Sunset over Jim's Grove
"The hill" at the end of Jim's Grove
Making our way to the Keyhole
Allen, Lora, John, Ed & JD
Alan & Lori allllmost there
Just on the other side of the keyhole
Tribute to JD Green!
Looking back at the Ledges
Bill's photo of the Narrows
Alan. Our fearless leader :)
It's an inside "must picture" to have :)
The Home Stretch
More of the Home Stretch
me start out by saying that hiking to the summit of Long's Peak
was one of the most monumental accomplishments (and blessings) of my life.
Many have done it before me, but it is something I certainly didn't think I
would ever do, so here's my story.
One of the reasons it meant so much to me was because before it happened, I felt so insecure about my abilities to make it. I had been warning everyone at the Get-Together, and at McGregor, that I didn't think I was strong enough to finish. I was terrified of the heights even on the ground, and I knew it would get 100-fold worse when I was actually standing on a ledge in the middle of the sky, hugging a wall I was certain would give out and find me tumbling to the ground 14,000 feet below right in front of my forums friends. I feared that at the part of the hike where it was the most important to focus and be strong, I would be weak and weary, and would stumble over my toe. . .right over the edge. The whole thing produced so much anxiety!
So, the night before, we had dinner with Al & Lori at Mary's Lake Lodge (OMG. . .what a WONDERFUL discovery THAT was!!!) Alan helped calm my fears so much. I think it was the realization that Alan is so amazingly accomplished on those mountains! And he had completed 17 summits of Long's Peak. So his reassurances that he was going to be with us every step of the way went a long way towards infusing just a flicker of hope that mayyyyybe we could do it.
We were up at 1:30 am, and on the trail at 3:15 am with Kristin, Ben, Chuck, Lori & Big Al. As we reached Jim's Grove, the sun started rising. It was so beautiful, even the steeeeeeeeep hill we had to climb at the end didn't take away the beauty. Matter of fact, as you looked up that steep hill, you could see the moon setting, as if saying good-bye to the evening, and bidding the morning and its hikers-on-a-mission a good-day. Nevertheless, that steep hill was a cruel thing to put at the end of Jim's Grove, and there was quite a bit of huffing and puffing going on about then.
But finally we made it to the Boulder Field. That in itself felt like a pretty cool accomplishment. Especially when we saw our friends who had camped there the night before waiting for us -- smiling, happy to see us, cookies and water in hand. I know it sounds corny. . .but I felt so much love for my Rocky Mountain friends as we got there and happily shared our adventure together.
But, I wasn't sure how much more of the adventure we were going to be able to share because Bill had twisted his hip on a misstep in Jim's Grove, and every step was excruciating. As I looked at the uphill climb to the Keyhole, I felt like we'd be doing good if we made it up there as badly as he was hurting. But. . .. Big Al to the rescue. He took Bill and did some hip stretching exercises with him, and voila. . . he wasn't quite as good as new, but he was once again willing to give it all he had, so off to the Keyhole we went. And Ohmy! What an adventure scrambling up those boulders was !!!
But alas, we did indeed reach the Keyhole. Aaaaaand. . . heeeeeeeeeeere's where the bottom falls out of your heart and you see what you are made of. As we poked our heads thru the Keyhole, the wind was blowing at what felt like several hundred miles an hour (Alan said it was about 40 mph, but it felt like several hundred). And I can't even describe to you the feelings we had as we peered thru that window and saw the entire planet Earth laid out before us! With just a small little ledge to step on (did I mention that the wind could blow us off with half a puff?????) Lori went first, then me. When I got thru, I saw Lori hugging the wall, looking pale and woozy. My first reaction was genuine concern for her because she has always been so easy and full of life and "can do". I had never seen her looking so vulnerable and frightened and it really shook me up. But then. . .for a split second, I took my eyes off Lori, and saw my own self on that ledge. Gasp! A terror filled my entire being like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. It felt like my mind and heart were not in my body (I think they were tumbling over the edge), and I found my body involuntarily heaving with emotional sobs. I couldn't go back. I couldn't go forward. But most of all, I didn't want to be there because I thought that at any second I was going to be blown off that ledge and I'd be a statistic like so many gone before me who lost their life on Long's Peak! All I could do was panic (ok, and sob). And the strange thing was. . .I didn't even know I had a fear of heights like that. Bill thought he did, but not me. But here I was in a real life panic attack, and Bill, the one with the fear of heights, instinctively went into his gallant protective mode and was as cool, calm and as reassuring as if he did this every day. He told me later that his concern for me made him totally forget about his own fear (no wonder I like him so much :) But at any rate, the verdict was: There was noooo way I would be able to stand up on that ledge and start making my way across that skinny little obstacle course in the sky. Bill was afraid for my fear and also for Lori's and said, "We're shutting it down." I couldn't disagree. Because I couldn't speak. I was still too emotional and freaked out! But all of a sudden it dawned on me: "Hey. . . I'm not too tired or physically spent yet! I could easily continue on physically." And something inside just rose up and decided: "I am not giving in to fear -- because physically, I can do this!" Sooooooo, I stood up on that ledge (still crying), hugged that wall and slowly (verrrrry. . . ever so slowly) started inching myself towards the next hurdle.
