While taking in the views sitting in the Keyhole, Lysa and I discussed the next portion. Are we up for the next portion of this hike, which becomes a climb, and is considered more difficult than what we just completed. Our initial decision was to sit and enjoy our surroundings and return to the trailhead while the weather was in our favor as storms were predicted for the entire afternoon and clouds were beginning to form. You can see in the above picture of the next portion of our hike. There is a group following the trail towards a valley called the trough. Actually the trail looks fun except for one issue – being able to breath adequately at 13,000 feet. Going beyond the Keyhole the hike becomes increasingly more dangerous as a wrong step on parts of the trail can lead to serious injury and even death as has happened here before.
Sitting and enjoying the awesome surroundings while watching others maneuvering the trail was nice but a feeling kept burrowing deeper inside us. What’s it like on this trail and what’s around the corner that we can’t see? Well there really is only one way to find out! On went the packs as we moved to boulders making up the trail which is marked by red and yellow bulls eyes. The morning sun was warming us at the Keyhole but as we began this portion it was in the shadows with colder temperatures. Thankfully we had gloves as the boulders are quite cold up here. The trail wasn’t too difficult as long as you take your time and watch your step while grabbing boulders to maintain balance and support among this unforgiving granite.
Time flew by as we slowly made our way up and over numerous rocks towards the valley called the Trough. There are a few challenging boulders to climb over but for the most part it was a nice climb/hike. Reaching the trough fatigue was beginning to set in. This is concerning because it can lead to poor decision making in a place intolerable to it. Even though we took a few breaks along the way we needed to stop for a longer period of time to regain our oxygen levels and leg strength before the next section which requires continually climbing up.
Clouds continued to build around the mountains causing us to try and push towards the top so we began climbing the Trough as quickly as possible. About a third of the way up we began to get light headed and dizzy at times along with trembling legs. At this point we knew we had to slow down and take more breaks in order to get enough oxygen to continue our climb. After this point we would climb about 10 or 15 feet up and take a short break. That seemed to help maintain our strength but slowed down our climb. While we were climbing up there were others working their way down sliding from time to time making us realize up may actually be safer than coming back down. Occasionally a rock would come flying down towards us from other hikers above requiring us to take cover from time to time until the rock passed without incident. Eventually we picked our way through the rocks getting close to the top of the Trough reaching, what at first glance, was an impassible boulder. Taking some time to study our options we chose a path and nervously worked our way up and over this boulder and arrived what felt like on top of the world. There’s a geological marker here stating that we had made it to 13, 749 feet. Only 500 feet left to the top of Longs.
We sat on a narrow strip of granite taking in our surroundings and resting after this energy draining climb up the Trough in preparation for the next section. Again the discussion arose of continuing towards the summit or not. After a few minutes we came to the conclusion it was time to call it a day and turn around. There were multiple reasons for this. First, clouds were continuing to get darker and there were obvious rain showers in the distance working towards us. Next, we had someone picking us up from the trailhead at a designated time and looking at the current time we were already going to be pushing that time. Finally we were very fatigued and still needed to climb down these difficult sections safely. I estimated we would need another 2 hours in order to make it to the summit and begin our descent which I was not interested in doing in thunderstorms with wet, slippery rock. Especially with my daughter.
After taking some additional time enjoying the view, eating and drinking to replenish, and resting to re-gain strength, and talk with other hikers about the situation we began the climb down scrambling around this almost impossible boulder while others tried to figure out their way around it climbing up. With their assistance we made it down safely over this boulder and continued down the Trough making our way to the Keyhole once again. It felt good to be back to this point safely before any rain started to fall. Taking the last few minutes at this altitude we surveyed the area as it’s so incredible knowing we will not likely be back here again in our lifetime.
Shortly we made our way down to the Boulder Field campground feeling good about what we accomplished and that it’s all down hill on relatively easy trails from here just as thunder began rumbling off in the distance. Better get moving in an attempt to reach the tree line before storms reach us. We didn’t make it far before thunder began to boom overhead bringing with it a rain/snow mix which we hiked in for the next couple of hours. Fortunately there wasn’t visible lightning striking the mountains allowing us to continue our hike instead of seeking out a depression along the trail to take cover in. Yes, the decision to forgo reaching the summit now seemed like a good call as we would have been caught somewhere above the keyhole on wet boulders or possibly snow as the mountain peaks around us were turning white making the hike even more dangerous and time consuming. The rain passed as we reached the tree line with only a few more miles to go before meeting our ride and the end of this adventure filled and tiring day.
The return brought us down over 6 miles almost without stopping in an attempt to reach safety with storms expected much of the afternoon and then to reach the car. Because of this our legs became increasingly more sore with each step down we had to take. If we would have taken a few breaks to rest we would have been in good shape having accomplished an amazing hike.