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 Peak(s):  Longs Peak  -  14,255 feet
 Post Date:  09/04/2007
 Date Climbed:   09/03/2007
 Posted By:  KeithK

 A Labor Beyond Class 2   

Longs Peak (14,255')
September 3, 2007
Route: Keyhole
Round Trip: 15 miles
Elevation Gain: 5100'
Adventurers: Keith(KeithK) and Brian(Greenhouseguy)


David Roberts introduced me to the term "The Mountain Of My Fear" in his excellent work, "On the Ridge Between Life and Death". I've not read "The Mountain Of My Fear", but have taken that title to heart as I continually marvel at some of the more difficult 14ers. Longs Peak fits into that category. The exposure, the length of the route, and just the angry look of the mountain in general has captured my fascination as well as my trepidation. I have always had a strong fear of heights, and a simple log bridge crossing can instill terror into my being. Nearly five months ago to the day, I remember telling my brother after my unsuccessful attempt on Quandary, "I won't do Longs, or the Bells or any of those...". Eleven successful 14er summits and 5 months of nearly solid hiking tend to change one's outlook on things, though, and last week I found myself building a courage that I did not have earlier.

Brian and I had decided to make an overnight journey to South Colony Lakes to take on Humboldt on Labor Day. I posed the idea of an attempt at Crestone Peak, but that met with silence each time I brought it up. For some reason, I really felt that I needed to tackle a class 3 route this season, and did not want it to be Kelso or the Sawtooth. I had posed the idea to attempt Longs later in September, in the hopes of getting lucky with one of those cloudless, bluebird days. As I thought about it more and more, I knew that if I only did Humboldt I would be disappointed at making the long trip for only that one mountain. So, I threw Brian a batting practice fastball, suggesting Longs in lieu of our camping trip. I had little doubt that he'd hit it on the screws, and the plans were in motion. We would meet at 12:00 A.M. on Monday, and go after "The Mountain Of My Fear".

If I'm going to spend $30 on a helmet, it needs to sport the colors!


Brian logs in at the trailhead register...


At 1:25, we were upon the trail, and for the next 5 hours only our headlamps and the sounds of nature would be in our consciences. And the dozens of other hikers making the journey as well.

Five more miles, are you kidding???


I had hoped that we would make good time, and the night seemed endless as we hiked, and hiked, and hiked. After gaining Granite Pass, the trail switchbacks several times as the boulders increase in frequency, even though it's tough to really know what's around you in the darkness, even with a fairly bright half moon. My goal was to be at The Keyhole at first light, and we weren't far off. It was actually better to have the day begin to brighten right as we reached the campground, as cairns are easier to spot with some daylight. And there are plenty of cairns across and up The Boulderfield to The Keyhole, and it's well worth it to follow them. We reached The Keyhole right at 7 a.m.

First light on The Boulderfield...


My jaw nearly dropped as I gained The Keyhole and gazed at what lies beyond...




The climbing begins even before The Keyhole, as gaining it requires some slab scrambling. From here on, I was in for an adventure that I wasn't expecting, and I'm not sure I was truly prepared for. Gaining The Ledges, I wasn't truly expecting to be scared by the exposure, but I was taken with the distance to The Trough. It was here that Brian said to me, "If you feel you need to turn back...". I quickly, and shortly cut him off, "There will be no turning back!". I think I meant it...

Looking out to The Trough. The Ledges traverse up and back down, making for quite the workout to and from...


Brian enjoying the easier sections...


Me taking a breather and enjoying the amazing views...


The Ledges proved to be a fun introduction to what was to come, and there was really only one spot where I felt like a slip would be really, really bad. The infamous rock with the drilled handholds sits precariously between two angled slabs, and there is nothing but air beyond either side. Still, as it was bone dry, there was no real threat of a mistake. There are certainly other sections of this stretch that are exposed, but my fear of heights was not really tested. Yet...

Welcome to The Trough...


