ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Our National Parks: A Nighttime Ascent of Longs Peak

Updated on September 21, 2016
juneaukid profile image

Richard F. Fleck is an active hiker and leads Sierra Club "Hike and Write" treks in the foothills of the Rockies of Colorado and Wyoming.

Longs Peak, Colorado

Old Cables Route
Old Cables Route
Climbers atop Longs Peak
Climbers atop Longs Peak
Gerry Short's watercolor of the Diamond Face
Gerry Short's watercolor of the Diamond Face | Source

A Nighttime Acent of Longs Peak

Stars shone with absolute brilliance as I drove across Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park to meet my fellow rangers who would climb Longs Peak. We signed the register at 10 o'clock p.m. to begin a spectacular nighttime ascent of the peak that Arapaho Indians called Nestoaieux (two guides). Our plan--to arrive at the boulder field by midnight, the cables (no longer in existence) above 13,000 feet by 3 a.m., and the summit itself just before sunrise. We would experience the pulsing threads of northern lights right up there in the living sky itself. And we would witness a total eclipse of the moon.

Plodding along the trail, we wound our way through lodgepole pines toward the summit eight miles distant. At first our breathing seemed heavy, and the quiet night air accentuated our human sounds. As our longs gradually accustomed themselves to the task, however, we commenced a four-way conversation that had the uncanny effect of disrupting natural silence. Our voices sounded quite out of place in that very still alpine air. Soon we ceased talking and kept our thoughts to ourselves. Only when we stopped to rest did we realize how frigid the July (1960) evening air was.

In such chilly air, the very sound of an ice-cold brook tumbling over dark rocks made me shiver. Four miles deeper into the forest, we paused by an iridescent stream to fill our canteens and put on some warmer layers of clothing. Stars peppered the black dome above us. It felt good to be part of a community of climbers, rather than lonely on a solitary climb. We proceeded onward with a golden moon rising through creaking branches of spruce and fir. John Muir once described such creaking as a kind of forest violin. Five hundred more vertical feet and tree line!

The trail leveled out a bit, allowing us to proceed at an easier pace until we reached the boulder field at 12,600 feet. Scientists having recently discovered (in the early 2000s) that the boulder field rests atop a slowly slithering glacier of black ice. This is where the walk ends and the climb begins. The moon illuminated numerous scrubby evergreens growing here and there under the icy masses on Mount Meeker (13,911 feet) and Longs Peak (hence the Arapaho name of two guides). Gnarled, twisted limber pines, crinkly monument plants, and dwarf willows looked extraterrestrial.

At the upper end of the boulder field, we caught sight of the fairy-blinking array of Denver's city lights some 7,000 feet below. We stood amid the true alpine tundra zone, with its delicate mosses and flowers barely visible in the black shadows of the mountains. Slithering over loose rocks like crustaceans at the bottom of an immense lagoon, we inched our way up Longs Peak flanked by horizontal strips of white and gleaming snow.

As we rested on a huge boulder, we nervously chatted about an upcoming event--the total eclipse of the moon, our only sufficient source of light. The eclipse would occur around 3 a.m., and we knew it would take longer than two hours to complete our ascent. We hoped to get past the tricky hundred yards or so of cable (see digital image) that aid climbers over a very sheer part of th3e north face. On went our gloves, as we plodded toward Chasm View, some 13,200 feet high. At this elevation, breathing can be a bit of a problem; our minds became drowsy and our feet did not seem to function properly. It seemed as if sheer desire rather than physical power pushed us on toward Chasm View.

We all had slight headaches when we sat down on an overhanging ledge at Chasm View. We stared in wonderment at the awesome heights of the famed Diamond Face rising above the black waters of Chasm Lake 2,000 feet below (See my hub "In Quest of a Glacial Ghost). Surely such a place manifests what John Muir meant by the spiritual magnetism of mountains. Despite weariness of body, the spirit seems to ramble out into the cosmos of granite, stars and moon.

