Posts Tagged ‘peakmind’

The Long Bell

January 12, 2009

My pace was off.  I had done 8 fourteeners in June and none in July.  Determined to reverse the trend, I set out to climb South Maroon Bell and Castle on July 19-20, 2002.

My original plan was to climb Castle (and Conundrum) as a warm up before climbing my real goal, South Maroon Bell (SMB).  However, the weather forecast was looking questionable, so I decided to go for SMB first to give myself a second day to complete the SMB climb if storms chased me off on the first attempt.

I briefly considered doing the traverse between the two Bells and bagging both summits.  However, I felt wary of the steep, exposed, loose conditions I had heard and read would be encountered, so I settled on an attempt on SMB alone.  Hell, it would be a full day’s work at approximately 10 miles and 4600 feet of elevation gain, according to the guidebook.

Since this would be a solo effort, I prepared better than I normally do.  I studied two guidebooks (Dawson & Roach) and tried to reconcil the information into a single, consistent set of directions.  I copied the topo from Dawson since it was more detailed, transcribed a single set of route directions, and even brought a picture of the southern exposure of SMB with Roach’s route roughly sketched out.  I did everything I could think to prepare for day long day of route-finding.  It wasn’t enough.

I started early, leaving the Maroon Lake trailhead at 5:15am in complete darkness, and headed toward Crater Lake.  On the way out, I met a fellow who was going to climb both peaks – he said it wouldn’t be too difficult.  With a weakened resolve to do only SMB, I started hiking with a fast pace.  I suppose I had a little extra adrenaline as a result of climbing without a partner.  Hell, even my boots felt good at first.  My water planning was also coming off well.  I had had several water shortage mishaps in recent weeks and was determined to drink enough water without carrying too much at any one time.  I brought 3 liter bottles:  one full and two empty.  I drank one liter on the hike in and was able to fill all 3 bottles at the creek just before heading up toward the South Ridge.  This was the last of my overwhelmingly good performances.

At approximately 7am, I reached the climbers trail for the South Ridge of SMB.  It was about twenty yard before the spot where the trail crossed the West Maroon Creek for the first time (there was an earlier crossing of a tributary about 0.5 mile before), and was marked by two cairns.  Since I couldn’t see the Bells from my position, I tried to figure out where I was and where I was going before heading up.  It was very confusing.

My Bell routes seen from Pyramid

My Bell routes seen from Pyramid

Overhead was a steep ridge, while to the left was a broad slope with small gullies, and further to the left was another ridge.  I could see what might be the South Ridge at the very top of the visible mountain, but I could not be sure where the SMB summit was located. More importantly, I could not make out the “SE ridge dropping from the South Ridge” which I was supposed to aim for, at least according to Dawson.  On the other hand, Roach just said to “climb west for 1.0 mile to reach the South Ridge.”  At that point I sure was sorry I wasn’t better prepared.


Rule of Multiple Sources:
always use at least two independent sources of route information;
and if two disagree, then use three


The topo map I had taken from the Dawson guidebook (scale:  1:50,000) displayed a route line that went left and then right up a broad slope between two ridges.  Perhaps it meant between the ridge above me and the ridge I could see to the left.  Roach’s description to “climb west for 1.0 mile to reach South Ridge” seemed to confirm this idea.  So, my best guess was to go to the left a bit and then straight up (west) between the major ridges.  While I did not know exactly what I needed to do, I had no way to gather more information.  I was happy to have a trail to follow that headed in the direction I wanted.

Then the damned trail took hard left and continued due south for an indeterminate distance at the 10,700′ level.  I couldn’t believe that was the way to go.  The key was the “SE Ridge coming down from the South ridge.”  Dawson’s directions said to go to the south side of the SE ridge, and I couldn’t believe that I was supposed to go to the far side of the ridge to my far left; it just didn’t jive with Roach’s “climb west for 1.0 mile to reach South Ridge”. And I was in a hurry to beat the weather, so I didn’t have much time to think.