Successfully reaching The Trough, I looked up in awe. I had a creeping feeling of serious doubt, as it is much steeper than I had anticipated. I was already feeling the effects of over six miles of hiking, and beginning to run out of gas. This was one of the many fears I had about this undertaking; would I have the stamina, the strength, and the constitution to make it up and down this challenge successfully? Gazing up at the long, loose gulley, I could do nothing but continue.

A look at some of the difficulties...


I could not catch my breath, and it was a monumental effort to gain ground as I aimed for the next bullseye, or at least a line that looked less loose and nasty than the next. Finally, I gestured up to Brian with kind of a helpless "I can't do this" gesture. He said "Are you ready to call it?", or something along those lines. I replied, "I'm just struggling." "Is it your feet?" "No, I have a headache." Which I did. I have been trying to figure out a good formula for calories on the trail, and I know that I do not eat nearly enough while hiking. So, I forced myself to stop, and eat. I quickly gobbled a package of Clif Shot Bloks, drank some water, and took notice of the obstacles ahead. One bullseye at a time, one foot in front of the other, I can do this.

Looking back down on The Trough, and the steepness of the climb...


A glance at the serious cliffs that are Longs Peak...


Brian nearly had to force me to hand him the camera for this photo. I was grouchy!


And finally, the top of The Trough...


It was a long, taxing grind, but I finally reached the top of The Trough, and the move I was very curious about. To gain entrance to The Narrows, you must climb around a huge boulder. On the right side as you look up, it's very smooth, and there are not many holds. On the left, though, there are a couple of small flat spots, just enough to get a knee onto. I didn't have much of a choice in the matter. I looked at Brian, who had been waiting on top of the boulder for a few minutes, and uttered a disgusted "You have to be f---ing kidding me?". There were several guys coming down at the same time, so we all helped each other. The guys spotted me up, and I managed to lift my left knee onto the first ledge, then power up and wedge my right foot between the rocks. There is a small spot to stand, and repeat the maneuver up onto the top. I have never bouldered before, but I suppose this is something I should get used to. There is a lot that I will take away from this day.

Just as I had felt after reaching The Keyhole, the entrance to The Narrows is no less spectacular. The views are incredible here, to say the least.

This is what greets you as you top out of The Trough...


Brian negotiates The Narrows. This photo gives a good look at the exposure...


Me having some fun during the hike. I was feeling better here...


A look back at the initial entrance to The Narrows...


Although the exposure is undeniable, The Narrows did not really frighten me. I'm beginning to get an understanding of my fear of heights. I seem to be able to handle one-sided exposure fairly well, and as long as I have solid, level ground under my feet, I'm fairly confident. The Narrows are exactly this, solid basically the entire way. We arrived at the end of this stretch, where another "tall" move is required to escape onto the base of The Homestretch. Again I struggled to figure out how I was going to lift myself up, as you have to basically climb up into a notch between two rocks. I found a step up on the left, and then Brian gave me a hand and helped to pull me up and through. In the process, I banged my head on the rock, hard. However, I was following what I perceive to be a "golden rule", and that is to wear a helmet on a class 3 route. I did not feel the impact, but if I hadn't had the helmet, I would have been unhappy. This was actually the second time I'd hit my head on this day, as I also banged an overhang during The Ledges. A well spent $30, thanks to steepandcheap.com.

The Homestretch lies beyond The Narrows...


A good look at the slope. It is steep and exposed...


I gawked at The Homestretch, and I seem to remember uttering a "Holy S---!". Another "You've got to be kidding" also came out, and I could not do much but to simply take a deep breath and prepare. I knew from reading the various trip reports that this was not going to be unclimbable, but for me it would be venturing into some unknown territory. I do not like this kind of angled climbing, where I feel apprehensive about my footing. To top it off, there was water running down many sections, adding to the perceived difficulty. I moved on, finding cracks to wedge my feet into, and found that 4-pointing was the most effective way to gain progress. By lowering my center of gravity and spreading my weight, I could scramble up the slabs with a fair degree of certainty. Still, a slip would be a bad deal, and the people below me would not want that to happen! Perhaps halfway up, the sun suddenly began to shine brightly, and it became hot. I began to sweat, adding to the fun, as salty sweat dripping into my eyes causes my contacts to really become unhappy. Just another factor adding to the degree of difficulty, I guess. Even though seemingly endless, The Homestretch actually tops out, and suddenly, a huge, flat summit is to be had!

