Long's Peak - RMNP, August 25, 1998

* This report contains several images that may take a few minutes to load, *
please read on while waiting...


Saturday, August 22 - I arrived at Owen’s house about 4:45 am. We loaded his stuff, then hooked up his sub-woofer and were on the road at 5:13. He proceeded to run the wires to power the GPS, sub-woofer, and computer while we were en route. We were in the Rodeo.

We were headed for Estes Park, Colorado for our fourth time. This trip was a little different though, as we had no backpack camping planned, and really only one goal in mind, the summit of Long’s Peak - 14,255 feet, the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park.

After about 16 hours of driving, we stopped in Hays, Kansas at 9:30 and spent the night in the Super 8 Motel.

sunflr.jpg (39466 bytes)

A sunflower enjoys the Kansas sunshine

trlhed.jpg (31995 bytes)

Hittin' the trail at 1:28 am (Ron - L, Owen - R)

alpnglo1.jpg (42967 bytes)

Long's Peak in alpenglow as viewed from The Boulderfield
(The Keyhole is just visible at the end of the light on the right)

kyhole.jpg (34928 bytes)

The Keyhole... Notice the small stone shelter on the left

glacgrg.jpg (47665 bytes)

Standing in The Keyhole, Glacier Gorge in the background

trough.jpg (49975 bytes)

Looking down The Trough from about halfway

narws.jpg (44809 bytes)

Looking back at The Narrows (dots show approximate path)

hearse.jpg (19261 bytes)

The Black Hearse

hmstrch.jpg (48521 bytes)

The Homestretch (dots show approximate path)

lngsumt.jpg (25995 bytes)

Finally, we gain the summit - 14,255 feet

usgs14255.jpg (42721 bytes)

It's official!


Sunday, August 23 - We left Hays at 8:20 am headed for Estes Park. About 40 miles east of the Colorado boarder, we passed a field of sunflowers and stopped to photograph them. They were really pretty in the morning sun and we got some good shots.

  We arrived in Estes park at 2:30 local time. We got settled in to our cabin at the Telemark Resort and then went in to town to get a new watch battery for Owen’s altimeter watch and a new toothbrush for me. While there we had dinner at Poppy’s.

We came back to the cabin and took some digital photos with Owen’s camera to send in an e-mail that evening. We had a lot of trouble getting a good enough connection but were finally successful. This was fun to do throughout this trip, send back pictures at the end of the day.


Monday, August 24 - This morning we first visited the Park Headquarters and I talked with a ranger about climbing Long’s to see if there was any late news we needed to know. He said there should be no problems and wished us well.

Now we would drive the Fall River Road up to the Alpine Visitor’s Center and then return via the Trail Ridge Road. It was a nice enough drive but nothing really new or different than our usual drive. We didn’t see much wildlife this time except a few elk up around the visitor’s center. We stopped and picked up a sandwich for lunch from Blimpie’s on our way back in.

As usual, it was Mama Rose’s for dinner, around 4:30, then back to the cabin to try to shut down early, around 6:45,  and get a little sleep before getting up at midnight.


Tuesday, August 25 - The watch alarms went off at midnight. I think I had finally gotten a couple of hours’ sleep. I got up and dressed, then sat down and had a Boost and a couple of my wife Suzie’s peanut butter balls for breakfast.

We climbed into the Rodeo and headed toward the Long’s Peak Ranger Station. It was cool enough that I turned on the heater in the car.

Upon arrival, we changed into our boots and readied our gear for the long hike ahead. Of course, we sat up and took some photos and video at the trailhead, then finally started hiking. After about 10 or 15 steps, I remembered I had left my copy of the map in the car. As I turned to go get it, Owen remembered he had left the GPS on the roof of the car! We retrieved them and officially started up the trail at 1:28 am. We were the first ones starting for the summit that morning.

We adopted a slow pace and hiked about an hour before taking our first break. We sat on some rocks and looked at the stars and drank some water. Neither of us was saying much or felt like saying much. It was a little depressing going so slow in the dark with so far to go, we just followed the circle of light cast by our headlights and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  But, at least the skies were clear and the stars were really pretty. Being just a couple of days past new, there was no moon at all. We took a couple more very short breaks, one for me to put some fresh lithium batteries in my headlight.

We took our next major break at the Chasm Lake trail junction. While there, we were joined by two other men on their way up Long’s as well. They sat and talked for several minutes before heading off just before Owen and me. Also at this break, I noticed that if I turned my light off for a few minutes, mice would come and climb around on my pack. I tried to catch them on video, but they would scurry away at soon as the lights came back on.

