July 15th, 2006
3:30am came WAY too soon. I stayed the night at my friend Kimie's house. Her parents run a camp about a mile from the trail head. She was super stoked to see me too! It was wonderful to hang out and screw around. Anyway, 3:30am. She woke me up and I dressed and finished packing. I ran outside for a second to see if I really wanted to wear jeans. It was cool, but I'd be working and that would keep me warm. I tossed my fleece on and started putting my bags back into my car. Kimie was leaving for Denver at 2pm and we didn't know if we'd get to hang out again. She threw on some sweats and her Keen flip-flops and waited. She drove me up to the trail head. On the whole minute-long ride, I tried to wolf down a cliff bar as fast as I could. I gave Kimie a big hug. That felt good. My body didn't want to move. I ended up getting about 3 hours of sleep (+/-) that night. Kimie reminded me to sign in AND out on the register and I wandered up the sidewalk. There were four Asian guys standing there, signing in. They were chattering away in what sounded like Korean, but I couldn't tell for sure.
Trailhead, 9,400 3:40am, 0.0 miles
They left and I signed in. Chad, Fort Collins, party of 1, 3:40am, expect to return at (meh, I'll not be egotistical) 4:30pm. And I was off. 9,400 feet. I tried to pace myself, but I have this bad habit of going fast and then burning out. I caught the four Asians almost immediately. One of them had a black little backpack with a big yellow CU on it. They kept chattering and soon let me by. It was good having them to pace me, but they felt WAY too slow. I just tried to pull away from them at a constant rate. The moon was bright enough to keep me looking back, thinking that someone was pulling up on me. Then I realized it. I wasn't alone. As much as I wanted to be alone, that felt good.
Goblin Forest, 10,120 4:20am, 1.2 miles
Pretty quickly, I noticed the "Goblin" sign. Yeah, I just had to. There were people sitting at several places where the creek either crossed the trail or came within feet of it. I stopped once to rest my legs for a few seconds and then I kept going. About this time, a guy and his girlfriend flew past me like I was standing still. There were two bridges that crossed the creek. It was refreshing to know that I was in the wilderness. I honestly don't think I was awake at that point. My mind was more or less on autopilot. The sound of the water was really cool that morning.
"It's kinda pretty back there. Couple of bridges over the little creek I was chasing earlier. Its about 4:30. And the trees are kind peeling away so its kinda beautiful."
I reached tree line and the stars really opened up. It was amazing. I could also see the lights of Boulder and Denver. That was one of the few things that left a bad taste. I just kept looking up at that 3/4 moon. It was wonderful. The headlights showed the trail above as people were slogging along. I passed several groups here. All in all, I passed 15 groups and another dozen or so single hikers. It seemed to me like everyone was set for an Everest expedition with their snow gear and Gore-Tex. Many of them even had Leki poles too.
4:45am "Battle Group Turnoff. I passed the tree line about a quarter mile back. And the Diamond is in pretty clear view. Theres still Mount Lady Washington, I believe, right in front of it, but its coming into view. By the way note to self, sunrise at 12,000 feet, priceless."
This area seemed more like mountain desert than tundra. I could see in the moonlight several patches of snow in the small valley. The Diamond was mostly blocked by Mount Lady Washington. But I could see the Notch and Mount Meeker to the south of Long's. This portion of the trip seemed to take a whole five minutes.
Chasm Junction, 11,600 5:05am, 3.7 miles
"It's a little after 5am and I'm at the Chasm Cutoff. I guess the easy half is over. The Diamond is pretty big right now. Theres snow on a couple of ledges and I can see the glacier. Absolutely gorgeous up here. The Sunrise is just turning orange."
Soon, I found myself at the Chasm Lake turnoff. I stopped for my first water break. I checked the hand-sized map I had printed out. I had already covered 3.7 miles! The sun wasn't even up yet! The eastern sky was lighting up, but no sun yet. There were two girls with their mom chatting about lead leg versus weak leg. Some interesting conversation was happening as I gulped some Gatorade. They took off and I stood there for a second to rest. Well, it's only half of a mile to the next point, so let's get at it! I caught the trio and blew by in a hurry. I found a couple of streams that were trickling over the trail. The third one seemed rather organized and I stopped for a couple seconds to get a handful of some clean mountain water. It was nice and cold too! Tasted wonderful!