The BARS!!!!! It was one of the scariest parts of the hike. There's a big rock in the middle of the trail, and the only way to get past it was to hold on to these slippery metal bars and pull yourself over the rock. I still don't know how I managed to do it. I think I must have fainted and instinct took over. I took a picture paying tribute to our friend, JD Green, because the Bars were as far as JD could go. My heart went out to him tho because he wanted to make it thru so badly, but in the end, he would pass the bars, but just couldn't go any further. I knew FULL well what he was going thru!
I didn't take too many pictures along the Ledges because. . . well. . . I thought I'd die if I let go of the wall. Because I have to say. . . there really is not "a trail" up there. It's like a bunch of big rocks on the side of a mountain that somehow you have to maneuver your steps around, of course, being careful that none of the rocks are loose. . . or else . . . you know. . . But you can see one picture that I did take looking back at the Ledges.
During this first part of the trip after the Keyhole, Alan was truly our savior! I know I never ever would have had the courage to do this if it weren't for his gracious reassurances and encouragement. I'd be sniffling, and he'd be saying, "You're doing great. .. You're really nailing this. . ." and he'd tell me what to expect next. As I was finally able to stop shaking and crying, he said, "Look. . .just around that corner, and you're already at the Trough." Now. .. I have heard HORROR STORIES of "the Trough". In fact, if it hadn't been for Smudge's warnings the day before, the horror of that ridiculously STEEP stretch of rocks may have caught me by surprise, but actually, I was so terrified of the exposure I had been on, I thought the Trough would be a welcome relief. And you know what? As hard as it was physically. . . it was a relief. It was not exposed to those sheer drop-off's so I was ready for it! For me, I had to use both hands the whole way up the Trough & the Homestretch (but must confess that part of that was so I could lean on my hands and take restful breaks. It was BRUTAL!!!)
As we were slogging our way up the Trough, we saw Glenn, Michelle, Kelsey &
Meghan heading down. They had already summitted, and they had that
tired glow of victory on their faces, so it inspired us to keep our minds on
the payoff and keep going (Thanks, guys!!!)
When we got to the top of the Trough, we had another hurdle to conquer. A BIG ONE! There was a huge boulder on the trail, and the only way around it was to do what I thought looked like technical climbing over it -- putting your feet in little ridges and holding on to other little ridges with your hands. But to me, the ridges looked wayyyyyyyyyy too little to be taken seriously as anything that would get me over that rock safely. But lo and behold, a stranger with a rope and knots in the rope called out, "Hey. . .anyone want to use my rope before I put it up." ???? Seriously ???? I think he was an angel. . . ."Thanks, God!" :) So now. Hurdle conquered: The NARROWS. OMG, the Narrows! I was way too scared to take out my camera, but look at Bill's Picture of the Narrows: 'Nuff said! But thankfullly, it really wasn't as scary as the Ledges, and it's relatively short.
