| Longs Peak via Keyhole
I decided to celebrate my freedom by hiking Long's via Keyhole route solo. I awoke from a sleepy slumber at approximately 1am. When I laid my head down the night before I was so excited I had a lot of trouble falling asleep. The last time I looked at the clock it was around 11pm. I had previously packed all of my necessities the night before so I could purposely roll out of bed, take a shower and hop in the car without excessive exertion of cerebral function. This proved to be an effective tactic as I am not a morning person and wonder if I will ever be a morning person.
I drove my trusty steed (92 Toyota pickup) from my home in Longmont and arrived at the trail head around 2:15. I realized that I probably needed to write some kind of goodbye letter so I scribbled down my love for my family and last wishes if anything should happen to me on a paper plate and stuck it under my seat. I thought it was kind of a morbid thing to do as I wrote, but necessary nonetheless. I approached the trailhead, signed the registry, and snapped a picture. Shortly after shrugging off the notion that the mountain doesn't care, I ran into a man coming down the trail. I said hello and begun a short conversation. He told me he was going up to the top, but something just didn't feel right about the night so he turned around. I said goodbye and continued walking. Since this was my first solo I was a little unnerved hiking up in pitch darkness with my headlight slicing through the night – especially now since this guy was spooked at something. I was also a little unsure about my attempt since it was cloudy and lightly misting when I began the hike. The weather was adamant that the clouds would clear at 3:30am though so I continued up the pathway. Around 3:30 the clouds did indeed clear and the stars shone brightly. I considered the psalmist when he wrote, "When I view and consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained and established, What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of (earthborn) man that You care for him?" It truly was a marvelous moment.
I hit the tree line after some period of time, and felt less threat of a mountain lion ambushing me from a rocky cragg. I could see in the far distance a pair of headlights ahead of me. Since I am a competitive person, I focused my efforts strongly on catching them. After a while I could see two more hikers ahead of them. For an hour or two I pushed and caught them by chasm lake. The two hikers rested and wisely ate some food. I continued hiking upwards and sipped from my camel. I gobbled some fruit snacks soon after passing the couple. This is when I should have stopped and took a nice break to refuel, but I didn't. I could see my next target – a single headlight. After another hour or so I was in close proximity of catching the next hiker. I heard a rheumatic tinking from ahead and wondered what it could be. As the early dawn slightly illuminated the hiker ahead of my I realized that he was using two trekking poles. I thought this somewhat odd since it was a fairly flat part of the trail. We wound around the eastern part of the mountain below the boulder field. I said hello and introduced myself to Will. Will was a bar owner from Kansas City who was recovering from a knee injury. He was also climbing Aconcagua for charity the following January. Will was a super nice guy. We hiked and talked for about an hour, then we parted because he was going to turn around at the boulder field. While we were hiking I witnessed a majestic sunrise over the twin sisters. You can see the thick cloud cover fleeing eastward that threatened my hike earlier in the morning. Here is a 180 degree view of the sky with a pretty neat moonset. I am glad I persevered through the cloud cover. It reminded me of that slogan: "things are better up here".
Things really are better for me when I am on the mountain. I find myself climbing to gain perspective. The mountaintop is a great place to see and to be inspired, but it is not the place to stay. At some point we must come down to the valley for food, water, shelter ect.
This is a picture of me. Note the bed head. Now lets continue with the hike… I was still feeling very strong and crested the ridge leading up to the boulder field. I could what appeared to be the famous keyhole in the far distance. The keyhole turned out to be the doorway to a new level of courage and strength for me. The sight of the keyhole brought me great excitement, but I did not realize how far I was away from it still. I looked to my left and saw the diamond wall being illuminated by morning sun rays. I also saw a large gang (real terminology for a group of elk) of elk. They mostly just stood there and watched me, but several of them moved cautiously away. I continued to meander my way through the boulder field and streams of icy water. In the far distance I could see a group of people ascending towards the keyhole. I wanted to try to catch them because I was not sure how well marked the bull's eyes were going to be, and plus I was getting a little board hiking by myself. I quickly pressed onwards not feeling hungry, but starting to feel a little depleted. I mounted the keyhole in an awesome airy moment with some vertigo. It was probably a combination of altitude, low blood sugar, bliss, and wispy clouds moving across the scenery, but I thought I was floating for a minute. I looked around for a minute and wondered where the trail went to and if I made a wrong turn. Surely this was the keyhole, and in fact the trail descended leftward. I became unnerved again as I looked to the distant left and said to myself "there is no way I can do this by myself." I ignored that thought and said to myself "I can do it". When researching the hike I did not really know what to expect on the ledges. I quickly found out that the ledges have great consequences of 1000 vertical feet if you mess up. I chose to focus on my immediate position rather than downwards to which would be a quick demise. After a little while, I became quite comfortable navigating through this section of the hike. Towards the trough another hiker (John) caught up with me. He was a new resident to Estes Park and also soloing Long's. We chatted for a bit and kept the same pace to the top.
I have heard a lot of different opinions of the narrows, but my personal experience was that it was not very difficult. After snaking around to the southwest John headed up the home streach. By this time in the hike I was very exhausted. My body was working very hard and I could see my pulse in my eyes. I imagine that I was suffering from ascending too fast without enough nutrition for too long. This combination made this part of the hike very difficult in the sense that I did not have the drive to continue upwards. I started to deteriorate very rapidly, and I yelled up to John that I didn't know if I was going be able to continue up the home stretch safely. I felt okay, I was not hungry, but I could tell that my body did not have the energy that it usually does. Just reading these symptoms over now I can even tell that I was suffering from some degree of altitude sickness/malnutrition which I have not experienced on any other 14er. The deceptive part about altitude sickness is that it impairs your judgment and perceptions. Without an accurate ability to evaluate a situation people start to make mistakes. This is when I decided that I needed to take a rest. I plopped down out of the way and started drinking Gatorade and eating some quick energy. The bad part about altitude sickness is that it doesn't just go away by eating or drinking. You must descend. After resting about 15 minutes I had enough energy to finish the home stretch. I made it up in time for the clouds to start bellowing in at around 11:00. Sad to say, I was not able to look to the east and see much of anything. I did capture this picture to prove my accomplishment.
I took another 15 minute break at the top while being solicited for food by the marmots. I then began my decent down the home stretch. The decent was pretty uneventful through the trough and across the ledges. I then got to the boulder field and wished to be done, but I wasn't. As I reached the boulder field it began to lightning and sprinkle. I picked up my pace and began the march of death which felt like it was never going to end. The pounding and duration became mind numbingly boring with shots of pain with every step. I used a trekking pole to try to absorb some of the shock. When I got down to the tree line I met Matt and Jaime, a brother and sister team from Ohio. It was nice to finally have some company and we all hiked down through the trees together. Jaime was finishing up her residency in thoracic surgery so I was very interested in hearing about her experience. We finally arrived back at the trail head around 5pm. We ended up meeting down in Estes Park for some Mexican. After dinner I drove back down to Longmont, took a steam shower, and pasted out for 10 hours.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):