Granite Pass, 12,080 5:35am, 4.2 miles
"Have you ever seen a pink sun? Well, I have."
The cutoff came very quickly and I noticed the sun coming up. I whipped out my camera and snatched a photo. The sun was a bright pink. It was not describable. I got back to my pace and within a minute, I heard gasps and the next ten people lined up on the next switchback to take a picture! As I passed them, I said "THAT'S why I had to stop!"
As the sun came up, it seemed like people's chatter got louder. I tried to get away from them as fast as my pace would let me. But, yeah, I'd just run into more. The ground was mainly small bushes and rocks. It was surprisingly green. As the sun broke over the horizon, the golden rays really made things pretty against the green and gray. The trail was nasty here. It seemed like the trail had been dug out. In places, the trail is more like walking up a trough. The bottom of the trough being a good couple feet below the rest of the terrain. The glacier runoff spilled through the trail, making things just gross. About half of the time I wasn't even on the trail. I'd skip across the rocks on the side of the trail. The ground was so pretty.
The Boulder Field, 12,760 6:00am, 5.9 miles
"I've reached the boulder field. The sun is up and it looks like its gonna be hot today. The glacier is still pretty big comin' off Longs. SO gorgeous up here! Note to self: invest in Estes Park real estate. By the way, the Diamond is huge and its all lit up in those golden rays from the sun. Second thought, gorgeous is an insult to this place."
"6:10 to about 6:15. I'm in the middle of the boulder field. Theres a couple of solar-paneled stalls up here. They're just funny looking. Theres, I dunno, probably 30 or 40 people hangin' out. A dozen little tents in little random rock piles to shelter from the storms I assume. And I'm headin' up to the Keyhole. See you there."
As I popped over the hill, the boulder field came into view along with the Keyhole. To the left were some beautiful slabs with some snow at the bottom. To the far left, you could see the diamond. (See picture) Once into the boulder field, the trail all but disappeared. I came into an area that had been worked on by the Forest Service. There was a wooden triangle with rocks in it. Looked like a tiny corral. I thought that people might tie horses to it, but at this altitude? I certainly wouldn't want to bring a horse up here. I'd consider a dog, but the National Parks Service prohibits dogs on the trail.
There were roughly 40 people hanging around. Tents were sheltered in small areas with rocks piled up like small castles around them. There were two outhouses with solar panels on them. Weird-looking things. I guess they're called "Privy" for some reason. Anyone know? Anyway, speed racer and his girlfriend, who'd passed me earlier, were headed off to the bathrooms. I don't know if they'd summitted already or not. I chatted with this guy about hiking and the boy scouts for a second while getting some water.
I could see people heading up to the Keyhole. The boulders were tough on my knees. But the worst was yet to come. Boulder hopping is a joy to me. This was hard. There is no trail here. Period. You just look for the Cairn piles and an easy route up. As I approached the Keyhole, I finally saw what Septimus was talking about. There is a stone shelter just to the left. It talked about some mountaineer who was sailing and got dead. The other person tried to save them. I didn't feel like going in and sitting in the 4 feet of snow, so I continued the 20 feet to the Keyhole.
The Keyhole, 13,160 6:35am
"I stopped at the Keyhole to take some pictures. I hope they come out."
The Keyhole shows you one amazing view of the valley and mountains to the west. Storm Peak is in clear view. I was so awestruck that I couldn't find words to talk about it. There are several boulders that people can sit on. There were 6 or 8 people hanging out there in the sun. I looked out to the south and saw the bulls-eyes marking the easiest way. It was still early and it was all in the shade.