Brian stands on the "true" summit...


Yes, I'm excited...


Looking south at the Indian Peaks, with 4 14ers in the background...


Looking north: Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues and Mummy Peaks...


Rocky Mountain National Park to the west...


Although bright and sunny, we knew that it was too late in the day to linger for too long on the summit. Already after 11:00, it was time to join the conga line at the top of The Homestretch.

Wait your turn...


A huge cirque as seen from the top of The Homestretch...


Descending The Homestretch was tedious, as I was extra careful and deliberate. Like almost everyone else, I found the crab walk, butt scooting to be the most secure technique for maintaining control down the smooth and sometimes wet slabs. It was not a quick descent, and I was relieved when we reached the entrance to The Narrows. Traversing this section did not offer any difficulty, and we arrived back at The Trough, ready to negotiate the tricky downclimb down into the gulley. Brian was able to work his way down to the step that sits halfway, and gave me a foothold to make lowering myself easier. We then repeated this maneuver and began the arduous descent down the loose and unpleasant Trough. I was suffering again, stopping frequently to try to catch my breath. I find that the effort of downclimbing steep sections generates a lot of adrenaline, and I have to stop and let my heart slow down. On this climb, I couldn't seem to catch my breath, and with each short burst, I just had to stop and breathe. This made for slow going, and suddenly my worst fears were becoming reality. The skies had darkened, and sounds of thunder were becoming louder, much louder. I knew that rushing down this section would likely be far too dangerous, and I had no choice but to continue as best I could. As we neared the final 100 yards or so of the gulley, the infamous Longs weather unleashed its fury. I looked down and saw Brian suddenly not wearing his pack, and heading for a dirt patch on the other side of the couloir. I followed suit, and found my own dirt patch. We waited. The thunderclaps were unlike anything I've ever heard, as the sound waves reverberated through the basins formed beneath the solid rock walls on three sides of us. It seemed like I was standing in front of a ringing gong, the amplitude of the thunder so intense as to make my ears pop. Then came the flashes of light that could only mean one thing, the most feared alpine weather phenomena, electricity in the sky. I watched as Brian counted the seconds between the flashes and the ringing explosions of sound, and found myself counting as well. "One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four". Four seemed to be the most frequent number, and I never noticed any lightning on our side of the mountain. Still, it seemed far too risky to carry our lightning rod trekking poles across the ledges, and so we waited. Sheets of hail pelted my helmet, stinging my arms and ears. Time stood still. The hail finally relented, and a soft drizzle continued. Brian and I looked at each other, and decided that getting out of this place was our only good option. And so we would encounter my greatest fear of all, traversing The Ledges while soaking wet. In Bill's route description, he notes that "The terrain beyond the Keyhole is more serious and it's not a place to get stuck in foul weather." Well, here we were, with little choice in the matter. We slowly picked our way up the side of the mountain, fatigue and exhaustion setting in.

Brian crossing the wet Ledges. A little hail thrown in to make things more interesting...


I wanted to speed things up, but found that I simply could not make myself move any faster. For what seemed like an eternity, we picked our way across the wet, slick rock, trying to find the safest route. The rock with the handles drilled into it played in the back of my mind, and when we arrived at this point, I knew that this was the crux of what remained. Brian found that sliding down feet first and placing the left foot against the lower bar worked the best, and I followed suit. It wasn't all that bad, and we continued our scramble. At least the rain had subsided, and a cool breeze was helping to dry things out a bit. Arriving back at The Keyhole, still another wet, smooth slab had to be downclimbed to enter The Boulderfield. We again employed the "butt scoot" method, and slid down to safety.

