*Thursday, August 4 – Rocky Mountain National Park (Longs Peak Trail)
One of the things we had been planning on doing since we decided on this trip was to climb Longs Peak via the Keyhole route. Longs Peak, for those who don’t know, is the tallest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, and one of 53 peaks over 14,000 feet in Colorado. It stands at 14,259 feet, and during the summer has a route that is considered to not be a technical one (meaning that you don’t need gear or climbing experience to reach the summit). Because of the afternoon storms that hit most days, you are supposed to begin the climb by around 3:00 am so that you can be off of the summit by early afternoon. The majority of the route is pretty much a very strenuous hike. Within the last couple miles (the route is 15 miles round trip) things get much more difficult though. The “trail” (which doesn’t really exist at that point) goes through a boulder field, and then climbing on the edge of sheer rock faces and other surfaces that require scrambling as well as some basic climbing techniques.
Wednesday night we (My two brothers, sister, sister-in-law, and mother) packed our backpacks with close to a gallon of water per person, lots of granola bars, apples, other miscellaneous food items, warm clothes (including hats and gloves), and various other items. I was extremely excited, but also nervous, about making the summit of Longs Peak. It was something that I really wanted to do. So, with nerves and excitement, we all went to bed super early and were then up and in the car by 2:00 am Thursday morning. We got to the trail head by 2:30am or so, where we had breakfast and got set for our hike up Longs Peak. We began the hike by 2:45am with our head lamps on, at what I thought was a nice, slow pace (which is what we were supposed to do since it is such a long and exhausting hike in extremely high elevation). Not long after starting out my stomach began to feel extremely upset. At first I thought it was just due to the breakfast we ate, so I figured I would just throw up, feel better and be able to continue on. Eventually I was having to stop every so often to lean on a rock at the edge of the trail and gag and dry heave. Every time I was certain I was actually going to get sick, but I never did. The headache kicked in not too long after the nausea did, and it was absolutely excruciating. I was miserable and felt bad because I was holding the rest of the group back so much. But, I was determined to keep going because I still kept hoping that I would just throw up and feel better, allowing me to continue. I was dead set on at least making it until sunrise regardless of what happened, because I really wanted pictures of the sunrise with the view from as high as I could get. Finally, we made it to the point where a sign directed us to the Boulder Field (where things would get a lot more challenging). At this point I realized that it would just not be possible for me to make it much further, and that I was really slowing everyone else down. My mom decided (and I agreed) that we should head down. We took the hike back down very slow, stopping so that I could take pictures of the rising sun and the various waterfalls along the way.
By the time we got back down it was after 8:00am, and the altitude sickness had mostly worn off (my stomach was still fairly upset though). My mom and I sat around reading and napping for a few hours, and then decided to take another easy and short hike (around three miles) to an old gold mine site that shared a trail for a little with the Longs Peak trail. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, and then driving in to Estes Park to shower for the first time all week.
The photo below, that I chose as my main picture for my 365, is of one section of the Longs Peak trail just at sunrise.
This was right as the sun was just starting to come up, so it was still very dark (we were still using our head lamps). It was almost right after we began out hike down. The little white specks in the bottom of the picture are actually head lamps from other hikers that started later and were on their way up. One very cool part of the hike (despite how miserable I felt), was that when we looked up to the mountain side, all we could see were little white lights bobbing their way up the mountain.
This was even further down the trail. The trail split off right before this (which I hadn’t noticed due to the dark and being sick), and the route we were taking had us staying to the left. On the way down I noticed the split, and decided to check it out because I heard running water. It ended up being one of my favorite spots of the day. Longs Peak is the one on the left.