A Hike to Remember...But Never Do Again
Happy September and almost Fall y'all! I know that it still gets hot as hell in the afternoons all over the country. Denver experienced record highs over the holiday weekend. Because it feels amazing here in the mornings, and because I'm over the heat, I'm going to sip my pumpkin coffees and pretend like it's Fall, because I'm so freaking ready for it. Fall is my favorite. If you hate me for it, that's cool with me!
Is anyone else super off-routine after the holiday weekend? Man, I love some extra time off, but this week has been totally screwed from the beginning, and I keep forgetting what day it is. I think we just need to fast forward to the weekend and reset again! I guess it could also be the brain fog from the 15 miles we did on Monday. Who freaking knows?? Here is an accurate representation of my life following that hike of death:
I have been super nervous to hike Longs Peak since Shawn first told me about it a few weeks ago. There are websites that will rate hikes based on their difficulty levels on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most technically challenging. The Decalibron hike we did 2 weekends ago was a class 2, and it was SO hard. Longs is listed as a class 3, AND it is a 15 mile round trip hike. That is rough. Not to mention the pictures online of the different elements that you have to get through were daunting. Some of the slopes look like they go literally straight up. In full transparency, I googled "deaths on Longs Peak this year" before we went. People legit DIE on this mountain every year.
Because I'm an awesome wife, and Shawn was adamant that we complete this hike before we leave Colorado, I reluctantly agreed to make the trip with him. Since conditions looked good for Sunday night into Monday morning, we decided that that would be the safest, most desirable time to hike. We set our alarms for 11:30PM so that we could leave by midnight, packed our bags full of water and snacks, and went to sleep by 5PM. **The other reasons for this crazy early hike are that afternoon thunderstorms tend to roll in around 2pm, so, ideally, you want to be off the mountain by then, so that you don't get struck by lightning. Also, this mountain gets pretty crowded starting around 3am. You want to get there before then to avoid traffic coming down the mountain. It's not fun to continuously have to move out of peoples' way or get out of the way for others to pass you.
I slept like shit that night. It was one of those nights where I could not, for the life of me, shut my brain off. I was thinking about falling off the side of a mountain, being so tired when I left that I wouldn't be able to hike all 15 miles, getting stuck at the top because I was too afraid to come back down, and every other negative scenario that could possibly happen. My alarm went off at 11:30, and I felt like I hadn't slept a bit.
The drive to the mountain was a complete blur. It was super dark out, so I couldn't really enjoy the views like I normally do on the way, and I was still so nervous to be going hiking in the middle of the night, at a mountain that I didn't know, and probably wasn't prepared for. I tried my best to keep my mind off of the challenges I was about to face and focus more on taking things one step at a time. In some ways, it felt so similar to how I have felt in the past going into a CrossFit competition: nervous, anxious, did I do enough to prepare? Guess we'll find out!
We arrived at the trailhead parking lot around 1:45, got all of our gear together, lit up our headlamps, used the bathroom, and stumbled around in the dark to find the actual beginning of the trail for several minutes, before finally getting started around 2:05AM. When I say we were hiking in the dark, I mean pitch freaking black. Shawn turned my headlamp off at one point and I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. It was nuts. The hiking in the dark thing was actually pretty cool. Aside from the fact that it was the middle of the night and I fully believed I should still be sleeping, those headlamps work wonders. Such a tiny light provides so much illumination. It was exhilerating.
We hiked in the forest for a good hour or so, and I couldn't even tell you what anything looked like other than the ground right in front of me. I definitely saw a ton of spiders and a couple of mice, and I knew there was some kind of stream, maybe a waterfall, because we had to cross a bridge and I could hear it.
It made it somewhat exciting, because even though it was an out and back trail, it would be totally different on the way back, because we'd actually be able to see everything. Thankfully, it was surprisingly warm, with little wind, when we started the hike, so I didn't feel like I was going to freeze to death like last time. I even had to strip off my jacket and gloves within the first 30 minutes. I cannot imagine having to do this hike in the conditions that we experienced at the Decalibron. Dealing with 50mph winds on a 15 mile hike? No thank you.
The first 5.5 miles or so was a pretty basic hike, mainly at a steady incline, but nothing too serious. The coolest part of hiking this early was that we got to experience the most beautiful sunrise as we reached the start of the more technical features of the hike, starting with the boulder field:
Thank God it was still pretty dark when we initially got to the boulder field, because it looks WAY more daunting in the sunlight. You couldn't tell how absolutely massive it was before the sun was all the way up. It would have been so much more intimidating if I had known going in. We finished the boulder field around 6am, and begun the climb up to the "keyhole."
The keyhole climb is the first bit of "climbing" you have to do because there are points where you have to use your hands to get up and over some of the larger rocks, but it wasn't too difficult. The difficult point is when you get there and feel the winds coming through the gaps in the rock. It was FREEZING! It's quite the change from the warmth you feel throughout the hike leading in. We took that opportunity to stop and put our warmer gear on to protect ourselves from the wind chill. Here's the view from the keyhole:
...and we still had so much further to go.
The next element of the climb is called "the ledges." Much like it sounds, you have to walk across a pretty narrow rock ledge on the side of a steep cliff. My whole mantra for the day on the mountain was: "Don't look down."
It honestly kept the fear at bay the majority of the time. There was only one point where I was truly scared for my life here, and, luckily, a super friendly fellow climber behind me assisted me through the climbing of a super slick rock face that I felt like I couldn't climb up without slipping. He also kept telling me how great I was doing, and I loved him for it. He was such a sweetheart. He's definitely got good Karma coming his way. By the way, there were many times when I was NOT doing great, and actually looked extremely unathletic. We managed though.
We reached "the trough" close to 7am. This part of the climb SUCKED. It felt never-ending at times. It just feels like you climb and climb and climb and still have so far left to go.