In my rush to make progress, I decided that the ridge that had been above me at the start of the climbers trail and was now to my right, had to be the SE Ridge (even though it aimed in a northeasterly direction).  This allowed me to follow Dawson’s directions to climb along the south side of the SE Ridge and follow Roach’s “climb west for 1.0 mile….”.  Too bad it was wrong.


Rule of Small Errors:
a small wayfinding mistake
can go a long way in the mountains


So I left the trail and continued westward.  I climbed a 2nd class rocky gully and came though a thicket of willows to a lower angle slope where I studied my positions once again.  The route continued to check out.  I figured that SMB was to my right, but out of sight, and that by climbing the gully to the south of the ridge that was now to my right, I would reach the South Ridge of SMB .

A view from North Maroon Bell of my detour end point

A view from North Maroon Bell of my detour end point

About 2 hours later, at 9:30am, I mounted the crest of the ridge at 12,500 ft that I figured was the Southeast Ridge of SMB and found myself looking across a gulf to North Maroon Bell.  My eyes followed the ridgeline between the Bells to find SMB summit.  My line to SMB summit was blocked by many nasty-looking towers.  It wasn’t impossible, but very improbable that I would find a survivable path.  Crap.


Possibility Razor:
everything is possible,
the question is whether we should risk it


I decided it wasn’t worth the risk, and I had that infrequent, but terrible sinking feeling that I didn’t have time to finish. My original plan was to summit at noon, now I would be lucky to summit by 3pm on a day with a bad weather forecast.  I wondered if I should just call it a day.  But at least I knew where I was, and all I had to do was figure out how to get from where I was to the summit, and quickly.


Law of Disintegration:
large problems are made up of many little questions;
solve large problems by resolving easy questions


I finally had to admit that the original trail that I discarded at the 10,700 ft level was the right trail. But I didn’t think I could go back down 2,000 feet, traverse south to the next ridge (the SE Ridge!), and climb 3,200 feet in loose rock and “obscure route” finding in time to beat the weather.  So my next task was to find a way to get to the SE Ridge, to the south of me, without losing too much altitude.

I descended the steep gully to the 12,000 ft level where I crossed to the crest of a smaller ridge a short way to the south of my current position.  I hoped I could traverse south at this level to reach the proper route, but there were many small ridges and probable steep drop-offs along the way.  And I was still determined to not try to force anything and get myself killed, so I backed off.  But I did managed to spot a trail far below of some quality that led over to the ridge further south which I decided would be my target.   So, I backtracked the route I had come up earlier in the day down to the 11,000 ft level and found a faint traverse that worked.  I managed to save 300 feet.

As the traverse ended and the climb began, my body began to reject the entire notion of mountain climbing.  I felt sick to my stomach and my feet were suffering a preordained tragedy in the Greek tradition.

The various paths

The various paths; developed during analysis of "what went wrong"

Ever since buying a pair of La Sportiva Eigers to replace my aged Makalus, I have suffered terribly.  The boots will not break-in, attempting to force my feet to do so instead, and the excessive rubber in the boot design causes my feet to sweat profusely and skin to chaff like soft cheese.  I performed a bit of foot repair with moleskin and athletic tape, changed my socks for the third time in the day, and made the decided that I would relegate my new boots to winter and spring climbing.

The upper section of Maroon Bell Peak with my approximate route drawn in red

Once I again reached the 12,500 ft level, my highest progress previously, my ability to move returned and was sustained for several hours.  I reached the South Ridge at 12:30pm and drank ½ liter of water leaving me with only 1 liter of water.  At that point it occurred to me that my 3-hour excursion was going to cost me a serious case of dehydration.  After a few hundred feet, I started thinking again about the best way to go; the trail of cairns seemed to go higher than necessary.  (I know, you’re thinking, “uh, oh!”)


