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Climbing a Mountain

August 20, 2011

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 10:29

My 19-year old daughter, her boyfriend Dylan, his friend and father, and I departed Fort Collins at 1:30 am on Thursday. Our initial destination: the base of Longs Peak, a 4,346-meter (14,259-foot) mountain in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. My interest in climbing the mountain began 30 years ago, but the opportunity didn’t presented itself until this week.

We began the 26-kilometer (16-mile) round-trip hike and climb at 3:00 am with headlamps switched on. After about 3.5 hours, we reached the Boulder Field, a large area made up of rocks, some massive, for about as far as you could see. The area was created from a glacier a very long time ago. It took about one hour to cross the boulders and reach the Keyhole, a transitional point in the journey.

Many people reach the Keyhole and turn back because of the powerful winds and shear cliffs and drop-offs on the other side. When we got there, the wind was an estimated 80 km (50 miles) per hour. Passing through the Keyhole—a requirement for the route we took—is dramatic and where the difficult part of the climb begins. I was unsure about moving ahead, thinking that a wind gust could easily peel a person off the mountain, which has happened before.

We chose to proceed, with the most frightening part of the climb ahead of us. The Keyhole route is considered non-technical (i.e., no ropes, harnesses, etc.). As I carefully edged forward, I asked myself what I was thinking when I chose to attempt the summit. I had never done anything quite like this before. A mistake or dizzy spell could mean disaster. A fall during much of the next two hours toward the summit would be fatal. A friend of Dylan’s father was climbing Longs Peak a few years ago and he fell to his death. The final accent required you to scale up the side of a steep area with little to grasp.

We reached the summit about 6.5 hours after we started and celebrated with high fives. We spent about 45 minutes there enjoying the indescribable views and then began the decent. Going down was somewhat easier, but still challenging in places. I was happy to return to the Keyhole, which was essentially a “cakewalk” from that point forward. We ended the adventure after about 13 hours of hiking and climbing, with nearly every muscle in my body hurting and wanting rest. Would I do it again? Not anytime soon, but I can now check this one off my Bucket List.