Peak(s):  Longs Peak  -  14,255 feet
Date Posted:  09/10/2012
Date Climbed:   09/03/2012
Author:  nomadelmundo
 Night in the Rockys - Retirement Climb via Keyhole up & Loft down  

This officially starts my 1st and last 14er in 2012. My last climb was a fiasco on Black Friday of last year, still fighting humility and regaining my confidence in humanity. But it is time to move on. However having a full time job and a 5 year old boy and a three year old daughter, getting out to the wild for a day becomes the 1st challenge.

Road to TH

Luckily my wife is cool and grants me the passage to climb Longs during Labor Day Weekend. To minimize her solo time spent watch the children, the goal was to start off at night after the children are asleep and summit by dawn to see sunrise via Keyhole route and return on Loft route to avoid kicking loose rocks to fellow ascenders. It was disappointing that I couldn't find colleagues from work for this summit, so as always I return to and found a climbing buddy. "TehChad" answered my foolish desires to be my wingman on this tortuous journey of a night climb. I figured surely that his 6+ trips on Longs will be better than any GPS or map guide to help me succeed on the summit.

We left the ranger's station shortly after 10pm after hearing a group of college students from Iowa pleading that we send help to aid some of their fellow climbers who left also 2am the day before but still has not returned. We were given a description of young lady who has asthma and now suffers from hypothermia, dehydration and fatigue and is still on her way descending the standard route. We agreed to look out for their trailing companions and set-forth after a brief registration at the TH. The night was brisk at the TH, no doubt cooled by an evening thunder storm. I was already fatigued after having been up since 6am and unable to take any naps due to the unpredictable nature of my children. And I was still worried that my right "plantaris," the tendon that tapers off my calf muscle would flare-up again having torn it ~ 1 week ago. But with TehChad leading the way buffered with 8+ hours to make to the summit, at least I did not have to worry about the logistics. We will be soon tested.

Land Mark in the Dark

We make haste, and reach the trail mark sign with by 1140pm. I never thought I was a slow hiker, but TehChad proved me wrong as he frequently waited for my catching up. Nevertheless, we were making good time and press forth in the dark of night aided by a full moon. Shortly we find the Iowan stranglers, two girls akimbo, shivering and slowly moving aided by two of their male counterparts providing point and rear coverage down the trails. We shared our ration of food. For this trip, I bought 5 liters of water, bag of dried mangos and salami. The asthmatic was oriented with good mentation and spoke coherently, we encouraged them that the TH is not too far away, but could not imagine that the have now been exhausted on trails for over 24 hours.
One advantage of traveling at night is time becomes elusive and the distance and terrain become irrelevant. We reach the Keyhole warning sign ~ 230 am. Chad reassures me that we are still making great time and perhaps only have 2-3 hours left before summit. I have now caught my second wind but the night gets colder having reached above the tree line. We don on all our layers a journey towards The Keyhole. I fumble around with my shutter speed, but was unable to take any good long exposure-photos of the mountain silhouette reflecting the quivering moon. Behind us, we see a handful of hikers few hundred yards to our flank and as they closes in on us.

Keyhole Route Ahead

Before reaching the Keyhole, TehChad briefs me on the route of approach and says he will await me on the other-side. "Other-side" of what, as a chill sends down my spine? Visibility is somewhat illuminated by a full moon but still poor for scrambling. We have been lucky so far that the wind had been tame, but things suddenly change as I reached the Keyhole. Strong knots of wind blows me towards the wall, luckily not the other direction. Occasional cross-wind shakes my confidence and questions my sanity what the hell am I doing exposed on open ledges in the middle of the night. I try to find Chad as he tries to illuminate my path by his headlamp. The trail-marks were of no use at night, I can count on the number of fingers on my right hand how many I spotted. I am now deeply appreciative that Chad was taking point and am certain that without him, I would have never made it even to this point. We passed several class 3 climbing spots with sheer exposure that could not be negotiated due to its steep nature and wetness from the recent hail. We find alternative routes and had to put all my climbing skills to the test - which was a one day beginner's course at Boulder last year. It must now be ~ 4am and we are only few thousand feet from the saddle before the final "trough" approach, which TehChad tells me is the worst part. Then we noticed the wind picked its knots even more, bring with clouds of fury blotting our moon. TehChad is now 50/50 considering turning back. We see no one behind us now. Those who were behind us must have already retreated. We reluctantly continue our ascent, somewhat reassured by the periodic glimpse of the moon. I was glad, because returning back meant renegotiating those open bluffs with nasty exposures. I was not ready to make my wife a widow and my kids fatherless. We reach the trough. Although tired, hungry and cold, climbing at night seemed always quicker because you can't see a damn thing ahead of you. You are never disappointed by false summits and the sheer drop offs are lesser of a mental scare.

Dawn on Summit

We make summit ~ 520am on Labor Day! There's not soul on board the top. We had zero visibility and decide to take a nap to wait sunrise, in hope of that the sun can vaporize the cloud away to give us a hard earned view. It was a cold wait. Temperature was not freezing yet, but the cross wind made our bones chill. I still managed to micro-nap curled like a fetus. Slowly we can feel the temperature getting warmer but still surrounded by endless mist.

Reflection of Passion

An occasional clearing provides a faraway glimpse of Chasm Lake. Reflection of its sparkling white top glistens as the dawning sun encroaches the horizon. It's about 6am now, we hear a few hikers making to the summit with same look of despair - no view!
Mandatory Glory Foto

TehChad takes a quick victory pose for me and we head down the same trough, but this time I was on my butt the whole time, using it as extra friction so I don't slide off the mountain.
It's a Longs Way Down or is it Up?