We remained in a trance until one of us suggested we climb on toward the summit. Just as we were about to arrive at the point where the cable begins, the moon slowly disappeared. Now, only the stars glimmered above a dark frame of rock. Suddenly I shouted "Look to the North!" Way up toward the Wyoming line, pulsing low in the sky, threads of northern lights began to shimmer; it seemed strange that we had to look down at them through crags and notches of dark cliff. Were we on the moon itself? Is that why it disappeared?

we missed the cable. In spite of our searching for what seemed an eternity in pitch blackness (save for the dim glimmer of fading northern lights and our inadequate flashlights), we failed to find our iron guide. Worming our way up a narrow chimney in the cliff, we struggled to reach a ledge for rest. Lo and behold the cable! The four of us unfortunately had taken the most difficult route to the cable's beginning, shining so dimly in the granite overhead. Each of us grabbed the cable, took steps, and pulled upward, sluggishly, repeating the process many times, like brutes in slow motion. Reaching the top of the cable, we crossed some slippery, crusted ice at a snail's pace that tired us to our limits. The moon slowly reappeared. Oh for the warmth of a sleeping bag to curl up in and doze off for maybe a half century.

Attaining an altitude of about 14,000 feet, we had to rest just one more time before reaching the sunmmit itself. A rosy finch flicked past our heads to draw us out of a trance. My friend Rober Barbee shouted "Two hundred feet to go!" Up we stood, forcing our weary bones to move until we rambled out onto the small peneplain summit of Longs Peak. Too bad Major Stephen Long (for whom the peak is named) could not have experienced what we had back in 1820 when he first saw the peak from afar.

Food and drink did not appeal to us at all. We each picked a flat boulder to rest on and doze off. But in only fifteen minutes our teeth began to chatter. By this time a faint reddish hue became visible in the frosty air. The dull-green, lake-studded prairie gradually assumed a more realistic appearance. As the sun bobbed up over the rim of the earth, we all squinted like blind bats at midday. The whole Front Range glowed in a golden light, while narrow valleys far below remained dim and gray. The distant Never Summer Range glowed in a rising sun--then something began to happen! The Brocken Specter (to which John Muir refers in his The Mountains of California) happened! The vast, block-shaped shadow of Longs Peak spread and stretched westward, and, as our planet rotated at 1000 miles per hour, the shadow traveled westward for some sixty miles at great speed. We stood in absolute silence. Only one more time in my life would I witness such a phenomenon--on top of Mount Fuji, Japan some twenty years later (See my hub: Fuji San: Climbing Among the Stars).

The descent to the boulder field proved rewarding. Each foot of granite varied as would Pennsylvania Dutch farm country from the air--a patchwork of vegetational desins. Orange, yellow, black and green crusty lichens with dense patches of Irish-green moss and brownish-black liverwortt encrusted the cliff sides all the way down. The charm of this color scheme overpowered the tired pain of our legs and feet and gave us something to muse on all the way down to the comfort of the valleys below.

Nestoaieux means two guides, but why two? The Arapaho Indians saw, from the prairie below, both Mount Meeker and Longs Peak which appeared as two close-together mountains, hence--Two Guides.

This is a slightly modified excerpt from my book, Breaking Through the Clouds available through Amazon.Com

Longs Peak


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thanks Dolores, Even though I was only 23 at the time, it was a very tiring but tremendously important hike for me.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Richard, you must have been eating your carrots to make such a night hike. I can't imagine that trek in the dark. Many nights, when I have gone camping, I need a walking stick just to stroll the sandy trails of a simple little island - I just don't trust my own feet in the dark.

      How beautiful this was. You put us there in that incredible place. Thank you for that.

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you very much, Lindsay Godfree

    • Lindsay Godfree profile image

      Lindsay Godfree 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      I enjoyed reading your account of the night hike very much! I grew up in Colorado but never went to the National Park there....sad. To go when there was an eclipse of the moon and to see the Northern lights too...What a story! Good work!

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Glad you enjoyed it, Hello,hello

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Another wonderful, wonderful read. Thank you.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)