14er Report #6: Longs Peak (Summer Conditions, Keyhole Route) (2022)

Misspelled postcard from Longs Peak. Colorado, 2014

[NOTE: If you plan on climbing this peak someday, and you are somewhat new to the higher altitudes, longer day hikes,and Class 3 scrambling, definitely check out the various forum conversations on 14ers.com about Longs Peak as well as the short article by James Dziezynski , Ten Things You Should Know Before Hiking Longs Peak. You’ll find a boulder pile of great information and suggestions in both places.]

I had already climbed Longs twice via the Keyhole–once back in the 80s and again in the 90s. I can’t count either ascent, though, for my official “Colorado 14er Senior Challenge” since I was but a youngster back then and couldn’t yet order off of the back of the IHOP menu.

So, it was off to Longs again today.

I went today with some uneasiness. First, because a huge thunderstorm blasted the area early in the day yesterday (would there be a repeat performance?) and, second, I was carrying some psychological baggage from those two ascents so long ago.

To explain…

The first time I climbed Longs, in the 80s, I was still very much into technical rock climbing. Thus, to this day, I retain absolutely no memory of anything at all scary that first time on the Keyhole Route. I simply remember it as an easy, if long,“walk-up”.

The second time through the Keyhole–with Dad and family as I recall–I was no longer very active with rock climbing and I remember being a bit freaked coming down the Homestretch slabs. I kept looking at how far you would roll if you slipped, slid, and couldn’t stop themomentum from building. (“Gaze not into the abyss, lest the abyss gaze into thee.” Who said that? Oh, yeah, that German guy, Nietzche.)

So it was with some trepidation that I passed under the arch of the Keyhole todayand set off along the Ledges. Very shortly, at a narrow spot with two iron posts, I immediately felt my Heebee Geebee Meter start to go wild as I stared into the void to the right of my feet–and this was a place I had absolutely no recollection of on either of my first two trips up Longs.Geez, how would the rest of the route feel? To energize the HGM even more, a guy right in front of me turned aroundat that point, his face a bit pale,saying “today isn’t the day for me…”.

My tactic to get my cranium on straight? I waited a bit for a small conga line of fellow adventurersto traipse over the two iron bars, then I followed them. It scared me onlya bit, but then I started gaining confidence as we moved along the rest of theledges. By the time we headed down from the summit, I was pretty comfortable with the exposure and was really enjoying scrambling along the beautiful, solid granite. In the end, I had a great time.

Weird, the brain games your mind tries to play with you when the abyss yawns.

LongsPeak (14,255′) Trip Report

Route:

Yes, I chose the wonderful, long, strenuous, sometimes a little anxiety-inducing, Keyhole Route once again. A real 14er classic. And yes, I know it is always loaded with people during the summer season, but it is still a dandy.

Part of what makes this trail interesting and unique is that it has a bit of everything. You could easily divide it into the following sections: Forest, Tundra, Boulder Field, Keyhole, Ledges, Scree Trough, Narrows, Homestretch (low angle slabs), Gargantuan Flat Summit.

For some, the iconic Keyhole landmark is a worthy destination in and of itself–many folks will hike and scrambleup to that huge window for the spectacular and very airy view of Rocky Mountain National Park and go no farther. It is after the Keyhole that the nature of the hike completely changes…you are cast into the mountain’sdark shadow and you also immediately learn the meaning of high mountain “exposure”, that is, open air–lots of it–below you…for hundreds of feet. You may find yourself feeling a bit insecure and clinging harder to the rock than is strictly necessary.

The path is well-marked, though–just “connect the dots” (those bulls eye markings) and trek on. Probably the most anxious sections for most would be: by the two iron bars just after the Keyhole, the chockstone at the top of the Trough, the initial part of the Narrows, and some of the smoother sections of the Homestretch. Just follow someone through these points, and you’ll find they aren’t that hard (unless you are adedicatedacrophobe). The trail is very well marked from beginning to end.

With a big, fat “supermoon” like a big pizza pie in the sky, I didn’t need my headlamp at all to stay on the trail (although many others did).

Timeline:

A 12:30a.m. departure from Boulder.

