9/22/2012 Longs Peak (14,255 feet), Colorado



Longs Peak is a massive mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, and is the northern most 14er in Colorado.  It's a popular climb due to it's close proximity to Denver and Boulder, however it's also ranked in the top 15 most difficult 14ers to summit.  However, having climbed 9 other 14ers this year, along with some routes that exceed the exposure/climbing ratings that the Keyhole route has (West Ridge of Quandary) we felt we were ready to give this one a go.

We chose to take the 14er "standard" route, which is named the Keyhole RouteRocky Mountain National Park describes the route:  "The Keyhole Route is not a hike. It is a climb that crosses enormous sheer vertical rock faces, often with falling rocks, requiring scrambling, where an unroped fall would likely be fatal. The route has narrow ledges, loose rock, and steep cliffs."

The route essentially is broken up into 4 parts.  Initially, you hike about 5.5 miles through forest and rocky plains  to reach what is called the "Keyhole", which sits above the Boulder Field (a popular camping spot for overnight climbers of Longs) and on the saddle between Longs Peak and Storms Peak.  Many people just make it to the Keyhole.  

After crossing through the Keyhole, you are greeted by the gnarly terrain of the West side of Longs.  You head south along a narrow ridge to what is called "The Trough", a 600 foot gully of loose rock  that you must ascend.  At the top of the Trough is what is called "The Narrows", a very narrow catwalk with sheer vertical drops, sometimes a few feet from the wall.  At the end of the Narrows, you reach "Homestretch", which is a 300 foot final climb (class 3) to the summit. 

 
The guidebook round trip time is between 12-16 hours.  Normally, due to the afternoon storms in the summertime in the Rocky's, a start of 2AM is advised, to be off the summit and back to the Boulder Field before noon.  However, since we are in the fall weather here, the afternoon storms have typically subsided and the last few weekends have had a weather forecast of sunshine and 0% rain.  Because of that, Ashley and I decided to do a "late" start (late being, 6:30AM). 

Click here for the a map of our route.  We followed the Keyhole route, #1.

   
Elevation gain: 5100 feet
Trip length: 15 miles 



As we began the trek, we donned our head lamp to light the first mile or so of the hike, while the sun was still coming up.

As the sun started to rise, we got a better look at the forest around us.

The first couple miles follow a well defined trail through the woods.

It's pretty cold in the morning @ 9,000 feet.

There are a few camping spots along the trail. 

Looking back down the trail at the fall season approaching.

A sign alerting the climber of the fragile alpine vegetation. 
As we break through the forest, we get a look back at the sun coming up.

The alpine area let us check out all the fall colors in the area.

More fall colors as we exit the forest.

And more, with some awesome photo edits (Ashley).

More colors.

And some more.
Reaching the end of the forest, we get our first look at the massive east face of Longs Peak in the center.

At this point, the trail essentially heads east towards Longs Peak.  The east face just keeps getting more and more impressive the closer we get.
Looking back east-ish - officially morning.

Ashley at the trail junction for Chasm Lake.

Me, with Longs Peak on the right and 13er Mount Meeker on the left. 

Ashley with an awesome edited shot of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak.

At the junction, with Longs Peak on the left and the shoulder of 13er Mount Lady Washington on the right.

The southern ridge and summit of Longs Peak.  From here our route would swing north around Mount Lady Washington before it would head east again.
Views from the hike as we move north around Mount Lady Washington.

More views.

Ashley, with Mount Lady Washington.  Our route moves us around the base and up to the Boulder field.

Looking back again.

Mount Lady Washington.  Longs is just peaking on the right.

Hi!

The trail swings south and east from here, this is called Granite Pass.

Looking back down the trail as we approach the boulder field.
Some photos of the awesome terrain on the way up.
More flora.
More awesome flora.

As we are about to gain the height of land at the Boulder Field, the intimidating Longs Peak comes back into view.
And finally the full view of our destination as we reach the Boulder Field.
Ashley at the Boulder Field with Longs Peak behind her.  Getting to this point is the "easy" part. 
Awesome shot of Longs Peak.  Notice the diamond shaped rock face on the left.  That is The Diamond, an obvious technical rock climbing route.

Along the ridge of Longs, we see the fabled Keyhole.  From the here at the Boulder Field, we will head directly through the point which will take us along the back (west) side of the mountain.


