| The Longs Grand Slam.
“Climbing Longs and its four buttress peaks in one day is a five-peak project that will stir sturdy souls” – Gerry Roach
Indeed Gerry, indeed.
Sunrise on Longs and Meeker
I have spent this past summer in Estes working on one of four Conservation Corps trails crews spread throughout Rocky Mountain National Park and its surrounding National Forests. The regular summer work season ended with all of the crews coming back to Estes and taking a stab at an ascent of Longs. When the other crews arrived, a few days before the set date to go up Longs, one of my friends came up to me and asked “Hey, have you ever heard of the Grand Slam?” I just chuckled a bit and told him that I had.
I secretly had wanted to attempt the Grand Slam all summer but I didn't have any climbing partners in Estes to go with. When this trip was proposed I was all in. We ended up with a group of five who would make a Grand Slam attempt. Two of us had over 20 unique 14ers on our lists respectively, three of us had been up the Keyhole route before, three of us were cross country runners, and one of us had never been up a 14er. I couldn’t have asked for a better group.
After a few days of route research we determined that we knew all we could and that we would just kind of ‘figure it out when were up there’, mostly with regards to Pagoda. We left the Longs Peak trailhead at 2:30 am with no real expectations for completion time or whether we would finish the Slam at all. We were just going to give it a go and no matter what happened, it would be a memorable day.
Walking through the trees we passed around 40 folks going for a trip up the Keyhole. We also talked to a couple nice dudes planning on climbing up the casual route on the diamond. We took the turn towards Chasm Lake and the crowds disappeared. A couple girls from our crew also tagged along on this leg of the trip, as they wanted to go up Meeker and Longs via the Loft. Our crew of eight ascended the Loft without any problems. The climbing was fun and pretty easy going. Shooting for the black rock band near the top of the loft, going left on the obvious ledge, going a few hundred feet, and then switching back on the grassy ledge was very straightforward once we reached it. A talus climb took us to the summit of Meeker at 6:00am. This was my second time on Meeker and I was reminded why it’s one of my favorite peaks.
Me and the meeker summit crew
We took a few sunrise summit pics and quickly made our descent back down to the Loft. We crossed the Loft northwest towards Longs and looked for the cairns. We spread out a bit to find them and eventually were able to track down the route. Tip: don’t descend without finding the cairns, there are some talus filled gullies which for some reason look well-traveled but drop you below the actual route. Once you find the cairns, the route is relatively straightforward if you follow instructions from other Longs via the Loft trip reports.
Follow cairns and hug this rock band. Do not descend too far, like me.
Like other reports say, there are a few class 3 down climbs through this section (one report called this class 4 but that is an absurd notion). We all did these down climbs facing away from the rock and nobody in our group, a few who had little experience on mountains, had any qualms about these few moves. Previous Loft reports had me expecting a fair amount of exposure along the route but I felt that the exposure was quite tame along the routes entirety.
Descending through the class 3 sections
A fine route indeed
As we neared the end of the route we looked up and saw some of our friends, among others, up on the Homestretch. I think our group felt a bit spoiled that we hadn’t seen another person since our turn off towards Chasm. We climbed up the homestretch and summited Longs at 7:30. We waited at the top for a bit and eventually had 21 of our 24 fellow crew members on the summit of Longs! We chatted for a while and began our descent for Pagoda around 8:00am.
Our big crew summit pic!
This is where it gets interesting.
We went back through the Homestretch and dropped off the Keyhole route to the left of the red sign before the Narrows.
We descended just left of this sign towards Pagoda
Don't expect cairns from here on out, if there are any they are hard to find and cannot be depended on for route finding. Our goal was to stay as high up on the Keyboard of the Winds as possible to avoid having to regain that elevation at Pagoda. We began our descent and hugged along the Keyboard. We eventually got to the cliff band which seems impassible. After reaching the cliffs, we backtracked and split up a bit to find the best way down the cliffs. Suddenly a man appeared at the bottom of the cliff band (the only person we saw on a ‘route’ other than the keyhole all day!) who said he was climbing Longs via Glacier Gorge. We all think he was some sort of angel of Pagoda though. As we looked down a wet, grassy gully which we found by traversing left a few hundred feet along the cliff band, we asked the angel of Pagoda if it would go. He said it looked fine, we thanked him, and then he was gone. Looking back at the cliffs from Pagoda, this gully is definitely the best way down.
Our route down longs and also our descent point between keys 1 and 2 after ascending pagoda
We descended down the gully which was mostly wet class 3 and went back to hiking along the Keys.
The gully that avoids the cliff band
The ascent up Pagoda was simple talus hopping and wasn’t as far of a climb as we were expecting. Our group of five stumbled upon the summit of Pagoda at 9:40. We had three of out five peaks done, the weather was fantastic, and we all still felt good. It suddenly hit me that there was a good chance we could finish the Grand Slam. We looked back at Meeker, said “Hey we were over there earlier!”, and then made our descent of Pagoda.
Thanks for lookin at the camera guys - Pagoda summit
Previous reports said to descend the gully between the first two keys. Before our trip I thought that sounded straightforward but when we got there we weren't exactly sure which key was technically the first one. I think a few of them could actually work as they empty out into generally the same area. We decided that the gully between the first two big, pronounced keys after Longs looked good to go. I have this shown in the picture above. Descending on loose scree/talus we made it to the bottom of this couloir.
Our descent of the Couloir between keys 1 and 2
Most reports now say to ascend via a traverse, essentially of your choosing, to join up with the keyhole route. I recommend you follow this instruction and start looking for a good route up to the Keyhole route once you descend below the Keys.
We didn’t want to ascend to the Keyhole route though and then descend down the route to get back to the Keyhole itself. We could see the Keyhole from below the Keyboard and decided to just traverse straight across to the actual Keyhole. Our route went across a series of ledges and fairly angled slabby rock. I would consider our route class 4. We ended up about a hundred feet below where the Ledges meet the Keyhole. My favorite part of this section was looking up at the people on the Keyhole route who were looking down at us and were inevitably quite confused. After picking up a trekking pole and a few water bottles dropped by people throughout the years, we regained the route and hung out at the Keyhole for a bit. I thought that section was one of the best parts of the day but I really don’t recommend it unless you are very comfortable on rock.
Our fun little class 4 traverse/ascent to the keyhole
On to Storm. In hindsight we may have dropped a little lower than we should have going to Storm, as it seems better to just go up to the ridge from the Keyhole and hike along that to Storm. We ended up hiking a hundred feet or so below the ridge which worked out just fine. It’s very straightforward going over there. We reached the top at noon. One more peak left and the weather still looked good. Ohh yaaaaaa.
Another great summit photo guys! - Storm PK
One mountain/talus pile stood in our way
We descended Storm and headed up Lady Washington. Not much to say about this route. You see MLW from Storm and you go straight to it. Crossing the Keyhole route once again we began our last ascent of the day. A few last talus hops brought us to the summit of Lady Washington at 12:55. We all screamed, high fived, and sat down. We had done the Grand Slam. We made a looonnng descent back down to the trail. Its hard to describe how good it felt to finally be on solid trail again. With high spirits and sore knees we made it back to the car by 3.
A summit selfie on MLW
In retrospect, I had honestly not expected to get the Grand Slam done that day. I thought it would take me a few attempts to finally get it. The weather was fantastic though and our group ended up being top notch. We didn't set any speed records but we did something few had done before and had a great time doing it. The Grand Slam is a bit of a crazy concoction, not for the faint of heart, but it is a great way to go hang out with a few buddies, avoid the crowds, and climb some mountains.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):