Peak(s):  Longs Peak  -  14,255 feet
Date Posted:  09/04/2011
Modified:  09/05/2011
Date Climbed:   09/03/2011
Author:  mrunkle
Additional Members:   ChrisSLee1

 Conquering Fears at Longs Peak  

I moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado in April, and having only heard the word “fourteener” for the first time in March. In my five months here, I have completed 10 (yes, Cameron counts). But my Friday/Saturday climb of Longs Peak has definitely been the most significant.

Bierstadt was my first, and as an East-coast Appalachian Mountain lowlander, I braced myself for every reality I could possibly face on a 14er: altitude sickness, dehydration, etc. Sure it was a workout, but I completed it…and also caught the 14er bug. Since then, I have done 10 more. A friend who has lived in Colorado for some time told me “Martha, you are built for this.” Sure, I love pushing the cardio envelope on the ascent, putting my squats at the gym to good use, and picking a path down the mountain; but there is one thing I wasn’t quite built for: heights.

Thus, we began our ascent of Longs at about 4PM on Friday. The weather report at the ranger station said hail/snow storm at the top. Not atypical, and as soon as our group piled out of the car, we were forced to don all the cold, wet weather appropriate garb, only to have to removed it 10 minutes in to the hike because of the swing back towards sunny weather.

We were greeted by a double rainbow at the base Image
Double rainbow over our group at the base!
, a good omen in my opinion, since I was sweating this hike from the moment I read the route outline on the website, let alone from the moment I first saw Longs Peak surrounded by storm clouds.

We set off at a good clip, pairing off based on hiking speed. I teamed up with Chris who has been my hiking buddy on my last few peaks Image
Chris the navigator.
. We got up to Chasm Lake Image
Chasm Lake with Longs in the background
, snapped a few pics, then kept trekking our way up to Boulderfield. I was still feeling nervous, and my fears were amplified after seeing a light belonging to a camper who was likely perched in a hammock somewhere along the North Face. I was terrified of the thought of someone trying this at night! But we kept clipping along up to Boulderfield, keeping an eye on that headlight to make sure he didn’t fall. After stopping for dinner, some obligatory pictures Image
Sun setting at the start of Boulderfield
Moon over us
Another beautiful Rocky Mountain sunset
, and admittedly to catch our breath a few times, we got to our campsite, set up, and were in bed around 9:30, storm/weather free.

At our 6:30 wake up call, we arose to find that we were not the only ones who had the idea to summit Peaks this Labor Day weekend (I was also relieved to have not heard of any reports of a hiker falling off the face in the middle of the night ;-)). We broke down our site Image
Our site about a quarter mile from Keyhole.
and set up the daypacks for the final ascent.

The scramble up to the Keyhole was uneventful, but scenic Image
The sun rising off of Longs Peak, Keyhole to right.
. With the help of some fellow hikers, we were able to snap a few good shots Image
Me in the keyhole!
. After getting to the Keyhole fairly quickly, taking in the view from there (albeit it from the comfort of being wedged between two rocks because I feel uncomfortable in the wind), we moved on to the Ledges. I was still feeling pretty good here, and able to keep up with Chris and the crowds.

The Trough was the same. Crowded, but nothing to make me extremely uncomfortable Image
Trough on the ascent
. I kept on at Chris’s heels, knowing that the worst was still to come.

I thought for sure the Narrows would be the leg of the trip that got the best of me. But to my surprise, I was able to skirt through most of it without looking down Image
Me happily passing through the Narrows.
. The point where I started to feel most uncomfortable was the little notch just before the Homestretch. For whatever reason, the wind picks up there, and it was enough to get my mind going.

So I arrived at the Homestretch. The rest of our group was catching up to Chris and I just in time for them to see my fear of heights kick in. I am not sure if it was a combination of the wind, the angle, and the crowds picking up, but I felt every muscle in my body tense up, and I even had a brief few minutes of panic. There may have even been a few tears Image
Clinging to a rock on the Homestretch.
. But with Chris’s encouragement, and the impending bruised ego, I finished the Homestretch and we all summated successfully.

I wish I could have enjoyed the summit a bit more, because the views to every direction were truly incredible, and I was even a bit sentimental about being able to see our campsite at Boulderfield. But I was still so edgy from the Homestretch, and fretting the thought of having to do that on the descent, that I stayed clear of the edge, got my planking picture Image
Planking on summit.
, ate my lunch, and sat there mentally preparing myself for the complete agony of having to look at the ground 800 feet below me during the entire descent.

We set off at about 10:30 from the summit, and my to my surprise, I was not nearly as terrified on the way down. It must have had something to do with my patented but crawl move and keeping my center of gravity low and against the rock. I even felt confident enough to take pictures in a few of the places between the Narrows and the Homestretch Image
Taken (by me!) on the Homestretch, during the descent.
, even though it still creeps me out to look at some of these!

Luckily, it was an uneventful, but crowded descent. We made it back to our site at Boulderfield around 1, ate lunch, aired our feet out, used the lovely portos Image
, then headed down with our full packs. Chris and I kept a good pace, got down just around 4:30. We experienced a little bit of hail/snow on the way down, but nothing to make us stop and change clothes.

The rest of the group descended and we were out of there by 5 with one last group pose at the base Image
Group at the base 24 hours later!

I can’t say that I am itching to do it again next weekend, but it really felt great to overcome my fears like that and get some great shots in the process. Maybe next time I will have the guts to bring my good camera up there! I hope to do more like this, to help me overcome my fear and discomfort in high places! The mental challenge was surely the hardest part for me, but I definitely feel like I am better “built for this” kind of stuff than I was two months ago!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Great job!
09/05/2011 10:53
I remember seeing your group up there Saturday. I was with my daughter who is 8 and even she blanched at the homestretch briefly before attempting it and she loves to climb high (scares me to watch her more than it scares her). You faced a fear and overcame it, more than most people will do in their lifetime. Great job! Longs Peak can test your nerves.


very cool!
09/05/2011 19:05
Nice climb and report!!!!


Great Work!
09/05/2011 20:40
That was my first 14er! What a great experience. I'm up to 14...

James Scott

09/05/2011 23:07
The dramatic picture of you clinging to a rock on the homestretch would be scarier of there wasn't a couple of very bored climbers just below you waiting for you to finish the picture! They should have looked scared.


Chasm Lake
09/06/2011 05:33
Congrats on the well earned summit. Just a heads up, that is Peacock not Chasm Lake.


Good to read your report
09/06/2011 21:54
Hi, I saw your group at the parking lot at the end of the climb. Actually I shook hand with one of you in the group (not sure if it's you though). Nice report and we definitely had some common feelings about doing Longs.

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