Evidence Axiom:
when you know you don’t know how to proceed,
follow the evidence of previous human passage


Fortunately, I had learned my lesson and realized that I didn’t really have any reason to think I knew a better way to go.  I resigned myself to simply follow the cairns and hope they led me to the summit.

A view toward Crater Lake from Maroon Bell. The end of my earlier route finding error is visible.

The South Ridge trail quickly became flat and easy until reaching the slopes of Point 13,753.  At this point, the route seemed to disappear.  Instead of continuing in a traverse, the route seemed to ascend Point 13,753, against the commands of the guidebook know-it-alls.  Still humbled, I simply followed the cairns, linking them together in the most reasonable path.  With a sharp eye for cairns, the route finding went easily.  I was careful to examine and weigh alternatives at each juncture and make no mistakes.  The trail was exposed and terribly loose in several places, but it worked.  It felt like climbing over a pile of land mines; a misstep would be fatal.

Along this path, I met up with the fellow from the Trailhead who was going to do the traverse.  When asked how it went, he indicated that he shouldn’t have attempted it and wouldn’t do it again without a rope.  He seemed a fellow not humbled easily; I was at once glad of my decision to be conservative.

I scrambled up the SW Couloir and up the South Face and further left along the ridgeline to the summit.  I sat down at 2:15pm and drank my last ½ liter of water.  As I rested on the tiny summit among the rocks and swarming flies, I studied the weather.  The clouds had been increasing during the last couple of hours with the wind appearing to be moving west.  From the summit, I could see a massive rain to the North (turned out to be a violent and newsworthy thunderstorm in Glenwood and Basalt), but I couldn’t determine the storm’s path.  The sound of thunder sufficiently settled the question and got me up and moving.  I had to descend a long way over slow terrain to get to tree line; I hoped I’d be lucky with the weather.

But I was in trouble regarding my own water.  I was already dehydrated and had nearly 4,000 feet to descend to the West Maroon Creek.  Despite my need to escape, I scrambled over to a melting snow patch in the SW Couloir to see if I could scrounge some water.  It was dripping, but slowly.  I only waited long enough to fill two liters with cloudy water.  And I needed water right away, so I put them both in my pants pockets to warm them and continually shake them to dissolve the iodine tablets.  I must have been a sight to see.

My view from the summit of Maroon Bell Peak. The stormy weather to the north is clearly visible.

The descent to the creek was endless.  Down SMB, down and across Point 13,753, down the South Ridge, down the SE Ridge, over and down the grassy slope . . . it went on and on and on.  I was so tired that I took to sitting in the dirt every 20 minutes or so.  I finally reached the creek (10,400 ft) at 6pm, nearly 3.5 hours after leaving the summit.  I immediately went to the creek and refilled two liters while finishing the last of the melted snow I carried down from 13,500ft.   The weather had held out for me again.

On the hike out, I started cramping.  A foreshadowing of the difficult night I would have due to electrolyte loss.  I reached the car at 7:15pm and immediately drank a liter I had stashed there.  I drank nine liters of water during the day, including 1 at the car at each end of the trip.  It wasn’t enough; I urinated only once on the hike and not again until after midnight at home.

I had hiked approximately 12 miles and climbed 6,100 feet in 14.5 hours.  I was extremely pleased that I was able to overcome my route finding mishap and finish the South Maroon Bell; but I knew I had to figure out a better way to prepare better for my adventures.

And Castle would have to wait until the next trip.


  • I was alone; no one to help think it through or go for help in case of injury
  • The available route information was indefinite and limited; just the guidebooks, which were inconsistent
  • The weather forecast was iffy and the mountain was hard to escape from; I was in an extra hurry
  • The approach didn’t provide any visibility to the climb; once I could see the route, I was too close to have any perspective


(1) Prepared badly

  • Didn’t bring a detailed topographical map; only brought a copy of map in guidebook
  • Didn’t resolve all discrepancies between the two route descriptions I used; just thought I’d be able to figure it out as I had done many times before

(2) Made bad decisions along the way due to flaws & biases in my thinking.

