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Longs Peak for First 14er?

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby craigjhn » Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:48 am

You've got lots of pretty good advice here already, but I am another one of those people who climbed Longs as our first 14er. We're from Rapid City, SD which is about 3000 ft elevation. We like to go to Estes Park for long weekends and vacations. Back in August 2003, my daughter Haley was 9 years old (I was 49) and we decided we must climb Longs Peak. We'd always admired the mountain from a distance and couldn't stop looking at it so we decided it would be climbed by us! A father and daughter team, we got up at 1 am, hit the trailhead and started hiking. On that first attempt on the keyhole route, we got through the keyhole and maybe a third of the way across the ledges when Haley ran out of gas. It was still fairly early at that point, so we took our time, ate lunch, rested at the boulderfield and after many many hours, made it back to the car. I think she had altitude sickness on that first attempt.

In August 2004 we were back again and decided it might be easier as a two day trip, so the plan was to backpack up to the boulderfield. That time the rangers warned us that the keyhole route was 'technical' meaning it was cold and wet and might have some icy spots. It had been a cold rainy period of weather. But since this was our vacation and here we were, we started off anyway. On the way up the weather got worse and at the boulderfield it was really windy (really windy) and this snow/sleet mix was falling pretty hard. So we backtracked down to Jim's Grove, called the rangers and got the OK to camp down there. Next morning no improvement, so we hiked back down, our tails between our legs. That was 2004.

In August 2005 we decided to try it again as a day trip. We also trained a little harder at home before the trip. We climbed our local hill, Harney Peak (about 7000 ft), about a dozen times from every direction. We tried to combine the climbing of Harney with some long hikes in the 10-15 mile range. So at 11 and 51 years of age, we started hiking up the trail at 2:30 am, taking our time and following the line of headlamps ahead of us (other hikers). Weather was good, we felt good and we walked onto the summit at exactly 9:10 am Aug 29, 2005! I don't think there has been another time in our lives so far to compare with that incredible feeling of accomplishment. We have now climbed over 25 14ers together and some we have done apart, but nothing has topped that first one.

So I would say if you have the dream, do the dream. Take the great advice you have been given here, prepare carefully and go for it. It is very true that Longs Peak is not a good mountain for a first 14er. When people ask me how long it takes to climb Longs Peak, I say it took us 3 years. We were also surprised when we caught the bug to climb more 14ers, how 'easy' some of the other ones were. Some of them so 'easy' that you can climb 2 or 3 or more in one day. If you do attempt Longs and find it's more than you can handle, have a couple of the 'easier' ones available as an alternative. In hindsight, I see now that we could have checked off a bunch of other 14ers in the 3 years we spent trying to climb Longs. But we had a singleminded intent to climb Longs and we kept at it until we got it. I kind of like that we did it that way. I don't think I would change that if I could.

Despite the advice you may get to the contrary, there is nothing wrong with you guys getting up real early one fine morning and having a go at Longs. It's not Mt Everest. Be willing to admit when you have had enough. Be willing to admit when the route requires more skill or experience than you possess. Be willing to admit that you didn't train hard enough. There's absolutely nothing wrong with going to have a look and then turning around when you don't like what you see. Most hiking and mountaineering accidents happen when people go beyond their limits. When you climb to the top, you need to have enough gas in your tank to get all the way back down. We have turned around on many mountains. There is no shame. The mountain will be there next time.

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby craigjhn » Tue Feb 19, 2013 4:08 am

Sorry, I forgot to add something in my last post. On the subject of acclimation and altitude sickness: As I guess what you would call semi-flatlanders, we do have trouble with the altitude when we come from SD to climb 14ers in Colorado. We live at about 3000 ft elevation. On Longs and some of the other earlier 14ers that we did, we would come to higher elevations like Estes Park or Leadville and stay as many days as possible before doing the climb. During those days, we would hike in Rocky Mt Park or do some smaller peaks in the area to get as much altitude training as possible. With all that effort, we still felt pretty crappy the first time climbing up to 14,000 ft. The longer the trip, and the more 14ers you do, the better you begin to feel. We did one trip where we struggled mightily up the first one, maybe a little better up the second and third ones on subsequent days, and then finally we got going and began to feel like we could leap tall buildings in a single bound. It was a shame to have to go home feeling so fit and begin to lose that adaptation to altitude.

