A Longs Day - A Father Son Hiking Story
Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park
Summit Elevation: 14,259 ft
Trailhead Elevation: 9390 ft
Distance round trip: 16 mi
Dad on the Mt. Evans summit (July 11, 1962)
I was a child of the 60s, raised before 500 cable channels with multiple 24 hour sport networks. So, my dad was my hero. He lived life large. He drag raced and then later was a top dog at the several local stock car tracks around Iowa. He worked hard and he played hard.
With only two channels on our black and white television, I would often ask mom to get out the family photo album. I would sit next to mom and we would look at the pictures over and over. The picture that I would want to stay at the longest was the picture of a young man on the peak of what I believed was the highest mountain in the world. The young man looked regal, like he was the master of all he surveyed. He was my dad!
Mom and dad instilled a love for the outdoors that I have had my entire life. Every year while I was growing up, sometime during the winter, we would sit down with our atlas and draw a line to some portion of the United States and that would be the coming year’s summer vacation. More years than not, it would be to the Rockies and a National Park.
Later, they encouraged me to get active in Boy Scouts and I was lucky to be a member of a very active troop. We camped once a month year round regardless of temperature. We canoed in the Quetico. We shared a portion of Idaho with 70,000 other boy scouts. We backpacked for two weeks in New Mexico. We hiked trails all over the Midwest. Oh, how I loved the hiking.
There must be Norman Rockwell painting somewhere with me in it. I was raised in good times.
Dad retired after 45 or so years as an automotive dealer service manager in February right around his 67th birthday. How someone can do that job for that long is beyond me. When customers talked to him, they were frustrated because of some problem with their car that had yet to be rectified. His technicians would come to him when they were unhappy with their pay or working conditions. The owner of the dealer couldn’t understand how come he wasn’t able to squeeze another $20,000 profit for the month. And the manufacturer wanted to know why he was performing so darn much warranty work to try and make people happy. Not a great job to make a lot of friends. He did make friends though, and most people that dealt with him may not have always got everything they wanted, but they came away respecting his fairness.
Towards the end of his career the hours got longer and longer and there wasn’t much time to spend on the things he enjoyed and many of the things he had enjoyed when he was younger didn’t seem like a possibility anymore. What would he do in his retirement?
June 1, 2005
I had been having severe Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), withdrawal. We had decided earlier in the year that we weren’t going to take a vacation this year and I had really been regretting that decision. I had developed Longs Peak fever.
I’m not really sure when I had first come down with it. Sitting on a chair at a lodge in the Y of the Rockies with a cup of coffee gazing in wonderment at Longs Peak in the early mornings last summer may have decreased my resistance. But I’m more apt to believe it was visiting the RMNP forums and reading so many exciting Longs Peak adventures and other reports littered across the internet.
Amazingly, at the moment my fever was at its height, Shelley asked if she could talk to me. She explained that Helen, a long time family friend who would turn 80 in July, was driving herself out to Berthoud, Colorado to spend a week with her son. Shelley then went on to state that she just wasn’t comfortable with Helen driving herself that far. Could we take her?
:blink: :blink: “Uhhh…SURE!”
(The following paragraph should be read at about at the rate of 500 words per minute)
“Yeah honey. We could take her, and then we would have to wait to take her home. I better get on the internet and find a place for us to stay up at Estes right now. Oh, by the way, I am going to climb Longs Peak.” I responded.
“Not by yourself your not!” she finalized.
Curses. She was right. Probably not a good idea. Who would I get to go with me on such short notice? We would be leaving in less than two months. A picture from my youth flashed through my head.
“I’ll call dad and see if he wants to go.”
I called dad and laid the proposition out to him. He said he would research some websites I gave him, give it some thought and let me know.
This point is as good as any to discuss our individual fitness.
Myself, I have never been very out of shape in my life but haven't been that active either until a couple years ago when I decided I needed to do something. I started running and was able to complete a half marathon after two months in under 2hrs. I have been running ever since until this spring when I had a rash of injuries.
My dad hasn’t done much consistent cardio since high school, but did spend his entire work career on his feet and has always kept his weight in check.
Shelley and I talked more about the climb the next day and she convinced me that we needed to let dad have more time to get in shape and that it would probably be better if we waited until next year.
I called dad and told him our thoughts. He replied, “I walked 8 miles this morning and I can be ready even if you don’t want to do it.” :blink: :blink:
Dad proceeded to log 200 miles, all walking, in the Loess Hills over the next almost two months before he left for RMNP. About a hundred of those miles with his full Longs pack. I am still amazed that someone his age was able to do that without developing any injuries. He is one tough son-of-a-gun.
I, on the other hand, had problems with my left foot (metatarsalgia) and had to really limit my training to make sure the foot was healthy enough to make the hike. I did about 100 miles during that same time, all walking.
Longs Peak Trip Report 7.27.2005
Dad picked me up at 12:30 and we got to the trail head at about 1:00 AM. The sign at the ranger’s station stated that the climb was still rated as technical. We knew from reading Michael Hodges trail report, filed a week earlier that he had done Longs via the Keyhole without use of technical gear. We had already agreed to turn around if we ran into conditions that were technical.
We signed the “guest book”, turned on our headlights and headed up the trail. I think I slept most of the way up the mountain. At least it seemed like a dream state. You are concentrating so hard on your next step that you get kind of hypnotized. Occasionally, your trance is broken by a strange sound. “Is that a truck, are we near a highway?” “It must be a jet.” Wrong. Mountain streams have a strange sound in the dark when you are coming up a trail towards them. It must be that hypnosis thing.
