Colorado Vacation: Part 5 – Long’s Peak – Foiled Again

This is a multi-part trip report. If you haven’t already, you should start with Part 1. Remember that you can click on any of the photos to see larger versions of them.

“DON’T LET BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS DICTATE YOUR FUTURE” is written in Sharpie inside the left-hand stall in the women’s bathroom at the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern in Estes Park. “LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT” says another note on the same door. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen better advice in bathroom graffiti.

Finally, we were back at the Rock Inn – Bryan and Mandy have been looking forward to this for a year. It was still dark and friendly, they still sourced almost everything locally, and they still had great cheeseburgers. The guy who took us to our seat was wearing swim trunks, though the bike with the crash pad strapped to it wasn’t parked outside.

Our tents looked right at home at Moraine Park campground, and there was a pile of little bicycles at the entrance to the amphitheater, evidence of kids commuting from their campsites to the evening program. Bryan was feeling better and we had high hopes that the rest of the trip would go as planned.

It had rained a bit overnight but it was a breezy morning, and our tents dried out quickly. After a quick breakfast of sweet rolls in camp, watching squirrels play and stretch on the rocks near our campsite, we packed up and headed to town. A couple of hours at Dad’s Laundry gave everybody clean clothes again, and we packed up to hike in to Goblin’s Forest in preparation for the trip up Long’s Peak.

Goblin’s Forest is an easy two-mile hike from the trailhead. We set up Mandy’s tent with fallen branches, since she’d need her hiking poles early the next morning. Despite having just eaten an enormous barbecue lunch at Smokin’ Dave’s, Mandy was ready for a two-person serving of freeze dried spaghetti, which she polished off easily.

And then we packed our bags for the morning, and put away the bear canister with the next day’s food on top. We all sat in Mandy’s tent and talked until the last light was gone, and then it was time to go to sleep in our clothes.

And then it was time to get up again. At 2:30 am we were awake, pulling on jackets and hats and packs and heading for the trail. Last year, we’d stayed on the ‘back side’ of the mountain, hiking totally alone in the pre-dawn darkness. This year, I requested that we hike on the more popular side – if I have to hike in the dark, I figure, it makes me worry less to do it with hundreds of other people.

We hiked uphill for hours, in the dark. Before long we were above treeline, and we could see the lights of Denver, miles and miles and miles away. Dawn came just past Granite Pass, and we watched the outlines of the mountains below us come into view. With the dawn there also came a furious wind. We guessed it was sustained around 20mph but gusting to 40mph. As we climbed higher, the rivulets crossing the trail turned from water to ice, and the wind continued and got stronger as we climbed the switchbacks to the boulderfield.

Below, I’d traded hats with Mandy – she’d forgotten her warm hat, so I gave her my warm buff and took her baseball cap. But I couldn’t keep the cap on, so I put it in my pack as the gusts whipped my short hair into my eyes over and over. It was hard to see, and walking was impossible when the wind gusted. Bryan stumbled over and over, I fell once, and Mandy fell several times on the switchbacks. We watched as the wind shoved her straight sideways.

At the boulderfield, Bryan found a sort of depression in the rocks and we hunkered down together, trying to warm up, digging out full rainsuits for protection from the wind even though the sky was clear blue. I put my rainsuit hood on for help keeping my hair out of my eyes, and we put on our sunglasses. And shivering, in our hole, we decided together that though we wanted badly to summit Long’s Peak, the wind was clearly too strong to do it safely, and so we turned back.

We’d hoped that morning would bring calm, but it didn’t – if anything, the wind became stronger and less predictable as we descended. First the gusts would come from one direction, then the opposite. The wind was still vicious at Granite Pass. Bryan poured out my water bottle just so we could laugh at the water, falling horizontally and spraying out into the air.

We stopped at the privy above Chasm Lake. As the day progressed, it got warmer but the wind didn’t abate at all. We stopped several times, when we found shelter from the wind, to enjoy the view. Even though we didn’t get to climb Long’s, we’d worked hard to get above the treeline and wanted to enjoy being there.

And so, for the second time (the third for Bryan) Long’s Peak eluded us. We returned to camp for food and a long nap. My chest hurt, and Mandy was headachey, and our eyes were all dry and bloodshot – the result of nearly ten hours spent hiking in the dark and the wind.

After a good night’s sleep, we hiked back to the car. The register at the parking lot showed lots of comments about the wind, but hardly any hikers who claimed to have made it to the top of Long’s.