Then as we got further along in our 14er career, having limited time, we would drive to Colorado on the first day, then climb the first 14er on the second day. We found that we still felt extremely crappy on the first one, but not that different from the first one after more days of altitude training. In other words, we kind of discovered that trying to get a few days of training at altitude before climbing a 14er didn't really make much of a difference for us. Now it could be that if you come to Colorado and hang out in Leadville for a couple of weeks, and then climb a 14er, you will be in great shape. In fact I'm fairly certain that is true. But who has the time?

So now I must confess, we don't really worry about it anymore. Now we get to Colorado as fast as possible, and launch right into climbing peaks. Because it seems, the best training for climbing 14ers is to climb 14ers. And we realize the first few trips up to 14,000 ft are not going to be pretty. In fact as I've gotten older I've found I've slowed down even more. My pace would best be described as 'glacial'. My daughter says if I walked any slower I would fall over. But we definitely take it easy on the first 14er or two of the trip. We don't expect to be able to go fast and we don't. I suspect a big contibutor to altitude sickness is trying to push it a little too hard on the first few days at altitude. You see these larger groups of people with different levels of fitness on the mountain. The less fit ones try to keep up with the more fit ones. They push too hard and they are stricken with altitude sickness fairly quickly. So they sit down and wait for their friends to come back from the summit or they turn around and try to get lower to feel better.

The other thing is - pay attention to your pace and your breathing. It's better to keep a slow steady pace that you can just keep plodding along at for hours on end. As opposed to rushing along up the trail, getting out of breath, and having to make a lot of stops. It's kind of an inertia thing, as long as you are moving you are making progress. If you have to stop a lot, sometimes the stops get longer and longer and you are not making progress if you are stopped (duh!). You want a pace you can maintain without getting out of breath. For flatlanders on their first 14er, having just come from Wisconsin, that is going to be a very slow pace. But that's the way it is. You may find that you have to go so slow that you will not make it to the top. So be it. You are adapting to the altitude anyway, and the next day or two you try again and maybe you go a little faster.

A lot of people don't think about their breathing. They're climbing up a 14er and just breathing the same as they always do, although maybe at a faster rate. What your body is screaming for is oxygen and it isn't getting enough of it. So you continue your shallow breathing, but at a faster rate, and it still isn't enough. So you want to think about getting more air in on each breath by really sucking in air through both the nose and the mouth and expanding the chest as big as you can. Some people call this belly breathing or power breathing, but the point is you want to get as much oxygen in as possible quickly, get the bad stuff (CO2) back out and do it again. If you are doing it right, on a long first day at altitude, you will have sore diaphragm muscles at the end of the day. I have found that sometimes if I start to feel sick or dizzy at altitude, it's because I was taking shallow breaths and not paying attention to my breathing.

The first symptom I usually get of altitude sickness, is a really mild headache. If I don't do anything it will progress to a worse headache, then nausea, then a feeling like I have a fever, then weakness and total lack of energy. You just want to lay down in the trail and die. So I have learned the hard way that when I get that first little headache, that's my brain telling me it's not getting enough oxygen. I have found that if I ease off the pace a little, and do a better job of breathing, I can actually get rid of the headache. So it stops the progression of the altitude sickness and allows me to keep going. If the headache gets worse and the heavy breathing doesn't work, it's turnaround time.

All of the above is of course, anecdotal evidence. I'm sure there must be some science to back it up somewhere, but I don't have it. It is just what has worked for this flatlander. If you're on the trail sometime and you catch up to an old guy walking very slow and puffing like a locomotive, that might be me.

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby crossfitter » Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:46 am

C'mon people it's Longs, not a Himalayan expedition. Stop over-complicating it. In regards to AMS, pretty much the worst case scenario is feeling shitty, which is easily solved by turning around and descending. A reasonably fit person with no underlying medical conditions who spends a day or two in Denver before going to the park is not going to get cerebral edema and die.