We continued on in our slow pace and were passed by several other hikers. By the time we were nearing The Boulderfield it was light enough to hike without the headlights on. We progressed on into the Boulderfield and stopped for a break just as the sun was about to rise. There was a good view of the east face of Long’s so I thought I’d make a video entry while we were stopped. I opened with a shot of "The Diamond", the east face of the mountain, and then did a 360° pan. As I panned back to the mountain, I noticed it now was illuminated with the pinkish-orange light of alpenglow. It was quite beautiful and after shooting a few seconds of video, I grabbed my 35mm and began to photograph it. Owen of course was already at work taking pictures. It was really very pretty and we were in an excellent position to photograph it, a true case of being in the right place at the right time.

We moved on, passing The Boulderfield campsite where there were three or four tents set up and a few people stirring around preparing breakfast. We decided to move farther still before taking a break and eating something ourselves. I ate one of my peanut butter and Karo syrup bagels and some chicken jerky while Owen gnawed on a Powerbar.

Our immediate goal and next stop was The Keyhole. Upon arriving there I, along with everyone else, was awestruck with the view overlooking Glacier Gorge. I took a few photos and made another video entry as Owen joined me. We spent several minutes here before heading on across The Ledges toward The Trough. It was now just after nine o’clock and there were already a few rain showers visible in the distance. This prompted some people to decide they had come far enough and a few turned back. One person passed by returning from the summit and commented that it would still take two hours from here. I thought that seemed too long but I would eventually learn otherwise. Also, here’s where some of the class three climbing started, so it was time to stow the hiking poles that had been such a help thus far.

Somewhere along The Ledges, I got ahead of Owen. I think I was being urged on by the clouds and relative close proximity to the summit. The last time I remember seeing him was shortly after I had started up The Trough, I recognized his figure near the bottom.

The Trough was without question the most physically demanding section of the climb. Besides being steep and 600 yards long, the loose rocks and boulders offer precarious footing at best and add to the difficulty in making forward progress. But nevertheless, after much huffing, puffing and even some pressure breathing, I found myself at the top. Here was another tremendous view and I had to stop and take some more photos and video. (As well as catch my breath.) Now I could see The Narrows, a section about which I had been curious.

The Narrows ended up being not nearly as bad as it looks. Certainly one would not want to make a misstep or loose his footing, but the ledge was wide enough for comfortable passage in most places. It was actually one of the more interesting sections of the trail. At the end, I remembered something the ranger had told me and looked down into the valley to see a large dark rock shaped like an old hearse, "The Black Hearse" as it is aptly named.

Around another corner and onto The Homestretch. At last I could actually see the end of the trail. A sparse line of people ascended ahead of me and I began to make my way upward. The rocks were pretty smooth and I remember hoping they would not be wet when we started down. I would take five or six steps, then stop and catch my breath, then a few more steps and another breather. The angle was pretty steep but the footing was secure. Finally, I neared he summit. When I was about 6 or 8 steps away, I broke out the video camera and videoed myself reaching the top. It was 10:48. There were about 20 people or so on the summit when I arrived, with maybe another 20 or 30 coming and going during our stay.

I picked out a large boulder and dropped my pack and other gear onto it. I walked around a few minutes enjoying the views, then sat up the tripod and took a couple of summit photos. Next I dug Owen’s phone out of my pack and called Suz, she was surprised. I then tried to raise Owen on the FRS radio just in case he had decided to turn back and thought to switch his on - no answer. I hoped that meant that he was still coming.

I decided I’d sit down and eat something so I carried my food over by where the trail tops out and picked out a comfortable rock. In a few minutes I recognized Owen down there among some other folks. I ate and watched as he made his way on up. As he neared the top, I videoed him reaching the summit as well. It was 11:33.

After giving him some time to catch his breath, we made some more summit photos and then called Skip (a friend of ours back in Birmingham). We then signed the summit register and began to pack up for the long trip back. As I paused to make one last video entry to officially record the time I left the summit, I noticed I was the only person up there. That was kinda neat. But by now we had a few nasty looking clouds around and it was time for me to go, it was 12:33.

As we entered the top of The Trough, it started to shower graupel on us, then that changed to rain mixed with sleet. Before we were out of The Trough, the rocks had become wet and slippery. We were following behind a man and his son from New Jersey. Somewhere shortly after exiting The Trough, the man slipped and sprained his knee. He couldn’t bend it or put much weight on it. That made the going through The Ledges extremely slow. There were no other people around and I hated to just go off and leave them so we hung back and stayed with them all the way to The Keyhole. It took 3 hours to cover the distance of less than a mile there. All the while it continued to rain, but we were lucky there was no lightening, and the rain was not heavy.

