Long's Peak Trip Report
Bill Neubert, 9/11/95
Monday, August 14, 1995
Brian McCary, Doug Van Cleve and I arrived at the trail head (9480 feet) at 10:30am. We adjusted our gear under the flagpole. A volunteer stopped by and gave us valuable advice: the Ledges are mostly clear of snow, stay to the left when climbing the Trough, go left or right of center to avoid snow in the Homestretch.
We started up the trail at 10:55am, which for us counts as an early start. We hiked along Alpine Creek until finally crossing it at the foot bridge (10,780 feet). Our packs were much heavier than usual because of the extra crampon and ice axes. Our intermittent hiking companions dropped off just before the Jim's Grove trail junction to sunbathe on a rock for the rest of the useable afternoon.
We arrived at the Chasm lake trail junction (11,550 feet) at 1:52. The view of the east face of Long's was fantastic, and the view north east was equally impressive: a massive thunderstorm was passing just to our north and another was starting just to the south. They were dark and turbid with heavy rain. The temperature suddenly dropped and the wind became strong, so we donned our rain gear and continued on to the Boulderfield. As we walked along the east slope of Mount Lady Washington, we had brief rain. Judging the weather along this stretch of trail is difficult because the mountains block the western view.
After reaching the base of Granite Pass (12,100 feet), we started the cursed switchbacks across and up high plain to the Boulderfield. The altitude and rocky trail combined with our heavy packs made it a particularly pleasant experience. The Boulderfield is a bizarre place, best described by Brian as "primitive". The ground drops away and trail becomes a series of boulder hops. Below the boulders you can hear rushes of invisible water from the snow fields. We finally arrived at 4:35. Eight rings of rocks with flat pressed sand bases mark the campsites at the base of the north face glaciers (12,700 feet). We found it humorous that the park service tells you to be sure to camp within the ring. How could you possibly sent a tent up anywhere else?
We ate an excellent cajun meal for supper, then raspberry cobbler for desert. Even though Brian spilled half of the topping on the rocks, Doug let him live. Doug must have been tired. The sun set early behind Storm Peak and the temperature dropped rapidly. We hit the tent at about 7:30 pm.
Tuesday, August 15
We woke up, ate breakfast, packed a day bag and started for the Keyhole at 7:15 am (unbelievable). None of us slept well, but, we felt plenty rested. The temperature dropped well below freezing overnight, but the sun was quickly warming things up.
The trail to the Keyhole is almost impossible to follow. However, the pass is easily visible from the entire Boulderfield and we had no difficulty in picking a route. The boulders grew larger as we approached and the rock jumping became tiresome. Within 30 minutes, we arrived at the stone shelter (very interesting) and finally up to the Keyhole (more interesting). As expected, the trail changed character drastically at that point. Beyond the Keyhole (13,140 feet), the temperatures dropped another 10 degrees and the wind became strong. Even this late in the season, lakes in Glacier Gorge still had ice over them. Brian noticed a strange turbulent but stationary shadow pattern on the far ridge, which we thought must be from a stationary cloud at the peak.
We followed the red and yellow bull's eyes along the ledges almost to the Trough until we hit a snow field. We crossed using ice axes, and descended into the dreaded Trough. We climbed up the left edge to within 200 feet of the top of the snow field before we were stopped. The entire ascent to this point was class three and required careful attention. We were above 13,000 feet and easily exhausted. To finish, we put on our crampons and climbed up the snow field to a series of boulders in a notch at the top of the Trough. Climbing over the boulders was challenging for me, but Doug and Brian didn't seem to have any trouble. As we passed through then notch, we went from the west face to the south face of Long's and onto the Narrows. The view was unbelievable and the weather was perfect, but the exposure was a bit daunting. We carefully worked our way east to the homestretch, which was relatively easy with one or two scrambles.
I had read several books on Long's Peak and studied the topographic maps. But, nothing had prepared me for the Homestretch (13,980 - 14,250 feet). The name evokes images of an easy trot to the summit. I stood at the base of the Homestreatch with disbelief; 300 feet of steep, smooth rock with a tongue of snow down the middle. Our helpful bull's eye patterns disappeared. "I don't like this stuff at all" I kept saying to myself, and indeed I didn't like it. After a brief rest, some water and food, I noticed Doug was already racing up the snow field. Doug is extremely strong with lots of experience, but he was now above 14,000 feet and climbing fast. By the time I yelled to him to take is easy, he reached the top.
I distrusted the snow field, so I stayed over to the extreme right side where I could grab onto a rock if necessary. Things were looking much better. Brian started up just below and to my left. After I made another 10 feet, I heard a yell from Brian. I sunk my axe in and turned to see that he had lost his footing. While sliding down the snow field, he sunk in his axe just in time, but dislocated his shoulder. With his good hand, he popped it back in and continued climbing. I felt alternately sickened and very lucky.
At Doug's suggestion, I gave up on the rocks and went up the ice field for the last 100 feet. We popped over the top and reached the broad flat boulder summit (14,255 feet) at 10:35am. The weather was clear and we could see past the front range down into the Colorado plains. To the south, we could see the San Isabel summits. Brian's shoulder was starting to worry us, so we started down early.
Doug or I stayed just ahead of Brian and the other behind. By now his shoulder must have been in extreme pain, but somehow he managed his way to the top of the trough without any assistance. Doug descended first and planned a route which Brian could follow using only his right hand. People were now at all points in the Trough and its snow field. Most of them turned back if they didn't have an ice axe. After considerable effort, we were all at the base, heading along the Ledges again. It was a great relief for me because I knew Brian would have no trouble getting back to camp from here.
We arrived back in the Boulderfield at 2:15 pm, ate anything that looked like food, took a power nap and started for the trail head at 3:30. I offered to let Doug to carry Brian's pack, but Brian refused all offers of help. Doug's recent knee surgery was becoming extremely painful anyway. After a pounding 6 mile decent, we arrived at the Ranger Station at 7:00 pm. We certainly did not set any speed records, but I felt good that we had accomplished the goal and had a great time.