| Why everyone should include a scorpion on his list of essential backcountry gear
The morning of Saturday, May 25, I dropped the dogs off at my good friend Mary’s house in Denver. Mary treated me to brunch and then I was on my way.
I arrived at the sand beach lake trailhead and began hiking in just after 4 p.m. The starting elevation was 8300’. Snow began just above 9000’ and about three miles into the hike I stashed my hiking boots in a tree and began to skin.
I followed snowshoe tracks for a bit, but when the tracks left the trail, I left the tracks and bushwhacked north a bit. Just as the sun was setting, I found a nice spot by a running creek to set up camp, around 10 600’. Before getting to camp, I caught a glimpse of the top of Longs.
Clearly the top of the line was in…really in!
After a good night’s sleep I began skinning in just after 4 a.m. An easy bushwhack lead me up to the base of the south face of Longs.
Looking South towards the Indian Peaks
At the base of Keplinger’s couloir, I switched to crampons and began booting up. The climb was easy: up to the palisades, up and left to the homestretch, and the homestretch to the summit. A couple steep traverses, left of the palisades, ate up a bit of time, but I made the snow-covered summit around 9 a.m.
The snow was frozen solid, so I decided to wait on the summit for a while for the snow to soften up. It was cloudy to the East, preventing the morning sun to warm up the snow.
Summit, looking East
But it was all clear to the west. So, if I give the sun a bit of time to get higher in the sky, there will be no cloud cover and the snow should soften nicely.
Summit, looking West
I lounged around on the summit: had some snacks, took some pictures, and even took a nap.
Looking down the North face
A few before me. Nice work Jim!
Bottom of Keplinger's, viewed from summit
Looking down the line, from the summit
Side view of the top of the line
After 11 a.m., I decided it was time to drop in. The top was still a bit icy, but I knew that more easterly facing aspects and the lower elevations would be good.
Yes, Im on my hip
After the descent, I needed go back and find my tent in the woods. Since the snow was frozen in the morning, I didn’t make any tracks to follow. So, I found the stream I camped beside and followed it down until I came to camp.
After packing up, I decided to ski down and south to join with the trail. I decided not to follow my skin tracks in because that would involve a skin upwards. This proved to be a big mistake. I soon found myself bushwhacking in dense timber, with bare spots, and large boulders. It took forever to get anywhere. This was perhaps the worst bushwhack of my life. It was miserable.
Just before I lost my mind, I joined with the trail. Booting down through the snow, I soon came to the creek crossing where I had stashed my hiking boots in a tree. However, to my dismay, I discovered that my boots were missing. They were nowhere to be seen! The snow around the tree revealed no animal prints, just one boot print. Someone had stolen my ?%! boots!
After talking to a hiker coming up the trail, I figured I was about an hour behind the likely culprits and began to pick up the pace, following their obvious tracks, in hopes of catching up with them. Neglecting to mention the events that followed, let me just give a bit of advice for all the low-life trail thieves out there: if you are going to steal a man’s boots three miles into the wilderness, you better be careful that you don’t steal from someone smarter and faster than you are.
In spite of the miserable bushwhack, the uncomfortable hike out without hiking boots, and the fact that I will have to buy new boots, it was still a great day on a great 14er. Getting an exact summit ski descent of Longs without any “billygoating,” “davenporting,” etc., is worth nearly any price, in my mind. I also learned a valuable lesson: never go into the backcountry without a scorpion to guard your boots. Placing a scorpion in my boots may not have prevented the thief from stealing my boots, but I imagine that the satisfaction I would have gained from knowing that the thief paid a painful price would be worth more than the price of the boots.
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