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Destined To Fail: A Failed Attempt at Longs Peak

Friday – Monday, September 6-9, 2019

I took a day off from work to climb Longs Peak, but all I climbed this weekend was Cupid (13,117). Earlier this year when I was making plans that required permits in advance, climbing Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park with an overnight stay in the Boulderfield was near the top of my list. While I know that many people climb Longs Peak in a long day, that is not the experience I was looking for and I was looking forward to spending a night in the Boulderfield before the climb. I was able to secure a permit back in March for this Sunday night and had hoped that this popular route wouldn’t be too crowded on a Monday in early September after Labor Day. Since I was unsure about my climbing ability and the exposure along this route, I invited my friend Jackson and his fiance Amy along to join me on this trip because I know that Jackson likes to climb and scramble. Unfortunately, this would not end up being my year to climb Longs Peak. Not only were we unable to make it to the Boulderfield on Sunday because of the weather, but even if we had made it up there I know that I would not have been able to climb the Keyhole Route on Monday morning since there was snow overnight and the route was covered in ice. I guess winter in the high country has arrived! Maybe I’ll give it another shot next summer…

I left after work on Friday afternoon and headed east on I-70 toward Loveland Pass. As I drove through Silverthorn there was a big thunderstorm with close lightning strikes all around me. It was pretty cool. I headed up the road along Peru Creek and found a campsite near Warden Gulch for the night. It had been raining for a while and continued to rain as I fell asleep for the night. I woke up a few times overnight and heard on and off rain until at least 4:30am. I woke up early on Saturday morning and drove to the top of Loveland Pass before sunrise so I could hike to the summit of Cupid along the Continental Divide. It was windy and chilly out this morning, but at least it wasn’t still raining.

Following the trail along the Continental Divide.

Continental Divide

That’s Mount Sniktau (13,234) on the left, which I climbed last summer.

Mount Sniktau

On the summit of Cupid.

Cupid Summit

Following the well-used trail back down to Loveland Pass.

Back to Loveland Pass

As I neared the pass the sky began filling with clouds which created some nice dappled light on the peaks.

Clouds & Light

I made a quick stop at Pass Lake on my way back to Dillon for an early lunch.

Pass Lake Spotlight

After lunch I headed to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park so I could pick up my camping permit from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. I figured the west side probably wouldn’t be as busy as the east side, plus it’s easier for me to get to this side. Once I had my permit in hand I decided to go on an evening drive on Trail Ridge Road since I have only been to Rocky Mountain National Park once before, and that was back in 2011. I didn’t really remember much from that visit, so everything was pretty new to me. I also ended up going for a short walk along the headwaters of the Colorado River to stretch my legs for a bit.

A view of Specimen Mountain from the Medicine Bow Curve.

Specimen Mountain

Longs Peak from the Rock Cut. I probably saw Longs back in 2011, but I really don’t remember it…

Longs Peak from Rock Cut

Forest Canyon

Forest Canyon

After my drive through the high country I returned to Grand Lake for dinner and then headed up the Stillwater Pass Road so I could find a campsite outside of the park for the night. It was a little busy up there but I managed to find a small place to sleep for the night.

I woke up early on Sunday morning and went for a sunrise drive on Trail Ridge Road. As I rounded a bend in the road this was my first view of the sun.

The Morning Sun

Rocky Mountain Sunrise

Rocky Mountain Sunrise

I watched the sunlight strike the tops of the peaks surrounding me.

Trail Ridge Morning

Longs Peak from the Rock Cut. This time at sunrise.

Longs Peak Sunrise

Terra Tomah Mountain

Terra Tomah Mountain

Hazy Ridges

Hazy Ridges

Looking down to Horseshoe Park from Rainbow Curve.

Horseshoe Park

After my early morning drive through the park I stopped for breakfast in Estes Park and checked the weather one last time while I was there. The forecast was not looking good! The weather for Sunday afternoon had been looking bad all week and I hoped that things would change like they usually do, but this time I had no such luck.

