My 3rd successful summit of Longs Peak is in the bag!
Before I give you the details, let me take you back a little: My first summit was in August of 2003. I was 13 years old, and it was actually my second attempt. The previous year I made it to the bottom of the homestretch and turned around. I had the worst nerves and threw up at the trail head that morning and was miserable the entire climb. Despite making it like 95% of the way to the summit, I just couldn’t go any further. I was completely depleted. It haunted me for a year, so the following summer I completed my first summit. It was the first time it really solidified my interest in climbing Everest in the future.
My second summit was in 2011. I was in the throws of recovering from an eating disorder and working through major depression and anxiety. I had been in a dark place for a long time and had completely lost my passion for climbing in the midst of my mental illness. Summiting Longs again with a friend of mine was the perfect way to rekindle that fire as I was working on my recovery.
Now here I am, 8 years later, growing and chasing my dreams! I went to EBC last year, I climbed Kilimanjaro a week ago and I come home and lead a few friends up Longs Peak only days after returning! So, without further ado, here is a little synopsis of my most recent summit!
We had some weather in the forecast for today so we started at 2am. We made it to the boulderfield before sunrise and began climbing up the rocks to the keyhole as the sun rose. We were moving quickly but slowed to a crawl as we navigated the boulders and the trail moved from a class 1 to a class 2.
As we crossed over to the other side of the keyhole and began navigating the ledges, taking our time to navigate, and help my friends through the rocks as the route became a class 3.
Next came the dreaded trough. I hit a mental wall at the bottom of the trough. A combination of jet lag and still recovering form Kili made me realize how much I did not want to climb up the trough once I came up to it. It has always been my least favorite part of the climb. It is a slow exhausting crawl up to the narrows. But it just comes one step and climb at a time. This winter was one of the snowiest and so there was still a decent amount of snow in the trough. It was off most of the route, however the very top of the trough had snow on route and we had to climb around it. Once that was navigated, we climb the last final 15′ rock up and out to the narrows.
A sense of relief for me as we popped out into the narrows, and a sense of panic as my friends saw the exposed view. low clouds began to build and I knew we had to be quick. We carefully climbed through the narrows and made it to the base of the homestretch in no time.
Some crowds navigating up and down the most technical part of the the climb slowed us down. We pushed to try to keep moving to the summit as we were now in a race with building clouds. There were patches of wet spots of recently melted snow, but before we knew it we were on top at 14,259′!
Our time on the summit was short. As soon as we started back down the homestretch we actually started to get a sprinkle of snow. It made the rocks slippery and slowed us down as we cautiously made out way down the homestretch. I will say this was the scariest Longs Peak decent I have ever had out of the number of times I’ve been on this mountain. The wet slippery decent continued into the trough as the mountain became enclosed in the clouds. Exhaustion definitely set in as we made it to the bottom of the trough and began to traverse the ledges back to the keyhole. Relief hit us as the keyhole came into view. After much needed snack break, the sun came out and we descended from the keyhole to the boulderfield. Back on class 1 trail, we cruised back down to the trail head. We lucked out and didn’t get the heavy rain, hail and thunderstorm until we were about 10 minutes from the bottom.
Our total time was about 12 hours and it was definitely the slowest I have ever climbed Longs. I definitely attribute that to the slippery slick conditions on our way down. If you EVER decide to climb Longs, start early, know your limits, NEVER go off route, check the weather conditions, and re-evaluate them constantly. As soon as it started raining/snowing up top, people were turning around despite being so close to the summit which was the smart thing to do. The mountain will always be there, you can always come back. We witnessed a helicopter rescue of a 15 year old that slid about 300′ down the loft on the other side. Good news revealed later that he was OK and somehow managed no broken bones, but it shows you how sketchy the conditions became as soon as those rocks got slick. My friends asked me to lead because of my experience on the mountain and my experience with class 3 climbing. If you have never been class 3 climbing before you NEED to go with someone who has experience with that kind of technicality and exposure. And of course, NEVER climb alone.
Despite my words of caution, Longs is a classic. It is my favorite peak in the world for a number of reasons. Don’t let the exposure scare you out of trying to do it, just make sure you are 100% prepared and know the risks. Longs may be one of the most famous of the Colorado Fourteeners and is definitely one for the books!