| Four 14ers and... Panorama Point
Every other year or so, I get together with a friend from college for several days of hiking. He now lives in North Carolina, so most of our trips involve a fair amount of traveling for one or both of us. Most of our trips have taken us to New England, specifically for Mt. Washington, Mt. Marcy, and Katahdin. My friend has decided to take a serious shot at completing all of the state highpoints, so this year, we headed west to hike Mt. Elbert and a few other 14ers along the way.
8/18 - Mt. Elbert - East Ridge
We arrived in Denver on the 17th and drove to Leadville after getting supplies along the way. We camped at Lakeview Campground near Twin Lakes in order to have quick access to the East Ridge. While we relaxed at our camp, I noticed a dull headache and a slightly lightheaded sensation forming. I knew the hike presented no technical challenges or exposure, but I was still nervous that I would feel worse as we hiked the following day. As it turned out, I felt great most of the next day. We started around 6:00 AM and made steady progress as we reached the alpine meadows. Just before reaching treeline, two white-tailed ptarmigans crossed our path. Right before I was ready to congratulate myself for a good summer of preparation and conditioning, we crossed 13,000' and the altitude caused more discomfort. I never felt nauseous, but the headaches were fairly strong. I guess it was a reasonable price to pay for choosing to jump from 1900' to 14,000' + in about 24 hours. The last 400' were tough, as I started to feel really lightheaded. Once at the summit, I noticed an immediate improvement as we rested and ate lunch. We enjoyed bluebird skies and clear views of Mt. Massive to the north. This marked my 10th state highpoint and the 30th for my friend.
8/19 - Grays and Torreys
After leaving Leadville, we drove to the Grays & Torreys trailhead and set up camp just above the parking area. Still being on eastern time, we found it easy to fall asleep by 9:00 and wake up at 5:00. This allowed us to easily start our hike at 6:00, which most other people seemed to adhere to as well, out of respect for the afternoon thunderstorms. We shared Grays with about fifteen people, including a father and twelve year old son who was finishing his first 14er. After descending to the saddle, we noticed a mountain goat just off the summit of Torreys (see pic #12 - Grays / Torreys). Once at the summit, other hikers mentioned that it had come right up to them as they ate lunch.
Grays & Torreys
8/22 - Longs Peak - Keyhole Route
Although Elbert was my friend's main priority, Longs Peak was by far the hike that we looked forward to the most. After researching this peak, it seemed to have the same allure as Half Dome, with the steep, exposed sections of scrambling and longer mileage. We began at 3:00 AM by headlamp, but turned them off by the time we reached treeline. Although there was only a half moon, it cast more than enough light for us to see the gentle trail. By sunrise, we were past the easy trails and in the middle of the boulderfield, just in time to see the sun rise on the Diamond's impressive east face. We wove our way around and over the boulders to the Keyhole, where I stashed my poles for the return trip. From that point on, we loved how the route wraps around the back of Longs, traversing the ledges and boulders that lead to the Trough. IMHO, the most physically demanding section of the route was the Trough. We avoided most of the loos rock and dirt by scrambling on long stretches of rock to the left. After clearing the large boulder at the top of the Trough, I really enjoyed how the route turns left to immediate exposure on the Narrows. Pictures of this section definitely make it appear to be much worse than it really was, although there were a few places where I found myself saying, "Yeah, it would be really bad if I fell here!" There were only a few other people on the Homestretch, so we were able to take our time and enjoy the views and terrain. We spent about an hour on the summit, and at one point, we had the entire top to ourselves, except for the marmot that was anything but shy. After our descent, I realized why the route to Longs is one of the most popular hikes to any of the 14ers.
8/23 - Panorama Point
My friend had already bagged this one, but we weren't in the mood to do much other than relax and drive, so he graciously offered to take me to Nebraska's highpoint so that I could claim another highpoint and so that I could add another state to my list of those seen. Some might laugh at driving out to rural Nebraska for a peak, but I always gain appreciation for new places when they're so unlike home.