The "rock ledges" is really just some rough granite. Your path is really about 30 or 40 feet wide along the side of the mountain. You want to find solid footing. You also want to avoid kicking anything loose. If you were to "fall," you'd really only fall the length of your body to the ground. If you started tumbling, well, it'd be a rough day (700 to 1500 feet give or take down the slabs). The ledges continue for roughly .75 miles around the west and southwest sides of the mountain. It is also, by far, the prettiest view I enjoyed the whole trip.
"Its a little before 7am and Ive reached the Trough. Yellow pants boy really entertains me. Hes about halfway up the Trough right now. So, Ill see you at the top of the Trough."
Eventually, you reach the Trough. Now, I kept hearing 600 feet whenever I read about this trip. The Trough is NOT 600 feet LONG. It might be a 600 foot elevation gain, but don't even dream of walking down the block for 600 feet! This was, hands down, the worst part of the whole trip. I kept moving as I could, resting often. And by often I mean every 6 or 8 feet. About 400 feet from the top, I sat down. This was the only time I felt any sort of sickness. I felt slightly light-headed. I sat and thought about why that might be. I was guzzling Gatorade and water. Food! So, I had two cliff bars right there. I hadn't eaten since the single cliff bar in the car ride to the trail head. I sat for about five minutes and just chilled. I was passed for the second time, a few older guys that looked like they knew what they were doing. I stopped again a bit before the top and took those couple of pictures. Almost immediately, I started feeling better. Right below the top, there was a short technical section. Either go left and do a little odd bouldering or go right and layback/slab up about 10 feet with some small hand holds. I went right from being sick of boulder hopping. It felt good to do some easy climbing. It wasn't anything scary or hard, but it was relaxing. I had taken a solid 45 minutes to do the Trough. YUCK!! Note, yellow pants boy turned out to be yellow pants old lady.
"It's about 7:35am. Ive reached the top of the Trough and I'm entering the Narrows. I see the two rocks that are supposedly badly placed and *I dunno* it looks fine to me. Its kinda windy up there right at the top of the Trough. It seems like the air is flowing out of the western valley and funneling right up that tunnel."
At the top of the Trough, the wind was blowing a bit. I pulled up close to the rock on the left side, stepping out onto the narrows. Looking back down the trough, it felt so good to be done with it.
The "Narrows" is really just a continuation of the "rock ledges." There are about two short sections where your path is less than 3 or 4 feet wide. If you're scared of heights, you won't like it. When you top out on the Trough, you face a whole lot of air and exposure. If you look down, you'll be looking at about 800 to 2500 feet of slabs again. You most definitely don't want to fall, but the trail is, well... calling it easy might be giving it too much credit. The two "badly placed" boulders at the beginning are probably the worst of it. Past that, there's one move that I remember actually using my hands to pass over. The rest of it, you just use your hands for balance. The narrows traverse east and eventually ease back toward the summit. Once past a couple of large (dinner table sized) boulders, the path becomes extremely solid and smooth. I'm glad that I took good running shoes for this portion. It might be technically tougher than the Trough, but it is nowhere near as long. I bet the elevation change is less that 200 feet, but I could be wrong. Point being, it's not very long at all.
Near the beginning of the "Homestretch," look to the east and you'll see some gorgeous rocks. They look like an organ in a cathedral that has been there about 8,000 years and played by the same old lady for it's entire life. These are the Keyboard of the Winds and the picture I took doesn't do them justice.
The Summit, Longs Peak, 14,255 7:55am, 7.5 miles.
"7:55, SUMMIT!! I'm gonna make some phone calls and have some breakfast!"
When you see the sky meet the rocks, that is the summit. It's tough to imagine it, but after 4 hours and 15 minutes, I had reached my goal. The Summit!
People were hanging around, eating breakfast and taking naps. Other people were chatting and just enjoying the view. I tried to call Mom and Dad, but my cell wouldn't connect the calls. I also tried to call Kimie to see if she'd come pick me up at the trail head, but no go. Anyway, I laid down for a little nap, but it didn't come. About 20 minutes later, I packed up and had someone get a couple pictures. I also signed the piece of paper known as the log that everyone signs. 8:30am, I'm making like a baby.