Longs Peak

3 Sep 2002 - by Rolf Asphaug

Eleven years ago I went up Longs on Labor Day, and I felt like an ant on an anthill -- thousands of fellow ants in front of and behind me. This past weekend my brother-in-law and I enjoyed the Keyhole Route on the day AFTER Labor Day, and that made all the difference. We camped at the backcountry Boulderfield Campground at 12,750' with only one other party. The next day, a Tuesday, we had long stretches where we saw few if any other hikers even though the morning weather was superb (the sky clouded up in the afternoon). The moral: Like many other popular fourteeners, do this peak on a weekday if you're doing it in the summer via the easiest route.

My only other comment is on the lack of preparation and equipment of many people doing this hike. The worst situation we saw was after we'd eaten dinner and were enjoying a wee bit of whiskey, when a woman approached our tent waving a $20 bill. We asked, "Can we help you?" and she responded, "Do you have any extra water? I'll pay." We noticed that her equipment consisted of one 32-ounce water bottle. No pack. She had big old Norwegian-welt "waffle stomper" boots, jeans, a cotton t-shirt, and a cotton sweatshirt. No shell jacket, no gloves, no hat, no nothing. She also had no flashlight.

"I got a little lost," she said, while we were giving her water (and refusing her money). "How far is it back to the trailhead?" We lied and said it was five miles, not the actual six -- didn't want to get her too discouraged. She refused our offer of food, but reluctantly accepted one of our flashlights. She managed to find the trail (a real trail of sorts starts at the Boulderfield campground), and stumbled on home. Lucky for her the weather that night was excellent.

The next day our flashlight was at our car -- we'd given her the license plate. The battery was dead; I hope she didn't have to walk too far in complete darkness.

The next worst thing I saw was a ten-year-old kid curled up in the fetal position next to his dad, between the Narrows and the Homestretch, utterly drained by fear, exhaustion and anxiety. I tell you, it borders on child abuse to take most kids that young on a climb that long and that exposed.

Despite the guidebooks' warnings and the Park Service's signs warning that Longs -- even via the Keyhole -- is a more serious and committing undertaking than many fourteeners, a lot of people still don't seem to get the message.

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