Somehow I got suckered into climbing Longs Peak.
14,259-feet-tall. 5,000-foot elevation gain. Twelfth highest peak in the lower 48. Colorado's deadliest.
It all started when my neighbor and adrenaline-junkie friend convinced me to tackle Longs Peak since he had a camping permit for the Boulderfield.
"It's not that bad of a hike to the campsite. We'll sleep there overnight, wake up the next morning, and will only have a mile to the summit."
Here's how it all goes down:
The Base to the Keyhole
After a 4,000-foot elevation gain stirred up with some altitude sickness and seasoned with rock after rock and step after step of knee-in-chest jabbing, you'll make it to the Boulderfield — a campground at the base of the Keyhole, which is the non-technical route to the summit. It's also — surprise! — a literal field of boulders. Drag yourself over the rocks to your designated site and grab some food out of your bear canister, which, yes, you will need due to patrolling rangers. But make no mistake. It's not the bears you have to worry about so much as the marmots who will tear your tent apart for some of that teriyaki beef jerky.
If you do camp at the Boulderfield, pack the gloves, socks, layers, and hats. Hand warmers are also a perk when shivering at two in the morning and repeatedly asking why you hate yourself so much.
What happens next is the 4:30 alarm. Get out of your tent, warm up that plastic bag of semi-crunchy mac n' cheese, eat a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich bar, and chug some water no matter how much you'd rather curl up on the ground and cry tears of unfathomable regret after a 30-minute trial of putting contacts in using only a headlamp and frontward facing camera.
Did you chug at least a liter? Good. Now chug some more.
At this point, there's a steady line of lights heading your way from hikers who started from the base a few hours before you were even awake. They'll look like zombies clambering over rocks. Let this be your motivation to get your butt moving up that massive pile of boulders to the Keyhole.
Also, did I mention that, at this point, there's no path? Because there's no path. Just crawl up the rocks in the general direction where everyone else is.
Hopefully you'll come across one or two of the sane people who turned around without summiting.
"Turning around on a 14'er is one of the most important lessons you'll learn in Colorado," one may say to you. But pay no attention. You're a transplant who needs to earn the respect of all the Colorado natives who hate you. It's literally the only way.
If you feel dizzy or nauseous (and are hell-bent on completing the climb), pop an ibuprofen or some non-drowsy Dramamine. This should help.
Now, onward through the Keyhole!
At this point, your only "trail" is the painted targets on boulders as a rough suggestion. You'll see some people making their own route. Don't be those people.
This part of the climb includes clambering over rocks along cliff edges, climbing a constricted slot-like section, and balancing on narrow ledges. But the next part? Literal hell.
This section will take you the longest, especially if you're someone like me who has to stop 84 times to catch a breath. Watch out for falling rocks and Nalgene water bottles.
The very top is pretty tricky since the rocks are slippery and steep. But once you survive the Trough, you're in the clear!
Just kidding. Remember when I said you should ignore people telling it's okay to turn around because you'll forever be hated as a transplant if you did? That was a lie. You'll be hated no matter what, so you might as well live to deal with it. Seriously. This is the part where it's one hundred percent okay to throw a big "fuck this" to the mountain and head back down.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Narrows.
This part is the worst, and while, yes, there's room for two people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, that doesn't make it any less horrifying to realize one wrong move could throw you in with the 60 other people who died on the mountain.
Pro tip: wear sunglasses so no one can see you cry. And seriously. Be careful. This part is no joke.
Once you finish the Narrows, you're at the Homestretch. This part is like a much shorter, steeper, and slicker version of the Trough. Less physical work? Sure. More mental work to maneuver your way around people sliding down? Oh yeah. Find your hand grips and your foot rests. You're almost there.
Congratulations. You just summited the deadliest peak in Colorado, and you lived to tell the tale. Take it all in. There's plenty of walking space at the summit, so get to some solitude. You're tired. You're in pain. You're pissed off. But those views? Worth it.
You forget about this part, eh?
Don't slide on your butt. Just don't do it. Carefully plan each and every move while reliving the horror you just endured for the past four hours. Once you're through the Keyhole and past the Boulderfield, the hike down isn't too tricky, minus all the steep steps and uneven rocks.
Eight miles later, and you're back at the parking lot.
The Next Day
Aleve. Take all the Aleve.
The best part about Colorado is its nature. Climbing a 14'er gives one a sense of accomplishment physically, mentally, and, in my case, emotionally. That being said, don't climb a mountain like Longs Peak until you're ready. Don't climb any mountain until you're ready. Don't do any hike until you're ready. The altitude and magnitude of nature out here shouldn't be screwed with. You have nothing to prove, so don't dampen the beauty of Colorado by doing something stupid and becoming a statistic.
Am I proud of myself for summitting Longs Peak? Sure. Do I feel like a moron for tackling it as my second 14'er? Absolutely.
Either way, Longs Peak is just another example that nature doesn't give a shit about your ego. As Jacqueline would say, "Behold! The field in which I grow my fucks." Way to rock, nature. Way to rock.