Long's Peak Report from W4XEN (actual)

Caleb W4XEN
 

Hello from a very sore W4XEN,

I'm alive first of all! I made it.

I woke up at midnight on the 3rd after having gone to sleep at 5:30 pm the evening before. I had all my gear packed and ready to go.

I left the house around 1am Saturday and went to Village Inn in Brighton for breakfast with all the drunkies lol. I had a HUGE breakfast in preparation for the energy I was about to expend.

I drove to the trailhead and arrived at 2:40 or so. Sure enough, the parking lot was packed and cars were lining the road to the trailhead. I found a spot and squeezed in. There were a few people camping in their car.

I did a final check to make sure I didn't forget anything, which I did (my sunglasses in my Jeep), I had a false start but remembered my sunglasses about 5 mins into the trail and turned around and got them. 
So my final departure time from the trailhead was at 3am. There were a pretty good amount of people, like myself, all hiking via headlight up the dark path. I passed a waterfall and creek which I switchbacked by a few times before leaving the treeline.

It was nice hiking in the cool early morning. I really tried to not hike fast and pace myself accordingly, but nonetheless, after leaving the treeline and following the cairned path, the first heavy breathing kicked in. By the time the sun was illuminating the eastern horizon, I was just about to the initial boulder field up to the Keyhole. I learned that the Keyhole is more or less the beginning of the "hard" climb. Getting to the Keyhole was strenuous enough, but little did I know that what lay beyond the Keyhole was really one of the hardest mountain climbs I've ever done.

I donned my climbing helmet at the Keyhole, sun well above the horizon. A few people turned around at this point and I made a mental note that I wasn't going to be one of them. First stepping out past the red and yellow bullseye blazes was a little surreal. It kinda hit me as I looked down that a fall here and beyond could be fatal. I was scrambling on a ledge some 11,000 ft in the air, I was going north, around the western face of the mountain. I kept my eyes fixed ahead and to the left, but hardly any looking right/west as I scrambled. I don't consider myself afraid of heights, but I didn't want to take any chances of my stomach getting the better of me, so I just didn't look down so to speak.

Scrambling around a 14er was extremely difficult, but the hard parts were still yet to come. I made it to the "trough". Which as I learned, wasn't really hiking anymore, but rather a rock climb. I looked up the 2100' beast and though, Oh Lord...

I began my ascent up the nearly vertical scramble if you want to call it that, and began sucking air hard. My legs were on fire, sweat drenched. I found myself going up the Trough. After reading about it, (after the fact of course), this is one of the longest climbs in Colorado. Surely, had I have climbed earlier in the year, ice axes, crampons, and maybe even rope would have had to have been used.

The pitch had to have been 45° or more in some places. I was using my upper body just as much as my legs. Only a line of hard pack snow/ice lay to the north on the Trough but it was easily avoided. I leap frogged up the Trough with a few people. I could really only go 10-20 feet up before taking a 5 minute or more break. I've never done any hike/climb like this before. It was insanely difficult. Off the charts for sure.

After spending what must have been 2-2.5 hours in the Trough, I made it to the next portion, called the Narrows.

The Narrows is a ledge, wrapping around the north side of the mountain. True to its name, the Narrows is a 2-3 foot wide ledge of a path. To the left was good hand holds but the to the right...a sheer drop off down. At this point, adrenaline kicked in and I really didn't feel much pain in my limbs from the surge of it. I'm not a morbid person, but I activated my GoPro on my helmet just in case...at least they would see how I went. (Confirmed with a Park Ranger, this has happened before).

I slowly made my way around the ledge, picking out every hand hold and foot placement. Thankfully, the weather was great. A slight breeze and good temperature. No bad clouds in sight.

I made it to the next, and last phase of the ascent. Called the Homestretch, this part is again another near vertical climb up. Finding hand holds and footing, I inched my way up. I'm sure a fall here would have also been just as deadly. As a matter of fact, almost every place past the Keyhole was astoundingly dangerous. I don't know what energy source I was running on, but going up the Homestretch, I was digging deep within myself to keep going.

Ten feet from the top, I got yet another surge of adrenaline and heaved over the edge. Finally! I made it to the bounder strewn summit! I was a hot mess. I found an operating site, but due to the energy exerted, found I was reduced to gross motor skills only. I took a good 15 mins to collect myself. I starting looking at the time, my condition, and considering how long it would take me to do that all over again, but in reverse.

