Sunday, August 28, 2011

Longs Peak - Attempt

I made a summit attempt of mighty Longs Peak on August 20th with my mother. We hit the trail at 2am, but I quickly found that it was hard to hike slow enough to stay with my her. After a mile or so, I told her I would meet her at the Keyhole. I then quickened my pace, and made good time going around Mount Lady Washington and across the Boulder Field. I reached the Keyhole at sunrise...and then the wait began. It took my mom 3 hours to catch up...in the meantime, I talked with several hikers who took the customary break at the Keyhole, and then went on to finish the climb. In hindsight, I should have gone to the top and then come back down to meet my mom. Instead, I sat there shivering slightly, muscles tightening up, and momentum slowly slipping away. By the time my mom arrived (close to 9-10am), I was beginning to question whether my weather window had passed by. In addition, given my mothers slow pace reaching the Keyhole, she realized that reaching the summit probably wasn't going to happen...she decided to turn around. However, I wanted to push on and told her I would meet her on the way down.

So off I went...first traversing the Ledges, which are comprised of large slabs of rock above Glacier Gorge. There are a few interesting scrambles that have to be tackled, including a short climb over a rock outcrop which is mildly exposed to the Gorge below, and also a 50-degree pitch up a 20 foot crack. After putting these challenges behind me, the Trough laid ahead. This section is a very steep gully that ascends about 600 feet to the ridge that connects Longs Peak and Pagoda Mountain. It is not technically challenging, but does wear down your legs, and can be dangerous due to loose rock (which you can either slip on, or be struck by if climbers above dislodge a rock). A short scramble past a large chockstone is required at the top of the Trough. As I prepared to climb over this feature, I looked back across the horizon and noticed cumulus beginning to tower around Longs Peak. Realizing that I still had several crux sections to ascend and then descend once again, and also taking into account my dwindling energy reserve, I came to the conclusion that I should probably turn around instead of trying to quicken my pace ahead of the impending storm development. I made it to 13,800 feet, 400 feet shy of the summit. There was a persistent sense of failure lurking in the back of my mind as I went back down. However, as I got past the Boulder Field and rounded Lady Washington, I looked back on Longs Peak and saw a large dark towering cumulus above the mountain...I felt better knowing that my instincts turned out to be correct.