Slowly, I roll to the gate. The Park ranger sees me from afar and returns to me only a tired stare. He himelf walks slowly to the entrance booth, not resting his gaze. I now roll towards the booth even slower, nervous. I feel as if I’m performing a border crossing, rather than just entering a National Park. The guard just continues his stare – his eyes looking right at mine; the rest of his visage saying absolutely nothing. I offer a hello, but get no reply. Meeting him at the booth, he continues his vacant look. Is he looking at me, or past me? I don’t know, but I hand him the entrance fee I just made change for at the coffee shop in town that I stopped at to regain feeling in my hands and feet after making that chilly descent into Estes Park. Having climbed out of town, I’m much warmer now. Unseasonably warm. Finally,
“Oh. Day Pass. Map?”
I accept, and that’s my entire interaction with this guy. It’s also the first time I’ve ever paid for entrance into the Park in my 5+ years of visiting it. It feel almost wrong. Some things, I ponder, shouldn’t be bought.
Gerry Roach’s Longs Peak Radical Slam as described in his 14ers book: top out on 7 summits in the Longs Peak area: (Meeker, Longs, Pagoda, Storm, Mt. Lady Washington, Battle Mountain, Estes Cone), topped off with 50 push ups at the trailhead. I’m admittedly pretty terrible at push ups, and this has always been the crux of the day (if one can believe such snobbery).
The thought popped into my mind to do the Radical Slam as my October tick for my own Longs Peak Project (The Longs Peak Project: summit Longs Peak each month of the year, via a different route). But let’s change things up just a little bit. My Longs Peak Project is going to be self-powered from Boulder: I’m riding a bike, rather than driving a car the 40 miles from the end of town to the Longs Peak trailhead. That may not sound much, but it’s 6,000+ feet of elevation gain roundtrip tacked on to actually summiting the peak. To put that in perspective: you basically double the elevation you gain summiting the peak by starting in Boulder. FUN!
Also, I’ve actually done the Radical Slam already this year (including the bike approach/retreat). Why not do it the hard way: start with the lowest peak, and work up from there, counter-clockwise? That way, you’re well through the day when you need to tackle the toughest technical part of the route, and the highest summits on the list.
That’ll also keeps you honest – you know how easy it is to skip Battle Mountain and Estes Cone, and head straight to the trailhead, ticking off merely a Longs Peak Grand Slam? Easier than eating three breakfast burritos at Ed’s Cantina in Estes Park aprés doing the full-meal-deal Radical Slam, that’s how easy.
To add to this all: let’s also do this in the Fall (Oct. 30th), when the days are short, cold, and very, very windy, rather than on a perfect summer’s day. The chances you’ll become benighted are in your favor! Nothing is funner than descending the Loft Route than descending the Loft Route in the dark. Think you have a hard time finding Clark’s Arrow? What if you’re looking for it under a new moon with a failing headlamp?
Finally those push ups, hmm: how about we do a set of ten on each peak – on the very top of the peak, rather than just at the end? We’ll get 70 in, rather than the textbook 50. That will give me a little time to recover from the last 10, which may exceptionally imbalanced arms could use (talk to me about how many pull ups I can do in day!). I say the compromise I’ve set up is about fair, yeah?
The stage is set, the challenge… accepted? The bike chain is lubed, and the alarm has been programmed for some unrealistically early time. Are you ready, set,
L -> R, Top -> Down: Meeker, Longs, Pagoda, Storm Peak, Mt. Lady Washington, Battle Mountain, and Estes Cone!
What a difference a few weeks makes. Last month, we seemed to have just flown through the window for a Winter conditions ascent of the Notch Couloir. Since then, the temps started rising precipitously. When I rode back to Longs Peak last weekend, most of the snow had already melted. Incredible.
On this day, I was considering going for a Longs Peak Radical Slam, which is a challenge outlined in Roach’s 14ers book: tag Meeker, Longs, Pagoda, Storm Peak., Mt. Lady Washington, Battle Mountain, and Estes Cone in one go. I’ve done it once before, but didn’t ride up and back in the same trip. So that’s what the challenge for today was. The meat of it all was the 20 miles – mostly off trail to tag all these peaks. Riding up always takes a little bit of the spring out of my step, and the ride down usually is an experiment in mental suffering and fatigue. But I got a rep. to keep, ya know.
I’ve long since seen, “mountaineering” as the ideal stage in which to set my practice of suffering in the outdoors. Although I’ve certainly danced around mountaineering, I’ve done so only on its periphery. I borrow its terminology with jealousy as the basis on how I explain the other disciplines I practice. For example, Alpine Style: going light and fast. That’s exactly how I explain bike races I do, that take weeks to finish. I also describe no-holds, lightning-quick bike rides as, “Disaster Style”, which itself is coined by alpinist, Kelly Cordes.
But, mountain biking is not mountaineering. Nor is trail running really, nor even rock climbing in the classic sense. They all take a small aspect of mountaineering and focus on this one thing, disregarding the rest. Which is a perfectly fine thing to do. But mountaineering – I want to imagine at least, comprises a large set of skills to be competent in, to allow you to reach your objective and come back down alive.
So when Peter Bakwin and Kendrick Callaway invited me to climb the Notch Couloir with them – truly a classic mountaineering route on Longs Peak, I was excited to take it on, as well as relatively scared out of my little head. As much as others may want to believe, I’m not the boldest of climbers.
I’m only in Allenspark, and the sun has already risen. I feel as if I’m very late to my own party. Allenspark is only seven miles away from the Longs Peak Trailhead – my riding destination, but as I summit the last punchy climb and await the downhill just beyond, I conclude that the downhill won’t give me the rest I’m hoping for. The winds are strong today – strong enough that I’m fighting to stay upright as I crest the hill, and belaboring with my never-ending pedaling to simply continue going forward while I start descending. These are the exact type of conditions that even the hard men that have established such challenges have tried to avoid, because it’s madness.
2:00 am is a hell of a time to wake up, especially when you finally went to sleep at a little before midnight. Probably. I now wake up and think about my immediate surroundings. They seem almost Thoreau-ian – if the surroundings weren’t in their own immediate surroundings. I’m wrapped up in a sleeping bag, on top of a beat up sleeping pad that has slightly less patches holding it air tight, then countries it’s been placed on the ground of, all in a room just wide enough to outstretch my hands and not touch the opposite walls.