Continued from Part 1
I am on the other side of the Keyhole, the massive rock formation that leads hikers to the final ascent onto Longs Peak. I have already been climbing for at least four hours, and completed most of the mileage. However, I know looking out over the path that the miles I have left will be far harder.
As I stand on the other side of the Keyhole, I look down into a void. The mountain plunges sharply, meaning any missteps will lead to a several hundred foot fall. I can see all the way back to the valley floor. My stomach lurches. I may not be afraid of heights, but I am afraid of dying.
I pull myself away from the cliff only long enough to see the path that we still have ahead of us, which is just as terrifying. Tiny red bull’s-eyes are painted to show you the route across the otherwise vertical cliff face. In a good place, that route is two or three feet wide. In a bad place, the same route is only inches. All the way, slippery rock drops straight down to a sure death.
My guide, seemingly heedless to all of this, bounds on happily. He seems as chipper as ever, probably because he has navigated this deathly expanse before. My Dad and I cautiously follow, always keeping an eye on the huge drop next to us.
Inch by inch we make our way forward, lodging our feet on tiny pieces of rock. Sometimes, we have to shimmy across along the smooth faces of boulders, all the while knowing that losing our foothold could mean meeting our creator. Sometimes, we diverged from the path in order to pursue a less dangerous path.
This section of the trail is called The Ledges, and it is easy to see why. Really, it is impossible to get away from a ledge. This whole face of the mountain is almost vertical, and the trail itself is on an angle, so there really aren’t any “ledges.” The whole thing is one giant ledge!
We journey closer to the Peak ever more slowly. It is tiring, and we often have to stop for breaks. Not to mention the psychological effect of the nearby plunge to death.
At length, we make it past The Narrows. One short scramble over a boulder and I can see the Trough. Here the route turns away from the cliff and on towards the summit. I am relieved to be away from the cliff, but I am worried about the incline of this piece. It looks to be steeper than any part that has come before. Unfortunately for us, it is.
We make just as slow of a pace up the Trough. I have a little fun bounding up the rocks, but it is soon overcome by the monotony of the climb. It is hard work. Grab, pull, step. Grab, pull, step. Over and over again. My Dad is beginning to fall behind, and we have to stop frequently to rest. The Trough seems endless.
We are nearing the top. The bleak scene of rocks and grey dirt begins to melt away, and I can see the sky. We are over! For a second, my heart leaps. However, my joy at being done with one trial quickly disappears as I realize there is a greater one ahead.
On top of the Trough, I look into an abyss just as great as that of the Keyhole. The path, known here as the Narrows, once again winds its way along the steep mountainside.
One more quick stop and we are off. Once more, we carefully toe the thin path of the Narrows. Once more, we look down at a long drop. Once more, I wonder if this is ever going to end.
The view is depressing. I can only see more cold stone and steep drops. The mountain seems ever more unfriendly. I look down the cliff and see a pile of skeletons (okay, maybe I made that part up).
Everything is the same. Everything blurs together. I can no longer tell one stone from the next. It is almost dull when we find ourselves on the other side of the Narrows. However, I am quickly excited again when our guide tells us that this is the Homestretch. This is almost the top! I can barely contain my excitement.
With renewed vigor, we start climbing. I bound up rocks as if I hadn’t been climbing since midnight. We were near the Peak!
The Homestretch is the single hardest part of the climb. It is almost as if it was placed at the end intentionally, as one final hurdle for intrepid hikers. It looks almost vertical from afar, but upon closer examination is actually a little sloped. This made it easier. But not too much easier.
As we climb onward, my scarcely operating mind begins to wonder if this is really the top. What if the guide has misled us? What if we still have more climbing to do, or miles to go? I keep climbing.
The first glimpse I catch of the top is almost like a mirage. “It can’t be flat,” I thought, “It has to keep going higher.” But it is flat! As I pull myself over the edge, onto that paradise of flat ground, I felt the greatest pride I have ever felt. I had done it! I had climbed Longs Peak!
The views were incredible. There are hardly words to describe such beauty, such sheer scale and magnitude. The landscape before us looked like a vast ocean, churning with the foam of clouds. The peaks of mountains were like islands far below and far away. The air was pure and chill, like the breath of angels. Beams of sunlight came down like flowing water. Far away, in the flatlands of Colorado, I could see the swaying fields spread out like honey.
I see the cliffs and sheer drops that we made our way across. I see the vast expanse of boulders and those little tents. I see, far below, the beginnings of the treeline. And I hear the soft breath of wind in the grass…
And then I remember that I still have to get back down.
I love this one
The view that greeted me as I stepped through the Keyhole
Climbing at a rather odd angle
The Red bulls-eyes that mark the path
The path was wide here
Looking up the enormous Trough, a long and tough climb
Looking at the back at the Narrows. Another hiker is making his way across
Taking a rest on one of the more level areas, we enjoy the breathtaking view
Looking at a different section of the Narrows, the path is not even visible
Looking up at the almost-vertical Homestretch
Climbing up to the Peak
Celebrating on top with a high five
The great view over the valley
Me perched on top of the altitude marker, which marks the true peak
The sea of mountains
The elevation marker, at the highest point
One of the crystal-clear mountain lakes, reflecting the clouds
Mountains rolling off into the distance
The brutal front face of Longs Peak
Another amazing view, with the trees lapping the bottom of the mountains like water
Looking back down the Homestretch