Yesterday was a lot of fun! Instead of the normal swim bike run training, Chuckie scheduled a hike up Longs peak for some “time on the feet” training. Longs peak is one of our local 14ers. If your not from here, Colorado has 54 peaks that are over 14,000 feet in elevation, effectionately called “14ers”. Naturally people try to climb all of them in their lifetime, or in 5 years, or 1 year, or 11 days. Kids climb them, dogs climb them, people run up them, people ski off them. They are just one piece of the outdoor playground that is Colorado.
Longs peak is in Rocky Mountain National Park, and is the only 14er that you can’t legally take your dog up (I guess there are other notable facts about it, but that one came to mind). It’s 15 miles round trip and you travel from the parking lot at 9,382 feet elevation to the summit at 14,259 feet of elevation, and then back down…if you’re lucky.
Troy decided to take the day off work and join in on the fun. It was so nice to have him along for the “training” day. Troy and I have been up 9 or 10 14ers together and we have lots of fond memories of climbing them together in our early years of marriage.
We arrived at the trailhead at 3:30 am due to me driving too fast up the windy roads to Estes. Chuckie and Angela arrived soon after and we took off in the dark at about 4am. The early hiking is easy and the trail is great. You get above tree line fairly quickly and are left with gorgeous views of the mountains all around. The sunrise was stupefyingly gorgeous. Like, stop you in your tracks, mouth wide open gorgeous. We settled into a nice rhythm together. An ease starts to come when you realize that the people you are hiking with are a good speed, not too fast, not too slow, and don’t mind stopping to drool at the view.
We wound around the trails for several hours, eating, drinking, hiking, telling stories, until we arrived at the infamous boulder field. It’s pretty hilarious hiking with Chuckie and I. Troy said that between Chuckie and I talking, there was really no open space left. “Incesently Verbose”! Poor Angela and Troy, but hey, we can’t help it!
After a potty stop we started making our way through the Boulder field. Seeing Angela’s eyes get wide, and her brow get furled really reminded me of some of my first times up these mountains. People don’t realize that the trail stops, and you are left to find your way through boulder fields, hopping from rock to rock, trying to keep your balance and pick rocks that won’t move on you. We made our way cautiously towards the infamous “Keyhole”.
The keyhole really is quite cool. Your not entirely sure how that rock is staying put like that, but it is, I hope. There is a little hut there, that I hear gets pretty crowded if weather sets in. Lightning is one of the biggest dangers you face climbing 14ers in Colorado. It’s kills several every year, often becoming deadly for those who do not start their summit attempt early enough in the day.
Through the Keyhole, now you start to face the exposure that Longs provides. This is where the real fun begins. This is where the little boys go scampering home to their mommies and the big boys man up and trudge onwards. They (i don’t really know who..but someone official) have painted bulls eyes on the rocks for you to follow, but it’s really quite a rock scramble from here to the top.
The gully is quite amazing, rewarding your hard work with majestic views of Rocky Mountain National Park. This section is a quad buster, step step rest, step step rest. I love this kind of stuff. The goal is to find a rhythm that moves you across the earth fast enough, yet not so fast that you can feel your heart beat in your brain. It’s a tricky balance and we all took our time finding our climbing zone. This is the first 14er I’ve climbed since I started doing triathlons and it was nice to feel so much stronger and fitter than I used to.
After a refueling stop at the top of the gully it was onto “the narrows”. This section can be quite scary for those with fear of exposure. But, for some reason, I just eat this stuff up. I really like exposure, the feeling of being on the edge. The views are amazing, and threatening, and downright epic. We wound our way around and onto the summit block. This final pitch is quite exposed as well and while it’s quite doable going up, coming down back down adds an additional element of danger.
Gaining the summit is quite hilarious on Longs. Here you have been walking on ledges, crawling up and over rocks that will penalize one false move with the termination of your life, and then you place two feet on the summit and are welcomed to….a relatively flat, and wide open FOOT BALL FIELD. It’s literally huge up on top. You could build a ranch and herd some goats up there.
And, wow, what a relief to gain the summit. My body was so happy, and feeling great. My belly was fully of yummy snacks and good water. We all arrived in one piece and took some time to enjoy the top.
We took our pulses too. That was pretty funny because poor Troy was feeling the effects of climbing peaks with three endurance athletes. He was holding up just fine, but I kept thinking I was messing up counting his pulse because his number was 27 and mine was 18 (15 seconds). Angela finally took it and we agreed that Troy is some sort of hybrid hummingbird mountain goat man.
Heading back down was where my body wasn’t going to be too happy. It’s all the downhill that really rips the quads and hips to shreds. We made our way cautiously down the steep sections of the face. We were in no hurry and had zero need to be hasty. Each foot placement was well thought out. I really enjoyed listening to Chuckie and Angela talk about training for several miles. There is something about hearing “lessons” when you are open and raw and thoughtful that urges you to really think harder about them. It was a good setting for insightful words from my coach.
It’s a good thing he didn’t advise me to “jump” when he took this picture. I call this one “On the edge”. Of what I don’t know, enlightenment, bliss, sanity?
As we descended the last miles it was amongst a few raindrops and a few thunder claps. We got back to the cars in perfect time, and 5 minutes later the showers hit heavy. Driving back to pick up Annie at grandmas house both Troy and I were tired, with smiles plastered all over our faces. It was wonderful to see the light in Troys eyes. There was a little sparkle there that I miss and it reminds me that we need to do things like this more often.
That is until this morning…when we both tried to get out of bed and it took three attempts. So sore! We have both been gimping around today. And I guess that’s why we climbed Longs for training, different load, different stress, fitness gained. Fun had by all!