| Long‘s part deux
I have been working my way up the 'difficulty ladder' and have been looking forward to climbing Long's for some time now. I attempted last Wednesday (8/19), but was turned back by 30 degree temps & some pretty intense winds combined with a partner who was not prepared for the weather. Not wanting to have him get hypothermia or weaken himself enough to where climbing the difficult parts would be more dangerous, we decided to turn back just shy of the boulder field. So I decided to give it a try once again this week, solo. I know that climbing solo is not the best idea, especially class 3, but...anyone who has ever attempted Long's knows that you are never solo. I started my hike right at 3:00, one hour later than the previous week because I wanted sunlight for when I started up the Keyhole area. Well, the timing worked out perfectly because it took almost exactly 3 hours to reach the boulder field campground. I spent about 10 minutes resting, and refueling and took a few pre-sunrise snapshots:
It's amazing how different the pics turn out depending on which way you are facing compared to the pre-dawn light - this is taken at the same time, but looking the opposite way:
So then I started boulder-hopping my way up toward the iconic Keyhole formation. Boy, there may be some cairns here and there, but there really is no defined route. It really does not matter because there is no path that is easier than any other. When you are looking up from the campground, it looks deceiving on how long it may take you to reach the top. It did give me an opportunity to catch a shot of the sun peaking over behind me:
This is looking back down on the boulder field campground:
My ascent up the Keyhole was rewarded by a pretty shot of the valley to the west of the route:
I continued on my 'fried egg' search along the way to the bottom of the trough. Let me tell ya, it's frustrating losing that much elevation to get down to the bottom of the 600' trough. Anyway I began my slow ascent up the trough, the route(s) are a little more defined than the Keyhole ascent, but again, there are muliptle 'routes' up the trough, at least until you get to the very top.
It was just shy of the top of the trough where I started feeling something I had not yet felt on any of my prior 25 summits. I was starting to get altitude sickness, or at least something very similar to it. I starting to get a little bit of the shakes, nausea, dizziness, and found it difficult to catch my breath. I worked past the last 'difficult move' at the top of the trough and took a bit of a break on the ridge at the top of the trough. I wanted to make sure I had all of my wits and strength for the tricky trek across the narrows:
Everything seemed ok for awhile so I pressed on to the Homestretch, a part I was actually looking forward to. I got to to the 'base' of the Homestretch and looked up to survey my potential route:
Now, I know sometimes you hear 'pictures do not do it justice', well sometimes it is just the opposite. Now don't get me wrong, the Homestretch is not simple, but when I showed my wife this picture, she freaked! It looks a bit worse than it is. She did not believe me when I told her that there were some spots that you can actually walk up without using your hands. The picture does look darn near vertical. So I continued up the Homestretch and about half way up, my sickness, issues, problems, whatever it was, came back. Most likely the worst spot on the entire route for it to happen. I braced myself against the rock as best I could and I did everything I could think of to start feeling better. Slow, even, deep breaths, drank more and more Gatorade, even tried to relax some to calm myself down. There was no way I was not going to finish less than 100 feet from the summit. So that was my pattern for about every 10 vertical feet - stop, rest, relax, hydrate, psych myself up, etc. Hell, I was even considering how bad it would be to have a $10,000 summit rescue if I was just not able to continue. Anyway, after what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it to the top @ 8:30. I wasn't even happy:
I put my backpack down and layed myself down for a rest. I decided not to stay too long, because if it really was something to do with the altitude, then getting to a lower altitude may just be the solution. After a short 15 minute summit visit, I began the long tour back down the route.
Descending the Homestretch was not as bad as I had imagined, just take it slow and easy. Now the trough was a different story. That seemed to go on forever . I made it back to the boulder field campsite at 10:45. Decided to rest, use the facilities (bravo RMNP!), eat, drink, & change socks. After chillin out barefoot for a bit, I swear I heard my feet say something as I put my boots back on. It felt great to air out my feet for awhile, but it sucked big time putting those boots back on . At 11:05 I started the long journey back down to the trailhead, every step of the way feeling blisters all over my feet . About an hour into it, I saw a wonderful sight. I was rescued ! I found a ride down:
'Hey Mr Ranger, can I get a ride on one of your beautiful mules? I'll pay a rental fee and I promise to pet him and say nice things the entire way down! Can I, huh? Please???!!!' You can guess how that went. Not only did I not get a ride, but I got to dodge and smell tons of fresh crap along the rest of the trail down. By the way, can we contact CFI, RMNP, USFS, or whoever maintains this trail to see if they can do something about this cairn, I don't think it's quite big enough to be seen from space yet:
Yes, that is rain in the background. I actually would not have minded some refreshing rain, but there was some very nasty sounding thunder accompanying it. Luckily, it stayed off to the east. I continued to trudge down the trail at a much slower than planned pace because my feet were seriously killin me. I got back to my car at 1:55, just shy of 11 hours from when I left. When I took off my boots, my feet actually cursed at me. It was quite embarrassing . Now they won't even talk to me at all. My toes put in a request for a transplant to another body. Hell, my blisters had blisters. Now, I put myself through hell to summit this one, and of course I am glad that I did. But there are a couple of things that puzzle me. According to the stats on this here fine website, Long's is the 2nd most popular first 14er. Does that statement even make sense? If not, follow this link & it should explain it - http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/usrpeaksstat.php . Are people crazy? All of the other 'first 14ers' make perfect sense, Gray's Bierstadt, Elbert, Pikes, Quandary, Sherman, Democrat, etc, but a 15 mile, class 3 for a first timer? It is also listed as the number 1 'favorite' 14er. Now, I probably would have liked this one more if I did not have such a bad time with feeling like sh#* and the loads of blisters. I can see a benefit of camping at the boulder field, but I also hear that there are plenty of restless nights with crazy winds up there, plus there is the long trek down with all the extra heavy gear too. I don't know, toss up maybe. If I can get this blister thing figured out (always at the front of my feet, toes area), I may try this one again in the future, far, far away future....
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):