Friday, April 6, 2012

Longs Peak Hike/Run

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I was running too much and need to get my hiking legs ready for the races I have coming up.  Well, there's nothing like being forced to bang out a few 75 min/miles to wake up the hiking legs!

That's what was in store when I joined up with Joe Z for a hike up Longs Peak last Saturday.  The earliest I've ever hit the summit of a 14er was late June.  To hike one in March is unfathomable to me, unless this particular March happens to be the driest one in history!

I read earlier in the week that the Longs Keyhole route was virtually snow-free above treeline.  With all my ladies out of town for Spring Break, I grabbed the opportunity to tackle this beast of a mountain.

Joe & I started from the trailhead at 6:10am and made good progress on the snow packed trails in the trees.  It was almost all snow, but nothing that microspikes couldn't handle and even ran a few stretches.  Once we got above the trees, we continued to cruise at a steady pace until we hit the Boulder Field and the fun really began.

When you get to the top of a ridge, this scene comes into view.

As you plod through the Boulder Field, you keep your aim on the Keyhole.

Looking back on the Boulder Field.  There's actually a trail about halfway through all that rocky mess.
At this point, Joe & I took our first break at the Keyhole shelter.  As I was approaching it, I heard this thundering waterfall.  I don't ever remember reading about a waterfall, but it was unmistakable.  Unless the wind is so strong whipping through the Keyhole that the sound effect is just the same.

We put on every piece of clothing we brought as the temps were hovering around the freezing mark and the sun didn't seem to be helping much as it frequently hid behind the clouds.  Sure enough, we got blasted on the other side of the Keyhole...but not for long!  It was strange.  At some points, the wind was forceful and sustained.  At others, it simply disappeared and we had long stretches of stillness.  No complaints then!

On to the Ledges...

Despite what this pictures shows, the snow on the Ledges was very manageable.

The Ledges came and went quickly, and we were soon looking up at the Trough.  This was my first "WHOA!" moment of the day.  We were already at over 13,000 feet and staring at a climb that went straight up.

That is a long, long way UP.

The effort needed to get up the Trough was huge.  This is where those 75 minute miles came into play.  Climbing on all fours with loose footing and a touch of snow and ice mixed in.  I never felt once that we wouldn't make it, but I confessed in my mind that I had underestimated the challenge of Longs.

Welcome to Class III climbing!

The Narrows.  While the exposure is great, it was a welcome change from the Trough and a rest before the Homestretch.

The Homestretch is no slouch of a climb!  The silver lining?  No loose rock!

We arrived at the summit in just over three hours.  There was no one there.  More importantly, the wind wasn't there!  It was quiet and glorious.  We sat and ate and soaked in the spectacular views.  After a few pictures, I ran from east to west on the football field of boulders that is the summit of Longs.  Not sure why, but it's fun to know I did.

The dorkiest-looking person on the mountain!

Joe standing on the official marker.
There's not much to say about the descent other than it was long and tiring.  The Trough kicked my butt again.  I kicked loose a volleyball-sized rock that tumbled down.  I yelled "Rock!" to Joe and he in turn yelled down to two hikers coming up.  Crazy.  I can easily see why helmets would have been a very smart idea on that stretch.

After passing through the Boulder Field, we began to run.  It was still quite technical trail above tree line, but the running made it pass by as quick as we could make it.  Then came the snow-packed trails that were softening up with the rising temps.  If you ran down the exact center of the trail (about 6" wide, you would have no problem staying on top.  But of course, I had a few epic postholes as stepped just off to one side.  On two occasions, I thought my leg might just rip off as my momentum kept my body moving forward while my leg lodged into 2-3' of snow.

We got back to the trailhead around 12:20pm.  Not a bad way to spend six hours on a Saturday!  I've been trying to check this peak of my list for years and it felt so good to do just that when I got home.

After a day or two passed, the fatigue really hit me.  So many body parts were sore!  I took two full days off from running this week and can't wait to see how this hike will be absorbed.


  1. Nice job! Longs is still one of my favorite 14ers out of 30+, simply because of the terrain variety and the dramatic trail on the west side.

    If you haven't run to Chasm Lake (i.e. going straight where you took a right to go up to the Boulder Field) -- do it. Great blue-green alpine lake with a small meadow and a creek below it. Beware of the short but sloped snow field this time of year.

    Not much snow up there. Wow. I was looking at Longs today at lunch thinking exactly that!

  2. Hard to believe how little snow there is up high (way high). Looks like a great day out there.

  3. Thanks for the tip on Chasm Lake mtnrunner2! I was looking down on the lake from the summit thinking it would be a real nice destination hike/run. Hopefully it won't take me so long to get back up there.

    Jim - this rapidly diminishing snow pack means sweet trail running for us this spring and early summer....that is if the mountains aren't all on fire by then!

  4. Thanks for another great post! I wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your blog and always look forward to the next posting. The Longs run sounds great - I've hiked it before but never thought of it for a run before - I'll have to rethink it!

  5. Thanks for the feedback Ben. I'm glad to hear you enjoy reading about my escapades. I wish I had exciting things to write more regularly, but most of my running would be quite boring to read about. Longs is definitely runnable to a point. I was going quite slow on the descent because my legs were spent and I really didn't want to fall.

    Nick Clark attempted a FKT on Longs two summers ago. He made it up and down in around 3:41. That is simply astounding. Crazy thing is he didn't break the FKT!