Longs Peak Trip Report


Longs Peak was one of the hardest hikes that I’ve done in my life. For more information on Longs Peak, check out these links:

http://www.rockymountainhikingtrails.com/longs-peak-keyhole.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longs_Peak

https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/longspeak.htm

https://rootsrated.com/stories/10-thing-know-hiking-longs-peak

http://www.summitpost.org/longs-peak/150310

Summary: It’s a hike that tops out at 14,000(ish) feet (a Colorado 14er) and over 15 miles long (round trip). It has a 5,000+ foot elevation gain as well, mostly near the end. Due to the conditions, you are supposed to start the hike no later than 3 a.m. in the morning and summit before 2 p.m. at the absolute latest. (This is due to Colorado thunderstorms and just the overall length of the hike). The hike itself is very exposed, meaning that there are massive drop offs at some points and there is also a lot of snow and ice up there, no matter what time of the year you do it. The best time of the year is generally in late August, when the snow has melted. We were planning on doing the Keyhole, which is the easiest and most popular route to Longs Peak.

Preparation:

My girlfriend and I have done one previous 14er in the past, Grey’s Peak. It’s a very novice 14er in general and it’s one of the easier 14ers (though I actually was affected by the altitude). Other than that, we have done some tougher day hikes in the past (Yosemite Half dome, which is somewhat similar to Longs, statistically; at 15ish miles round trip and 4800 feet of elevation gain).

it was getting very late in the season (mid/late September) and we were very busy with a lot of traveling. We still wanted to do Longs Peak and we knew that this could be the last year that we could do it (if we were moving for Physician Assistant school next year). We decided to go for it and to do it if the weather was permitting. To prepare for Longs Peak, I read as much as I could (in regards to trip reports, weather and trail conditions, etc). I knew that physically, we were strong enough to do this and in these big hike attempts, it’s more of a mental issue of pushing yourself vs. being physically unable to complete it. We were in relatively good hiking shape and hiked all summer long (doing 5-11 mile hikes with varying degrees of elevation gain each weekend). As I continually checked the weather, I decided that we were going to go for it and gave myself 2 days to prepare.

I bought myself some micro crampons, basically some strap on mini ice boot bottoms for your tennis shoes. These were really important for the top of the hike. I also prepped all of our gear two nights before the hike because I knew that we had to wake up at 12:00 midnight to wake up, drive to the hike (1 hour 20 minutes away) and then start the hike by 2 a.m. I made us some breakfast burritos and some sandwiches and packed our water, crampons, food, and other gear (such as hiking poles).

Longs Peak Hike:

We woke up at 12 midnight after getting about 3 hours of sleep (going to bed at 7 p.m.). It’s pretty damn hard to go to bed at 7 p.m. if you’re used to going to bed around midnight, and I really struggled there. We drank some energy drinks and then loaded everything in the car and drove to the Longs Peak trailhead. Funnily enough, we blew past a speeding sign and we actually got pulled over on the way there by a cop (who the hell checks Estes Park speeding at 1 a.m. in the morning?). He let us go with a warning and we were on the trail by 2 A.M.

The first part of the hike was not too bad. It was a decent incline over a solid dirt trail and it was fairly easy to go up. We gained maybe 1,500 feet during this part and were making okay time in general. We both felt pretty good.

It was an extremely cool experience and this was one (of many) situations where I had a better camera. Hiking underneath the stars and the massive mountains in the background (still very visible in the night due to the snow peaks) was unique to me. We actually passed a few different people, many of whom were turning back around. They didn’t think they could complete the hike and were making the smart decision to turn around and try again (this was probably around 5 A.M.).

We continued to hike up along a rocky boulder field, where it was extremely hard to find the trail. This was our big mistake of the hike- we traveled for about 1 mile and gained about 500 feet in elevation when we started talking to a nearby hiker. He asked us what trail we were doing and we said “the Keyhole”, which is the most popular trail to get up Longs Peak. He shook his head and told us we were on the wrong trail and that we were going up the wrong way. Pissed off, we backtracked a mile and found the correct split off and were back on the trail.

By this time, the wind was really picking up and there were massive gusts that made it tough in some areas. We stopped to eat our food and huddled around some rocks to block the wind. We were getting a bit tired at this point and my girlfriend was extremely cold (we layered but were cooling down a bit due to the weather).

We continued to climb and we could see the peak in the distance:

And we finally made it to the Keyhole, which is the ‘start’ of the massive climb. Sadly enough, the Keyhole was just the real start of the big elevation gain. If you look closely at the bottom left of the keyhole, you’ll see a tiny hut, where we spent a good 20 minutes eating food, drinking water, and recouping. Many hikers actually turn around at this point and a high % of people do not complete the Longs Peak hike. Even though you have reached the Keyhole and are 6 miles through (1.5 miles to the top) and only another 1000 feet of elevation gain, this last part was far and away the hardest on the route.

We decided we wanted to continue on and started the hike through the backside of the mountain. This part was extremely exposed and there were massive drop offs and ice throughout the path. The trail was marked by some painted signs (the Colorado ‘C’).

I can’t emphasize how difficult this part was compared to the rest of it. We were really tired by this point. One nice thing about this section was that much of this was rock climbing and scrambling up the rocks. As somewhat experienced climbers, it was a bit nice to use your hands to help pull yourself up and also use other climbing techniques such as stemming (http://www.zionadventures.com/ZBlog/canyoneering/stemming-an-essential-canyoneering-technique/)

We got to the point where we were literally stopping every 25 feet. We would say “okay, let’s get to the next trail marker and take a quick break” and just continued to push on. In situations where you’re extremely tired and fatigued, I have found it best to just take it one step at a time and to finish your short term/intermediate goals and not think “Oh God, I have another 2 miles to finish and another 1000 feet of elevation gain”.

We reached the summit around 2 p.m., fairly late in the day.

The hike down was tough and our feet were aching bad near the end. All in all, it took us about 15 hours in total. We likely would have cut this down by at least 1.5 hours had we not gone the wrong direction previously. We drove home, ate a big pizza, and spent about a week recovering from the hike.

We were extremely proud that we were able to do this hike in general. My entire body ached and my knees were especially hurting. But as I said before, these hikes are far more mental than physical (in my experience), and forcing yourself to continue onward is the best thing you can do. Thanks for reading.

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