- Mileage: 16 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 4,855 feet
- Altitude: 14,255 feet
- To get there: Take Highway 7 to the Long’s Peak Area of RMNP. Leave from the Long’s Peak trailhead.
Leaving from the Goblin’s Forest campsite at 1:34 a.m., we are the only five headlights bobbing along the Long’s Peak trail. Eventually, more catch up to us in the darkness and pass us. As we get above tree line, we can see the lights dotting the ridges ahead, guiding us forward. They are high above us, so much so that they could be mistaken for stars if we didn’t know better.
“We have to go way up there?” we are all saying.
We have a long ways to go.
Plodding along a trail in the dark never seemed appealing to me. Yet, here I am and I am loving it. We can see the Milky Way smeared across the sky above us. We can see the lights of the Front Range (how much electricity could we save if we turned all those off at 2:30 in the morning!?). It is dark so we can’t see how steep the trail is that we are walking on. And, perhaps my favorite thing, there is a batch of Columbines along the trail that are closed up and stretching east, just waiting for the sun to open them up.
We reach the Boulderfield with darkness still lingering and begin our last two miles
to the summit. It is not too steep yet and not many of the big rocks in the Boulderfield move underfoot, so we reach the top of it without many challenges. Now, we are at the Keyhole, a destination in itself. Past this point is where things get difficult, and we decide to wait for some light before continuing. As the sky turns bright pink and orange ahead of us, we are able to become better acquainted with our setting. East of the Keyhole we can see the hills of RMNP and the Front Range flatten out into sprawling Colorado plains. West of the Keyhole we can see down to Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, Black Lake, Blue Lake, Green Lake, Frozen Lake, and Shelf Lake. We can see the Never Summers, pastel blue and pink in the morning light, and a sea of clouds resting low over Grand Lake. Countless other mountains and ranges are jutting up from the land to the west, and I know there is no way I could ever name them all. With as far away as these mountains are, not even my RMNP map can tell me what they might be. They are mystery mountains.
With the growing light, we turn to head south from the Keyhole, across the Ledges. Here we are descending, which we are not excited about because it means we just have to ascend all that much more eventually. We are walking here on gravel and up and over and in between larger rocks, following the bulls eyes painted on the rocks to guide us.
Next is The Trough, where, to see the top, you have to tilt your head back almost as far as you would to see the sky. It’s steep. It’s probably the steepest thing I’ve ever looked at with the intention of getting to the top of. Here too we are climbing around, over, and in between some large rocks with the added challenge of moving rocks under our feet. I am not struggling though, and I decide it must be because I am moving so slowly that I have plenty of time to catch my breath with each step. Even though I’ve been hiking every week all summer, this is still the most physically demanding part of getting up Long’s Peak.
After scrambling clumsily up the last five feet of The Trough, we begin our stroll across the Narrows. When I thought of the Narrows before seeing them, I pictured myself there on the cliff-side clinging to rocks and maybe crying a bit. However, I may be more ‘Zen’ than I thought myself to be or I may be delirious from 4 hours of sleep, but I am calm on the cliff-side. The Narrows are, well, not very wide. At the widest point you might have a luxurious 4 –foot wide trail. But most of the time you are walking on a trail much thinner. So thin that looking back at the pictures I can’t see how we walked there. On the left of the Narrows, you have a rock face above you with many good handholds. On the right of the Narrows, you have a sheer rock face dropping off next you.
Finally, we are at the Homestretch. The rock is smooth here with many cracks for
hand and feet holds. There is a line of people navigating the free-climb and it is slow going. Parts of the granite are slick from last night’s rain and there are a couple of heart-pounding slips on the way up. I am admiring the spires to the southwest of us that bridge Long’s and Meeker Mountain.
“How did those get there?” I ask anyone who’s listening. “Did they just shoot out of the ground that way?” I am baffled by their jagged structure, standing freely between mounds of mountains.
In a passing fog, I step foot on top of my first 14er. It is surprisingly flat and lacking crowds. Peeking over the edge, I can see Chasm Lake below, twinkling in the sunlight like Christmas lights. I can still see all the mountains to the west, north, and south. They are all around us, some looming largely nearby and others counties away. Still, thick clouds hover over Grand Lake to the west and I marvel at their resemblance to the ocean. A marmot scampers by and a birthday girl in a silver-sequined dress and hot pink heels poses for pictures. With this, we settle on the rocks for a 7 a.m. lunch, a few moments of comfort before our difficult descent.
Hiking details from Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, A Falcon Guide by Kent and Donna Dannen.