Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park - Longs Peak

A before-the-crack-of-dawn assault on the northern-most Front Range fourteener, Longs Peak. 

Time: 4:32
Distance: 14 miles
Effort: Moderate
Body: Good
Weather: Sunny & Warm

The stars definitely aligned for this run. Brandon was considering a run up Longs Peak and I was camping in Rocky Mountain National Park and planning an early Sunday morning run. Around 7 p.m. Saturday night, the plan was set. Meet at the Longs Peak Trailhead at 4:15 a.m. and go for a run.

Longs Peak from a viewpoint along Highway 7 

I'd been up Longs once before, perhaps 10 years ago. A friend, Becca, and I hiked it one sunny October day in a year when the snows were way late. We started mid-morning, around 10 a.m. and finished the hike in the dark, mercifully coming across a pair of hikers that had the good sense to bring headlamps. We weren't so smart. And, as I recall, it was hard.

Fast forward a decade and Brandon and I are signing in at the trail register and heading up the trail in the dark (with headlamps) with plans to hit the summit in 2.5 hours and, for me, to be back at camp in time for a late breakfast. 

Brandon led off, setting a steady pace up through the forest with his new, super-bright headlamp illuminating the rocky and water bar-laden trail ahead. We passed several groups of not-terribly-friendly hikers (was it the early hour? Was it my stinky hat?) as we made our way up and out of the trees into the sub-alpine zone. As the trees disappeared below us and the sun began to crack the eastern sky, the hikers we passed got friendlier, which was a good thing because we were passing a .surprising number of hikers. These people had to have started their hikes before 3 a.m. That's way more impressive than running up a trail!

We soon hit the Chasm Lake junction and started cruising up the long, flattish sections bound for the Granite Pass trail junction. I was feeling really good this morning. Everything was clicking. Legs felt good,. The altitude was a non-factor.

Through this section, I took my turn leading the run about the time the sun began illuminating the sheer face of Longs. I gapped Brandon a bit in this section as he slowed to document the scenery and the morning in pictures and video. This was just as well as I managed to trip and hit the dirt, bloodying my elbow and hands and scrapping my left leg. No major damage, but I was happy to have this happen out of sight of other people.

We regrouped at Granite Pass and made quick, steady work of the switchbacks leading up to the Boulderfield.  On the approach to the Boulderfield, we came across Paul Smith, who was out training for Leadville, fresh off an impressive finish at Hardrock.

After a quick break at the privy here, Brandon and I set off on the slog up to the keyhole, where a phalanx of people were hanging out marveling at the views, the majesty and the accomplishment of getting this far. After a brief pause for the same, we made our way over to the Trough for the haul up to the Narrows.

At the Keyhole on a bluebird sky day.

Heading over to the trough just past the Keyhole

The Trough was tough. Looking up, it just looks hard...steep...rocky and daunting. Once in it, it's not so bad. The distance shrinks quickly with each step. Before we knew it, we are standing at the entrance to the Narrows. I remember thinking here how easy it would be for some altitude-affected person to lose their equilibrium here and take a fatal tumble.

Fortunately, we didn't have any such problems as we made our way to the last climb to the summit - the Homestretch.

Marching up the Homestretch

Via a series of cracks in the rock, we finished off the climb, meeting at the lip of the precipice and ran the last 30 meters over to the highpoint on the huge, rock-strewn and flat summit.

A few people called over to us inquiring about our ascent time and were suitably impressed with our 2:27 run/climb. Although tempted to point out that there are many folks that climb this mountain way faster than that, we kept our mouths shut and congratulated others on the accomplishment that is climbing this mountain.

The Summiteers

After 15 minutes or so on the summit and some more good conversation with Paul, we headed back down the way we came. The return down to the Boulderfield was uneventful, save for getting to hear a woman at the Keyhole marveling at the fact her cell phone had full bars! She called her mom. "Guess where I am!" Sigh.

Met a really nice FoCo runner just below the Keyhole. Forgot his name, but he knew from Brandon's blog that a run was in the works on the mountain today. 

By the end of the Boulderfield, Brandon and I were both very ready to run again. Even though it was only around 9 a.m., the sun was up and it was warming fast. I was glad we started this run so early. It was looking to be a hot one.

Down in the trees, about 1.5 miles above the finish, we came across Kraig out for a run. Learned later that Homie (whom I've yet to meet) also was on Longs a bit later this day. Definitely a small world.

Got back to the campsite just after 10 a.m., just in time to pack things up and head into Estes Park for some lunch while JP hiked up to the beautiful Odessa Lake from the Fern Lake Trailhead.  Another great weekend in the mountains.

Read Brandon's excellent write-up, complete with pics and video here.

Elevation gain: 5,542 feet.

Most of the pics courtesy of Mr. Fuller.

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