Of White Whales and Mountains. Part I.

I feel as though everyone has their own personal white whale. Like Captain Ahab, you might stalk that elusive perfect, something. The most spectacular beer. The perfect girl (please stop stalking her, the notes you're leaving in her mailbox are getting creepy). The photograph that will finally get you into National Geographic. The list goes on. Whether it's personal or professional, having goals is a worth while thing to strive for and try to achieve. It challenges us and makes us better people. Supposedly. Or it turns you into a raging obsessive perfectionist that can only focus on one thing and aspects of that obsession leak over into your every day life. Did you see my new baby? Did you see how many curls I could do with my new baby? I can't wait until baby gets older, and I can get those bicep gains with lifting the baby more. Count how many baby curls I can do.  My white whale has been attained by countless people, and even some very small children. That fact is honestly making me completely crazy and makes me grind me teeth at night. You see, there's this mountain.

Sunrise on the Diamond of Longs Peak

Longs Peak is located in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and is one of the resident 14'ers (a peak over 14,000' in elevation). It sits taunting me with it's wide flat top and diamond shaped face. I hate this damn mountain. Back in 2009 I went to the Rockies for the first time on a geology trip, and my mid-western lungs sucked air at 9,000' and that was enough for me. I distinctly remember my instructor driving us to an overlook, pointing at Longs, and told us about the harrowing "hike" involved to get to the top. I shook my head, muttered something like, "fuck that." and promptly forgot about Longs. There were much more accessible rocks to look at. Like the ones next to the road.

Longs, 2013

Then in 2012 this jerkface mentions that he wants to climb Longs Peak and has never gotten anyone to try it with him. Wanting to impress him (this particular jerkface is incredibly sweet and handsome), I said we should go for it. I could totally climb this thing, and then maybe we would make out afterwards. 7 months later I'm following this handsome jerkface 13,100' up on Longs with an ice ax strapped to my pack. The heights I will go to for make outs. Theoretically, 14,000' up apparently; that's some follow through.

Above Chasm Lake trail spur

The 18 mile out and back main trail that summits Longs has named sections that have become a mantra in my head. Goblins Forest. Mills Moraine. Boulder Field. Key Hole. Ledges. Trough. Home Stretch. Summit. Reverse, and repeat. 18 miles of landmarks to tick off throughout the day to mark your progress. The stunted trees of the Goblins Forest that finally give way to the endless stumbley boulders of Mills Moraine, on to the damn Boulder Field where there is no trail, just boulder hopping and praying you don't break anything. Namely your head or legs. Because there's really no where for a rescue helicopter to come get you. Then the Key Hole. The Key Hole is where you pass between a gap in a craggy rock fin from one side of the mountain to the other. But it's so much more than that- it's where you pass from the sunny happy side of the mountain, to Mordor. The Key Hole Route is classified as a "Class 5 Scramble", which is the most technical climb you can do before needing ropes and additional climbing equipment. The Key Hole is a common turn-around point as many hikers poke their heads through the Key Hole and (rightfully) nope their way out of that situation and head home. The route is almost never completely dry, and there is usually some ice and snow still clinging around well into July. 

 Approaching the Key Hole and Agnes Vaille shelter

Approaching the Key Hole and Agnes Vaille shelter

We were climbing in early July, and to be on the safe side came equipped with crampons and ice axes, and of course my camera. There's not really... a trail. The Key Hole route is marked by painted bulls eyes on the rocks to give you guidance on where you should go and hopefully not kill yourself. Lots of hikers and climbers have been injured, and even lost their lives on this trail. A shelter was constructed on the east side of the mountain right at the mouth of the Key Hole as a memorial to a female climber that lost her life in a snow storm while trying to descend Longs. Alternatively, plenty of people have happily scampered through this section with no issues. Even children. I hate those children.

Key Hole Route

This trail had some seriously iffy spots. Lots of points to tumble down, where you just keep rolling. Like 1,000' worth of rolling. Really not my favorite. When I was 12 I was hiking near a stream in a ravine and memorably told my mom who I was hiking with, "I think I'm going to turn around now and go home". Predictably, my dear sweet mother told me to suck it up and not be a baby- keep hiking a little bit longer. Two steps later I slipped, fell 7 feet into the rocky stream below and hit my head on a rock. 

Nine years later I become a geologist. You tell me that's not some Spiderman shit right there. 

In the fall I dislocated my shoulder, gave myself a concussion, and needed stitches. I still have a dent in my forehead, decades later. So I have a little bit of a heights thing. I think I came by it honest. That first Longs hike in 2013, I clung to the boulders for dear life and made it through the worst part of the trail. We made it to the end of the Ledges when I slipped on a patch of ice with a 1,000' drop below me, totally lost my shit, and had to sit down for a little while. We turned around, I put my camera away because, Fuck. This. Shit.  We had been training for months and I was devastated that I let my fear of heights get in the way of the summit- but I also didn't want to be that idiot mid-westerner whose body gets pulled out of a rock pile. 

Key Hole Route- ruining my lens.

Mills Moraine 

About 45 minutes later after assisting an altitude sick hiker, we ended up getting engaged at the Key Hole.

As far as hikes go, I've had worse.

All lovey and punch drunk, we got off the mountain having been within 1,000' feet of the summit, but it didn't seem to matter that much at the time. There would be more hikes! More trips! All in good time. The jerkface fiance was still irritated that we didn't make it to the top of Longs, me, less so. Until we got home and I was reviewing my pictures from the day. Dammit. That mountain was winning and being so smug that it beat me. The white whale had been passed on to me now too- when I said "yes" to his proposal I had no idea that I was also agreeing to this obsession for conquering the mountain. 

2015- time for a rematch.

We're coming for you