Longs Peak Forecast 2019

Next I headed over to the Longs Peak Trailhead to wait for Jackson and Amy to arrive. While I was waiting I got my backpack ready and read a book for a little while. Jackson and Amy arrived a little after 11:00am and we were on the trail to the Boulderfield around noon.

A small cascade near the crossing of Alpine Brook.

Alpine Brook Cascade

We passed this warning sign as we approached treeline.

Lightning Hazard Sign

Just as soon as we got above treeline we could see that dark clouds were coming over the mountains toward us and we started to hear rumbles of thunder. It just so happened that a Park Ranger was coming down the trail at this time and had just been notified that a storm was headed our way and there were a lot of lightning strikes. We decided to head back down the trail a little ways and wait out the storm, hoping that we would be able to continue up the trail after it had passed.

Jackson had brought along a tarp, so he strung it from this fallen tree for shelter while we waited for the storm to arrive.

Waiting for the Storm

Thankfully we had the shelter because when the first storm arrived it produced a lot of graupel and lightning. You can see it in this short video I took from under the tarp.

A photo of our shelter after the storm passed through.

Storm Shelter

The rain did create this little rainbow over Alpine Brook.

Trail Rainbow

Then some low clouds moved in with another storm…

Incoming Clouds

We ended up waiting through at least two more storms before we decided to try hiking up to the Boulderfield again, since we hadn’t heard any thunder for a little while. But it figures that as soon as we got above treeline again we were quickly turned around by another storm. At this point it was starting to get late so we decided to call it a day and headed back down to the trailhead. It was a good call because this storm was the worst yet! We hiked down the trail through heavy rain and a lot of lightning and thunder. The lightning strikes were some of the closest that I have ever been near in the mountains before. I was kind of glad I wasn’t in the Boulderfield right then. When we arrived back to the trailhead we headed over to the Longs Peak Campground and found a campsite there for the night. It was actually the last night of the season that this campground was going to be open.

An evening view of the Twin Sister from our campsite before it started to rain again.

Campground View

After having a quick dinner and then changing out of our soaking wet clothes we all went to bed early. There was more rain this evening and on and off throughout the night. We woke up shortly before sunrise on Monday morning and decided to salvage the trip with a morning hike up to Chasm Lake since we wouldn’t be climbing Longs Peak. After packing up camp we headed over to the trailhead again and got the last two parking spots in the lot at about 7:00am. I recalled the weather forecast saying it was supposed to be clear out today, but there were a lot of fast-moving clouds in the sky and it was pretty windy and chilly when we got up higher on the trail.

At first, Longs Peak was hidden in the low clouds.

Hidden Behind Clouds

The clouds started to clear out a little and dappled sunlight struck the peak.

Light & Clouds

Spotted light on Mount Lady Washington.

Mount Lady Washington

A view over to Granite Pass. Had we been able to hike to the Boulderfield the day before, that’s the way we would have gone.

Granite Pass

When we reached Chasm Junction there was a great view of Longs Peak. You can see fresh snow on top of the peak.

Longs In the Clouds

Of course, I had to stop and check out the award-winning toilet while we were here.

Award-Winning Toilet

The views only got better as we hiked further up the trail from Chasm Junction.

Chasm Lake Trail View

Columbine Falls

Columbine Falls

Jackson and Amy below the Ships Prow.

Ships Prow

Finally, we reached Chasm Lake. It was very windy and cold here, so we didn’t stick around too long.

Chasm Lake

Looking the other direction away from the lake.

The Other Way

Zoomed in on the summit of Longs Peak. It will have to wait for another day.

The Summit

Following the Chasm Lake Trail back down.

Chasm Lake Trail

A nice view over the Roaring Fork and Peacock Pool to the Twin Sisters.

Roaring Fork

Just a marmot on a rock along the trail.

Marmot On a Rock

On our way back down to the trailhead we stopped and spoke to a few people who had tried to climb Longs Peak this morning and all of them had turned back at The Keyhole because of wind, snow and ice. I know that I also would not have attempted it this morning, so maybe it’s not so bad that we we didn’t make it to the Boulderfield this time. Maybe I’ll try again next year…

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