I remember sitting outside of my tent, which was set-up right smack in the middle of the roughest terrain I had ever camped, and thought- Am I on Mars?
The Boulderfield is located on Long’s Peak Trail at 12,750 feet above sea level. It is one of those places where pictures just can not adequately describe. You just have to go there yourself to see it. And believe me… it will not let you down. While it certainly is the hardest terrain on which I have ever camped, it was the most gratifying.
The most difficult thing about simply looking at pictures of the Boulderfield is that one can’t appreciate the scale of the picture, the enormity of the rocks, or the vastness of the entire field. The only way to appropriately contextualize the pictures is to see a person or an object in the very midst of the field, especially from a distance. In the picture below, the red circle contains a cluster of tents including my orange and brown North Face tent. This picture was taken from the Keyhole (only a few hundred feet above the Boulderfield).
If you decide that you would like to camp at the Boulderfield there are a few things that you will need to take into consideration while planning:
1. There are a limited number of designated camping spots in the field. I would suggest registering months in advance to guarantee that you have a spot. However, my impression is that the Boulderfield is easier to get a camping site than other backcountry sites because more people tackle Long’s in one day and do not want to deal with the hassle of packing extra weight for tents and gear, but I would still HIGHLY RECOMMEND camping there for the experience and registering in advance. The individual spots are not marked and they are nearly impossible to figure out on the official Boulderfield camping map, so just make sure that you have your paperwork with you when you select a spot.
2. The temperature at 13,000 feet can drop significantly at night. During our end-of-July trip, the Boulderfield low the night we camped there was 47 degrees. Being that building fires are prohibited in the Boulderfield (there isn’t anything to burn in the Boulderfield anyway), it is wise to take appropriate clothing. During the day when we arrived in the field I was wearing shorts and short sleeves, but as the evening approached I zipped on pant legs and then later added sleeves, and then a sweatshirt, and finally a windbreaker. Maybe it was overkill, but I really got chilled. I eventually went into the tent at 10pm in order to warm up in my mummy bag. Without proper clothing and protection, I believe that a person will be extremely uncomfortable and could potentially become hypothermic. Plan well.
3. Running water is available at the Boulderfield, but it must be filter-pumped or cleaned with iodine tablets. This is important because if you plan to make a summit attempt you will want to take a minimum of 32 ounces with you, and you will have likely consumed most of your water on the trek to the Boulderfield the previous day. At high altitude, you have to stay well hydrated. Make sure that you plan accordingly.
The greatest piece of advice I will pass along for the Boulderfield is stay awake to see the stars at night! I had every intention to stay awake, but as I mentioned earlier I was cold and decided to go to sleep. It was a bit cloudy that night anyway and seeing the stars was limited. FORTUNATELY for me I woke up in the middle of the night because I had to relieve myself. My general rule of thumb when camping in the cool/cold is if it is before 3am I will get up to relieve myself (otherwise it is too long to hold it), but if it is after 3am I will suffer through it. I figure that the discomfort of having to pee is less than the discomfort of stepping outside the tent in shorts and t-shirt in the cold.
Anyway, it happened to be 1am which meant I had to get out of the tent to go. When I stepped out of the tent I was completely frozen in my tracks as I looked up to the sky. I have never in my life seen such beauty as I did that night. So much so that I stood in the cold in the shorts and t-shirt for 20 minutes just staring upward. No city lights competed with the light coming from the distant stars, planets, and what looked like other galaxies. No joke. I have NEVER seen anything like it EVER. I turned to my left and saw the Big Dipper. I felt so close that I could almost reach out and touch it. It was a spiritual experience. Praise God. I only hope others will get the opportunity to experience that as well.