TehChad scrambles down the trough like a mountain goat as I try to keep up. Visibility is still poor, we are glad we did not wait any longer at the top.

A Walk in the Cloud

Going down was lot easier but more dangerous. Soon, we can see a bit of the valley through a small clearing.

Poor visibility

More hikers make their approach to the top in this shroud of vapor. At least they can see the trail mark signs, not visible at all just few hours ago.

It's a Long way up!

We now head towards the Loft route.

Glimpse of trail mark

There's always something majestic about mountains and clouds.

Vapor on Longs

But for most hikers today, the way to the top has just began.

Climbers ascending via Keyhole route

I now feel both of my knees in pain especially having very little confidence in my boots which I have worn to at least dozen 14ers, Kilimanjaro and last year's Tough Mudder. It has very little traction, but at least it was keeping my left ankle from getting badly sprained on these endless loose rocks.

Watch your steps

This Loft trail becomes self-made. No clear markings, carins or signs. I am glad TehChad is pointing the way.
Valley of Beauty

So many Rocks

We meet and greet some young hiker as they pass us on their ascent. It's around 730am.
Climbers ascending the Loft route

As I look back, I am glad it's not me that's going up.

A scramble to the top

We approach some more scary exposure but rewarded by nice views.

Class 3 on Loft route (east approach)

Pitstop before Class 4/3

TehChad momentarily disappears as he scramble over some obstacle.

A Brief Clearing

We now reach a minor chasm which TehChad believes to be somewhat a Class 4 scramble. Picture shows a group of young girls going down on it.
Scrambling down a Class 4

For an easier access, Class 3, if you are going down at this point on your approach to the summit, take the route on the far right hand side. It's a safer way down.
Take the right path

The Loft? Yet?

Clearing the Loft with Meeker in the backdrop

We run into a pair of hikers who just has returned down from Meeker. Picture shows them going down the path to the TH. We had decided to scrap our prior ambitious goal of taking on Meeker as well. I told TehChad, "No Thanks! I chose life." - Sloth, Iceage.

East Longs Trail ahead in the distance

Standing at the Loft, you can see the tremendous amount of distance we still have to make to make to the trail in the distance.

Crazy kids

We spot few climbers going straight up the Loft route with no equipment. Ballsy !
Looking Back

My knees are gone now. It feels like we have been descending for 5 hours now, but in reality when I check my watch it's only 11am. I breathe a sigh of relief as I look back on the hellish descent.
After the rain

Around 12 noon, a thunderstorm, no actually it was just pure cold rain for 1 hour while we trekked back through the Boulder filed. By now, I was having frank hallucination from my exhaustion and low blood glucose. The whole field of boulder looked like a strip mall in New Mexico. Quite freaky! The last 4.5 miles was the longest of the whole trip. Everyone and their grandma in wheel chair passed me as I hobbled towards the TH. I made it to the TH ~ 230pm, almost 17 hours later. During the long 3 hour home, constantly having to fight off hallucinations of every bush, rock, tree looking like a wild animal, I decided to retire from climbing for a while ... well, at least until my children are off to college! This decision is hard but I think the right one. Somehow in the past year, the combination of deconditioning, getting-old, or the lack of need to summit every peak vs. spending more time with the family has allowed me to reach this hard decision. Perhaps picking up photography in the interim is suitable alternative.
But I owe TehChad my life on this summit! Thanks Chad!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Long day
09/10/2012 17:29
Clarification - photos 8-14 are of the homestretch.
Congrats on knocking this beast off too Will! This is a long, hard day. Your choice to summit just before sunrise made it a bit harder too. AND the weather was the worse I've been in for early Sept. This was by far the most miserable ascent I've done in the summer season.
Once the clouds burned off and the wind died down a bit, it was a pretty nice day.
I do feel for the group in trouble though. We caught them just after midnight about half way across Mount Lady Washington, between Chasm junction and Granite junction. The girl was having quite the time. She was speaking coherently and she had friends or I would have threatened to go down with her. We did feed her and a couple of her friends a light snack. They appreciated it, but I cannot imagine spending 24 hours on that trail without camping! Talk about misery!

Anyway, it was cool to meet a person and I look forward to meeting more of you!
Congrats Will! And I'm diggin the photos! Rock on!


09/10/2012 17:39
Great trip report. Glad you made it safely and you're children don't have to grow up without a father. You really don't have to quit climbing. Just pick some less dramatic climbs.


09/11/2012 18:47
cfb - People come out of retirement all the time...I guess I lost the drive to prove to myself I can do these peaks... I have no doubt that I can, but hearing all this RIP reports make me want not being another statisic... I just got too many things on the to-do-list and this one has to be put on hold... I mean semi-retirement My wife is actually very supportive, at the same time her worrying also causes anxiety on my part... she's actually okayed for me to pursue Everest! ... Perhaps the itch will return sooner, but for the time being, I'll invest more time at home with the kids... my not yet 3 year old daughter is already quite a climber!
Chad - remember, next time, ”baby powder”


great climb!
09/11/2012 02:51
That's a super loop; a bit tricky coming down the Loft way, so it's good to have someone along who knows it.

James Scott

09/11/2012 16:05
If you're like me, you'll consider yourself retired for about two weeks, and then start getting the urge to go up another. Maybe next time do something less than 17 hours round trip. But I loved the read & the pictures- happy you made it back safe and in one piece! Well played!


09/11/2012 18:46
James: perhaps I should've called it a sabbatical rather than a retirement huh? I have no doubt I will return again, just how soon is anyones guess... but for now I gotta get in shape again, rehab my legs, get more aerobic by swimming again and loose few stones

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