Going into our hike of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Dan and I developed a plan: On the first day, we would hike the six miles uphill to Boulder Field. There, we would set up camp and settle in for the night. The next morning, we would wake up with the sun and make the final 1.5 mile ascent to the summit. We would spend some time looking around and taking in the sights before making it back to camp before afternoon storms. We would also spend that night camping in Boulder Field and then hike down the next morning.
In reality, almost none of that happened. But, we still had a great experience and came back with some long-lasting memories.
Dan and I made the long, mostly boring drive from Lawrence to Estes Park on Monday. After a meal in Estes, we drove 10 miles south down Highway 7 to the Long’s Peak trail-head camp.
Then we set up a temporary camp and made sure our packs were ready to go for the next day.
We also made the short walk up to the rangers’ station to do some last-minute research on the hike. I’ll be honest: The pictures were pretty intimidating.
Then again, the actual mountain was pretty intimidating.
But, we came with a goal and were determined to stick with the plan.
Tuesday morning, we woke up early, packed camp and parked our car at the rangers’ station — 9,000 feet above sea level. Then we set out on the trail. It was deceptively simple at first.
It was so easy, in fact, we were really picture happy for the first two miles.
By timberline at 2.5 miles, the walk in park was over.
I’ll be honest: Realizing that we still had 3.5 miles to hike uphill with 30-pound packs on our backs was a little discouraging for me. The only thing that kept me going was the beautiful scenery — the views just continued to get better.
It was also great to share the experience with Dan. Eventually made it to our destination of Boulder Field. (It’s aptly named.)
It’s 12,700 feet above sea level. It’s above tree and grass level. It’s surrounded by snow. And it’s where we camped for the night.
Sounds fun, right?
Yet again, the views made it worthwhile.
Dan and I were especially excited to think that the next morning we would be at the very top of the peak. Just 1.5 miles to go!
Because we started our hike so early, we had a while during the afternoon to nap, relax and do a little exploring.
Then, with a dinner of peanut butter and bread (our dehydrated foods plan was put on hold with the fire ban in Colorado), we settled in to watch the sunset. Hands down, that was the best part of the trip.
With nothing left to do, it was time for bed. Temperatures were sure to dip below 40 degrees, so I layered on a tank top, t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, sweatshirt and winter coat — and I was still freezing. I think the ground just stays in permafrost up there, so any part of my body in contact with the ground was cold.
At first, the cold was the worst part. But, the wind was close behind. Even though we were surrounded by a low barrier of rocks, the wind still managed to swirl around our tent causing the rain tarp to slap against the top. It sounded like we were on the inside of a drum with someone constantly banging on it.
As difficult as they were to deal with, the cold and noise were bearable. When the wind picked up half the tent at 4:30 in the morning, however, we were done sleeping for the night. We tried to stick it out for a while longer, just because we didn’t want to deal with tearing the tent down in the cold, windy dawn of the morning. By 5 a.m., we realized that the wind wasn’t going to die down for a while, so we put socks on our hands and packed up the camp.
If it had been just a poor night’s rest and a 1.5 mile walk between us and the summit, we would have toughed it out and made it. But, the wind was still gusting close to 60 mph and the last section of the trail involved walking on rock ledges while hugging the side of the mountain.
“There will be a lot of other trails,” Dan said. “This isn’t worth the danger.”
So, instead of hiking up the last 1,000 feet, we turned around.
On the was down, we ran into a native Colorado hiker who was on his way up. He asked about the conditions at the top and we told him it was even windier and that we didn’t attempt the summit. He told us not to be ashamed — it’s even more treacherous on the backside and he probably wasn’t going to try it that day, either.
Honestly, that was good to hear. As much as Dan and I knew we were making the right decision, we were both a little disappointed that we failed to reach our goal. It was really nice to get some external reassurance that we made a good choice.
In the end, Dan and I agreed that it was a wonderful, memorable trip. It didn’t really matter that we stopped at 13,000 feet. What mattered was that we spent the time together, took in the views and bonded even more over the worst night sleep possible.