Monday, September 03, 2007

The Longest Day, Part III

Way above it all

yet more Tuesday, Aug 21

The top of Longs Peak is pretty flat, and roughly the size of a football field. One boulder sticks up about 4' higher than the rest of the top, and that's where the USGS marker is. I stood on top, and a couple of guys who had just climbed up the diamond face(!) using climbing gear offered to take my picture. That's the way it is. Everybody is more than willing to help anybody else out, and favors are gladly returned. I took their picture as well.

It was nice to have something besides my cell phone camera this time, as opposed to my Elbert climb last fall.

One thing about this whole trip did -- the whole vacation and especially my climbing experience, was to help restore some of my wavering faith in people. That I'm right, there are still a significant number of decent people with priorities beyond the whole in-your-face cultural attitude epitomized by most hip-hop, or the brooding self-absorbtion of a lot of the counter-culture I see, or just the blatant self-absorbtion of the Paris Hilton/Brittany Spears junkies. I saw people genuinely taking care not to litter, even to the point of quietly cleaning up after others, taking care to make sure others were alright. Offering encouragement and assistance, and courtesy and all the things that make mankind noble and good. Not only were they concerned with each other's physical well-being, they were taking care not to spoil anyone else's experience. Even in the campsites. You miss that following the news or popular TV reality shows or reading the newspaper. At least the people who come out here to do this still have a good part of that inside them.

I started at 2:15 am, and got to the top of the homestretch, essentially the summit, about 9 hours and 10 minutes later, at least an hour longer than typical. I knew it would take me longer than your typical avid climber, especially since I planned on taking a substantial number of photographs. That being said, I didn't take nearly as many as I might have. I had to rest a lot, and the going in general was slower due to the lack of oxygen.

Part of this is because I had only been "at altitude" (which I consider to be 8,000+ ft) since Saturday evening... two days and two and a half nights. Part of it was the decision to carry camera equipment and extra water (since I wasn't sure exactly where and if water would be available)... and part of it was my knee.

Speaking of the knee, it was about the same at the top. The Ace bandage was coming off, and I decided it wasn't making much difference. I eventually took it off and put it in my pocket so I wouldn't lose it. First, though, I noted the names on the register of the folks who lent it to me. They said they were staying down at the Longs Campground in site #2.

The wind was relatively light compared to my Mt Elbert experience. It was sunny, and probably about 50 degress. That was a good thing. I needed to rest, and I needed to eat. I don't think I took enough high-energy food with me, and I wasn't eating enough of it along the way because of that. I ate the celebratory Mountain Goat bar (basically a health-food peanut-butter/oatmeal "brownie". It was "ok" tasting.) I ate more trail mix, more cranberries, and the what was left of the jerky, and drank water. I emptied my first hydration bladder at the top. 3 qts down, two to go. But I did have my water filter.

I signed the register and took a 360 degree video from the top. The immediate area above 12,000 feet or so was clear, but below that it was hazy from forest fires in western Colorado and Wyoming, so the view wasn't all that one might hope. But it was still spectacular (I know, I keep using that word but I can't think of a more fitting one).

I talked a bit with the two Diamond Face climbers. They asked if I came the Keyhole route, and I said "yes". They said "oh, you took the long way, then." They talked about the Loft Route, which I had read about. I had taken the Keyhole route because it is the only one that's ever rated non-technical (after the snow and ice is gone, and if it's not too windy). I asked what was technical about the Loft route -- what the difference was, and they mentioned a long scramble over a bunch of loose rock. Which sounded a lot like the trough to me. Then they said there was a ledge that led up to the trough. My guess is that to two people who just scaled the diamond face, they might consider a much more treacherous route to be a good enough "ledge" than I would. Still, it might be worth checking out. If it requires ropes and a knowledge of rock climbing, it's out as far as I'm concerned.

My GPS said that I had covered 9.48 miles, which surprised me since I had read it was 8. Maybe I zig-zaged over the boulders more than some, and perhaps did a bit of backtracking on the ledges... plus I had walked a bit on the top. Still, that shouldn't make ~1.5 miles difference.

I also calibrated my altimeter watch, which was a good 80 feet off (not surprising since it really just goes on barometric pressure changes from the last calibration) -- to the official height of the mountain, 12,255 feet. Of course, I had to take a picture of that, too. I'm a geek, what can I say?

I walked toward the edge of the top to the northeast to see if I could look down at the diamond face, but I really couldn't see it and I didn't feel like scrambling down any to get a better look.

In all I spent about an hour at the top, and I knew there was no getting down by 4:00 or 4:30. I hoped for 5:30 or 6:00. It should be easier going on the way down and I won't have to rest as much.

I went over the lip and down the homestretch at about 12:30 pm.

Going Down

The homestretch is about as tedious going down as it is going up. I did do a lot of sliding on my rear and legs (on purpose). And unfortunately you bend your knee at least as much going down as you do going up, so that didn't seem to be helping. It took almost as long to decend as to ascend.

I figured Mark would be ok until about 6:00, and I knew he might start getting concerned after that. But there was really nothing I could do. He didn't have a cell phone, and even if he did he likely wouldn't get reception -- at least not often. You do get some in the Moraine Park campground in spots. And I'd have to be a bit closer to get the reception I would need to call him anyway. I knew there was a good chance I'd get some once I was at the foot of Mt. Lady Washington's peak. But I didn't even bring the Walkie Talkies since their range is only about 2 miles and it was farther than that from any point in my hike to the campground.

