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One Long Challenge


When you first get to college you make plenty of mistakes. No parents, few rules, big parties and 1,000-calorie breakfasts—campus life can be overwhelming for an immature 18-year-old.

So can a 14,255-foot mountain.

Yet my roommate and I, on a few hours sleep with little more than a headlamp, hiking boots and a banana smuggled from the dining hall, decided to try one of these mammoth mountains on a whim.

As East Coast transplants only two weeks into coursework at CU-Boulder, neither one of us had much experience with Colorado adventure.

Leaving all common sense behind, we hopped in his beat-up pickup truck and drove north from Boulder to Estes Park. It was 11 p.m. on a Saturday night—we should have been drinking heavily, it would’ve been safer.
We arrived at the trailhead to Longs Peak around 1 a.m. and started hiking in the pitch blackness of the very early, very cold fall morning.

The two of us, relative rookies to things uniquely Colorado—altitude, boulders, mountain lions—did surprisingly well, making it to the Keyhole Pass by sunrise.

The hike took its toll, as evidenced by my roomie’s now green complexion. Over the course of five hours of hiking, we’d traveled about 6 miles and gained nearly 5,000 feet in elevation.

Taking a break at the pass, we watched as the sun rose through the clouds, witnessing the day start from about 14,000 feet above sea level.

It’s an image emblazoned in my mind, the type of moment that will keep me in Colorado for life. But, sigh, we were too weak to move on.

Humbled by the 15th tallest mountain in the state, we turned back.

Since that day I’ve tackled a dozen or so 14ers, never losing the battle to the state’s highest of high mountains. I bagged Snowmass Mountain in a few laborious hours, Mount Wilson by moonlight, and Lincoln, Bross and Democrat in one day.

But never have I gone back to attempt the mountain that once defeated my eager adventurous soul.

My commute from Denver to Erie includes a five-minute stretch on Country Road 8, heading west. On a clear morning, which is most every day, Longs Peak stares down at me, perhaps snickering in my general direction and daring me to tempt its fate one more time.

Until putting together this month’s travel section on some of our favorite 14ers and where to eat, sleep and drink after conquering them, I haven’t longed to bag Longs. Now the idea of being at the top of it eats at me.

And I have much more experience now.

It should be a mere formality to get to the top—yet I’m still intimidated.

That’s the incredibly alluring quality of a 14er. Though I know I can conquer Longs with little trouble now, the idea of hiking to more than 14,000 feet is still a feat.

That’s why I hope to get to the top of all of Colorado’s 54 14ers. At a pace of three or so a summer, it could take me another 15 years to accomplish that.

First things first, though, as soon as the snow melts enough to clear a route, I need to go back to where my 14er obsession began 10 years ago.

Maybe after reading this month’s issue, my old roommate will want to tag along. We’ll try sleeping the night before this time around.

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