Living in Fort Collins, I've stared up at Longs many times with awe and with disappointment that I have never climbed it. It's the closest 14er to my house. Some friends of mine and I made plans to climb August 19th. I wanted to get at least 3 or 4 hours sleep before attempting this beast, so I suggested we leave town at 2:30 AM. This put us at the TH at 4AM. We had to park 1/4 mile from the TH, but magically we were walking by 4:18. It felt like we really got a late start because there was no one behind us. I began to worry that we'd screwed up.
We reached the junction of the Loft route and Keyhole route trails just after 6am. The alpenglow was just starting to hit the mountain.
My friends took the loft route and I set out on the Keyhole trail. I reached the Boulderfield in great time (for me). The Boulderfield was warm and not at all windy. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. After stopping to inspect the privy I continued to the Keyhole.
I'd always heard the Keyhole can be the spot where a hiker is forced to turn back due to high winds. Even though the weather was great, I knew there was a chance it could be blowing like a hurricane on the other side of the structure. There were also several people sitting at the Keyhole, which made me worry more. When I got there I found there was very little wind on the other side, so I could continue. I made it across the ledges in good time. They did not seem bad at all. The trough, however, was a monster. I had read a lot about Longs but somehow failed to grasp that this was such a tough part of the hike.
Even though I was at 13,400' or so, I began to feel light headed at times. I had to stop every 3 or 4 feet and take deep breaths. The trough was cold and shaded at this time of day. I wasn't sure I would make it, but I kept taking one more step. Soon I was able to see the top of the trough. There I encountered what I consider the most difficult part of the KH route. There is a section of rock with very few hand holds or other ways to climb. There is a rope, but I'm not a climber and didn't feel comfortable with it. After some creative route planning, I found a way to crawl and stretch and get up on the left side.
Once on the other side, things brightened up, literally. It was sunny and warm, but I still faced the Narrows. This was the part I'd been told was the most worrisome. I found it not to be easy, but it certainly wasn't the 6 inch ledges with no handholds I'd expected. There is plenty of room, even for climbers to pass. Once past the Narrows, my buddies and I met at exactly the spot where the Loft and KH routes join. What a coincidence! For some reason I was able to jam up the Homestretch with no lightheadedness, just a lot of sweat and heavy breathing.
The summit was beautiful and there was very little wind. Still no clouds in the sky, and the Northwest fire smoke was minimal.
I got off the summit quickly after eating a hotdog. The trough down hike was grueling. The Ledges were harder coming down, and so was the Boulderfield. I enjoyed it all (except the Trough and the long, nearly flat hike below tree line). This is only my 12th 14ers, but Longs is certainly the most interesting 14er I've done. It was also the hardest 14er I've done so far. I loved it, but I'm not eager to do it again.
My 4 year old asked if we could hike it one day. Perhaps many years down the road when he's old enough we'll hike it together.
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