| The Monarch of the Front Range - Longs, Keyhole Route
Roundtrip Distance: 14 miles
Total Elevation Gain: ~5,200 feet
Participants: rockymtnhigh69, stevevets689
Total Time (including breaks): 11 hours
Not long after I found out I would be spending most of the summer after my senior year of high school in Boulder, Longs Peak moved way up on my hit list. I had no idea when I would do it, or who I would do it with, so I set it aside with the intention of getting to it at some point in the summer. The day after I did a Fourth of July Tour de Steven's Gulch, my questions were answered. Vince (rockymtnhigh69) emailed me with an invitation to climb Longs on the 18th of July, a Wednesday. Initially I didn't think I would be able to get off work, but I managed to pull it off.
The day before the climb, I got off work and climbed mighty Sugarloaf Mountain with Jamie (shanahan96). After the oh so grueling quarter mile climb, I got a good vantage point of the next day's destination. A new surge of excitement came over me, as I hadn't really given the mountain a good looking over since committing to the climb. I knew that 24 hours from then, I would be back in my apartment after having completed what would be the longest one-day journey of my life.
Back at my apartment, I threw some things into my summit pack and checked over the route on 14ers.com once more, studying the pictures, the text, and the map. I shut my computer down when Vince called to tell me he was approaching my apartment, and ran down the stairs and outside to meet him. He was just as stoked as I was about the climb, and as we drove out of Boulder we talked about what we were getting ourselves into. Gerry Roach refers to Longs as "the monarch of the Front Range," saying that an ascent of this mountain by any route is a serious undertaking. We were also reminded that, though this route is incredibly popular, it can also be dangerous and is known to take lives on occasion. That in mind, we were ready for our adventure.
We arrived at the trailhead around 10 PM. We looked around and THOUGHT we found the trail at the end of the parking lot (makes sense, right?). We then went down to the campground to park for the night. I'm not sure if we actually parked in a valid spot, but we paid for a permit and were never bothered. Arising at 2:30 AM, we drove back up to the trailhead to join the already decent sized group of climbers who were getting started. By 3:00, we were ready, and started up the trail with a few people following us.
About 100 feet later we turned around. The trail leading out of the end of the parking lot was not nearly worn enough to be the right one. We walked through the parking lot and found the correct trail leading away from the ranger station. Don't ask me why we missed this in the first place, I mean it's pretty obvious. Anyway, we signed the register and started hammering out the long, seven mile trip to the summit. Surprisingly, we were passing other groups regularly, and there I was thinking that I was the slow one. We continued making our way up, stopping occasionally to admire the city lights of Boulder and Denver.
After an hour we broke the low timberline and were hiking up the trail in the tundra. The outline of "the monarch" was staring at us in the dingy starlight, drawing us forward. We continued passing other groups ("like a good fisherman, reelin' 'em in" – Vince), putting the miles away, moving steadily up the tundra. It finally started to get lighter as we switch-backed our way towards the Boulderfield. Stopping at a large, flat rock, I donned a coat and ate a tiger's milk protein bar. About that time, a couple guys made their way up the trail behind us. As they passed by, one of them said, "Thanks for the help this morning… a$$holes." He then went on to say that we led two or three groups off into the woods. After a few select words between Vince and him, they moved on. We let them move ahead and then continued on. Longs Peak is too good for petty arguments amongst strangers, and already the Diamond was starting to glow in the dawn.
stevevets689 in the Boulderfield
Nonetheless, as I walked through the Boulderfield on the trail, thoughts of these guys kept nagging at my mind. Mostly I was worried about what would happen if we caught up to them, which seemed to be inevitable. Finally, as we passed the tent sites and started our boulder-hopping towards the growing Keyhole, I decided that whether they deserved it or not I would apologize when I caught up to them. That decision made, my mind already felt at ease and we shortly found ourselves in the Keyhole.
stevevets689 walking through the boulders, Longs' North Face behind
The Keyhole in alpenglow
rockymtnhigh69 climbing through the boulders
This is a good place to decide about the weather. Although it had been pretty windy most of the way so far, the clouds still looked good and it was early in the day so we continued on. From here to the top, we had little red and yellow bull's-eyes to mark the route, and getting lost is next to impossible. The initial ledges went pretty well. They are a little rough in some places and some class three is already required at this point. There was even a pitch where metal steaks had been cemented into the rock. Aid on a class three? I don't think so. I went on without using the artificial holds, for my own pride's sake.
rockymtnhigh69 on the ledges
About halfway across the ledges, we caught up to our friends from the Boulderfield. I approached (though still keeping my distance) and said my apology. The man accepted it, saying that he had simply had a temper back there and that it wasn't a big deal. Glad to hear it, I moved on.
