As you might have guessed, I am saving our “epic” experience for last. Granted, it’s nowhere near the best part of our trip, epics just make better stories, so I will begin the tale of our journey up Longs Peak and save the best for last.
Our day actually got started very late. Because of the lack of camping available in the Boulder area, we were stuck fending for ourselves again the night before we started Longs Peak, but lucky for us we discovered Boulder had an International Youth Hostel (thanks to our wonderful waitress at the Italian joint on Pearl Street) that we ended up staying in. Though it was better than driving 30 miles South to Wheat Ridge for a Motel 6, we were not able to check out until 7:30 a.m. My goal was to be at the Ranger’s Station at 8 a.m., right when they opened.
So, after waiting around on for over an hour eating breakfast on the porch we were finally able to check out just before 7:30 a.m. However there were still things to do before we hit the trail, and we still had nearly an hour drive ahead of us to Rocky Mountain National Park. After gassing up the car, getting ice for the cooler and making a “quick” stop at Whole Foods for some water we were off, but not without me stopping at the smoothie-juice bar first! It honestly wasn’t a planned stop, but it worked out well for me even though I had already eaten a bowl of fruit that morning I couldn’t resist a fresh carrot based juice.
We finally arrived at the Ranger’s Station at around 9:15 a.m. The parking lot was totally full and cars were lined up parked about a quarter of the way down the hill to the entrance of the trailhead. By the time we checked in and were given our backcountry permits it was nearly 10 a.m. We were currently parked in a no-parking area close to the station. We did this to avoid hiking down the hill to pack our bags and then hauling them back up again.
So we “quickly” packed our bags at the trailhead, which resulted in a few items left behind (but we still made due without them), and were finally geared up and ready to go close to 11 p.m. My goal had been to be on the trail at 10 a.m. but packing up our gear took way more time than it should have. However, I wasn’t worried, we only had 6 miles to hike until we got to the Boulder Field where we would camp for the next two nights.
After parking the car down the hill, we finally hit the trail around 11:30 a.m. Despite being almost lunch we pressed through the entire six-mile hike without stopping for lunch. There were several stops along the way though to catch our breath and to drink water, but even with such a slow pace we made it to the Boulder Field in less than six hours, which gave us plenty of time to set up camp and cook food before nightfall.
John was more gassed than I was after the hike up and was the first to go to bed. My plan was to stay awake until it got dark so I could see the stars, but ended up joining John in the tent shortly after dinner out of boredom of waiting for the stars to make their grand appearance. I regretted that decision latter though after I found out from other campers there was a “pink” moon and the next night had too much cloud cover to see any stars.
The next morning I was the first one awake (as was the case the entire trip aside from the day we left) and could hear people outside the tent looking for a water source in the boulder field, which happened to be right outside my tent. I was thankful for the early wake up call though so we could get an early start on the North Face Cables Route. I wanted to be up there as early as possible because another group in the Boulder Field was planning on going up the same route.
So after breakfast we began our ascent towards the North Face, scrambling over boulders and making our own path to the base of the climb. There was actually a lot of snow on sections of the North Face and I became increasingly worried, as we got closer to the climb. It appeared there was snow on our route. A sinking feeling hit my gut as I thought we were not going to be able to summit Longs that day.
But, as we got closer we could hear other climbers bellowing out commands like “on belay”, so we knew somebody was on the route, but we were not able to see them yet. Not too long after that, I was able to make out what looked like a party of three up on a ledge, but it was slightly left of where I thought the route was, so I first thought maybe I was just off and they were on the correct route.
Once we were almost at the base of the climb we discovered the climbers we heard was actually the group of four from the boulder field, and they were rappelling down off the route. One of the girls in the group said there was too much snow on the route for them to continue, but I had made it that far and wasn’t convinced she was right. She wasn’t even sure they were on the actual Cables Route, and neither was I, since I didn’t see any of the old eye bolts in the rock.
The last person down was their guide. Once he made his descent I was able to find out that they were actually just left of the route as I had originally thought and that he thought we could easily make it across the snow patch and onto the route. It seemed the guide just didn’t want to lead a large group across a patch of snow, adding an extra pitch to the route.
The guide was confident we could summit within a couple of hours, so we began our climb up the North Face of Longs! The first pitch we did was not a part of the actual route, that was covered in snow, so I lead the first section, placing only two pieces of gear climbing in my hiking boots and arrived at a ledge parallel to the snow patch leading back to the actual Cables Route.
