Preparing for Longs Peak, I knew what lay ahead would be a challenge. From the trail head, the hike was quite pleasant to start. The first segment was wooded and familiar. The easy and kind path guided me through switchbacks and beautiful scenery for just over 3 miles. For this portion it dawned on me how thankful I was (and am) for the respect and understanding that hikers and visitors have for the trails. The mantra “leave no trace” that outdoor adventure seekers take to heart is what allows the landscape to remain so beautiful despite how many people visit this peak annually. Longs Peak (perhaps due to the number of visitors) frequently advertised this philosophy of respect for the environment on the trail. To be able to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings is and was the product of an understanding which does not go beyond my appreciation.
As I got closer to the 3 mile mark, the trees slowly faded away and were replaced by small shrubs, grass, and rock. With this change in environment came my first view of the mountain ahead. To the left of my destination sits Mt. Meeker, a 13,911 foot mountain that just barely misses my list of 14’ers to tackle. To the right of Mt. Meeker is Longs Peak, settled in directly behind Chasm Lake. Finally, to the right of Longs Peak is Mt. Lady Washington sitting at 13,281 feet and also just nearly missing my list.
I continued on the trail for another 2 miles as I slowly approached to the base of the mountain and enjoyed every view as I progressed. Upon the trail split, I went left, directly toward Mt. Meeker which routes to Chasm Lake and “The Loft” before scaling Longs Peak. For the time being, I disregarded “The Keyhole” route which wraps around Mt. Lady Washington and into Boulder field. Rather, this route would be my descent. The path I mapped out would make the trail somewhat longer, however, I decided the views would be worth the mileage. Not to mention the variety and mental trickery that a loop trail provides as opposed to an out and back. I hiked to Chasm Lake and was met with a picture perfect view of Longs Peak as well as the beautiful image of the untouched reservoir. I was impressive to discover the unexpected landscape that could make its home above 12,000 feet in elevation. Until I saw it, I would not have dreamed the idea that a lake could sit untouched at the base of one of the tallest mountains in the state. Upon arriving at Chasm Lake, the weather was kind and the sun had warmed up the trail so I shed some layers and assessed that I was mentally and physically feeling confident in the effort I was about to expend.
As I hiked up the trail, I caught some special views before I had to put my phone away for the steep climbing. The trail I followed was quite faint both approaching Chasm Lake and starting up Longs Peak. The area was amazingly beautiful which only added to positivity and confidence I was feeling. I climbed up the steep rock face (pictured below) and eventually made it to “The Loft.” This wide open area was filled with all kinds of different rock and was a perfect perch to snap a great view of Longs Peak. After summiting Mt. Meeker, I made my way back down to “The Loft” and back on the trail to Longs Peak. I encountered a few more steep climbs and some bouldering sections on my way but well placed cairns and route descriptions lead me right where I needed to go. At 13,500 feet, I hiked around the south side of the mountain to meet up with “The Keyhole” route to finish the climb up the infamously steep slope to the summit. Even the final few yards up to the summit (pictured above) were incredibly steep. Once on top, I was able to recognize that the discomfort and struggle was absolutely worth it. As I sat down and ate lunch, soaking up the amazing views, I considered all of the folks who made this trek before me and some of the stories I previously heard. After my break for food, I packed up and began my descent toward “The Keyhole” and Mt. Lady Washington. I moved quickly, following the painted dots for the route. This formation of rocks was the path from the back of the mountain to the “Boulder Field”, a few square miles littered with large boulders. From a distance as I approached, I could see many hikers amongst the boulders although they didn’t appear to be much more than small colorful dots. “Boulder Field” where I was spotting all these distant dots also serves as a base camp for out of town tourists to allow them to grow acclimated to the altitude. Several campsites were set up in the field as I passed. Some groups were clearly planning and preparing to summit in the coming days.
As “Boulder Field” transitioned to grassy fields, I looked back toward Longs Peak to find a perspective on the size of the field and the size of the mountain I just conquered. I was pleased, but the storm clouds building on the ridge quickly captured my attention. Knowing that storms tend to build and roll in quickly in the mountains, I picked up my pace and jogged down the trail until I finally made it to the tree line. 2.5 miles left from there and I made it to my car safely. Longs Peak was a great adventure full of beautiful views that I feel so thankful to have experienced and to be able to share.