With the recent heat wave, it was pretty much impossible to get a long run in unless I got up at 5am, so I started bouncing the idea of going up Longs Peak around on Friday.
After running and climbing the North Face to the summit last year in approach shoes, I was trying hard to avoid running in shoes that are both heavy and stiff as much as possible, no matter how sticky they are, which leaves Keyhole as the only viable route in running shoes.
Unfortunately, after a long day of climbing, late dinner and beer on Saturday, there was simply no motivation for me wake up early. I went to bed some time past midnight with no intention for a long run the next day.
I woke up at some time past 7 on Sunday and felt optimistic -- even if I left the trail head at 9, there should have been enough time to summit before the afternoon storm hits. The climbing trip to Black Canyon last year of starting late, trying to climb 16 pitches with 2 bars, 1L of water, 1 emergency headlamp between 2 people and the ensued epic totally escaped me.
7:45am, going light a fast, I had some coffee, grabbed 2x20oz bottles of water, 1 bar, 2 gels, an MP3 player and off I went.
8:45am, the parking lot was packed as usual when I got there and was forced to parked down the road.
8:55am, the sign-in time with only a couple of pages of people before me in the log book; busy weekend, it was not. The trail up to the Boulder Field was for the most part well maintained and empty. The real challenge was trying to slow my heart-rate down: the rock steps above treeline were big enough to making running impossible without going anaerobic. At an average pace of 16:30 to the Boulder Field, it might as well have been a brisk walk, but I still managed to pass a few stragglers with no hope of making it to the summit (especially the one that was sitting down and taking a break half a mile from the trail head). With only a mile left to the summit, I thought I had a good chance of getting there in under 2 hours, totally disregarding the fact that there was 1,000 feet to be gained at over 13000 feet, or that I've not had any food since last night.
It could have been the elevation or my body going into ketosis, but I got a bit wobbly going up the Trough. Seeing how I couldn't take 5 consecutive steps without feeling light-headed, I sucked down a gel hoping some glucose to the brain would help. It didn't (it was probably lacking oxygen). The 2-hour mark rolled around, and I was still at 13,400 all but demotivated me. Looking up the massive Trough put the nails in the coffin. The ass-dragging mode commenced at a 1-hour-mile pace. A guy descending the Trough, probably wondering why this newb was going up a 14er so late in the day, asked if I was going to the top, so I took the chance to ask him how far to the top. "Two hours," he said.
The Narrows was a breeze to cross after slogging up the Trough, was mostly free of hikers. I found at this point hikers were like timid drivers: the faster you're going, the faster they get out of your way (works both going up and down), especially when there's a cliff on one side. Like driving aggressively, you bump into the ones who are truly not paying attention or truly determined to get in your way once a while in a game of chicken. The Homestretch slab (3rd class) was hard on the calves and sufficiently steep that the only way to stay aerobic was to shorten my strides to zero, which then causes oxygen to reenter the brain. If you have seen Ueli Steck running to the summit of the Eiger, I was the opposite.
11:20am, the torture finally ended 25 minutes longer than the stupid 2-hour goal I set 6 miles into the trip, and not knowing what I was up against in the last mile. The summit was empty except for a couple of people, and it wasn't hard to see why -- the clouds were building up and it was already raining on the south side of the valley.
I rewarded myself with the first piece of solid food and made an easy decision to descend the North Face (a.k.a. Cable Route), but not before stopping to chat with a couple of climbers who came up Pervertical Sanctuary. They offered me to hand-over-hand their rope if I got into trouble, as the route was 5.4 on a good day, but it was probably drenched and I had to down-solo it in running shoes. A couple of hairy moves were encountered -- stemming on wet slabs and jamming in cracks with water running down them, but it was well worth not going back down Keyhole.
1:20pm, back at the trail head ~14 miles later and the parking lot was still packed. The log book showed no one has yet returned from the summit.