Just over a month ago, I, and 6 of my friends, embarked upon a journey. A journey of modestly epic proportions. A journey that many have done before, but none of those people were us. We were going to hike Long’s Peak.
We had all traveled to Estes Park to celebrate, our friends, Rob and Julie’s wedding, and after the wedding, we took a week to enjoy Colorado. During the week leading up to our hike, we had been discussing whether or not we would attempt Long’s Peak. If you don’t know about Long’s Peak, it is the only fourteener (where the summit is above 14,000 ft above sea level) in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ll let wikipedia describe the Keyhole route for you.
The hike from the trailhead to the summit is 8 miles (13 km) each way. Most hikers begin before dawn in order to reach the summit and return below the tree line before frequent afternoon thunderstorms bring a risk of lightning strikes. The most difficult portion of the hike begins at the Boulder Field, 6.4 miles (10 km) into the hike. After scrambling over the boulders, hikers reach the Keyhole at 6.7 miles (10.5 km).
The following quarter of a mile involves a scramble along narrow ledges, many of which may have nearly sheer cliffs of 1,000 feet (305 m) or more just off the edge. The next portion of the hike includes climbing over 600 vertical feet (183 m) up the Trough before reaching the most exposed section of the hike, the Narrows. Just beyond the Narrows, the Notch signifies the beginning of the Homestretch, a steep climb to the football field-sized, flat summit. It is possible to camp out overnight in the Boulder Field (permit required) which makes for a less arduous two day hike, although this is fairly exposed to the elements. 57 people have died climbing or hiking Longs Peak. According to the National Park Service, 2 people, on average, die every year attempting to climb the mountain. In the summer of 2005 a Japanese climber was blown off a ledge after reaching the summit. On September 3, 2006 a man fell 800 feet (244 m) to his death when some rocks let go while he was descending the Loft route. Less experienced mountaineers are encouraged to use a guide for this summit to mitigate risk and increase the probability of a summit.
CAUTION! ACHTUNG, BABY! This is a very photo heavy post. Click at your own risk. There are dozens of photos in this post, so those on a 56k modem should probably join us in the 21st century and get some hi-speed internet! (j/k but, you know, seriously, it might take a while to load.)