I decided to make a command decision and not setup HF. Deploying my antenna, gathering the mental faculties for CW, and responding to curious hikers, was enough for me to decide to simply pull out the HT and notepad and get some contacts that way. I laminated the PDF file listing all the simplex options and dialed into the first one. I was able to work 2 hams on Beirstadt almost right away. I heard, through them, that Bob K0NR was on the air. So I tried for him. I did, in fact, hear Bob, but he couldn't hear me unfortunately. I recorded 10 QSLs and 2 S2S's with Beirstadt. That was enough for me.

My thoughts began turning to the hike down. It was a little helpful with the gravity assist on the return hike but nonetheless, brutal.

After what seemed like forever, I had made it again to the Keyhole. I'm not sure if a lot of people turned around or it they just left the summit at a different time than I did, but there was only a handful within sight on the return trip.

Once past the Keyhole, I had something bad happen. I ran out of water. I sucked my water pouch in my pack dry. There was still a daunting 5-6 miles left in full exposure. This is when the fun began.

I had stopped sweating hours ago, mouth was dry, a headache was forming, and I still had a long way to go. I hiked and rested, hiked and rested, til I found myself in a cloud of pain from my legs and feet.

Around this time I got a "Ding" from my phone. I had cell service for the first time on this hike. Seeing as how I was out of water and some symptoms of heat exhaustion were forming, I decided to get out a message to my wife, Brittany. Text as follows:

Me: Call your mom [I was planning on asking Brittany's mom, who's a nurse, on the symptoms of heat exhaustion to see if it was just beginning or I needed to get help]

Her: Why?
Me: Stopped sweating about 8 hrs ago. No saliva or pee. Think I'm in the middle of heat exhaustion
Me: Still on trail moving at a snails pace
Me: Out of water
Her: Lovey!
[At this point, cell service dropped out and my next messages went undelivered]
Me: But don't call anyone. I have a survival situation plan [Not Delivered]
Me: I'm ok [Not Delivered]

When I saw the "not delivered", I thought oh no! The last info she got was that I was out of water and had bad symptoms. My survival was plan to simply rest near a snow melt stream I saw on the way up and re-hydrate with one of those. I actually did that by pulling the tube off my water bag and using it as a straw since the streams were not deep enough to submerge my bags and fill it up. I also asked like 2-3 hikers who passed if they had water. None was will to part with it which was somewhat understandable.

So as I sat there on a rock, drinking from a snow melt stream, I was fully expecting to see an SAR helicopter at any moment. I had it planned out that I was going to pull out my bothy bag, which has a bright lime green top, as an air panel. I also saw dollar signs flash before my eyes lol as a SAR helicopter probably isn't a cheap ride. But I spend about 30 mins there sipping water. It worked to great effect and I was rehydrated enough to carry on.

Had I also been in worse shape, I would have pulled out my HT and called for help, but I knew if I crossed that line, that would have certainly resulted in SAR activation. I was close though to doing that, and that would have been my course of action had the streams not been there.

I made it back to the tree line and to the waterfall/creek. Again I drank as much as my stomach would hold and pressed on.

About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, I ran into a platoon of rangers, whom I incorrectly called "park rangers." They corrected me to "climbing rangers." Anyway, they asked me if my name was Caleb. I laughed a bit at what my wife had undoubted done. I told them "Yes, but I don't want a job." :) They laughed and asked me if I was ok. I told them what had happened with the failed text messages, and with me using my water bag tube to re-hydrate. They chatted with me for awhile and asked some questions to see if I was coherent, which I assumed I passed. They offered me a Gatorade which I gladly took. My core temp was also high and they gave me an ice pack which I put in my shirt next to my chest to cool off.

Brittany had also posted in ham radio groups on Facebook and also emailed this group. I'm just glad a full SAR effort wasn't underway, not just because of the expense, but that it can also be dangerous for rescuers as well. The climbing rangers told me that they were free lol. Given the information she had, my wife acted accordingly. I should have rephrased my text a little better and DEFINITELY brought more water (3L minimum for sure).

So that is my 14er Event adventure.

Next year, I'm already claiming Mt. Bierstadt. :)

73,
Caleb // W4XEN 

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