  • Confirming Evidence Trap:  Based on my study of Roach’s directions, I was convinced that the route went straight west; when the trail turned south, I convinced myself that the ridge above me was the SE Ridge, rather than accept evidence of a different route path
  • Denial Bias:  I refused to think I could be wrong about the path to the South Ridge, despite not finding any trails or cairns and having some evidence to the contrary
  • Optimism Bias:  I was foolishly optimistic about being able to finish before the weather turned dangerous; I figured I could just retreat if the lightning came, but it took 3.5 hours to descend to the trees from the summit.

How I Got Lucky

  • The weather stayed good during the long day
  • My body stayed together long enough to reach water and easy terrain
  • I managed to find water on the trail
  • The cairns I followed actually lead to the summit

See all trip reports


Lake Como Deathmarch

December 6, 2008



Ten thousand toe-smashing steps over loose gravel and unstable boulders swatting at swarming mosquitoes and wondering again and again how much farther, it still was not until 4 miles into a 5 miles crawl down the Lake Como access road that my mind flirted with regret.  Such was the magnificence of Lake Como and the surrounding Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingswood peaks.  It was a great trip.

I left Boulder at 3:30am on 7/13/03 with a 3 day plan to bag Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingswood, and headed toward Golden and C-470 that I took to I-25 toward Pueblo.  I exited on hwy 160 toward Fort Garland.  After passing beneath the Sierra Blanca Massif, I took hwy 150 to the unmarked road leading to the Lake Como trailhead.  It was a nice and short approach to the passenger car parking.

My plan was for 3 days with a option to bag Little Bear on day 1 (and save a day) if the weather held.  As I arrived, the weather was promising, and I was of two minds:  (1) I wanted to do Little Bear before dark, but, (2) I was worried about the harsh road and destroying my only ride home (Boulder is a long walk).  I decided that discretion is the better part of valour and parked at the initial trailhead.   Either the good weather would last long enough or I would do my 3-day plan.

I started hiking with my massive pack at 8am.

Almost immediately, I was sorry I had parked so low. I hate avoiding exercise for the sake of laziness, but I needed the extra time that parking at 10,000′  (instead of 8,000′) would have provided.  The road and availability of parking was good enough up to that elevation.

My five mile trek to Lake Como took a long time.  I was pushing as hard as I could to save daylight, and getting more and more frustrated with my parking mistake.  My attitude improved immediately when I came upon on of the most beautiful mountain lake settings I have ever seen.  Lake Como is spectacular.  The trees are thick and massive, even at 11,750; I suppose the protection of the Massif on three sides plus the constant availability of water must allow for unusual growth.

The second thing I noticed was the mosquitoes.

Oh why didn’t someone stop the insanity of the mosquitoes?  I am from Florida and I know mosquitoes.  These were bad mosquitoes and I didn’t have repellant.  Rather, my sweaty clothes acted as an attractant…like I sprayed a can of “On” all over myself.

A swarm of mosquitoes and I arrived at my creekside campsite at 12pm and the group of us (mosquitoes and I) took an hour to build my camp.  The long setup time was caused by the extra activities required to co-exist with thousands of mosquitoes while building a camp.  Take out the tent poles…. swat, spin, dance, take out the tent foot print, … swat, spin, dance, etc.

The weather still looked good at 1pm and I started up thinking I’d turnaround if the weather turned on me.   The approach gully (directly east of Lake Como) was a steep and loose scree and dirt slope that barely tolerated human presence.  I finally topped out of the gully at 2pm and then became a bit confused about the way to the Hourglass.

The proper course is to stay on the ridge following nice, easy trails to the top of point 12,980 (which lies in a direct line between the top of the gully and the summit of Little Bear).  I misunderstood the route directions to mean I should look for a trail lower and followed a friendly-looking false trail heading that way.