Then. . . unbelievably, there we were at the Home Stretch! But, unfortunately, the Home Stretch threatened to do us in. Bill's head was pounding and he couldn't get his heart rate down, and as much Magic Goo as I'd had (OMG, Alan and Smudge's Magic Goo was freaking AMAZING!!!), but even so, my legs were telling me, "YOU ARE DONE!. . . NO MORE. . .PERIOD!" And feeling like that, take a look at my Home Stretch picture. How would you like to face THAT after your body said it was finished! It's slick granite rock, only climbable by cracks in the rock to stick your feet. Sigh. . . .
We could see the top, but weren't sure we had it in us to make it. But one step at a time we kept pushing. Then, in our fatigue and stupor, we saw the most glorious site! It was a bunch of smiling, cheering faces -- faces that we knew and loved -- peering thru the summit. Clapping. Waving, "Yayyyyyyyyy, you've made it. . . Come on up. . . You're here!!!" Kristin, Lora & Allen, Igloo Ed, Junkie & his kids Alex & Jen (11-years old, mind you), Ben Stafford, Monica & Rick, & John. I wanted to cry. We DID make it! We really DID!!! When we crawled thru that summit, I looked at Bill and Big Al, incredulously: "We really made it, didn't we! We really DID!" Tired turned to euphoria. Sometimes, I still can't believe we did it!
I would like to say that the way back was uneventful. . . .but this is the only hike I've ever been on where the way back was as brutal as the way up. And the way back makes you FACE the exposure. I got most of my way down sliding on my seat. . . and ummm. . . ended up with no seat in my pants by the time we made it down (Ooops!!) We all swore that the hike back added an extra 10 miles! Our feet hurt. Our minds hurt. Our butts hurt. . . .and that last little sign before the trailhead that said, "Trailhead .5" brought emotions that ran the gamut from wanting to cry, to wanting to take the last bit of strength we had and beat that sign to a pile of rubble with our backpacks! Baaaaaad sign. If it had just said, "You're almost there. . ." we could have lived with that. But .5 miles might as well have been 500 miles at that point! But as tired as we were, we still found a way to laugh and share stories of our day. Allen Bierbaum's story of an unfortunate incident with his shoes still can find me giggling till my sides hurt. I won't tell it tho because -- you had to be there -- and no one could tell it like Allen did :)
The only damper was that we were all worrying about Rick Stafford, who we thought had sprained his ankle on the Trough -- but as it turned out -- he actually BROKE it, and somehow hobbled all the way back with a broken ankle (have I mentioned that there is unspeakable exposure and skinny "trails" on that hike??????) Allen called some Rangers to come help him, and Big Al scurried down the trail to let Rick & Monica know that help was coming (and later he scurried right back up again to finish with us -- he is a physical machine! Seriously!) So some Rangers came to help Rick down, but seriously, I am in total awe of Rick's mojo to be able to do that. He is an amazing guy -- and I don't think he or Monica ever lost their effervescent smiles!
Soooooo. . . . I've been
asked: "Why would you DO something like that????" The danger.
The fear. The physical stretch and discomfort. I have
to admit that my first reaction to that question when someone asks it is. .
. well. . . sympathy. Because it means they have never
experienced anything like that to know.
If they had, they would know. I mean. . . aside from the
unequivocal beauty of looking down on lakes and peaks and valleys below from
on top of the world, there is nothing. . . and I'm serious: NOTHING.
that is so exhilarating as being up to a task like that physically. It
makes you feel healthy. Strong. Young. But even more, it's
about being up to a task like that
about facing your fears and overcoming! It's about accomplishment, and
achieving something that will never go away. We will never look up at
Long's Peak again without feeling awe, and the incredible satisfaction of knowing
we were UP THERE! And we did it with our friends. It
felt AMAZING! So for those who can't get their mind around why we
would do something like that? I'm so sorry. . . .
I hope before you die you get to know. Really know :)
Lora Bierbaum's photo :) DISBELIEF! (Lora's photo) Another of Lora's photos Bill signing the summit registry Ta-daaaaaaaaaaaa ! ! !
Alan soaking it all in A view of some of our favorite Alan, Lora, John, Allen, Bill The golden glow of evening
lakes below: Frozen, Blue. . slogging the last part
Rocky Mountain National Park
Long's Peak hiking reports
The Home Stretch
The Boulder Field
Summiting Long's Peak
Long's Peak summit