August 1, 2014

Longs run

(Note: Places and distances are as best I can recall. I didn't bring a map, because I was dumb, and I'm not looking at one now, because I still am.)

Longs Peak is not named for the duration of the climb, which is not really that bad in any case. Walking the entire way, I stood on a boulder, looking up at the Keyhole Route in a little less than two hours. Given that a 1:14 summit has been done, two hours to stand way beneath forces a degree of humility. Endurance sports are cool like that. Times are times. You know where you stand.

And as I stood there, looking up at something that would involve my hands, that same humility led me to turn around. Having never climbed so much as a rock wall in my life (seriously, never), and knowing that an 18-year-old from Lenexa fell to his death just last week, I decided (having really decided days ago, honestly) that running down would be far more my speed. (My parents agreed with this decision.)

(Googling this last week, and again today, shows that the Keyhole basically is a "run up" for some people, which is fucking unreal. But in this, I'm happy to be a wimp.)

But it wouldn't be a trail run for me without a missed turn, then compounded. I had intended to take a different route down, swinging by a lake I'd skipped on the way up. This... somehow... led me down towards Glacier Gorge. It was about an hour of running before I entered a clearing, which had apparently not been a clearing for long. There were trees for twenty yards laid flat, perhaps, I'd guess, by a flood. In any case, the trail ended there, quite abruptly. 

There was, however, a sign some ten yards back, which pointed towards Bear Lake. I'd been there the previous day, and thought that, upon arrival, I could call my Dad and arrange for him to pick me up there, instead of at Longs Peak Trailhead.

The problem with this plan, however, was that we'd planned a pickup time of four hours post-start (giving me time to take plenty of detours on the way down), and I'd already been moving for three. The sign said that Bear Lake trailhead was 7.8 miles away, which, given the terrain and my fatigue, would be a decent effort. Still, I figured it would have to be made, since I didn't want a search and rescue party on my behalf, when I didn't show on time.

So, I hammered. Over the rocks, down the switchbacks, up the inclines, through the streams, and too near the ample horse shit. 

My watch read 4:01:something as I popped out of the swelling crowd, and I jogged over to the nearest ranger. Who kindly informed me that their office phone was not working, and neither were those at any of the ranger stations, except for that at Park and Ride. Since my cell didn't have signal, I'd have to ride the bus down, and call my Dad from there. They radio'd out that Alex Beecher was fine, just in case Jeff Beecher - or anyone else - asked. I laughed and said that I wasn't dead, then thought that tasteless, in light of the fact that several people do die in this park every year.

I rode the bus down, which took about 40 minutes, stopping everywhere, begging people off, then on, even when neither looked likely to happen. I compulsively checked my cell, begging for coverage that never arrived. 

Once at the Park and Ride station, I jogged towards the ranger's office, and asked to use their phone.

Are you Adam? A ranger asked.

Alex, I said. Beecher?

Oh, Alex, she said. Yeah, we heard. 

I then dialed my Dad, whose phone apparently didn't have signal either, then my Mom, who was in town, to let her know that I was ok, though she had no reason to expect that I wasn't. The ranger then called the Longs Peak Trailhead crew, telling them to look out for a guy looking like my Dad, driving a white Altima with a Jayhawk license plate. 

He, apparently, did no such thing, because when the Park and Ride ranger called back, she insisted that he really should go look in the parking lot. This eventually worked, and I was retrieved.

In the meantime, the ranger offered me two bottles of water and a bag of peanuts, saying that her son moved to Oregon after college to do "crazy long" trail races, so she sympathized, and was happy to help out wayward distance runners.

Things thus turned out quite well for me. I got in a substantial effort, and in the process, was only a minor inconvenience to others involved. (The rangers did say they appreciated my communication, as many searches are wasted on people presumed to be missing, who are already back at their hotels.) I further established that, on any trail, no matter how well marked, I will take a wrong turn. And then my Mom found a restaurant with quinoa. Good times. 


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. It certainly was a great time.

  2. ... could have gone sideways there ... but ... Alls well that ends well

    1. It certainly could have, though I was never so concerned with that as inconveniencing other people with my mistakes.

    2. I was once on a run with a guy in the mountains. We laughed as we agreed that if one of us got hurt, since we were a bit off the beaten track, rather than call SAR for help, we'd call our other running buddies. It would just be cleaner that way. And probably faster.

    3. I don't doubt it. Sadly, I've neglected to replace my cell for... a couple years now, really, and so it gets signal basically nowhere. I'm incommunicado if there are trees nearby. Real wilderness, and I'm not calling anyone.