One day I stood above the clouds with my climbing partner, higher than anyone else for a hundred miles around. A moving landscape of pure white lay before me, its rolling contours tumbling by the mountaintop like a sea pulsating in one direction—west, west, west. The sun glared down out of a blazing blue sky and reflected back up into my face from multiple trillions of water crystals that comprised the veil before me. A fierce sun rendered the subtle reds, greens, browns and blacks in the piles of granite boulders and scree to one desolate gray. The top of Longs Peak seemed a wasteland presiding over a Front Range that was no more.
I’ve climbed the Diamond of Longs Peak 15 times via a dozen routes, and I’ve scrambled up other sides of Longs Peaks another half dozen times. It’s my favorite mountain in the world, all 14,259 feet of it. Rarely have I stood alone on top; just twice, and those were bright, special days embedded in my deepest memories.
The day the Front Range disappeared, my partner and I left the house at 3a.m. Clouds hung low over the entire Front Range, but at the parking lot for Longs, clear blue skies reigned over the high peaks—Meeker, Alice, Longs… Our chosen route, the Black Dagger, splits the face and has a deep, wide, cave-like crack in the middle of the wall. Slightly ominous, its shadowed blade points directly downward at the climbers below.
As the day progressed, the clouds made their gentle journey up from Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, and eventually Allenspark, finally reaching the high peaks. When tentacles of white started to cross Chasm Lake, like the mists of Avalon, my climbing partner and I wondered. But no storm roiled the mists. They eased across the cold water, and we watched the reflection of the surrounding rock walls disappear in a white blur.
Then the vapors reached the Diamond. As they collided with the base, tendrils shot up toward us, propelled by forces we didn’t understand. There was no wind. By the time I arrived to the point of the dagger on one of my leads, the clouds rushed over us, cool and moist. I entered the black, moss-covered depths of the cavern and felt completely engulfed inside this great wall.
When we finally reached Table Ledge early afternoon, a place many climbers stop, we decided to ascend to the summit rather than rappel into the murky abyss. We climbed until we left the mist behind, maybe a hundred feet below the summit. We would be the only people on top of Longs that day. We would be higher than anyone else on the Front Range of Colorado. The world disappeared, and it was just my partner and I, standing on a stark and rocky sun-lit summit that floated in a white sea.
Lyons, Colo., resident Lizzy Scully first climbed the Diamond of Longs Peak in the late 1990s. She’s stood on top twice alone, once in a rolling sea of white that covered the entire Front Range.