The narrows seemed to take longer going back. It is generally up hill, but not steep at all. It's all the climbing over obstacles and ... if you don't watch the dots you can get off the trail and have to backtrack. On top of that I think the knee was bothering me a little more, so I was relying heavily on the hiking pole and picking my spots carefully. And I was fully aware that you need to be even more careful when you're tired. It took a half an hour to get back to the top of the trough. Probably another hour to an hour and 15 minutes to get to the bottom of the trough (well, technically the bottom is way farther down glacier gorge, but I mean where the trough meets the ledges. The bottom as far as my climb is concerned.) I do remember thinking I was at the ledges but still had probably 100 yards to go down. I got off the trail a bit and I noticed a man down below where I needed to be.

I backtracked and wound my way down to him. He was looking for his son who had gone on to the top. I couldn't recall seeing anybody who fit his description, but I didn't see anyone in trouble on my way down. I told him about how long it was to the top and said he'll probably be just fine ... it'll just be a while.

On my way down the trough, I found what I thought was a bit of litter. It turned out to be a packet of some sort of liquid energy bar jelly, with "all the electrolytes of a sports drink". It was a bit beat up and dirty, but still sealed. There was nobody anywhere near that it might have belonged to, so I picked it up for later as well as to remove the litter from the mountain.

The ledges also seemed to take forever. I made it back to the keyhole right about 4:00 pm. 3 and a half hours from the top. A half hour longer than it had taken me to ascend.

At this point, you think you're home free. And with a good knee, that's probably true. But the decent from the keyhole to the boulderfield was painful. It was time for that last dose of ibuprofen. Only I ran out of water before I got to the keyhole. I needed to make it down to boulder brook to get more. It probably took me half an hour.

I asked around the boulderfield campsite about the couple from Minneapolis and site #2 so I could return the Ace bandage. The campers said they weren't numbered. Then I remembered it wasn't the boulder field camp ground where they were staying, it was down at the bottom at the Longs Peak campground.

I found a spot in the boulders where you could get down to the brook running beneath/through them, and filtered water into one of my empty hydration bladders. Ate a little more trail mix, cleaned the energy bar jelly packet and consumed it, took the ibuprofen, and continued across the boulders.

I passed several hikers going in either direction. Some taking short hikes from the boulderfield campsite. Some coming down the mountain. Some that had just come up to the boulder field and Chasm Lake. It occurred to me then I still had about 6 miles to go, and it was pushing 5:30.

I was thankful to get off the boulders and onto something of a regular trail where there weren't so many objects to step over. My pace was as quick as I dared, but my legs were tired. This means you don't pick your feet up as high as you should, and you're sloppier putting them down. They can easily hit a rock at an awkward angle and twist and bend in ways they're not designed for, or hit a rock smaller than your fist that rolls and you slip. If it weren't for the hiking pole not only would my knees have taken a beating but I'd likely have sprained both ankles many times over.

The only pictures I took on the way down were some scrubby trees at the treeline, because... well I'm just fascinated by the treeline and the sunlight was good. Mostly, I was bent on getting down, returning the ace bandage, going into town for more ibuprofen, ice, and an ace bandage of my own. Getting back to camp. Eating. Going to bed.

Even at that it was a good hour to the treeline, and another hour to the bottom. Way faster than the way up, but not nearly fast enough for me. I did manage to call Vicki from somewhere above the treeline so at least someone would know I was ok. Standing still was difficult. My leg muscles were quivering from low blood sugar. Just another reason not to stop moving any more than necessary.

Mom's surgery was tomorrow as well adding to the list of reasons to do this climb today. If, God forbid, anything went wrong I might be speeding back home Wednesday or Thursday. Hopefully not. Probably not. Just hearing her voice and talking to her lifted my spirits a bit, and I snapped the phone shut and moved on.

I did get one shot of a waterfall on the way down and accidentally (due to the low light) almost got that silky water effect as the camera chose a shutter speed of just over 1/10 second. I'm surprised I held the camera still enough. The rocks have a slight blur to them, but for a hand-held 1/10 shutter speed shot, I was impressed when I later saw it at home.

The last hour seemed like two. I figured I was the last one on the trail coming down, and I was coming down through mountain lion territory at dusk... prime hunting time. Tired, lone hikers probably make pretty easy pickings. I paid triple attention, planning to use my hiking pole as a weapon if necessary, but I knew in the end I probably wouldn't hear a cat attack coming. I mean... they're cats! The diamond face climbers passed me, and I realized there were probably others behind me as well... so I felt a little better. I passed a man and his young sons who said they were hiking up to the Goblins Forest campground which I had just passed on the last switchback. They said I had over a mile to go. Which was not encouraging. I figured I had less than half that distance to go. Unfortunately, they were right.

I got to the bottom at 7:30 pm, 3 hours late as far as I was concerned. But it felt good. I signed out, checked the "yes" box to the "did you get there" question, and noted that around 30 people had signed in that day. Got in the car, returned the ace bandage and thanked them profusely. I went into town to get the supplies I mentioned above (plus a snickers bar and a quart of Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk) and headed back to camp.

I got there at 8:30pm, right before Mark was about to head to the Rangers station to register his concern. He had already eaten. We ate the ice cream. I put ice on my knee, and took ibuprofen (I had to take my last 4 from my dop kit because it turned out I picked up the wrong bottle at the store -- it was tylenol, and I really needed ibuprofen). We talked a bit, but I was beat. We turned in for the night.

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