Longs Peak would be my second hike during our vacation to Colorado in June. We had just hiked Twin Sisters Peak 2 days ago and Susan wasn’t excited yet about going again so she decided to do some sightseeing and walking on a nice path around Lily Lake which she had noticed the day we hiked Twin Sisters Peak. It’s a small lake but in the early morning hours it was quiet and had some nice views. Susan dropped me off at the Longs Peak trail head around 6:00 in the morning and we talked about how long it would take and also a buffer of two hours before sending in the rescue teams. I wasn’t planning on going to the summit because of the snow and also I’m just not good with exposure, I might be able to handle it during August, but not sure even then I could do it. So the plan was to get to the Notch, look around and come back. I figured about 7 hours round trip should do it.
The first section of the hike winds through the woods with a really nice path crossing small run off streams in a few spots. As I traveled down the path, rushing water could be heard from time to time and you knew a stream was close.
It didn’t take long on the path before I started to encounter snow. This really wasn’t too bad for me poles to support yourself at key areas might be a good idea for the majority of people. I continued on through the forest encountering a couple people here and there. It was early in the year so not crowded at all. After a couple of miles in the woods the trees finally started to thin out with small open areas, and more snow.
Then it was back into the woods. It went like this for a while which was fine with me as I enjoy the peaceful beauty of the wooded areas the best.
Shortly after that I started thinning out more and there was quite a bit more snow. There was no real path to follow other that the tracks that previous hikers made in the snow. Luckily I had opened a google map in my phone before we left the hotel that showed a dotted line for the actual trail. This is very important as your climbing up a blue dot will show on that map marking your position even if you don’t have cell service. It uses the GPS function in your phone to show your location, but you need to load the map while you have good service and keep it in your phone being careful not to swipe it out. What I am finding out about this though is that you will be able to see on the map where you are at, but (if you are using something like android device manager) other people will not be able to see your location unless you have cell service. So having this map will help you know where you are at, but will not help other people waiting for you to get back to know your location. Well enough about that. After the trees cleared out I looked back at where I had come from.
In the above picture you can see the large washout area that we had crossed 2 days ago on our hike up Twin Sisters Peak. On a map it looks a long ways away, but when you get up on a mountain you can see long distances easily. From here on the hike became very lonely and seamed almost like a different world. There were no more people, just me with my hands and fingers slowly swelling up with the elevation gain and quite a bit of wind also. The views were beautiful though.
The path continued on this type of terrain for the next couple of miles with at least 10 large snow field crossings. At first I was a little uneasy with crossing them because you could hear running water underneath but they mostly weren’t very steep. I took it slow where I needed and sped up as the path improved. I thought I was at the notch as I neared a tall ridge with a couple of large rocks but found out quickly once I got there and read the sign, I had another mile or so to go to get to the boulder field before the actual notch. It just seemed like I had been hiking forever but it is a long distance, high elevation and quite windy. You really need to be physically fit. It little ways past this area I encountered an actual human, first one in a couple of hours. He had crampons and and ice axe. In talking with him he said that he had passed through the notch to the other side and proceeded down a narrow section and had slipped a little. So he decided to come back because he wasn’t comfortable with the conditions. He said there was a pretty large, steep snow field in front of the notch that I would need crampons and an ice axe to climb. That was okay with me, I just wanted to get close and see it. I continued on and around the next corner it came into view.
I walked to about the center of the boulder field and checked my watch. I had been hiking for almost 4 hours which left about 3 hours to get back before the troops were called in. So I took a few pictures and started to head back.
If you do a little reading or watch a few videos about Longs Peak you will understand why a hiker with little experience hiking on snow and ice should probably not go past the notch this time of year. People die on this mountain almost every year on the other side of that notch so it’s not to be taken lightly.
The hike back went pretty well except for one of those darn snow areas at tree line. Again there was no path and only tracks in the snow to follow. My phones gps was a little jumpy being in the mountains also, so at some points it may take 1 minute to update your position. I hit an area with a lot of snow and tracks and evidently followed the wrong tracks and ended up off the trail about a 1/4 mile. The problem was down the mountain from the trail and it was a lot of work to go back up through the snow so I decided to try and go across sideways and pick up the trail. The only problem was that I had to cross the snow that no one had yet walked on and in some areas it got quite deep. This probably wasn’t a good idea as you never know what lies ahead that you might not be able to cross. I took it slow and eventually connected up with the trail. It’s weird how easy you can get lost and if I hadn’t had the phone with the map loaded, I’m not sure how long I would have been out there. It’s a must.
I finally got back down in a about 7 hours total and over 12 miles hiked. I was beat but felt wonderful with all the new sights I had seen. It would really be great to actually get to the summit on this one but I think because of the sheer ledges on the other side of the Notch I will probably have to be satisfied with this. There are plenty more 14,000 ft. mountains yet to climb in Colorado to keep me busy. I’m looking forward to it.