Thursday, July 15, 2010

Longs Peak (14,261 ft.)
Battle Mtn. (12,044 ft.)

14 July, 2010: After two unsuccessful tries (yes, there was another one last month that I didn't even mention here), it was mandatory to get Trisha to the summit of Longs for 14er #47. The snow was finally all gone, and true summer conditions prevailed, so I felt sure we could pull it off.
After the best short night's sleep we could manage, we left Greeley shortly before 3 am MDT. We pulled into one of the two remaining parking spots at the Longs Peak Ranger Station parking lot, threw on our packs, and were on the trail just about 4:30 (just about dawn). With a starting temperature of 62° F, we set off in just long sleeves.
A couple of hours later, above timberline and with the sun up, we were forced to put on every stitch of clothing we had brought and hunker down against unexpectedly fierce winds! At 12,000 feet, a 30 mph wind with gusts of at least 50 has a lot of chilling power, as well as the ability to make you go very slow. As a result, it took us five hours to reach the Keyhole.
By the time we got there, we had already encountered half a dozen other parties who had turned around, having found even more wind at the Keyhole, and anticipating still worse conditions on the upper part of the route. The number of people making any real bid for the summit was plummeting rapidly!
At the Keyhole, we weighed our options. The wind out of the west had not abated, but the route ahead was dry. Not wanting to suffer the ignomy of a third turn-back on the same mountain unless absolutely necessary, we joined forces with another couple and pressed on. We figured we owed it to ourselves to go as far as we could, while hoping for an improvement in conditions.
Almost immediately, our boldness was rewarded. The wind was actually less of a problem as we traversed across the west side of the mountain! With no snow to make things slippery, or to hide the famous bullseyes which mark the trail, we made good progress toward the "Homestretch" climb. And we hardly noticed that the day was warming nicely, and the winds were indeed abating.
Two hours from the Keyhole, we stepped out onto the huge summit plateau. To my amazement (this was July, after all!), we were sharing the summit with only three other people! Also, the sun had finally come out and warmed everything to the extent that we could finally shed some clothing and enjoy our time on the summit. We spent about half an hour taking pictures, enjoying some lunch, swapping stories, and otherwise relishing our summit. Since it was Bastille Day, I made a sign with the date colored as a French flag (see Trisha's pictures--of which she took a lot more than I did)!
On the way down, we got both rained and graupelled on, in short bursts. It was enough to make us very careful on the last leg approaching the Keyhole, and enough to make me abandon the idea of climbing Mt. Lady Washington (the NE buttress peak of Longs). Instead, after the blustery weather finally was over for good, I left the trail at Granite Pass and did a quick climb of unranked Battle Mtn. I dropped off the south side, found the disused trail through Jim's Grove, and managed to arrive at the junction with the main trail just as Trisha got there!
There, we (finally!) stripped down to light summer hiking garb and made good time on the last 2.5 miles back to the parking lot. All in all, a very strange, but very satisfying day.
My photos are at:
RT: approx. 15 miles
Vert.: approx. 5,000 ft.
7 hrs. up, 30 min. on the summit, 6 hrs. down.
Long life and many peaks!


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