| Longs Pk - Loft w/ Meeker
Previously had the keyhole route up, but after completing the Loft along with Mt.Meeker, its obvious which one is better, night and day. Slept in the Xterra in the Longs campground the night before. Woke up around 3:45am and was on the trail by 4:15am.
The beginning of the hike seems to be under treeline forever, especially on this day. Once above treeline, it was still dark, pitch dark and noticed there was a thick fog, which made life hard for the headlamp. It was so thick at times, I'd almost lose the easiest route to follow on a 14er. Anyways, I got to the junction in a little over an hour and it was surprisingly cold. I waited there until it got lighter out so I would have an easier time following the loft route. Split off to the loft route around 6am and ran into 2 other climbers soon after. The route wasn't the most straightfoward, but it also wasn't that bad, there are plenty of cairns to follow and there is a decent (faint at times) trail all the way to the end of the basin where you then begin to follow 2 moderately exposed alley ways (similar to that of the Sawtooth for comparison sake). Just before the alleys, there is some moderate class 3 scrambles with one or two tricky moves, but nothing to write home about.
After the alley, I ran into a woman who had experienced some trouble finding the route, due to both the intense fog and the placement of the cairns. (Note - Gerry Roach can sometimes be a little too specific on his route descriptions, ultimately confusing you, this is one of them). We reached what we figured was the Loft (flat saddle between Meeker and Longs) but we really couldn't tell with all the fog. We saw cairns but they seemed to be more geared towards the Longs summit. So, figuring that flat saddle we were on was the loft (we ended up being right), we turned south then headed southeast and ascended up the talus/boulder route to meeker's exposed ridge. Once we got to the top of the ridge, the clouds miraculously parted and we got a faint view of Longs and a better view of the remaining ridge to Meeker's summit. The ridge to the summit is surprisingly exposed, kind of a mini Capitol knife edge but with better footing and not as steep (kind of scary though with damp rocks). Anyways, we reached the summit block and then parted ways.
The first section to point out concerning the loft route to longs, is the 100-150 foot downclimb you make. The gully is kind of scary (not capitol or lb-blanca scary, but is creeps up on you and throws you off). There are a few moves you have to make that are exposed and tricky, you just have to trust your foot placement and hand holds. The fall isn't a long drop off but its steep and you could tumble a long violent way. I can't really describe the moves or boulders in detail, but just keep an eye out when you get there. Once past this downclimb, its just a steep, low class 3 scramble to the homestretch. The idea is to stay to the right, hugging the base of the palisades and then traverse a bit to the left when you get higher, and right below the homestretch. Once there, scramble to the summit, which was a whiteoat that day, but I didn't care cause this was my second time on the summit anyway.
I will say, after doing the loft, I hold a negative view towards the keyhole route. Not only was the loft more of a fun class 3 scramble, there was only 3 people the day I did it (a Saturday). Granted the mountains are for everyone, but the Keyhole seems to be for tourists who want to get to the highest point in RMNP w/o any climbing experience (this obviously isn't true for all hikers, not even a majority, but just by watching some people trudge along, you can't help but notice that they are way in over their heads). Someone started way too late the day I went (8/19/06) and slipped along the wet route and as I was descending around treeline, I saw the entire mountain rescue team hauling up their gear, while a storm was coming in. Also, it takes about 5 times longer for slower climbers to realize a faster climber is behind them on this route for some reason. At one point, I tried to just climb past this one person but they actually sped up, it was like driving down 25 in rush hour, but I guess thats the way it goes along the keyhole, there are 50 other 14ers to choose from anyway(don't mean to sound bitter, but I just hiked this today and am still tired and cranky). Thats neither here nor there, bottom line is the loft is far superior to the keyhole for 3 main reasons.
1 - about a thousand times less travelled
2 - its a much more fun scramble with more spectacular views
3 - chance to climb Mt.Meeker
Pic from Trail Ridge Rd w/ Longs far left
Ship's Prow - remeniscent of scene from Fellowship
Eastern view from along the loft route
View of remaining route to the loft saddle
Some rock formation along route, just below the loft
View of Longs through the clouds from Meeker
View of Longs from flat loft saddle
View of homestretch from near the downclimb in the gulley
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):