Upon reaching The Keyhole, the man commented "If I could just splint my leg, I think I could make it alright". I found an old walking stick there about the length and diameter of a broom handle. We went into the Agnes Vaille shelter to see what we could do. I used the saw on my Swiss Army knife and cut the stick into thirds. Then, with medical tape from my first aid kit, the man taped the sections of stick to his leg. I then gave him some aspirin to help with the pain and maybe swelling. After a few minutes, they started on their way down.

Owen had found a container of sterno in the shelter along with a pack of matches. He took out his lighter but it would not light for some reason. He then tried to light it with the matches but they must have been damp as none would strike. Our hands were cold from the thin gloves we were wearing getting wet during the rain, and from holding onto the wet rocks. I couldn’t believe I had gone off with no source of fire with me. Then I remembered a book of matches in my first aid kit. After a couple of attempts, we had the sterno going. The heat felt good on our cold fingers.

I ate some more and then we started on our way down. Fortunately, the weather had now cleared and was very nice.

Somewhere between Granite Pass and the Chasm Lake trail junction, we came upon a group of ptarmigan. We stopped to photograph and video them. As we started to move again, I noticed "the crippled man" and his son on the trail behind us.

At the Chasm Lake trail junction, we sat down for another break. We were getting pretty tired by now. I remembered when we were here once before, it had taken us about 2 hours to get back to the trailhead from this point. It was now after 6:30 pm. We then realized we’d be hiking out in the dark. We trudged on.

We both were complaining of sore shoulders and "hot spots" on our feet, but there was nothing to do except keep walking. With the light almost gone, we finally came upon a sign that said "Long’s Peak Ranger Station 0.5 miles". I was glad to see it. But, that seemed it would never end and I commented to Owen that it must be in the Guinness book for the world’s longest half mile. He concurred.

Finally we reached the trailhead and I signed us out of the register. I had estimated a return time of 4:30. It was 8:28, exactly 19 hours after we had started out that morning.

We went to the Rodeo and began changing out of our boots and such. I noticed a ranger come out of the station and say something to someone on a radio. He then came over to us and asked how things had gone for us, what time we’d left and if we made the summit. He congratulated us on making it and as he turned and started back to the station, Owen reminded me and I mentioned "the crippled man" to him. He already knew about him but became very interested when I told him we had seen them coming down behind us below The Boulderfield. He asked that we come into the station and give him some more information. It seems he had just sent up two rangers to rescue the man. They thought he was still at The Boulderfield and they were going to have to do a full-blown horse rescue the next day. He was glad to hear that he was further down the trail and moving under his own power. He took my name, address and phone number and I showed him on the map approximately where and when we had last seen the man. It was kinda neat being part of a rescue report.

Well, on top of being exhausted, we were also starving. We stopped at the A & W Restaurant and got some chicken strips to go and headed back to the cabin. We ate and then went to bed. It was shortly after 10:00 pm.


Wednesday, August 26 - I slept until 9:30 this morning. Boy it felt good. Now, a day later, the climb didn’t seem quite as hard, until I bent my legs and felt the pain from the places rubbed raw by my knee braces, or stood up to walk and felt how sore my calf muscles were, or started up some steps and felt the pull in my thighs. Originally there was another hike planned for this day, but it was quickly forgotten and we spent the day relaxing and recovering. We walked around in the field next to the cabin and took some more pictures, including a digital shot of an elk skeleton I had run across out there. I lamented forgetting to bring my stunt kite along, as the field would have been an excellent place to fly and there was usually a good breeze blowing.

By the end of the day we were feeling much better and less sore. We headed into town that evening and visited a few shops, then ate supper at The Cowboy Café. We had the broiled trout, it was delicious.

In Retrospect

We spent a lot of time photographing and videoing during the climb so our day was longer than usual for this trip. However, I'm sure it didn't help that we live around 500 feet above sea level and spent no time acclimatizing. If you're thinking about climbing Long's Peak, I recommend it. There is enough challenge to keep it interesting and to offer a sense of accomplishment after completion. It is a fun climb, just be ready for a long day!

Round trip distance - 15 miles   Elevation gain from trailhead - 4,850 feet

For even more photos from this climb, visit Owen's Place

Home Page         Rainier Page        Photo Gallery        Trip Reports         Rockets        Quotes

Copyright © Ron Burkett 1998 All rights reserved