The Boulderfield sits in expanse below The Keyhole. This is no short stretch...


Picking my way down The Boulderfield proved to be yet another brutal test of my endurance, and my legs and feet were ready for it to all be over. I finally found my way to the cairns, which are predominanty on the hiker's left during the descent. Eventually, trail segments emerge, and following these will lead you to the campground, and the main trail proper. From here, the Death March is just beginning, and it's hike, hike, hike.

A look at the trail and the terrain in the daylight...


Who built this cairn???


The hike out is unbelievable, and I complained loudly about wanting it to all be over. My cell phone could not pick up service, and we could not call anyone to let them know that we were on our way back to safety. Brian worried that his wife would call SAR, and I could see the thread on 14ers.com when we got home "2 hikers missing on Longs Peak". All we could do was to keep hiking. Arriving back at the car at 8:00 p.m., I've never felt so relieved. Eighteen and a half hours of hiking, climbing, hiding and nearly crying were finally over.

"The Mountain Of My Fear" was more than I had bargained for. It tested me in every way that I thought I could be tested. My character and my being were thrown into the fire on this hike. Call it hyperbole, but this was the most intense, frightening and challenging day of my life. I hope that in time I will realize many lessons from this experience, in addition to the ones that come to the forefront on the day after.

The most important lesson is that I have a truly great hiking partner in Brian. He is patient, thoughtful, and tolerant of my moodiness and frustrations. He could easily have shaved 2 or 3 hours off of this hike on his own, but he was forced to wait for me. If not for my slowness, he would not have encountered the hail storm that created such a dramatic afternoon. I'm very lucky and grateful, and this was our 7th fourteener this year, in addition to numerous hikes in the spring. This one also completes the Front Range for him, a goal I knew he had early this spring as we postholed endlessly in the Lost Creek Wilderness. Here's to many more summits, as we have quite a few left to check off, don't we?

Although this was my 12th fourteener this summer, I am still a long way away from being in optimal condition for this hobby. I yearn to be able to keep up with these people that pass me on the trail, seemingly unaffected by altitude or fatigue. I cannot even comprehend the difficulty that must lie ahead on Little Bear, Capitol, the Bells or the Crestones. I did confront my fear of heights rather well, though, and am quite happy that I never really sketched out at any point of the hike. I did have some moments of elevated anxiety, but never anything that froze me to the point that I could not think and act clearly.

Longs Peak will be etched into my mind forever, as a veritable "day of infamy". It is simply an unforgettable experience that I will have for the rest of my life.
 


  • Comments or Questions (17)
JJJR


Congratulations!     2011-02-04 17:22:13
Really nice report and super pictures. I was up there Saturday and you helped me re-live the day.


Matt


Strong Work     2011-01-18 20:38:48
And I don't just mean the hike, which looks like a landmark for you. Great TR, especially when you tell us why Greenhouseguy is a great hiking partner. I couldn't agree more with that assessment of what a good partner does in this situation.


SarahT


Wow!     2010-11-30 10:28:42
Hey Keith, congrats on conquering the Mountain of your Fear! And thanks for sharing your very personal, reflective TR. It is quite moving. You pushed yourself to the limit, but still did it in a relatively safe manner. Having a good hiking partner like that is priceless. Good luck on future endeavors and keep hiking! Before you know it you will be in better shape and will enjoy it even more. Then you can concentrate more on the technical details and getting ready for mountains like Capitol.

As for bashing your head into the rock - that is my signature move! I've had some bad ones - in fact I have a painful goose egg right now . I always feel like a moron when I do it and joke that I should wear my helmet more often.


