general trip reports

so… the longs peak story

(rewind to Wednesday 21st September)

I wake to the alarm at 1am, after a night of restless sleep and strange dreams. I pull on a pile of clothes, it’s feeling fairly warm though, and there’s no wind. “Doesn’t seeing rings around the moon mean bad weather is on the way?” Boer asks. The sky looks cloudy, not promising. We hike to the ranger station and fill out the log, then repeat Mondays easy trek through the trees. The moon is only a few days from being full, so it’s bright enough that our headlamps are unecessary. It gets darker and lighter as clouds pass infront of the waning moon though. We reach the stream in decent time and keep on trekking, winding up the side of a knoll. We take a break, then start heading up through boulders, zig-zagging up hill as the wind picks up. By the time we reach the boulder field proper, it’s nice and windy (by nice I mean unpleasantly cold, and gusting strongly enough to nearly blow me over). The sky is looking clearer at least though.

the boulder field

I see Orion bright over Longs Peak, with the waning full moon bright to the right of it. Here the trail finding is hardest, as we try and pick out the cairns and make our way up to the Keyhole (which doesn’t look like a keyhole at all). The ‘path’ becomes steep and scrambly, and very windy as we dive into the stone shelter next to the Keyhole. The sun is rising, pink sky is spreading over Boulder and Denver, and we can see the cloudy sky properly for the first time. Boer looks dubiously at clouds to the north of us – I say they’re not rainclouds…

“Then what are those things underneath them?”
“Um, they’re dangly bits… we’ll be fine.”

We contemplate our options, and how bad the wind will be, but decide to go through the Keyhole and see what conditions are like round there, while keeping an eye on the weather. I think it will hold. None of the clouds are in our area, and in the direction the weather is coming from it looks clear.

longs peak climbing views

Getting through the Keyhole is a struggle, as the wind is intense. Once we get round the corner though, it dies off to being manageable. After a few metres we realise it’s time to stash the trekking poles. The view down is gorgeous, to glacier ravaged valley, and we hop along the side of the mountain, following the red and yellow bullseyes marking our way, and avoiding plummeting into the valley. We reach the trench and start picking our way up through the loose rock. There’s snow lurking between some of the rocks. We reach the notch, and move around to the east side of the mountain, fighting the wind again. The wind stays strong as we move along the Narrows, with its steep drop off – but I’m having fun! Even if the strong gusts do make life interesting. The exposure really isn’t that bad. We reach the home stretch, and start making our way upward on the Grade 3 scramble. Boer is feeling a bit tired, but I’m really enjoying the climb, and am almost a bit disappointed when we reach the top – a boulder strewn plateau – at 8am.

longs peak summit

Photos are taken (and we have to weight Russell the Moose so he doesn’t blow away for his) and we eat and hang out for half an hour or so, before heading down. We reach the trough before meeting anyone else, then between there and the end of the boulder field meet another 14 people. Some very alarming, as they seem to know little about the mountain, or the weather. We hike down – my eyes are sore and dry, so much so that it hurts to have them open. We race down for a while as we’re getting closer to the campground, when we think we might make it back by 1pm. But it ends up being 1.13 when we reach the ranger station.

longs peak climbing views

In camp we cook pasta and sauce, crash in the tent for a few hours, before waking sticky and hungry, and drag ourselves into town, for eyedrops, and for dinner at Ed’s Cantina, where we are served by a manically chirpy waitress. Home, we crawl into bed and crash.

climbing general hiking trip reports

rewind – the colorado story

So, I’ll take a break from packing my bags for the trip back to Australia to give a rewind account of the Colorado adventure.

Flying into Colorado, we had some trouble adjusting to the fact it was flat. Really flat. All through Denver and Boulder, up until the point where it suddenly shot up to about 10,000 feet. We’d been hoping to climb the Third Flatiron that night, but we were tired, and weren’t sure about the descent, so we decided to eat lots of food and sleep instead.

the flatirons

As the moon was peeking above the horizon on the evening of Day Two, we were hiking up to the base of the Third Flatiron. By the time we started climbing the moon was hanging low above Boulder, looking enormous and red. The climb we did was the Standard East Face Route – 5.4R. Although the gear was a bit sparse, the belays all involved a single enormous eyebolt, that has probably been there since the days people were doing the route in top hats and crinoline frocks. Climbing by moonlight was amazing – headlights only needed to search for eyebolts, and the occasional foothold. And somehow, all 8 pitches and descent were completed without epic-ing. So we retired to spend another night in our van in the Walmart carpark (did I mention our rental car was upgraded to a van? Vans are the best roadtripping vehicles ever, why have I not done this before?).

Day Three took us to the Longs Peak campground, at 9000 feet or so, where we wandered part way up the trail towards Longs Peak. Day Four, and we decided to head out to Lumpy Ridge (outside of Estes Park) to do some climbing. This plan was going well until we’d hiked a couple of hundred metres towards the cliffs, realised how much further we had to go, and how much harder hauling all this gear around seemed at altitude. A quick change of plans, and the rest of the afternoon was spent bouldering and lazing around.

twin owls

Day Five brought the epic ascent of Longs Peak (14,261 feet), a story that will be told another day. Suffice to say, we got up the mountain. Day Six, and we drove out through Rocky Mountain National Park towards Leadville. Everything was ridiculously picturesque, and I became angered when I realised we were driving along a stretch of road that was pretty much half as high again as anywhere in Australia.

All throughout Colorado, there were patches of bright yellow aspen trees contrasting against the dark green of the fir trees.

aspen trees

Then after leaving Rocky Mountain NP, on our way to Leadville, we stop off at a town called Hot Sulphur Springs – and guess what?

hot sulphur springs

We stopped in Leadville for dinner, then took our trusty van out on the dirt track to the Mt Elbert trailhead.

colorado hay balse

Day Seven dawned, looking unpleasant and foggy. Eh, the mountain will still be there later in the day. We kept sleeping. Eventually we started out, finally break through the sea of clouds, and have the spectacular view of the surrounding 14ers. Several false summits later, and lots of snow, and we arrive at the summit of Mt Elbert, at 14,440 ft, the highest mountain in Colorado.

mt elbert

We are greeted by a hoard of ominous looking clouds, and scarper back down to the carpark, where we start heading back towards Boulder.

mount elbert views

Our final day in Colorado, and we head to Eldorado Canyon, just outside of Boulder. A lazy day, we climb two pitches of 5.6, a climb called Calypso. Then Boer dislodged an enormous boulder as we make our way down the descent, and we decide to call it a day. Time for more food.

climbing general

uploading photos in a public library takes many hours. enjoy.

Longs Peak by full moon, early in the morning.


Part way up the Longs Peak trail, checking things out for the ascent tonight/tomorrow morning.

general travel

haha, i’m in colorado

It’s a lot flatter than I expected. Climbed by moonlight last night. Nothing to see here, move along.