| Longs Peak (Keyhole Route)- Longs Peak TH
Date: Sunday, April 16, 2007
Group: USAKeller, sdkeil, Lhotse, and Robert (Lhotse's friend)
Route: Keyhole from Longs Peak TH
Total mileage: 14 miles
Total elevation gain: 5,100ft.
I originally had planned on Longs Peak as being my 14er finisher, but when I read a forum thread a few weeks ago that some people had climbed it, I was dying to get it done and anxiously waiting to see what the "Longs Peak fame" and the Keyhole was all about. Lhotse and I had been talking about a climb together and we were set on Longs Peak. The weather called for a sunny day. Let's get 'er done!!
sdkeil picked me up in Boulder at 3:00am and we met Lhotse and his friend, Robert, at the Longs Peak TH at 4:00am. After introducing ourselves and gearing up, we were on trail at 4:30am (temperature: 37 deg.). There was another group of four people ahead of us. The trail has significantly melted out and is quite snowpacked. Although we were all prepared with snow flotation, there wasn't ever any need for it so we left that in the cars. The current trail conditions would have made for an unpleasant skin up! We made great time up to treeline and once we were there, we all paused for a few minutes to watch the gorgeous sunrise, and took some awesome pictures.
The sunrise hitting Twin Sisters (9,090ft.) (taken from 11,000ft.):
We hiked up a little ways more to where we had a fantastic photo opportunity of the morning alpenglow on Longs Peak. We skirted around the northeast slope of Mt. Lady Washington (which was almost completely windblown) and up to Granite Pass.
Lhotse, Robert, sdkeil, and USAKeller in front of Longs Peak during the prime time of
sunrise (taken from 11,200ft.). Mt. Lady Washington is also seen in the right portion of the photo:
We reached the Boulder Field in 3.5hrs. (8:00am), grabbed a quick snack, and took more pictures of the Keyhole. From what I understand, the boulders in this area are "tippy" during the summertime; but the snow and ice inbetween them allowed for us to quickly walk over them. We also could see that the group of four ahead of us was climbing the north face (Cables Route).
Lhotse, sdkeil, USAKeller in front of the Keyhole in the Boulder Field. From here, the
snow became minimal up to the Keyhole as seen in the photo:
A photo of the Diamond and the north face of Longs Peak from the Boulder Field.
To ski the north face, you'd have to be one hell of a creative skier to get a line from
this- the upper parts are pretty windblown:
Looking down into snow-filled Glacier Gorge from the Keyhole (13,200ft.):
Up until this point, and throughout the rest of the trip, the wind never blew and the skies were mostly sunny. From the Keyhole, this route definitely becomes more technical in snow conditions! This was also Robert's first 14er and unfortunately the area after the Keyhole exceeded his comfort level. We all stayed together and worked with him to try and increase his comfort level, however, we decided we were not making good time and at this point that it was best that our group should split up with sdkeil and I continuing onto the summit. Lhotse (who has summited this peak 6 times) turned around with Robert about 1/3 of the way past the Keyhole and helped him work on some mountaineering techniques. From where we left them (which is where we put crampons on), Lhotse and I saw the lower half of the Trough was full of snow and immediately wished we had our skis- great section to ski down. There was definitely more snow on this west side of the ridge- sdkeil and I had to create a track for us to climb/traverse. The route markers (bull's eyes) were easy to spot and follow. sdkeil and I traversed the south ledges (see photo below) to where they dumped us off in the Trough at about 13,300ft.
Well here I am- traversing back from the Trough. The lower part of the Trough is shown
with some excellent ski lines. On the right side of the Trough, we gained a track that
had been kicked up all the way from the bottom.
While ascending the Trough, we noted the temperature was 58.5 degrees. sdkeil and I were almost miserable roasting in the sun. There wasn't a cloud in the sky to give us any relief from the sun's rays; we could only hope for it. The upper half of the Trough was pretty rocky- again, you'd have to be a very creative skier to drop a line down this section without messing up your skis.
Looking down the Trough from a few hundred feet shy of the saddle (around 13,550ft.):
Now for the Narrows. This was truly the only section that was a little sketchy because of the snow on the ledges, however, there were tracks all the way across. We just didn't know how the snow would hold considering how warm and late in the day it was, not to mention having the exposure on that side! By staying close to the rocky upslope, it was not a problem to cross the Narrows with crampons.
Looking back at the Narrows. I traced the path we took:
We scrambled up onto some more difficult rock where we could see the Homestretch and the remaining route, and evaluate and its steepness. Again, we questioned how the snow would hold knowing how warm it was. We passed another group at this section who climbed up the Loft and they assured us that with crampons on we would be fine. I kept using my axiom "we'll never know how it will be until we at least try it." So we went up, without any problem; the steps that had previously been kicked in made this an easy ascent. This spring freeze-thaw cycle is awesome!
Taken 300ft. below the summit, this photo shows the conditions of
the Homestretch. There was a nice path all the way up.
Three hours after leaving Lhotse and Robert, we summited Longs Peak at 2:05pm (9.5hrs. including stops, 5hrs. of moving time). I had the greatest feeling in the world! The skies were still blue, the tepmerature was 55 degrees, and we still had not felt an ounce of wind on the entire climb! The summit was nearly snow-free. We had a short break, snapped some photos, and decided it was best we start heading down.
USAKeller and sdkeil on the summit:
On the descent, the hesitant feelings we had along the climb up (due to the snow heating up so much) went away; sdkeil and I were surprised at how straightforward climbing down the Homestretch, traversing the Narrows, and coming down the Trough was. We arrived back at the Keyhole in 1hr. 15min. and removed our crampons.
sdkeil descending the lower portion of the Homestretch:
Tired and sunburnt, we weren't looking forward to the hike back down to the trailhead. The heat had significantly softened up the snow, making it a slushy walk back. 13hrs. 45min. later, we returned back to the car (3hrs. 50min. descent time from the summit) at 6:15pm… completely exhausted! I was so pleased to finish off the Front Range 14ers with Longs Peak and sdkeil was excited to have completed this peak in winter-like conditions. An intense feeling of satisfaction swept through our bodies and we agreed that we couldn't have asked for any better of a day (during any season) to climb it!
Lhotse, it was a pleasure to meet you and Robert- we hope to climb with you again soon, and I hope we can ski while we still have time! Thank you so much for the water- I wouldn't have made it!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):