OP: You'll be fine. Despite being of a slightly higher technical difficulty and a decent bit longer of a hike, Longs is incredibly beginner friendly due to the vast number of people on the mountain and that the route is literally painted on the mountain for you. Get in shape, show up prepared, and hope the weather is in your favor. If things don't go your way or you feel out of your league, just turn around. No shame.
- A mountain is not a checkbox to be ticked
- Alpinism and mountaineering are not restricted to 14,000 foot mountains
- Judgment and experience are the two most important pieces of gear you own
- Being honest to yourself and others about your abilities is a characteristic of experienced climbers
- Courage cannot be bought at REI or carried with you in your rucksack


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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby Fisching » Tue Feb 19, 2013 10:20 am

crossfitter wrote:C'mon people it's Longs, not a Himalayan expedition. Stop over-complicating it. In regards to AMS, pretty much the worst case scenario is feeling shitty, which is easily solved by turning around and descending. A reasonably fit person with no underlying medical conditions who spends a day or two in Denver before going to the park is not going to get cerebral edema and die.

OP: You'll be fine. Despite being of a slightly higher technical difficulty and a decent bit longer of a hike, Longs is incredibly beginner friendly due to the vast number of people on the mountain and that the route is literally painted on the mountain for you. Get in shape, show up prepared, and hope the weather is in your favor. If things don't go your way or you feel out of your league, just turn around. No shame.


I'm seconding what crossfitter says. I did Longs as my first one, and in retrospect I loved it despite not being acclimated to 14k. Here's a link recounting my experience if it's of any use.
Peter Aitchison on the risks of rock climbing and mountaineering: "That's life, isn't it? We think the challenge and satisfaction you get from doing this is worth the risks."

"Respect the mountain. Train hard. Hope you can sneak up when it isn't looking."

"The mind is always worried about consequences, but the heart knows no fear. The heart just does what it wants."

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby jbchalk » Tue Feb 19, 2013 10:29 am

I'm thirding what Crossfitter & Fisching say. Long's is certainly no Himalayan Expedition - it was my first 14er ever as well and loved it.

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby Jay521 » Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:23 am

jbchalk wrote:I'm thirding what Crossfitter & Fisching say. Long's is certainly no Himalayan Expedition - it was my first 14er ever as well and loved it.

But Brandon, you are something of a Spiderman/Superman combination. Some of us are just mere mortals, you know...
:lol: :lol: :lol:
I take the mountain climber's approach to housekeeping - don't look down

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby ameristrat » Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:35 pm

Now I don't know what these Himalayas are, but I heard that their aren't any mountains other than 14ers...
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know. - Rene Daumal

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby MountainMedic » Tue Feb 19, 2013 4:50 pm

Thirding or fourthing what Crossfitter says. It's not a hard peak. Just be aware that you're more likely to get ams and have a miserable time than on a peak where you're up high for less time. After all, it's all about having fun anyway, right?

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby bking14ers » Tue Feb 19, 2013 5:30 pm

I lot of people have done / attempted Longs as their first 14er.

You can come to hike in Colorado as free men (or woman), and free you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you hike? Aye, hike and you may die, stay in Wisconsin and eat fried food and you’ll live. At least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come to Colorado and face your dream and know that it may take our lives, but it can never take our freedom!

Hiiiiiiiiiike!

Ahh... John Landers. The American Dream... Sounds like you might have taken a couple extra "Happy Pills" today. LOL

Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby Bean » Tue Feb 19, 2013 5:37 pm

Fifth or whatever for crossfitter's comments. Longs was my first 14er as an adult (did Grays as a kid) and I was a moderately-fit Gumby McGaperson, complete with a shiny new softshell from REI. And I was solo, in some pretty bad winds, in total darkness for most of the climb, and I was fine..
gdthomas wrote:Bean, you're an idiot.

http://throughpolarizedeyes.com

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby madbuck » Tue Feb 19, 2013 5:44 pm

MountainMedic wrote:Thirding or fourthing what Crossfitter says. It's not a hard peak. Just be aware that you're more likely to get ams and have a miserable time than on a peak where you're up high for less time. After all, it's all about having fun anyway, right?


Both of your comments were spot-on.

