Final Challenge: Longs Peak Summit
Monday, July 21
For most of the summer, we lived in the shadow of Longs Peak, one of Colorado's most recognizable 14,000 foot mountains. During the last few days of the project, we decided to meet this towering beast head on.
Reports said the peak was stilled filled with too much snow to make a non-technical ascent possible (an abundance of snow means you need crampons and ice axes, which makes such an endeavor more dangerous and certainly more challenging).
But then we found out the Keyhole Route was clear. So the hike was on.
One Final Challenge for the Project
We decided that the entire project would hike the mountain together, as one final challenge for the staff members and students.
The mountain is no gimme. The Keyhole Route, which is one of the most popular hikes in Colorado, covers 15 miles and nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
Plus, the threat of afternoon thunderstorms means retreating from the high elevations before noon is not just a good idea, but mandatory.
Splitting into 3 different hiking groups (medium, fast, faster) we staggered our departure: 1:45, 2:45 and 3:30 a.m.
Singing in Goblin Forest
It was still dark as we hit the trail at 3:31 am, our footsteps illuminated by headlamps, as we strolled through the first part of the hike, called the Goblin Forest.
Hiking methodically, we began singing songs to keep us awake but soon found this difficult as the steep trail and brisk pace had me fighting for oxygen.
There were a total of 12 hikers in our group, and within 30 minutes, we caught up to one of the other groups. After a bit of chatting, we leaned down to 9 people -- 5 staff and 4 students (the others switched groups).
The reason we were hiking at such a clip was because we wanted to have a shot at reaching the summit -- the sooner we got up and the sooner we got down, the safer we would be.
Emerging from the Treeline
After 5 a.m., we emerged from treeline in time to see the horizon beginning to light up, as well as the dome-shaped summit of Longs in the distance -- which looked far, far away. By the time we reached a boulder field about 4 miles into the hike, we turned behind us to see the crimson sun mounting the horizon.
We took several pictures, capturing our silhouetted figures, clad in mountain apparel -- jackets and hiking boots.
By 7 a.m., we reached the Keyhole, a large formations of rocks that form a gateway of sorts, into the upper reaches of the mountain. From here, the going would be getting much tougher (experience taught me this, as I hiked Longs last summer).
Following several spray-painted bulls eyes on the rocks, we wove around the backside of the mountain, springing from rock to rock. Then the hiking got much harder, going up and up for nearly 1,000 vertical feet.
A Different Kind of Stair Climbing Machine
This particular section is called the Trough, and feels like your stuck on a stair climbing machine, except that the machine is at more than 13,000 feet, and the stairs sometimes wobble or have loose pebbles on them. Kind of sketchy.
After huffing slowly through this section, we made it to a place called "The Narrows," which like the name implies, is much more long than wide. In most places, the trail is about 3 feet wide, with a considerable drop on the side, though an abundance of hand holds make the traverse pretty secure.
From there we reached the Homestretch, and within 30 minutes we made it to the top. The time was about 8:45, meaning it had taken us about 5 hours and 15 minutes to reach the top -- a good time for such a peak.
Of course, we did still have to make it back down as well.
Enjoying the Summit
The summit is surprisingly anti-climatic, considering it is as big as a football field, but we were grateful to be there, soaking in the views of Rocky Mountain National Park and beyond.
Even though I had hiked Longs the previous summer, I really enjoyed hiking it with the staff members and students, which by now had become like family, considering how much time we spent around each other the last few weeks.
We were able to hike down safely, and avoid any thunderstorms or other missteps. Some other staff members also made it to the top of the mountain later that day.
Over all, I was really proud of how well the project did. We had 13 people make it to the summit, and everyone -- all 35 of us -- made it to the Keyhole (even one staff member who is in her 60s), which is no easy feat.
A few days later, the project ended. We bid our farewells and parted our many ways.
The Longs Peak hike was one of many highlights from the summer and I was really excited to see the students and staff members take on this challenge. It was a good way to end the project.