A sign warning climbers of what lies beyond the Keyhole. 

Me, taking a breather at the Boulder Field before we start up to the Keyhole.
Approaching the Keyhole.  You can see there is a shelter erected right at it.  Crossing through the Keyhole is where the fun starts.

Approaching the Keyhole, taking one last look at some of the east cliffs of Longs Peak.

Closing in on the Keyhole.

Looking north-east along the ridge as we approach the Keyhole at Storm Peak B, and unranked 13er.

Ashley almost at the Keyhole, and the shelter is in full view.

The plaque at the Keyhole shelter.

The final 15 feet or so from the shelter to the Keyhole itself is an easy Class 3 scramble up some rocks.

From the Keyhole, looking back East across the sprawling Boulder Field.  It's difficult to see, but there are tents and two solar powered bathrooms down there, just to give you an idea of how expansive the area is.

After stepping through the Keyhole, you are greeted by the west face of Longs Peak.  The route goes straight ahead from here, moving along a narrow line of the face.

Ashley through the Keyhole.  You can see a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger traversing the ridge below her.

Then I dropped my camera on the rocks, and it snapped a picture of the sky.  Luckily, it started right back up again.


Spray painted bulls-eye markings are what you are shooting for as you move along the ledges.

You can see a group of hikers on their way down making there way back to the Keyhole.

Me, as we pick our way along the ridge heading for the Trough.

Ashley doing the same.
As we reach the bottom of the Trough, looking West at 13er Chiefs Head Peak.
As we reach the Trough, we take a final look back at the traverse back to the Keyhole.

Ashley ready to ascend the 1000 foot Trough.


Me, ready to do the same.

We didn't take any pictures as we ascended the Trough, so I grabbed a couple from the 14ers website to illustrate the climb.  


The start of the Trough and the route from basically where I stood in the picture above. 

About halfway up the Trough, looking back down.

And finally the top of the Trough.  The climber standing at the top is where Ashley is sitting below.  It's a tough exit to climb that final rock - and even tougher on the way down.  Ashley needed some help from myself and another climber because her legs were just a tad short to comfortable drop down.


Here is Ashley, sitting on the ridge that Trough tops out at, looking back down. 

And the other side of the very narrow ridge Ashley was sitting on above.  Thus begins the start of the Narrows - basically a catwalk only a few feet wide along the cliff wall that runs about a quarter mile. 

This picture was taken on the way down as we headed back over the Narrows, but I wanted to drop it here to show just how narrow the traverse really is. 
  
Ashley picking her way across the Narrows.  There isn't much climbing here at all, just some head games as you keep your concentration over some sheer cliffs. 

Me, on the Narrows.

At the end of the Narrows, we reach the start of the Homestretch (up and to the left).  In front of us stands 13er Mount Meeker.

Looking up the final 300 foot push of the Homestretch.  There is no false summit, the top is right up there. 

Ashley picking her way up the class 3 scramble. 

Me, almost to the top of the Homestretch. 
And finally, we reach the top.  14er #10!

Looking southwest from the summit. 

Looking south.

A cairn marks the start (or end) of the Homestretch


Awesome shot looking southeast at Meeker Ridge and Mount Meeker. 

Another shot south.

Looking northwest.
 
Me, at the actual summit marker and register.  We ate some food, signed the log and then carefully started back down the Homestretch.
At the bottom of the Homestretch, looking back across the Narrows.

Ashley starting the return traverse of the Narrows.

Enhanced shot of the Narrows.
 
No pictures of the return slog down the Trough, but a final shot of Chiefs Head Peak from the bottom of the Trough.


From the bottom of the Trough, we traversed back along the ridge returning to the Keyhole.  A look back at the ridge line.


From the Keyhole, looking almost directly west at 13er McHenrys Peak.

Ashley, just like myself, tired and beat down - but we arrive back at the Keyhole. 


From the Keyhole, it was another 5.5 mile return hike through the Boulder Field, and back to the parking lot.  No pictures!  
On the way down, we saw a LOT of fresh poop, which we assumed was bear (but may have actually been horse, we found out later).  Needless to say, we made haste and booked it on the way out.  We ended up doing the last 1.5 miles the same way we started the day; with a headlamp, in the dark.

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