After bringing up my partner, we swapped belays, and I was back on the sharp end making the traverse across the snow, sans crampons. Lucky for us the snow was soft and there was already some divots in the snow where somebody else had crossed before us. I was able to use those as a guide and safely make it across the 15-foot snow traverse.
About this time a guy free soloing the route came up to our belay ledge. I let him pass us as John readied himself to move over to the next belay. The climbing from here on out was fairly easy, aside from a few areas of the rock that had water running down it. I wondered how our free soloing friend confidently made it up the rock. I’m sure he had his doubts! The climb was only rated 5.4, but if compared to our climb in the Flatirons that was a 5.5 I would give the route a 5.6 rating, even though we were able to climb it in our hiking boots.
The only problem we encountered on the way up was having to add an extra pitch to the climb because I was not able to spot the next eye bolt, but was it turned out it was about two moves up from the belay I had made, so it was pointless for us to break up the climb into an extra pitch. After finishing the last pitch I belayed John up to the ledge using one of the large eye bolts as my anchor. At this point we were not yet finished, we still had a lot of third-fourth class scrambling to do to get to the top. But as it turned out we had not actually finished the climb! As we scrambled our way up the rock we passed two more eyebolts, but I felt they were unnecessary to be a part of the climb, so we continued on with confidence.
Not too long after leaving our belay ledge we made it to the summit! Our path up the peak actually brought us out right in front of the summit block, in which I immediately jumped on and let out a loud battle cry! Okay, just kidding, there was no battle cry, but I did victoriously climb on top of the summit block!
Not three minutes latter another group of climbers came up from behind, they had just finished D7 on The Diamond. We had actually seen them on their climb from Chasm View. I was impressed with the speed they had made, unless of course we had seen a different group of climbers. There was also a storm rolling in at this point so we decided to head down after having a quick bite to eat, signing the summit log and snapping a few photos. The storm ended up passing us though and we got nothing but a few snow flurries out of it.
Our descent down Longs Peak was made via the Keyhole Route because half our route was covered in snow our 60m rope was not going to get us to the ground from the last eye bolt. The trip back was long and arduous, but I consider the journey down that direction providential. The reason being, we encountered a group from the YMCA of The Rockies that had an injured person in their party. She had slipped and twisted her ankle and cracked her head open on a rock. At the time it seemed like she was going to be okay, but latter her condition worsened.
After moving on down the trail we ran across some others in their group at the Keyhole and talked to them a while before heading back down to camp in the Boulder Fields. Not too long after we arrived back at our campsite we ran into the same group from the Keyhole and their friends condition had taken a dive, she likely had a concussion and could no longer walk. She was being carried down the treacherous boulder field piggy back style by her fiancée.
We decided to let her and her friend along with her fiancée stay at our tent while her friends went to alert the Rangers. We had thought we would only have to wait a few hours for help to arrive, but after other campers in the Boulder Field caught wind of what was going on they let us know help would not even arrive until the morning. So we decided to let the two girls stay in our tent for the night and use our gear.
At that time John, her fiancée and I had no idea what we were going to do for sleep that night, but it was really cool to see how the campground came together and helped out. Former EMT’s came by and checked out our new friend and determined she was concussion free and was going to be able to sleep for the night, which was a real blessing that nobody was going to have to wake her up every hour to make sure she was okay.
Others pitched in by re-arranging their sleeping arrangements, some people even had extra sleeping bags they lent us so we would be comfortable at night, granted the bag I had was a summer bag and it was pretty cold – even with the emergency blanket I was given. John only had a down jacket, he was perhaps the coldest that night. Our new friend JR probably slept really well considering he slept in about two hours past everybody else.
After milling around camp a bit that morning, cooking breakfast for our new friends and ourselves we decided to pack up and head back down the trail. We figured at this point it wouldn’t be long before the Rangers showed up, and sure enough they were. We ran into a trail crew about a mile down from the Boulder Field and they let us know that the Rangers were already on it. We also ran into a Ranger on horse back near the trailhead that was on her way to bring her down the mountain.
Our six-mile descent time was about three hours. We made it down in half the time it took us to get up. Going down is always my favorite part, aside from my big toe rubbing wrong in my shoe. I remember thinking a lot of the trip that I don’t know if I would ever want to do it again, but on the way down I was already thinking about my next fourteener and was dreaming of climbing The Diamond. Who knows, maybe that will be my next trip to Colorado.