What started as a mild curiosity turned into a fascination, and then, a goal: Long's Peak. It's got a catchy name, it sounds distant and imposing, and it is. It's tall, it's beautiful, it's scary looking at times, and get this: Brenda & I summited the damned thing this past Tuesday.
Standing 14,255 feet tall, Long's Peak is the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park and a very popular destination for hikers, but it's not the easiest "fourteener" to summit. Every recent year, some 15,000 people attempt to make the summit and about 9,000 succeed. Usually weather is the culprit for failed summit attempts, but many simply turn back after reaching one of the five obstacles that await the hapless hiker after six or so miles of hiking; places called The Boulder Field, The Ledges, The Trough, The Narrows, and The Homestretch. I should have realized that if a little patch of trail gets its own friggin' name, then it's probably got something to it.
This all started when Brenda & I were buying our home in Boulder, CO, and we and our home inspector got to talking about Colorado in general and hiking in particular. "Oh yeah, you'll love it out here," he said… "the hiking is great; you'll have to go up to Estes Park and hike in Rocky Mountain National Park… a big one is Long's Peak; the views are great and it's a great hike… because of the afternoon thunderstorms you have to be off the mountain early in the day… most people start early (I'm still thinking 6:00AM is early) so they start at two or three in the morning, with headlamps... the views are incredible…" -- Headlamps?!? These people hike in the dark? What the hell is wrong with these people? Where in the hell have we moved to, I thought. I looked for pods in our garage, but didn't find any.
Well, let me tell ya what's happened. Since that day, Brenda & I have moved into our little condo in Boulder and have started hiking the many local trails that are within miles of our home, some leading to peaks that afford views of the Rocky Mountains that are simply breathtaking. I mean it; these views are fucking breathtaking. Like, you go "holy shit" when you look, and then think to yourself that not only is this an amazing thing to see, but that you've got yourself to this amazing place.
Green Mountain, Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak followed in short order after moving here. Our eyes turned westward, toward the higher peaks; as luck would have it our friends Bryce and Leslie were into the hiking scene too. Talk of doing Long's started while Brenda was down in Santa Fe; Leslie had done it last year and was ready for another attempt this year, and regaled me with tales of the hike while we did Bear Peak a couple months ago (this was the same hike where I sniffed a tree, which Bryce counted as a personal triumph and remains a bit of material worthy of a blog post, but I digress).
And so it was with motivation from two friends and my own stupid fascination with the peak of Long's that Brenda & I began to train for the higher altitudes, with the goal of summiting on Long's Peak this week. First, we did St. Vrain's Mountain, then we did Mount Audubon. Lastly Brenda & I did Mount Elbert together, the highest mountain in Colorado. I thought we were prepared. We were, sorta.
See, the problem is the word "exposure", and maybe the term "Class 3 climbing". You read in the books and on the websites that Long's "can be dangerous", and that "there is exposure" on the hike. Let me clarify these terms for you all, in the best New Yorkey way I can:
"can be dangerous" means: IS fucking dangerous.
"exposure" means: you can die on this section, easily; bad fucking luck is all you need.
"Class 3 climbing" means: you will be clutching little fucking chinks in the rock, clawing your sad ass to a safer place, cursing motherfucking gravity and all the previous goddamned authors of a Long's Peak ascent the whole fucking time.
This was hard, and not because I had to camp again for the first time in 14 years (it still sucks ass, despite the advances in sleeping bags and the advent of Thermarests). It was hard because it was still far (we camped at Goblin's Forest campground, a mile or so from the trailhead, but still miles and miles and miles from the summit), and it held untold surprises, despite all the stories I had heard leading up to the hike.
A step-by-step account is in order, but for now it is time to go to bed, sorry.