Greenhouseguy


Awesome-O     2010-11-30 10:28:42
That was a terrific trip report that accurately reflects the nature of the route and our experiences. This trek had it all - terrifying lightning, annoying hail, slick rocks, obscene exposure, and plenty of rain to keep us hydrated on the incredibly long grind back to the ranger's station. It's just nature's way of reminding us that we're insignificant little ants. I was impressed by the geography/scenery of the area. The hanging lake on the opposite side of Glacier Gorge, the tall spires, the jagged cirques, the sheer cliffs, and the largest moraine that I've ever seen. Longs Peak is one of the great ones! ”Giving 110%” has become a trite and overused phrase, but you really did gut it out beyond what any ordinary person would have done. Congratulations on a superb effort and an extraordinary summit.


Spam


Great Job     2007-09-04 19:15:35
Way to go. ”We all have our own El Guapos”. You took down yours. Be very proud!

Great Trip Report


CODave

Sweet!     2007-09-04 19:38:18
Very cool TR! Longs was my first 14er and had similar feelings of fear prior to the actual climb. Congrats on Longs!


Bresch


Nice Job!!!!!     2007-09-04 20:25:12
Keith, I have been following your posts all summer long. I am very impressed by your accomplishments this year. I have been running to the mountains for three years and it took awhile to get the hiking thing down with successful summits. You are doing a hell of a job, and the information you pass on is awesome in details and sharing the experience (ie glissading Sherman.) This one of the best detailed, emotion expressed trip reports on this site. Awesome keep up the great work and effort.


ShadyHater69


Good Work!     2010-11-30 10:28:42
Nice TR! Way to get a tough one done...Just like you, Longs was my first really hard climb. You'll be climbing the Bells, Crestones, and Capitol in no time! Congrats!


14ergirl


Way to go!     2010-11-30 10:28:42
Sounds like you had quite the day! I am impressed with your perserverance and determination. I would have been so scared up there in that storm. I remember saying that I wouldn't dare be up there with a chance of rain. The rocks must of been incredibly slick! Good Job and good luck with other hikes!


CarpeDM


Best TR ever!     2007-09-05 12:18:13
Thanks Keith! That was a great report - excellent descriptions of the terrain and route with great pics, along with a riveting, well-written account of an adventure on a vanquished foe. Congratulations!!


Dave

I Saw You     2010-11-30 10:28:42
As I was heading down the trough...I remember the blue helmets. I didn't know it was you or I would have said hi. I think Greenhouseguy said something about how the pic would be better with the top of the trough behind you than with the bottom behind you. Anyways, great trip report and congrats on making it!


KeithK


Thank you to everyone!     2010-11-30 10:28:42
Thanks to all who have commented; your words of encouragement mean a lot to me. This was quite a day, and it's certainly one that carves a space into my memory that can't be supplanted. 8)

Dave, I wish you would have said hi. I was, at that point in time, locked in to the sound of my heart beating more than anything else. I do remember the conversation that you're referring to, though. Crazy.


lordhelmut


nice work     2007-09-05 19:06:51
Nice work Keith, through your report, it kind of reminded me of my first time up that phenomenal peak a few years back. You really show the struggle and the rewards. Thanks man.


KirkT


Great accomplishment!!!     2007-09-05 22:41:47
I to have been following your hikes since our venture last March on Elbert. You have definitely come a long way this summer. A sincere congratulations on bagging Longs. If you ever want a job.... you can write my trip reports! Yours are some of the best on this site.

You can join me anytime, looks like the plan for my finisher is Snowmass this time next year... your definitely invited!

Kirk


DeTour


Inspiring!     2010-11-30 10:28:42
This is a great report on a great achievement. I love reading of someone reaching beyond what they thought their limitations were - a model for all of us in any endeavor of life. And really well written I'm gonna check out that author you refer to in the opening. For me, stuck here in the Midwest, reports like yours and books like that are my only link to what has become an instant obsession. Thank you!


Slow Moving Fun Seeker


Congratulations!     2007-09-12 21:59:21
What a great trip and trip report. Well done!


agust777

Great TR!     2009-06-22 16:41:18
You did an excellent job with not only putting some emotion in the report, but also providing great info and pictures!



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