I knew the challenges of climbing Longs with the delayed spring conditions and heavy snowpack. I came to Colorado with my ice axe and crampons as well as the appropriate clothes and outerwear for a relatively light and fast trip to the top. I did Andrew's Glacier (great hike) as a warm up and to scout conditions on May 23, 2010. I checked out of my downtown Denver hotel about 2:00 AM. After spending my days and nights eating really well and drinking plenty of Colorado's fine beers, that part didn't come that easily. I then drove straight to Longs Peak trailhead, geared up and was quickly ready to hit the trail. The parking lot was all but empty which somewhat surprised me based on reading numerous trip reports. It was 34 degrees with a full moon as I signed in at the trail registry at 4:00 AM and started up the trail.
I was nervous and excited but full of energy as I made my way up via headlight. I was in snow, hard packed and icy, almost immediately. I put the crampons on to get better grip and they certainly helped my progress. The sun came up quickly and I was able to turn off my headlight at 5:10 AM. It was a beautiful morning. I easily progressed up past Goblins Forest, above treeline and reached the trail split to Chasm Lake. I went through a short section of trail below Chasm Lake that snow-free but it soon became difficult to follow the trail much above treeline. Although I basically knew where I need to go, my progress seemed relatively slow. I still had the mountain to myself until I reached Boulderfield where I saw a tent pitched from the night before. It was here that I picked up some fresh bootprints in the snow. I climbed up the snowfield past the climbers hut and through the Keyhole where I knew the real climb would begin.
Shortly before reaching the trough, I came up on 3 climbers from California that had camped at Boulderfield. More importantly, these were the guys that had been kicking in the steps that simultaneously served to mark my route and facilitate the climb. They were great guys that I preceded to follow about half way up the trough. At that point it was almost 10:00 AM. With the conditions slowing my progress up the mountain and considering that I had a 7:05 PM flight back home that evening, I knew I needed to start moving more quickly. Subconsciously I had already decided that I would go for the summit and just miss my evening flight if need be. I pushed up through the trough and across some narrow and rather precipitous traverses defined by snow, minimal ice and some exposed rock. It was actually the rocky sections that I found the most difficult but this was mostly attributable to the fact that I stayed in the crampons and they made for sketchy footing on the rock.
I finally knew I had it when I saw the final steep pitch up to the summit. As I came up over the top and strided across the summit of Longs Peak toward the registry stashed in a PVC cylinder tucked away in a rock cairn, I felt a sensation of pride and relief. To have it all to myself on a beautiful May morning was much more than I could have imagined. There was very little wind at the top and I would have been content to stay quite awhile. I signed the register, snapped a few pictures that don't begin to do the mountain justice (really not worth posting here) and started back down towards the Keyhole at 11:00 AM.
The trip down was fast and relatively uneventful. What surprised me most was just not seeing anyone else on the mountain. I was back at Boulderfield at 12:20 PM where I shed some layers as the sun was shining and it was warming up quickly. I stopped again to filter some snow melt water, but covered the next few miles below Boulderfield pretty quickly. I did get into some soft snow and post-holed down to my crotch numerous times above Chasm Lake. The last mile+ above treeline was the worst conditions I encountered as the sun and warm temps continued to soften up the snow. When I got back onto the real trail in the shaded protection of the trees, the snow again became hard-packed and my progress hastened. I finished and signed out at 2:40 PM. My round-trip time was 10:40 which I was pleased with given the conditions. I then easily made my flight back home to Georgia.
This was a fantastic trip for me. I'll be back soon to Rocky Mountain National Park.
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