After hiking up 6 Fourteeners last year I wanted to do at least 1 this year. My friend had actually moved down to Texas and so I was on my own. I decided to pick a quite challenging mountain and ended up selecting Longs Peak. While not the highest of the Fourteeners, it definitely it is one of the more challenging ones.
I did not spend much time preparing. On Friday afternoon I printed out hiking instructions and a map. I used Google maps and my phone to get there. I packed my larger hiking backpack with the necessary stuff (rain jacket, headlight, Protein bars, a couple of bananas, camera, wipes, trash bag, gloves, etc.) and loaded the fridge with bottle water. I took some Melatonin at around 6.30 PM and I was in bed by 7.30 PM. The alarm woke me up at 11.45 PM and by 12.15 AM I was on the road. I had a 2 hour drive ahead of me.
After driving for about 20-30 minutes it started raining. That did not meet with my plan of hiking the Rockies. Wet rocks are slippery and make for dangerous conditions. It also keeps the temperatures low – which makes quite a difference when you are going to hike high up. Fortunately when I got closer to the trailhead area the rain had stopped and it was actually completely dry. After about 2 hours and 15 minutes of driving I reached the trailhead. I finished the final setup for my backpack, put on the headlight and started hiking. There were already quite a few people on the trail, but I quickly caught up with many of them.
The first part of the hike went through the forest. There was a small creek and it made for a lovely place to be at – even though it was dark. I was looking forward to see it during daylight on my way back. I kept on hiking and reach the timberline. I could see even more lights ahead of me in the distance while on my backside I saw the lights of the towns and cities at the Front Range. It looked quite impressive. I kept pushing forward and again caught up to quite a few people.
Slowly the daylight came and the dark scenery around me started taking on shape. I reached the Boulder Field area and hiking became more difficult. I reached the keyhole area around sunrise. The timing was perfect and the sun and some clouds made for dramatic light impressions. This alone was worth the time and distance I had already hiked.
I climbed up to the keyhole and then followed the marked trail. Trail? Well, it was not really a trail anymore. The markings lead the way in an overall direction, but that was about it. The terrain was difficult now. Very steep, very rocky, and partially a bit wet. I am probably wrong, but my guess would be that this section was 30% to 40% grade uphill and it was not a short stretch. It was hard work to keep on going and I had to take frequent stops to catch my breath, but I made it … or so I thought. The “trail” went a bit along a cliff and then another sharp turn to the left showed a second steep stretch. This time it was flat rock (30%-40% grade uphill) with just a few cracks – nothing compared to the section before which was loaded with boulders and smaller rocks. In addition the mountain was a bit wet on this last and final stretch. It felt like an eternity, but I made it up the top. I had more than one thought of how to safely make it back down again. Climbing up on hands and feet is one thing, but going doing down all 4 is something completely different. It took me a total of 4 hrs. and 25 minutes from the trailhead to the top of Longs Peak (14,259 feet high).
Up on top I took a longer break and enjoyed the moment. There were some other people and we chatted a little bit and helped each other to have pictures taken so that we had pictures that would show the moment of victory. It was bit windy and overcast while up there, but the weather seemed stable. I had concerns about getting caught in a thunderstorm because the weather forecast gave a chance of 20% for bad weather. After being up there for roughly an hour I started the descent.
Somehow I safely made it down the 2 difficult stretches. I was still full of energy, but I could tell my knees were paying the price a little bit. I kept on hiking and soon reached the keyhole and the Boulder Field area. Once I made it past the Boulder Field hiking became a bit easier. It was still early in the day and so the temperatures were just right. Earlier on the way up I actually had to put on gloves and a sweatshirt because of cold wind, but on the way back it was very nice.
After about 9 hours I reached the trailhead area and was happy to see my truck. I had some extra food left in the truck and took another break before driving home. I felt stoked. This was by far my most difficult hike so far. My phone showed a distance of about 16 miles total. Unfortunately the app that was keeping track of calories and altitude had died on me, so I did not have that information. Anyway, I really enjoyed this hike a lot. I was tired and happy!