As I was wandering up and down the east side of Little Bear’s south ridge looking for the trail, I was thinking that I hate directions given in linear form, e.g., do 1, then 2, then 3; and that I much prefer a pyramid structure where by the entire picture is given briefly followed by more detail of the picture already described, e.g., the South ridge leads directly to the Little Bear summit, between the top of your ascent gully (12,500) and the Little Bear summit is Point 12,980.  Stay on the ridge to reach Point 12,980 and then drop down on an established trail below the ridge to reach the bottom of the Hourglass which you will ascend to the summit.

The route I wish I had taken

The route I wish I had taken

After an extra bit of time on the traverse (about 1 hour extra), I came to the bottom of the hourglass around 4pm.  Since I was alone on Little Bear I didn’t have to worry about the major worrisome aspect of this climb…rockfall.  The rock was dry and so after a short break, I scampered right up the middle without any problem.  I climbed past a rope that was hanging from a dubious anchor and I feared for those who trusted it blindly.  I continued upward to the summit that I reached at 5pm.

The weather was still great, but now I had to worry about getting down before dark.  I followed a trail down that took me to the far right edge (left side of the hourglass looking up) that seemed much easier than the path straight up the gully.  I angled back to the center of the hourglass at the level of the anchors (by the way, there is an excellent piton anchor a few feet higher than the poor anchor so no hardware is necessary if a rappel is needed).  I then walked down the center to the base of the Hourglass where I collected my stashed gear.

On the way back, I was following the excellent trail below the ridge heading toward Point 12,980 when the weather turned on me.  It happened fast.  The flash-bang separation was small enough not to count.  I was moving fast when I came to what I thought was the gully I used to climb to the ridge.  Since I had been too low on the approach, I didn’t have any memory of the terrain.

Anxious to get low, I started down.  Fortunately, I realized my mistake before descending past the point of no return and continued until I reached the proper gully above Lake Como.  At that point the sky cleared.  Still, working my way down the loose gully was the worst part of the climb.

Once I got close to the wooded area, I prepared for the mosquito onslaught by putting on all my clothes, e.g., long pants, rain jacket with hood up, hat pulled down low.  Back at camp at 8pm, I refilled my water bottles, collected a few bars from my food bag and dived into the tent.  I had just enough daylight to crush the life out of the few foolish mosquitoes that dared enter my tent with me.  I tried to drink a lot of water to fend off cramps, but I just could not do it and fell asleep to the sounds of a bubbling brook by 9pm.

About 5:50am I woke up feeling great.  It was one of my best nights sleep ever and I am a connoisseur of sleep.  I organized myself for the attempt on Blanca and Ellingswood via the ridge traverse and was on the trail by 6:30am.

The trail to the basin was excellent and I followed it all the way in without incident.  I could not decide which direction to do the ridge, i.e., Blanca to Ellingswood or Ellingswood to Blanca, so I kept moving forward and looking and thinking.  Eventually it seemed the easiest path would be to go straight to the ridge and then use the ridge in both directions.  Once I reached the ridge I could see the area very clearly….it was an impressive view of both the Massif, the Lake Como area and the Huerfano Valley area.  I could see the entire route I took on Mt. Lindsey the week before and I could see the Gash ridge route that looked so interesting from the trail to Mt. Lindsey and I could see my routes to Blanca and Ellingswood.  The ridge up to Blanca looked terrible (read: very steep) from my perspective so I decided to head over to Ellingswood first.

I stayed on the ridge for a while until I came to a big notch in the ridge that looked impossible to down climb, so I worked down from the ridge to where I could enter the gully.  I then scrambled up the gully to the notch and continued the rest of the way on the ridge to Ellingswood summit.   I reached the summit at 10am and tried to enjoy a break and a snack but the mosquitoes had followed me to the heavens.  And these were no angelic mosquitoes.  After a quick bite and killing a few dozen mosquitoes, I headed back down the ridge.  This time I was determined to stay on the ridge the entire way.

