A Night on Longs Peak
Jan 08, 2017
The story of this photo goes back a long time. I learned of Longs Peak long before I moved to Colorado, first coming on to my radar back in 2003. I did not try it then however, as at the time of my visit the snow had not yet melted off the route sufficiently to attempt a laymen's climb. Years passed, and in 2013 I moved west. Now it is the nearest 14er to me, visible most days from the town where I live, the trailhead just a 45 minute drive away. While I've done other hard hikes, climbed other 14ers, it looms over me and seemingly taunts me all the time. I've been on the mountain a few times now, but have never reached the summit. So, I planned another attempt for this past September with a determination that this time I was ready.
I chose the less conventional approach of backpacking it by climbing up to the Boulderfield and camping overnight before making a summit attempt in the morning. The 2-3 AM start of the typical summit attempt just didn't seem appealing to me. As the day came, the weather forecast looked good, sunny & clear both days with only 10-20 mph winds forecasted. The day came, the gear was packed and ready to go, permits aquired, the sky was clear. I was confident that success would be ours. My hiking partner & I set off for the Boulderfield shortly before noon, and the weather seemed perfect. As we moved above treeline it did become breezy, but not overly so. As we neared Granite Pass and the final turn up to the Boulderfield however, the winds picked up considerably. The winds were blowing out of the west much harder than forecast, likely gusting up past 60 mph or more. As we were entering the Boulderfield, a gust hit my hiking partner and knocked him off his feet. I hoped that once we got to the camping area tacked in between Longs Peak, Mount Lady Washington, and Storm Peak that we would be somewhat sheltered. We found instead that the gusts were sweeping up over the summit, down the North Face of Longs, and then swirling around the bowl that is the Boulderfield. We were instead going to be hit from every side. We quickly put up the tent and anchored it with the plentiful rocks of the Boulderfield. We ate a quick supper and hunkered down in the tent for the night. It was nearly impossible to sleep. Every few minutes, as you would just be starting to fall asleep, another gust would barrel off the mountain and slam into the side of the tent. It held up through the night without damage, but it was the longest night ever. When the full moon rose over Mount Lady Washington, it was so bright with the clear sky that I thought there was someone outside with their headlight on. As the morning came, I poked my head out the tent door to get a read on when the sunrise light would hit the mountains. When the moment came, I ventured out into the wind and cold to get some shots. This was by far the steadiest, it must have been a calmer moment. You can still see the evidence of the wind where our tent tag is blowing in the breeze. The sunrise light was amazing, the high point of the trip. This can be the payoff for venturing out into the extreme mountain weather.
My hiking partner's knee had been injured in his fall the night before from the wind, so he decided against a summit attempt. The wind showed no signs of letting up, and the exposure of the route made me uneasy to make an attempt myself. As other hikers were arriving and making their attempts, we noticed that most were turning back fairly quickly as the extreme winds were making the route beyond the Keyhole treacherous. In the end I decided to climb up to Chasm View next to the Diamond and then turn for home. The mountain conquered me again, but I will go after it again next year. Better to turn back and live to attempt it again then to get blown off the mountain to an unfortunate end. This photo is a great takeaway from the experience though, and it was definitely an adventure. To make a purchase of this photo click on it above and you will be taken to its page in my art store.
Thanks for sharing in my story, I hope you enjoyed it!