Sunday, August 9, 2009

Longs Peak

After a pretty lackluster run at the Rat Race 10k on Saturday, I decided to try and get a bit of mojo back for Pikes next weekend by putting in a solid run/scramble up Longs Peak, the most dominant of all peaks along Northern Colorado's Front Range. Due to its proximity to urban centers and Estes Park, this mountain is heavily trafficked, probably the most trafficked in Colorado.

Heavy traffic coming up and down the 'Homestretch'

Not surprisingly then the range of abilities on the mountain ranged from serious climbers (although not too many of those in evidence today) to casual hikers who had no idea what they were getting themselves in for when they agreed to take on Longs. I saw some genuine fear in a few people's eyes on some of the sketchier stuff near the peak. This is after all a serious mountain with no sympathy for the trivialities of human existence. Considering the log jams we encountered through a few of the crux areas on the mountain, I was surprised to learn from the rangers once we were done that there had only been five serious accidents this year and just one fatality (heart attack).

Getting back to yesterday's 10k, I was disappointed to put up a fairly pedestrian 37:22. With some pretty strong winds, my splits ranged from a 5:17 tailwind-assisted mile to a 6:15 last mile into a howling headwind! The winner, Cliff Campbell, still managed to run a 33:xx, which, considering the conditions, was pretty impressive.

Feeling pretty deflated with regards to Pikes after yesterday's race and a poor run to Barr Camp last Sunday, I was ready to get out and have some fun running up to Longs' Boulder Field and then hiking/scrambling the last mile or two to the summit. Got a ride to the TH with Ryan, where we met Nick P and got started. The trail up to the Boulder Field is very well maintained, so the run through these first five or six miles was pretty relaxed and uneventful. Got up in 1:19 and then hopped across the boulders heading towards the Keyhole - a notch in the ridge between Longs and Storm peaks. It was blowing pretty hard by the time we got there, but not too bad.

Nick posing on a boulder under the 'Keyhole'

The terrain beyond the Keyhole is definitely more serious than anything leading up to it, and it is this last stretch that I am sure gets a few people into trouble every year. We traversed on ledges around the peak following red and yellow bullseyes towards the Trough - a large gully that ascends towards the summit of Longs - where the traffic was heaviest. By this time we were well above 13,000 feet and many of the people we passed looked to be working very, very hard. Because much of the terrain on the Trough is loose, the most serious danger here is probably falling rock from those above. Near the top there was a slightly more difficult section to negotiate, and there was litterally a line of people waiting to get up or down.

After we finally got up the little notch section at the top of the Trough, it was a short jaunt across the Narrows - an exposed ledge - to the Homestretch. Ryan and I pretty much ran the cracks up this last section for a summit time of 2:01 and 5k of climbing. The weather was pretty good on top - just a bit windy - and we sourced a nice spot on the east side of the summit that was free of people, sheltered from the wind and bathed in sunlight as we waited for Nick to get up.

Looking east from the summit to Chasm Lake

A well-fed Marmot scrounging for food at the summit

We were very casual in getting down and actually took 5 minutes longer on the descent than on the climb for a round trip of 4:07. One serious-looking hiker (lots of expensive gear) called us show-offs (!) as we eased past him at the Boulder Field, while a lady with a kinder disposition labeled us her idols as we neared the end of the run. Whatever, just getting a workout in, as Ryan explained to disgruntled hiker-man.

Stopped for a photo op at the bottom of the Trough

On a sidenote - saw my buddy Eric Lee from the Fort Collins Trail Runners coming down from the Keyhole. He was well on his way to finishing the 'Radical Slam' (solo) having started six hours earlier at 3:30. What's the Radical Slam? Well it's a climb and traverse of all 7 peaks in the Longs Peak Massif region; Meeker, Longs, Pagoda, Storm, Lady Washington, Battle Mt, and Estes Cone. Phew! Funny sometimes where you bump into people.

Eric at the 'Keyhole' (in the red hat)

Eric was soon hopping the talus up Storm

Wore the Wildcats on this one, and they held up really well on the rock. The grip was great and the shoe, despite its minimalist toebump, was totally solid in protecting the foot on rough terrain: front, sides and bottom.


  1. Sweet header pic. Looking forward to seeing you rock it next week.

  2. That's a really quick trip up Longs!

    Get a good rest in this week and you'll be ready to roll on Saturday.

  3. Dude, 4 HOURS. OMG. I haven't really been tracking times for Longs but I know its usually a 12+ hour adventure for the non-runner. Was when I did it in 2001. Thinking I need to redo it one of these days to up my PR. They should move the PPM here. Would be much more "exciting".

  4. Thanks GZ, Justin. Yeah rest is very much in order for this week. Looking forward to watching you guys get it done on Sunday.

    Brandon - I think the rangers normally suggest a 10-12 hour round trip, but I bet at a solid pace it could be done hiking in 7 - 8 hours easily enough. Not much to see on the trail up to the boulder field, so being in shape to run helps shorten significantly an otherwise very long day. Got to love mountain running.

  5. Nice running with you yesterday Nick. Based on how you were climbing I think you will have a good run at Pikes. Good luck and run fast next weekend.

    I must have been somewhat out of it when we finished and left my pants and water bottle on the roof of my car...drove all the way to Lyons and then noticed a flapping in the window - somehow my pants/bottle stayed on the roof the entire way.

  6. Nick, that's insane, especially considering the twistiness of that ride down to Lyons. Nice work yesterday - glad we all made it one piece ;-)

    Hopefully I'll see you on course at Leadville over the last 25 miles when I'm pacing Harry H. You and Harry have essentially the same goals, so we may well be racing.

  7. Longs holds a special place in my heart. It was the first 14er I ever did (yes, stupid to start there, thx bro!) but it got me hooked on Colorado adventures. Sounds like you had a great trip, but like the disgruntled hiker you met, that was me 8 years ago before I could appreciate what you guys were doing out there on your run!