We stopped often, usually every half hour to take a one or two minute break and then a longer five minute break on the hour. We both felt great, but didn’t want to over do it before we got to the climbing.
We reached the Boulderfield at about 6:00. While we were trying to decide what to think about the deranged people that had place useless cairns that lead to nowhere all across the Boulderfield, God made sure his presence was known. He blessed us by turning on his alpenglow projector.
Projector shinning across Mount Lady Washington
We sat in his nice little amphitheatre and enjoyed the show.
Alpenglow on Longs east face
He was even kind enough to light the way.
Alpenglow showing us the way to the keyhole.
So we went on in.
From Keyhole out over Glacier Gorge.
From all the research I had done leading up to this hike and listening to Jim Detterline in the “Climb Longs Peak” DVD describe the various parts of the climb, I had a few preconceived notions of this hike that would be proven wrong.
The first one of these was the Boulderfield. My “notion” was that moving across boulders was just some fun hops from rock to rock. It starts out that way, but it gets harder and the angle of accent increases all the way to the keyhole. It wasn’t difficult, just harder than I expected.
We climbed through the Keyhole and sat at the nice little seating area that is right on the other side. It’s almost like God put a little safety wall there in front of two small rows of bleachers because he knew it would be a good place to soak in his grandeur while trying to muster the courage to continue.
The top side of the Boulderfield does a good job of preparing you for the Ledges. The moves are similar but there is just that one little difference. When your on the Ledges, it’s a long way down.
The Ledges aren’t really bad except for where they draw your eyes. All the time you are crawling across these things you are looking at the next feat you will attempt. And that thing keeps getting larger, And Larger, AND LARGER.
The Trough was my biggest “notion” misconception. Everybody warns you about it in everything you read. But I’m sorry, it’s bigger and longer and steeper. Dad told me later that he had a moment of “time to turn around” when the immensity of it came into full view. Just to make it manageable, we made a little game of high-fiving the cairns. We would go to the next cairn, high-five it and rest for a minute and repeat until we made it to the chockstone.
The chockstone was probably my only disappointment. Many people consider this the biggest crux on the whole trip. Dad and I have longer than average legs. We went left and had no issue what so ever. And then we were on my favorite part.
The Narrows are a blast. Great views and plenty of free parking.
Provided you drive a hearse. (Rock formation lovingly reffered to as the hearse by Longs climbers. View from Narrows.)
This is some serious exposure, but it is so beautiful and fun. It’s like you can see South America. Unbelievable. We had no issue climbing across this little sidewalk. I want to thank the park service for those wonderful cairns. I will be happy to donate to the spray paint fund if it ever runs low. I don’t know how many times that dad and I made comments on how easy it would be to get into trouble for us novices if we hadn’t had them.
We ohhhed and awwwed our way across the Narrows until we reached the bottom of the Homestretch. I have read figures that say that something like 30% of people who attempt Longs actually make it to the summit. I am convinced that if the Homestretch was the first thing you saw after coming through the Keyhole it would be more like 5%. But knowing that the next stop is the summit and your mind having progressively been acclimated to greater challenges, it is too late to turn back now. Climb, rest, climb, rest, climb…
Walk up summit…
Walk up summit? Whooo-hoooooo!!!!!
We summited at 9:15. Had it really been over eight hours since we left the trailhead?
We both tried to make cell calls from the summit. Denied!
There was a group of four rangers on the summit when we arrived. After the euphoria of summiting had waned, I noticed that one of the rangers was familiar. It was Jim Detterline. I couldn’t believe our luck. We talked to him for a bit. I thanked him for his part in the “Climb Longs Peak” DVD and how much I thought it had helped prepare me for the climb. It was a thrill to share the top of the peak with Jim on his 242nd summit. He even posed for a summit pic.
Dad’s picture proving that his son is a ranger groupie.
While the rangers were on the summit, they made the call to change the climb as non-technical for the first time since September 2003.
We spent 45 minutes up on top and then decided we best head on down. The nice thing was it would be all down hill. I had read or heard somewhere that when you are on the summit, you are only half done with the hike. Sure, whatever. We had conquered and now we were headed down to enjoy the spoils.
Final “notion” dispelled. Somehow while you are up on the summit the park service quadruples the length of the trail from the Keyhole to the trailhead. I don’t know how they do it; I just know that they do it. It’s easy for them to get away with. You’ve walked that section on the way up in the dark so there’s no way you can prove they changed anything. You probably think I’m crazy, but if you’ve done this climb, you know it’s true. And if you haven’t done it but do it in the future, you’ll apologize to me later. You have been warned.
Dad had a little altitude sickness on the way down. We still reached the trailhead at 5:45. It took us almost as long to go down as up. Dad had been amazing all day. I can’t imagine being able to do what we had just done when I am his age.
This little adventure has made us closer than ever. We have talked almost every day since June 1st. We have compared training, discussed gear and given each other a hard time. There is quote I’ve heard that goes something like: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I think the quote could be reworked for Longs. “Longs Peak is not about the summit, it’s about getting there…and back.”
By the way dad, when I was a kid, I didn’t know you drove most of the way up Mt. Evans. In the future, when your yet to be born great grandkids click through the digital family photo album, there will be no similar misconception when they stop a little longer on the picture of the “young man on the peak looking regal, like he is the master…”
~Dennis~ (Proud son on top of the world.)