Before we knew it, we were in the Trough. This is definitely my least favorite part of the route. 600 feet of steep, class 2+ hiking is what it has in store, but at least it's relatively solid. This is where I finally started to slow down, though I kept up a steady pace and after a bit of time found myself at the top of it, looking at the crux of the route, which is a few more difficult moves to get out of the Trough and onto the Narrows. It's nice to have long arms and legs here, as the move is a bit of a stretch. I would put it at a class four move personally, but maybe there is an easier way. At any rate, next up was the Narrows.
rockymtnhigh69 starting up the Trough
The top of the Trough
Looking down the Trough
The Narrows are not very difficult, only exposed. With the knowledge that air won't kill you, only a fall will, one can simply walk along the ledge with confidence that the toughest moves of the climb are already over. Be sure to watch the bull's-eyes though, as the route decides to move up the slope towards the end instead of following the Narrows' crack. The good news is that this leads you to the Homestretch.
rockymtnhigh69 on the start of the Narrows
rockymtnhigh69 on the Narrows (during the descent)
Looking up the Homestretch, I was trying to decide if the pictures I had examined were making it look easier or more difficult than what I was seeing. I decided that I wouldn't be able to tell until I was on it. I moved up the rock, finding good holds wherever they were needed. There are a few spots where the rock has been worn smooth by a million footsteps, so try to find better holds in these areas. The difficulty does not need to exceed class three anywhere on the pitch. By the time I was almost at the top, I decided that it was not quite as hard as the pictures made it look, and it is not as steep as it looks I think. The nice thing is that the top of the Homestretch is the top of Longs Peak! It had taken us until 8:20 AM to reach the top. In my opinion, that's a decent time for 5,000 feet of gain over 7 miles.
Start of the Homestretch
This gives a good idea of the angle of the Homestretch
Almost at the top!
We hung out on the summit for a while, happy that we were some of the first of the day to "conquer the monarch." We signed our names in the brand new register, noticing that we were sharing the mountain with a couple Czechs, Russians, Texans, and a few other foreigners. We took a few summit shots, got as good of a look over the Diamond as we felt comfortable with, and then we noticed that the number of people on the summit was steadily growing. The sooner we get off the mountain, the better, we decided. Down we went.
stevevets689 paying homage to the TalusMonkey on the summit of Longs Peak. Everyone's got a little cap'n in 'em
rockymtnhigh69 with Mt. Meeker in the background, on the summit of Longs Peak
Our advice to people on their way up shifted as we went down.
On the Homestretch: "You're almost there, keep going!"
On the Narrows: "You've got the Homestretch still, but you should make it."
In the Trough: "Watch the weather, some clouds are starting to build but if you keep up a good pace you should be ok."
On the ledges: "You should really think about turning around, it's getting late and clouds are really building. I don't want to read about you when I get home."
Past the Keyhole, people were no longer trying to summit as far as I know. We joined a throng of kids (even younger than me, I think!) on the descent, but they eventually left us behind. The long trudge out is just that… a long trudge out. As usual, it seemed a lot longer going down than up, and my body was trying to tell me that it wanted to quit but I overruled.
The Diamond face on from the Boulderfield
Longs from the Chasm Lake turnoff
Back in the woods, we were passed by a runner we saw on his way up in the Trough. He said that if he could get back to the trailhead in four minutes then he would have summited and returned in SIX HOURS! Some people are just amazing. We, on the other hand, returned to the trailhead just before 2:00 PM, 11 hours after starting. I was pretty satisfied with our time and my performance. We had conquered "the monarch of the Front Range," the 15th highest peak in the state, as my 5th 14er and Vince's 20th. Overall, it's a great climb that throws some challenge at you but is quite doable. It now ranks as one of my favorites, and one of the climbs I'm most proud of. A big Thank You goes out to Vince for inviting me and helping to make this happen.
For more photos from this climb, please visit my online photo album: http://picasaweb.google.com/coloradoclimberguy/
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):