My ridge route, as seen from Little Bear

My ridge route, as seen from Little Bear

When I got back to the notch that defeated me earlier, I spied a short route on the far side of the notch that looked like it might go.  So I down climbed into the notch and took a line that started about 5 feet from the edge toward the Blanca basin and worked up and right at a 45 degree angle over a few loose blocks to climb out of the gully about 10-15 feet below the ridge line above the notch.  I moved back to the ridge and stayed on the ridge all the way to Blanca.  Apparently, my earlier views of Blanca were foreshortened; the angle was not bad and the climbing was mostly hands-free.

My view of Little Bear from Blanca

My view of Little Bear from Blanca

I reached the summit of Blanca at 11:30am and studied the traverse from Little Bear while swatting more bugs.  I was very tired at this point having climbed over 9,300 feet in the last 28 hours, so I thought I’d rest a bit before pounding back to camp.

While resting I began to think about my mosquito strategy.  In a flash of insight, it seemed strange to me that when I see a mosquito, I wait for it to land so I can smash it.  Nobody ever did this with a wasp or bee, so why a mosquito?  Oh sure, it feels great to kill a mosquito, but I’ve noticed that it never does any good in an open environment.  Now, if I kill the only mosquito in my tent, then I have no mosquitoes in my tent; this is a good thing.  But if I kill a mosquito outside, a million more take its place without any notice that I have killed a cousin.  I’d have to destroy the planet to get rid of enough mosquitoes to make a difference, so I decided to henceforth employ a “no land” strategy and do without the pleasure of killing the little bastards.

The scree field below Blanca reminded me of the Little Bear approach gully (not hourglass) and I wanted no part of it.  I decided to return down the ridge to just above the saddle where a trail intersects the ridge.  Leaving the summit at 12pm, I followed this trail down to camp, which I reached at 1:30pm.  Once again trying to pack and dance simultaneously, I gathered my belongings and took off down the trail to the car by around 2pm.  Within 30 minutes of my departure, the skies opened up and it poured a mixture of rain and snow for about 30 minutes in a strange localized burst just over the Sierra Blanca Massif.

I actually enjoyed the cooling rain (no lightning) and was quite pleased with my trip, but knew I had to get down to the car…something about counting chickens popped into my head.  After over 3 hours of blister-forming, ankle-turning, knee-wrecking hiking, I could finally see my car and knew it was nearly over, and then I felt great all over again.

Little Bear, Blanca, Ellingswood Climb SummaryAverage of 721 elevation feet gained per hour & 0.8 overall mph

Average of 721 elevation feet gained per hour & 0.8 overall mph


  • Climbing alone
  • Unfamiliar weather patterns
  • Insufficient route and driving information


How I Got Lucky

  • The weather stayed good during late summit push on Little Bear
  • Didn’t get hit by lightning when I was trapped on ridge descending from Little Bear
  • Didn’t get injured while climbing by myself

Visit Yield and Overcome blog

See 14er Project & 14er Trip Report Listing

Longs Peak: Keyhole Ridge

December 3, 2008


With a long break coming up, Brian and I looked for a long, high-altitude climb to keep us sore for a few extra days.  We settled on Longs Peak Keyhole Ridge: a moderate ridge climb with spectacular views and a direct route to the summit.  I also had a private agenda; I was going to see if I could avoid dehydration rather than tolerate it.

The route included a 7.25 mile one-way hike with a 3,600 foot elevation gain (ranger station to false keyhole) plus 5 mostly adventurous pitches of 4th class to 5.5 climbing. We thought we’d start early despite a perfect Summer weather forecast.


We arrived at the full parking lot just before 4am and started out under a clear sky and bright moon right at 4am. Brian and I are still fairly fast hikers, even with a pack full of metal and rope; we reached the first bridge (just before tree line) in 45 minutes, which is a good a speed as we’ve done. We reached the cut-off to Jim’s Grove around 5am and the Boulder Field corral after 2.5 hours. With no small amount of pleasure, we noted that 2.5 hours to the Boulder Field is as fast as we’ve ever done.

