Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My first 14er: Longs Peak - 14,259 ft.

On Tuesday, August 28th, 2012, I had the pleasure of hiking my very first 14er. It was 12:00am when I met up with an acquaintance, Steve Smith, at his house located in Loveland, Colorado, approximately 57 miles North of where I lived, to take part in an attempt to summit Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. We packed up our gear and hit the road arriving at the Longs Peak trail head at approximately 2:00am. The ride was a quiet one ultimately leading me to doze in and out of sleep as I was not able to catch a quick nap before hitting the road. Upon reaching the trail head we unpacked our gear, took a quick group photo, and then set off on the trail with nothing but light of our headlamps.

We made our way through the trees stopping on a few occasions to take a couple quick photos of the trail and a nearby stream of water.

From there we continued on our journey eventually breaking from the trees and entering into an open field where the trail continued towards the boulder field. This portion of the trail remained clearly defined and was easy to navigate. 

While trekking through the open field we were accompanied by strong gusts of wind that seemed to have lasted for hours. Eventually the wind took a toll on my ears and left me with a pounding headache. Regardless of the gusts of wind combined with the chilly night air we pressed on ultimately reaching the boulder field just as the sun started to show itself from the horizon.

Not wanting to risk it, it was during this time that Steve determined that he would be unable to continue due to a previously existing knee problem. Faced with disappointment and frustration Steve reluctantly turned back and headed towards the ranger station. Eager to reach the summit I continued on while Chris hesitantly followed behind me making our way through the boulder field and towards the key hole. 

After reaching the key hole the view was breathtaking. Chris and I paused and took a moment to soak up the view. Shortly thereafter, we traversed our way through the ledges taking our time as this section left little room for error.

After passing the ledges we found ourselves looking up the trough. A long narrow narrow section that looked as though it went on for ever and ever. This section was mixed with dirt and and a plethora of rocks. After making our way through the boulder field and facing this it was safe to say that I was sick and tired of seeing rocks but up for the challenge.

Immediately after reaching the top of the trough we were met with the dreaded narrows. This section left very little room for error and would turn anyone back with the slightest fear of heights. This was an appropriate time to follow the old saying, "don't look down!".

After we had traversed the narrows we finally found ourselves staring up at the homestretch, the last section before reaching the summit. I immediately asked myself, "what the hell did I get myself into?". This section was very steep and did not offer many options heading up.

While looking up the homestretch I thought back to a conversation that I had with my brother just days before. He told me that when you reach the summit the accomplishment would leave you to forget about the effort and pain that it took to reach the summit.

He was right.....

At approximately 8:30am, 6 hours after starting, I had finally reached the summit. I immediately became overwhelmed by the feeling of joy and accomplishment. As this was my first 14er I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a little teary-eyed. I had finally made it and accomplished exactly what I had set out to do.

Overall an excellent hike! I am more than happy to say that it was my first 14er. Should I return to summit it in the future I will definitely consider hiking to the boulder field, camping overnight, and then setting out to summit it the next morning. I'd recommend doing the same as attempting to summit it in one day can be quite challenging both mentally and physically. 

Longs Peak - Directions 

Drive south from Estes Park 10 miles on Colorado 7, then 1 mile west to a "T" junction. The left fork leafs to the Longs Peak Ranger Station and parking lot, which is often crowded. The right fork leads to the Longs Peak Campground, where sites are available on a first-come basis.Additional camping is available at back-country sites, where permits are required. Contact the Back-country Office (970-586-1242) for information. 

 - The Colorado 14ers: The Standard Routes by: The Colorado Mountain Club Foundation