There are so many great alternatives in this state alone, and that experience will help to climb Longs successfully in the future. I've seen so many people hiking it and feeling terrible, with many of them turning around. Acclimatization and preparation (including fitness, but also experience, familiarity, etc.) will minimize the time spent up high and the chance of AMS. I spent a couple summers (after she already had hiking, running, biking base) with my wife in hiking longer distances, higher elevations, and more elevation gain so as to build in the experience and confidence to both summit AND enjoy the entire day together. Feeling like crap and turning around because of rushing into it is highly distasteful to me, but to each their own.
It's not unusual to be drawn to a very specific mountain, but usually people have enjoyed other ones first. It reminds me of people rushing to run a marathon after barely completing zero or one half marathons; or stumbling down black ski runs just after starting blues. Yeah it's possible and it's good to challenge yourself to a degree, but it also greatly increases risk of injury, unnecessarily, when building block skills are not mastered -- and the risk of not having fun. Maybe it's a Type A vs. Type B thing.
It doesn't really hurt me what people want to do, I'm just putting in two cents for planned training and enjoyment of thousands of great mountains in Colorado, and maximizing your success of ultimately climbing Longs successfully.

And ("availability heuristic"), people that climbed Longs as their first are likely to chime in. Some of the reports of summit hikes include nausea, running out of water, getting help from others, etc. -- and the sizable percentage of people that do not summit are less likely to write big reports about it. My brother-in-law did it as his first one, he was successful but was hours late (because of a poorly-judged time estimate) and had his wife all worried and ready to call the rangers.

*

As for the training aspect, you're right on with the aerobic training. You're going to want to do long hikes so as to shake out your gear, find a good pace, train your metabolism, and learn to eat/drink while spending hours with an elevated heart rate.
I grew up in WI, and there are lots of great options for outdoor activities -- I just didn't realize it when I lived there! Now when I visit, I find all kinds of cool things to do there. Of course, seek out hills when you can (e.g. Devil's Lake area), but there are many great long hiking trails (Ice Age, etc.) and fabulous road bike and rails-to-trails options. In the winter, XC skiing or hiking through snow will give you a nice solid workout. In the summer, the heat and humidity is actually your friend for an increased training stimulus, with some benefits that will help you at elevation. Set a goal for some 5+ hour hikes in the summer; do those with your Dad; and enjoy the training as much as the destination. Nobody can take health for granted, but 51 is still plenty young to be healthy! Moving out West re-set my mindset as to what "old" is, as I grew up with relatives taking terrible care of their health starting in their 30s, but there are folks in their 70s out here still going strong.
Have fun, but my recommendation is saving Longs so as to savor it more.

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Re: Longs Peak for First 14er?

Postby cougar » Tue Feb 19, 2013 8:34 pm

from what I've seen, it seems like a lot of people who have never hiked anything before, or don't even enjoy hiking, have climbed Longs. I don't know how but I've seen them up there. It's still a challenging climb though. Keep in mind most accidents happen on the descent - fatigue sets in and people get careless thinking all the hard work is done after summitting and the return is a known. Plus weather rolls in during the afternoon and night falls.

I wouldn't camp at the boulderfield - you likely won't get any sleep and it will be cold and windy. When I first visited CO and was living near sea level, I ended up climbing Hallett Peak as my first mountain ever. I didn't plan on it, just planned to do a conditioning hike my first day in CO, but ended up doing pretty well and kept going up, and at a good pace. I did run out of water near the top and was thirsty coming down though. I had also been doing a lot of cardio training in the months prior (at near sea level) and I think that helped a lot. I climbed Mt Elbert two weeks after moving to CO, and felt like I was going to have a heart attack at 13k ft. I still summitted in 4 hours (with a half hour rest at 13k to settle my heart down) and descended in 2.

Bring lots to drink (a gallon per person), and Cheetos to cure altitude sickness. If you can manage, do an acclimation hike 2 days before tackling Longs, then rest the day in between. Twin Sisters or Hallett would be good for acclimation. The CCY route to Ypsilon is also a good one, and will get you on talus to get a feel for the terrain beyond the keyhole. Ypsilon is also a cool looking mountain you can look back on and feel satisfied about climbing, with half the effort of Longs.

For training at lower elevations, hiking with a hangover can also help. To train for 14ers, I sometimes hike 11ers and 12ers after having a few beers the night before.

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