For my Longs Peak trip report from 2002 in ideal conditions, Click Here
Longs Peak holds many titles. It's the highest peak in Boulder County and Rocky Mountain National Park. It is also the northernmost 14er in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Longs Peak was first climbed by John Wesley Powell in 1868 while exploring the stream system that fed the Colorado River. Most ascents of Longs Peak begin at the Longs Peak Trailhead located 9.2 miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7.
September 6th, 2003
I had already climbed Longs Peak a year ago, but most of my friends hadn't climbed it yet. Having to work some over the weekend I needed to stay close to Boulder so Longs was an ideal candidate. The gang decided to meet at the trailhead at 2 a.m. to start the climb. Wingo, Jeff, Amy and myself departed my house in Boulder at 12:30 a.m. and arrived at the Longs Peak trailhead a little after 1:30 a.m. Laura and Jenny were driving down from Ft. Collins and had some trouble finding the trailhead but arrived around 2:30 a.m. The parking lot was almost full when they arrived and they got one of the last remaining spots. We signed into the trailhead at 2:45 a.m. and began hiking under the light of our headlamps. The temperature was quite pleasant and we all talked continously as we proceeded through the forest. We arrived above treeline and were greeted with views of the Front Range city lights and also a multitude of stars. Looking up the slopes towards Mt. Lady Washington we could see the stream of headlamps heading towards the peak.
We arrived at the Chasm Lake turnoff in short order and began the traverse arround Mt. Lady Washington. Proceeding onward and upward we reached the boulderfield at about 5:15 a.m. It was still pretty dark out so we decided to take a short break and let the sun rise a little bit. As we waited for the sun to rise it began to rain and then quickly turned to snow. We opted to keep moving to stay warm and proceeded to the keyhole. As we neard the keyhole the sun was making its approach over the horizon.
We admired the views of Glacier Gorge from the Keyhole and also assessed the weather situation. Most parties were turning back, but it was only 6 a.m. and I knew most of our technical difficulties wouldn't occur until The Narrows and The Homestretch. We decided to at least proceed to the top of The Trough and then reassess the conditions at The Narrows. We made it across The Ledges without too much trouble and passed a couple more unsuccessful parties returning from their summit attempts. It seemed to be a common theme to turn around at the bottom of The Homestretch. I warned the gang that the day might not be a test of will or determination, but instead we might be climbing towards something that may be unclimbable in the given conditions. We reached the bottom of The Trough and we began our ascent up the gully.
We began to break up a little bit ascending The Trough, with Amy and I leading the way. This was our 20th 14er of the summer so we reached the top of the Trough about 5 or 10 minutes in front of the rest of the gang. The chockstone at the top of The Trough was a little trickier this year. Last year, I climbed up a ledge to the right of the chockstone, bypassing both routes on either side of the stone. This time the ledge was covered with snow so Amy and I proceeded up the right side of the stone. Each way has its difficulties, and I can't say one way is better than the other. The photo below is Jeff reaching the chockstone at the top of The Trough.
The rest of the gang reached the top of The Trough and we looked across The Narrows in the photo below. Laura was the most afraid of heights, so we asked her if she was comfortable crossing this section in the given conditions. She thought it was straightforward enough so we proceeded across. The rock was wet but didn't pose any really difficulties, it wasn't The Narrows I was concerned about, it was The Homestretch.
We made it across The Narrows with minimal difficulty and rounded the corner to the Homestretch. There were 2 kids heading up and a couple coming down shown in the photo below. The Homestretch is completely easy when the conditions are dry, but it was time for a judgement call. Laura, Jeff and Jenny quickly decided that they had proceeded far enough. I had already climbed Longs Peak, so I didn't really care either way. It looked definitely doable so we opted to drop our packs and travel light and quick to the summit.
We proceeded up The Homestretch following the yellow dots when we could find them. I stayed right behind Amy and helped her through several sections. We made it to the summit and stayed just long enough to tag the highest rock and take a couple photos. We didn't even sign the register before heading back down the Homestretch.
Proceeding down The Homestretch was definitely the crux of the route. We wedged as much of our bodies in the cracks to get maximum friction as we proceeded down. We had made it almost to the bottom without incident when Amy took a higher line than me. She got into a precarious position and she realized her next move might make her fall. She asked Wingo to get under the rock slab below her just in case she might slip. She tried to shimmy across the crack she was standing in and lost her footing. My worst nightmare was coming true as she fell backwards and began to slide down the rock slab backwards on her butt. She slid about 10 feet and Wingo was able to stop her from sliding any further. She was justifiably shaken up for a couple minutes, but she is one tough girl and quickly regained her composure. We continued across The Narrows shown in the photo below.
From the Narrows we made it down The Trough in short order. We proceeded back across The Ledges shown in the photo below.
We gained the Keyhole and could see Jeff, Laura, and Jenny heading back to the boulderfield. I shouted at them to wait for us at the Boulderfield. I chatted with a guy at the Keyhole for several minutes who had turned his group back at the base of The Trough. Several teenagers in his group were upset with his decision especially one kid in particular. This kid had hiked Grays and Torreys and now thought he was a 14er expert. Newsflash for any novices out there: Climbing Grays and Torreys by their standard routes does not make one qualified for climbing Longs Peak in a snowstorm. I told him about our close call on The Homestretch which reaffirmed his decision to turn back. He relayed our story to his group but I don't think it had much affect on them. We made it down to the boulderfield and the weather had improved a little bit. From left to right is Wingo, Amy, me, Jenny, Laura and Jeff.
From the boulderfield it was a pretty uneventful march back to the trailhead. The first 1.7 miles from the boulderfield go really fast, the next 0.7 miles back to the Chasm Lake cutoff seem to take a little longer. The mile from Chasm Lake to a sign indicating 2.5 miles back to the trailhead goes really fast, and that last 2.5 miles goes on forever and ever. I swear the mileage on that sign is wrong. Our feet were beginning to hurt and the day had definitely taken its toll on us, both physically and mentally. We probably looked like we had been to hell and back, and actually, we came pretty close. We arrived back to the trailhead at 1:45 p.m. bringing our hiking time to exactly 11 hours. We signed out of the register, and I was amazed at the pages and pages of names who signed in after we did.
Overall, if Amy hadn't of slipped I wouldn't have thought twice about our decision to proceed to the summit. It was definitely doable and I thought the difficulty was minimal. But as we found out, it only takes one little slip to change the course of events dramatically. More importantly, we have learned from the situation, and will probably make more conservative judgement calls in the future. Longs Peak attracts thousands of people every summer, and many of them 14er novices, so hopefully this trip report will make you think twice if you are faced with a similar situation.
For my Longs Peak trip report from 2002 in ideal conditions, Click Here