Also, if it weren't for the bullseyes telling you where to climb to, I would have been so screwed. This part was tough. The second time I felt like I wasn't going to make it happened near the end of the trough where there were two different ways to climb up, and both seemed impossible to me. Shawn literally had to give me his knee to use as a step so I could LODGE myself in between two rocks and shimmy my way up to the top of a large boulder. I am pretty sure this is where I skinned up my knees pretty good, through my pants!
We probably took 15 breaks on the way up the trough, because you would climb several feet up the rocks, and suddenly feel super dizzy and out of breath. That altitude really gets to you up there. After what felt like a billion years, we finally reached the top of the trough, only to see we had SO much further to go, haha. That was another theme of this hike: turn a corner, and there's MORE. Turn another corner, AND THERE'S MORE! It went on like that for what felt like ages. At 7:45 we still had this much elevation left to climb:
I wanted to vomit. Next up was "the narrows."
The narrows were honestly not that bad, maybe because I was so sick of climbing that it felt nice to walk for a second, or maybe because I thought that the narrows were going to be much more narrow. Even though it did get pretty narrow at points, my "don't look down" mindset carried me through! I also stayed so close to the inside, that I never felt like I was too close to the edge and in danger of falling. If someone ever needed to pass me, they were either going around me to the outside, or over me. I ain't trying to die today! I now feel like an expert at squeezing through tight spaces, as I would do anything to stay away from those edges.
Even at this point in the hike, the views were breathtaking. It was hard to really take it all in, since we were becoming exhausted at this point, but it was a pretty incredible hike.
The final element we had to traverse was "the homestretch." I was so ready to be done at this point, I tried to stop as little as possible. That part was tough, because it is pretty darn steep going up that final bit of elevation, and the rocks get slick at points. It was hard to get traction on some of the rock faces, and there were quite a few times where my heart dropped into my stomach, because my foot would slip down a rock and I'd have to use all my upper body strength to catch myself on one of the rock holds. I jammed my knees and ankles into several boulders and crevices on the way up this sucker. The words of encouragement from those coming down and the "you're almost theres," got me through the homestretch.
We stepped onto Longs Peak summit right around 8:30am. Because it truly felt like lunchtime at that point, and we freaking earned it, we chowed down on some sandwiches and took some time to relax.
I was deathly afraid to climb back down. The other down climbs we have done have been miserable with all the loose rock and scree. Even though we hadn't dealt with a ton of scree on the way up, I didn't know how I was going to do everything I had just done in reverse, while being forced to look down. Because I was fully ready to get the heck off this damn mountain, and get back to my pup and my bed, I saddled up and got started.
Truthfully, it was WAY easier than I imagined it would be. There were definitely some slick points, and some parts where I felt out of control, but I quickly realized that I could sit down and slide across some of the rocks on my butt, and it was SO much easier that way. Athletic? Maybe not. Smart? Hell yes. I'm currently alive and typing up a debrief of the hike, so I'd say my methods of sliding down the mountain worked out just fine.
Climbing up from the keyhole to the summit took us 2.5 hours. Climbing back down to the keyhole only took us an hour and a half. It was spectacular.
Here's another vantage point from the middle of the boulder field, looking up at Longs Peak in the daylight. I still can't believe we climbed that shit.
The unfortunate thing while coming back, is that now you can very clearly see everything that lies ahead of you, and it feels like it's going to take a lifetime to get through. Also, at this point, your legs are basically useless. Every part of my body was so taxed from the climb up, that I felt like I was going to collapse at any moment. Going through the boulder field in reverse was true misery. With noodles for legs, I almost broke my ankle about 12 times from missteps or the inability to stabilize on a loose rock.
By the time we made it through the rocks, I was about ready to kiss the ground. It felt amazing to walk on plain dirt again! The only shitty thing was that we knew we still had 5 miles left to go, even if it was straight up downhill walking. The only saving grace of this part was that it was pretty awesome to view the forest during the daytime. It really ended up feeling like a totally different hike, and it was so beautiful to walk through.
We finally reached the parking lot at 1:20pm, a solid 11 hours and 15 minutes after beginning (my watch must have paused at some point). Some other stats: we started at 9,400ft of elevation and climbed to 14,259ft of elevation- almost 5,000ft of elevation gain! My watch also read over 35,000 steps when we finished. I was so happy to be back at the truck I almost cried. I think that even Shawn was a little shocked at what we had to go through to make it through this hike. The pictures online just do not do it justice. I also believe that we are both taking an extended break from any class 3 climbs, and definitely NEVER doing this particular hike again. Check that one off the bucket list!
All-in-all, I am super proud of myself for facing my fear of climbing, as well as all the unknowns on this hike. A friend of mine texted me before we attempted Longs, and told me that her coworker, who had completed Longs, told her there was a point in this hike that you had to make a jump across a canyon, and if you didn't make it, you could fall to your death. Um, what? I took a chance on that, and hoped that jump didn't actually exist, and luckily it didn't. So let's all take a moment to be thankful that I didn't have to attempt a jump in order to live! I'm stoked to be alive, only a little banged up and sore, and feeling very accomplished after completing a DAMN hard hike/climb.
I think we'll be sticking to some easier hikes for the last few weeks we're here. We are thinking about taking Tucker to do his first 14er on one of the class 1s this weekend. It should be a good time. We also have our 5th anniversary coming up this Friday! Time freaking flies. I guess I'm excited to keep doing life with this guy. If nothing else, he keeps me on my toes...
Just kidding, I like him a lot. He's definitely a keeper. I'll be back with some nutrition and fitness stuff tomorrow and Friday, so stay tuned, friends! Until next time, do something outside your comfort zone! You just might surprise yourself!