checking at some of the motels I saw, but all the cheaper-looking ones had "No Vacancy" signs out. So I went to the crowded tourist information office, full of East Asian tourists, and was told at the desk that $50.00 was about the best I was going to do for a room in this crowded tourist-trap town. I then asked about the youth hostel listed in my guidebook, and at the crowded desk the people there put me through to the warden, on a mobile phone, who I could barely hear over the din in the tourist office. He told me he'd be up at his rural hostel to check people in after 5:15 PM.
Since it was only about 4 PM or so, I drove up to the Mountaineer Restaurant, where I had eaten a breakfast back in 1990, and had a nice, big, quiet sit-down dinner, and then drove back into the downtown area and got some cash from an ATM, went for a short walk, and drove through town a couple times before heading out to the hostel, out of Estes Park to the northeast on dirt roads. I even had to go through a self-closing gate to reach the large wooden old hotel and barns, in the middle of a beautiful open forest with views of Longs Peak. At the desk the warden, taking pity on my tired and ragged appearance, acceded to my request for a quiet room, since he gave me a bunk in a four-bunk room where I was the only person. The cost: $8.24.
I carried a lot of my junk up to my room, got organized, and then basically just crashed out. It was only 6 PM, and although I was in a quiet room, there was still noise outside, but I was able to get to sleep almost immediately. The best bed in the room sagged horribly, and my sleeping bag was no substitute for good sheets, but, with only minor interruptions, I slept for 12 straight hours.
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