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Tiff was on the Aggie dance team in college, stays pretty active and recently swam from Sydney, Australia to Honolulu, Hawaii without stopping. I knew she would be fine and climb Long's like a champ.
But this isn't a hike to be taken lightly. It's nearly 16 miles round trip with a vertical mile of elevation gain. The last mile of the hike is over a mix of 3rd class terrain and hard second class scrambling, with a steep scree filled couloir thrown in the mix and a steep slick slab just below the 14,259 foot summit to keep you honest. As Colorado's 15th highest mountain and one of the harder summits to attain, this hill demands respect.
She flew into Denver on Sunday and we just chilled out for a bit after a trip to REI for some last minute gear purchases. On Monday, we got up and I took her to Emerald Lake just to feel out how she was handling the altitude. She did fine and was able to all but run up the trail. So with a little confidence under our belts, we set the alarm for a 12:45 wake up call!
"Whiskey River take my mind..." rose me from a not too deep sleep just long enough to hit the snooze button on my phone. Eight minutes later Willie tried to wake me again, this time with a little more success. I figured we had better get moving. We took our time getting ready, loaded up the packs and hit the road. We were at the infamous Long's Peak Trail head and hiking by 2:15.
This was Tiffs first time hiking by headlamp and she was having a ball. Making quick work of the trail, I had to keep an eye on her speed as she was blowing up the trail. I wanted to make sure she saved enough energy for when she was going to really need it. So we set a comfortable pace and made great time up the trail. Before we knew it we were at tree line and soon at Chasm Junction. The sun began rising just as we were entering the Boulderfield and we watched an amazing sunrise while having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast.
After a well deserved break, we began our ascent to the keyhole and the start of the real climbing....the last mile of the Long's Peak Trail.
This is where Tiffany thought it got hard, and I think anyone on earth would agree with her. The terrain abruptly changes from a nice, well maintained trail, to hopping over boulders, scrambling over exposed ledges and winding your way through a very dramatic landscape. She got a little overwhelmed when she first layed eyes on the first section known as "The Ledges." We took a break and calmed down a bit, took some deep breaths and just took it one step at a time. It was early in the day and we were in no rush.
After a few minutes, she was feeling perfect and made quick work of this great section of the climb. "We have to climb up THAT??!!" were her words when she looked up the next, and often most intimidating section of the climb known as "The Trough." This is a long scree filled couloir that is pretty steep and takes a lot of energy and patience to ascend. I told her we'd take it 10 minutes at a time. Well, she must have been feeling good, because 10 minutes into it we were halfway up. So we took a little break and made pretty quick work of the rest. Now we faced the crux of the climb. This is a 3rd class chockstone at the top of the trough that one must climb to gain the start of the next section, known as "The Narrows."
Without thinking twice, Tiff shot up the crux and was soon looking at The Narrows, saying "Is that it?" I had told her that people often blow the narrows way out of proportion as they are only somewhat narrow for about 10 feet, then it widens to a large ledge, but the name alone suggests otherwise. We stopped to take pictures of a curious little marmot and then continued on to the final and, in my opinion, the hardest part of the climb known as "The Homestretch."
"Holy Shit! We have to climb up THAT?!" Were Tiffs exact words when she saw the homestretch. Followed by a long sigh. I assured her that I would be no more than a foot behind her helping her find the best line up the steep slab every step of the way. Progress was slow and we were constantly being mind full of what was ahead of us and the exposure below us. Being Tiffs first time on terrain such as this she was quite a bit nervous throughout this section, continuously asking me "How are we going to get down this??!!" I told her that it would be easy to which she replied "This is so fucking stupid!!" Haha...I will never forget those words!
After zigzagging our way up the homestretch, we were only a mere 30 feet from the summit. As you climb this last little bit of the homestretch, you can tell you are almost there as you begin to top out and the sky seems to get closer and closer with every step. As she cleared the top and saw the summit rock she had the biggest smile on her face and kept saying "I can't believe I did it!" and "I feel like crying." I could tell it was an emotional experience for her, as it was for me on my first ascent, and I knew exactly how she felt. It takes so much work to get to that spot and the reward is so great. We hung out on the summit for a while just enjoying our surroundings and our time together. We had to fight off some attack marmots and Tiff took off her high heels and put on some sneakers for the descent. We were ready to get out of there...about eight miles back to the trail head and a nice soft seat in the car!
We did great coming down the mountain without incident. But once below the Boulderfield, Tiffany began to feel pretty bad. She felt like she had a fever, was sick to her stomach and dizzy. So we stopped and I made sure she drank a half a liter of Gatorade and ate a little, I wet a bandana and tied it around her head and in 10 minutes she was 100%. It was hard to keep up with her on the trail back to the car.
I am so proud of her and loved every second of being on that hike with her. It's an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and a memory I will always hold close to my heart. It's so cool to see her face when she looks at Longs Peak from the Estes Valley and proudly states "I was on top of THAT!"
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