We took a short break to enjoy a snack, tank up on water, stash some gear, and be amazed by the crush of people milling around the center of the Boulder Field. Rested and me with a full belly (a bar and 1 ½ liters of water), we started hiking toward the Keyhole. Just before the Keyhole is a NW-facing ramp that leads to the False Keyhole further up the NW Ridge of Longs Peak. From the False Keyhole (between the 1st & 2nd towers along the NW Ridge), we were able to mount the ridge and begin climbing toward the peak with the following pitches / sections of climbing:

  1. 4th Class Scramble: to reach the initial climbing section, we scrambled up along the ridge line for about 50 feet.
  2. Ridge Tiptoe & Climb to Second Tower: a scary, exposed section of blocks create a 4th class scramble along a 3 foot wide staircase with hundred foot drops to either side; we roped up. This scramble leads to the foot of the 2nd tower. From the foot of the tower, we traversed left (5.2) to reach a steep ramp that leads to the top of the tower. The ramp (5.4) led up to a number of options to reach the top of the tower; we went left to a ledge and then up to the top of the tower (5.5).
  3. Downclimb and Ledge Traverse: From the top of the 2nd tower, we descended to the west side of the ridge, down climbing 10 feet to a ledge.
    Longs Peak Keyhole Ridge Tower

    Longs Peak Keyhole Ridge Tower

    The ledge led to a low point between the 2nd tower and the remaining NW Ridge.

  4. Scramble to top of ramp: From the saddle, we moved up a broad, low angle ramp to reach a cliff below the NW Ridge. At the end of this pitch, I had a beautiful sit-on-the-cliff-edge, feet dangling belay overlooking the Boulder Field.
  5. Face Climb to Ridge Top: Finally, we climbed the cliff to get back to the top of the ridge (5.5)
  6. Scramble & Hike to Summit: We unroped and climbed along the ridge crest. Near the end of the ridge, we dropped down 10 feet to the left to pass the last tower (3rd class). We then scrambled to the summit level. Once we reached the summit block, we had a 100 yard hike to the summit and the masses milling and lounging around like on Miami Beach.


On the summit at noon was right on schedule. We rested and I ate a bite of lunch while finishing my 2nd liter of water since the Boulder Field.

After our short break, we descended the Cables Route down the north face without incident.

Once we reached the corral and our stash, we refilled bottles and bellies with water.

As we left the Boulder Field, my toes were already feeling the beginnings of “Fire Toes” syndrome, a very painful friction condition brought on by my newish Makalus. I’ve found that the newer style boots with rubber rands covering the toes will not break in; they insist on breaking in your feet.

The hike out of the Boulder Field and through Jim’s Grove was long and hot, but went without any ankle turns. We took a short break after the bridge that reconnects with the main trail, where I finished my 7th liter of water for the day.

Trudge, trudge, trudge. It is always the same death march back to the car after a Longs Peak summit. The only sign of aging I can discern is a strong preference for going uphill in the morning; the downhill return is always a dread. My toes felt horribly abused.

Still, the time passed relatively quickly due to our use of “Movie Quiz”: a game of guessing movie sources for quotes or naming movies that a particular actor was in. We reached the car at 4pm, where I was pleasantly surprised to find that, once again, the toes were still attached.

And, aside from boot tortures, I felt great, thanks to my water guzzling efforts.

Route Map: Yellow is standard Keyhole route. Our variations are in red.

14.5 miles, ~4,850 ft elevation gain, 12 hours; not bad for two old guys

14.5 miles, ~4,850 ft elevation gain, 12 hours; not bad for two old guys


  • None


  • None

How I Got Lucky

  • The weather was great all day
  • I was able to find a lot of water on the trail to avoid dehydration without carrying more than 2 liters at a time

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