Campground Review: Longs Peak

Monday, September 16, 2013

What a great review and story by Mik Everett, author of Memoirs of a Homeless Bookstore Owner. We hope you enjoy this post as much as we did!

Longs Peak was the first campground my family stayed at last summer. Our summer started as a vacation and would eventually culminate in three weeks lived out of tents and a pick-up truck, once we decided that we wanted to stay in Colorado but hadn't decided on a residence yet. During that summer, we lived in campgrounds by lakes and on mountains and in national forests, all over the state of Colorado. But Longs Peak was the first, and it was where we stayed before we were professional campers. We were only vacationers, recreational campers, visiting Colorado to attend a friend's wedding.

We chose Longs Peak because of its proximity to the location of the wedding, so we had no idea that it was a campground usually occupied by serious hikers. Just across an access road from the Longs Peak trailhead, hikers usually stay at the campground so that they don't have to make a late-night drive before they begin their early-morning ascent of the fourteener, a term given to mountains rising more than 14,000-feet in elevation. Longs Peak campground does not accept reservations, and we didn't realize until later that we were incredibly lucky to have secured a camp-spot at the end of June, prime hiking season.  We paid $20 for the night, and 26 marked camping spots, complete with tent pads (more like shallow sandboxes), parking spots, and fire pits, surrounded a cinder-block building with men's and women's restrooms, which contained flushing toilets, sinks, and even mirrors. My husband grumbled that this wasn't 'real' camping, but I was relieved for a sink at which to ready myself and our two children before the wedding.

The campground was, overall, extremely quiet. This was due to the fact that it was inhabited mostly with serious athletes, not families like ours, and they would all awake at approximately three in the morning the next day in order to reach the summit of Longs Peak and descend again in a timely manner. However, at the far end of the campground, a border was shared with a much louder camp - presumably a day camp and/or party site for college-aged youth. It was hard to tell which, but our second night at Longs Peak, we were nearer this border and they were certainly quite lively later hours of the night.

Our second night at Longs Peak campground, we fell asleep at what I believed to be a rather late hour, due to the drunken revelries next door, but I soon awoke again to a noise outside our tent. I thought perhaps the 3-a.m.-ers were up, preparing for their hike. But, listening closely, I heard no speaking - only shuffling, very near our tent, where no other campers ought to have been. I heard the sound of glass against plastic-- Beer bottles rattling in our cooler. Amateur campers, we had inadvertently left our cooler outside our tent, not locked in our vehicle or in the bear boxes, and I found myself terrified that a bear had located our hot dogs and was now looking for a bigger snack-- maybe people. I convinced myself that it was only a raccoon by imagining how irritated my husband would be if I woke him up, only to find that it was just a raccoon after all. This, kids, is very bad logic.

As the shuffling got closer and I could no longer pretend that it was only a large rodent, I awoke my husband. He wasted no time in telling me it was only a raccoon and to go back to sleep, until I shushed him long enough for him to hear the ruckus outside our tent. I was nearest to the zipped-shut door, and my husband reached over me to unzip the tent-- right outside the threshhold rested a shovel, which my husband had left there in case we needed to scare away any bears during the night. The black bears of Rocky Mountain National Forest are trash bears, really no more than extremely large raccoons, and easy to frighten if their cubs aren't in danger. My husband was prepared for this, hence the shovel. But before he could unzip the tent, we heard heavy breathing, a silhouette against the vinyl, muffled metallic sounds--The bear was playing with our shovel.

My husband retreated back to his spot, having decided that he didn't want to unzip the tent after all, and I was left with only about eighteen inches and a thin layer of vinyl between myself and what I presumed to be a murderous black bear. My husband and I lay there, clutching each other in fear, for half an hour while we listened to the bear play with the objects of our camp. My husband then conceded that this actually did count as 'real' camping. Our children slept obliviously, my daughter snoring loudly at one point and sending fresh waves of terror down my spine, as I thought it was the roar of a bear.

In the morning, we found that our food had been ravaged-- Hot dogs and hamburger patties had been devoured, no remnants left. Chocolate bars meant for s'mores had been torn open, nothing left but coarse, black hair stuck to the wrappers. An unopened package of Kraft American sliced cheese was gone-- every individual plastic wrapper intact, apparently painstakingly opened so that the bear could consume the cheese. Only the glass bottles of beer, cans of Slimfast, and carrots remained-- and even the carrots had been opened and spilled onto the ground, before the bear apparently decided he preferred cheese and chocolate. So do I, bear. So do I.

After lamenting that our chocolate was gone, and being chastised by my husband for caring more about that than the hamburger meat, we devoured our protein shakes and decided to have a go at ol' Longs Peak itself. I should point out here that we were naught but tourists, who had only Slimfast for sustenance, two toddlers in flip-flops, no hiking shoes, and no professional gear whatsoever. We packed up our tent and moved our car across the road to the trailhead parking lot, which was full, so we parked on the street instead-- as had about eighty other hikers, from the looks of it. We started out ascent with two enthusiastic children, and after about three switchbacks, we had two bawling, miserable children instead. Still, after about an hour's hike-- and lots of encouragement from the impressed professional hikers who passed us, sans-children-- we made it to a beautiful footbridge overlooking a stream, where we rested and consumed more Slimfast before our descent. Seriously, plan on bringing gear and clearing up an entire day if you want to reach the summit of Longs Peak-- but if not, the first mile or so is a pretty decent leisure-hike.

After our descent, we followed Highway 72 south to the town of Nederland, where we enjoyed some much-deserved lunch at Backwoods Pizza and re-stocked at B&F Market. However, we had learned our lesson: Always keep food locked up. You don't want a bear to eat all your chocolate, and you also don't want to risk causing a bear to be euthanized, which is park procedure for individual bears who have shown that they have a propensity for interacting with human beings.

Mik Everett is an author, editor, and mother who divides her time between Wichita, Kansas; Boulder, Colorado; and unnamed mountain locations. A former 'professional camper' and independent bookstore owner, her novel Memoirs of a Homeless Bookstore Owner has been called by Amazon #1 Bestselling Author E. L. Farris "the best book of 2013." Mik likes living with children, cats, and people who create things.






















Thanks Mik!