Parked at the trailheadand was walking uphill just before 2a.m., tree line by 3:15a.m, Chasm Lake Trail junction by 3:45a.m., Granite Pass by 4:30a.m., and into the Boulder Field by 5:15a.m. with the first light of the coming dawn.

I spent over an hour in the Boulder Field photographing the moonset and sunrise, then headed up to the Keyhole once the best morning light had faded.

Stepped through the Keyhole at 7a.m. and on the summit by 8:50a.m. Started down at 9:20a.m. and back at the truck at 3p.m.–a long day and my feet took a plastering! The downhill gets harder the older you get.

Weather Conditions:

You couldn’t have asked for a better day to summit Longs Peak: clear, with temps at the start around freezing or perhaps just above,in the 20s up in the Boulder Field just before dawn, then shorts weather in the sun, very light jacket weather in the shade after sunrise. Amazingly, almostno wind at all the entire day.

Most important in my mind, no early threatening clouds in the sky to chase us off the mountain! (As a photographer, though, I would have preferred some scattered high cirrus in all that naked blue.) There was a bit of ice here and there coating the rock along the Narrows and the Homestretch–very, verysmall areas of frozen runoff–but they were easy enough to avoid. The first small and scattered cumulus started to form during our descent at around 9:45a.m., but they never threatened to overdevelop into the much feared rain, hail or lightening generators.

Some good advice: If you see rain coming, don’t go beyond the Keyhole. In my mind, it would be too treacherous and nerve-wracking.

Trail Conditions:

No issues–the footpath was well-trampled and well-signed. On the way back down, though, you’ll find yourself doing hundreds of single-leg deep knee bends to step over the many water bars.

Unusual Events/Comments:

A guy with a geen light on his headlamp was coming down as I was coming up through the forest at around 2:30a.m.–he had done the entire route at night. A full Moon, no crowds, and fewer thunderstorm possibilities, I guess.

It was easy to sort of hook up with folks who were going along at a similar pace. I climbed for awhile from the Trough to the Summit with Lee and Ben, a couple of experienced 14er types, then, on the way down,with a fellow about my age from Washington State. Fun conversations and great moral support through the tricky sections.

I didn’t bother to count the folks on the trail today–there were too many (thus the use of the plural pronouns “we” and “us” above). On the way up, in the dark, I was hopscotching with the same 15 or so people. In total, I’d guess there wereat least 100 intrepid soulstrying for the summit today (a Monday). Before daybreak,the fine line of fireflies (headlamps) defined the trail perfectly, both above and below me.

Water sources… There is a nice stream just as you are about to leave the forest behind and enter the tundra, then there is a small flow that crosses the trail maybe 400-500 yards past the Chasm Lake junction, and there are various flows in the Boulder Field maybe 400 yards prior to the campsites. I don’t know how long into the season the latter two will be reliable.

The moonset and sunrise were pretty impressive. The Photographer’s Ephemeris gave me all the info I needed to put myself in position for theMoon-Keyhole images below. Definitely check this before any of your outdoor photography antics.

Colorado 14er Senior Challenge summit count: 10of the basic list of 58 (p. xxiii in Gerry Roach’s 14er “Bible”, Colorado Fourteeners, 3rd Ed.); 10of the long list of 73 (pp. 347-348, with South Wilson added, also in Roach’s “Bible”.

Select Images:

Sort of chronologically…

Venus Rising Behind Mount Lady Washington. Boulder Field, Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

First Light. Boulder Field, Longs Peak, Colorado

Headlamps on the Trail. Boulder Field, Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Sunrise and Moonset at the Keyhole, #1. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Approaching the Keyhole. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

View West, from the Trough. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

The View South, Narrows Section. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

A relatively UNcrowded summit scene on a cloudless, windless, summer day. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Now, some of my favorite monochrome images from the trip…

Longs Peak Moonset. Colorado, 2014

Late Summer Snow and Granite. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Granite Walls. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

The Keyhole Dragon. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Slabs. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Ice and Granite. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Depths, and a Last Snowpatch. Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Climbers on The Diamond (Can you spot them?). Longs Peak, Colorado, 2014

Finally, who says you can’t do a little “street photography” on a mountain trail?…

A Hiker’s Siesta. Longs Peak Trail, Colorado, 2014

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