| Longs Peak - Keyhole Route plus info
I read trip reports all the time and would like to add something extra to this one. So much of what I love about Colorado is the history and context of the extraordinary landscape. For me climbing in the mountains is not so much a checklist as it is a celebration of the day.
I am providing some information from various sources that created my interest in Longs Peak.
Longs Peak was named after explorer and survey engineer, Major Stephen Harriman Long.
Although it is believed many Native Americans climbed Longs Peak, the first recorded ascent was a party led by John Wesley Powell on August 23, 1873. John Wesley Powell lost one of his arm in the Battle of Shiloh. There are numerous stories about his exploits particularly his party exploring the Grand Canyon. John Wesley Powell was the second director of the USGS.
In 1871 or 1873 Addie Alexander and a "Miss Bartlett," are recorded as the first women to successfully climbing Longs.
Longs Peak has been used in a various novels. Jules Verne referred to Longs Peak as the site of a large telescope in "From the Earth to the Moon":
"..In the meantime, J.T. Marston, the Secretary of the Gun Club, and a most devoted friend of Barbican's, had started for Long's Peak, Colorado, on the summit of which the immense telescope, already alluded to, had been erected; it was of the reflecting kind, and possessed power sufficient to bring the Moon within a distance of five miles. ..."
In his 1974 novel "Centennial" James Michener referred to Longs Peak as having a large stone beaver climbing its slope. If you use your imagination you can see the outline of the beaver's back in this photo. From the top of the peak move left just past the notch. The point of rock to the left of the notch is the beaver's nose. As you move left the first rock hump is its head, the second forms its body and the third is its tail.
As has been referenced in other trip reports that the shelter at the Keyhole has a memorial to Agnes Vaille. From the National Parks Service information about RMNP:
"The pioneer of numerous mountain routes in the Rockies, Vaille attempted the first winter ascent of the mountain's precipitous east face in January, 1925. She and her climbing partner, Walter Kiener, succeeded after more than 24 hours of dangerous mountaineering through frigid blizzard conditions. While descending the North Face, Vaille fell 100 feet down the rock cliff, coming to a stop in a snowdrift. Her injuries were minor, but because of fatigue and hypothermia, Vaille was unable walk. Battling frostbite that would cost him toes and fingers, Kiener promptly summoned help. Vaille's rescuers arrived to find her dead from exposure."
The Diamond on Longs Peak was a training ground for four members of the 1963 American Everest Expedition sponsored in part by the National Geographic Society. That expedition placed the first Americans atop Mt. Everest. They team members who trained on Longs were: Allen Auten, Barry Bishop, Dick Pownall, and Thomas Hornbein. Of these, Bishop and Hornbein reached the summit of Everest.
TH at 3:00 a.m.
3 hours from TH to Keyhole.
3 hours from Keyhole to the Top.
3 hours from Top back to Keyhole
3 hours from Keyhole to car.
Back at car at 3 p.m.
My trip began at the TH at 3:00 am by headlamp. The hike through the forest as a steady climb. The nice part of that section is the walk past a stream that fills the woods with its sound. There is one cross of the stream involved a well constructed log bridge.
Once you climb out of the forest you can then see ahead the hike to the Chasm Lake cutoff and up to Granite Pass. The lights from headlamps dots the path and provides some idea of what is ahead. On this night the moon was nearly full and I was able to turn off my headlamp. Even without a headlamp the path was easy to see and looking over my shoulder I could see the lights of the towns along the front range in the distance.
Once you reach the Chasm Lake branch to the trail you can make out Mount Meeker and the Diamond. What a sight! The wind rose to probably 30-40 MPH at times but for the most part the weather was warm and clear.
Just for the record, there is an outhouse at the Chasm Lake cutoff. It is slightly out of site and in the dark hard to make out but it is just off trail.
The views of Boulder Field and the Northwest face of Longs are spectacular after you clear Granite Pass.
The climb to the Keyhole was uneventful. The total time to the Keyhole was 3 hours. Scrambling across the Boulder Field is not the most fun but the rocks are fairly stable and you can pick your way through them. The view from the Keyhole is amazing:
Keyhole taken from Boulder Field on descent:
Boulder Field from the Keyhole (not the best picture)
Sunrise over Mt. Lady Washington
Look up at rocks forming the Keyhole
Looking across at the Ledges from the Keyhole
The traverse from the Keyhole to the Trough is much as described in earlier reports. With the early start you will stay out of the sun for much of you time from the Keyhole into the Trough. There is not much issue with this section as long as you watch the trail market bulls eyes. I did not find this section particularly exposed or difficult.
View back along the Ledges from the base of the Trough
View across the valley from the Ledges (I think this is McHenrys Peak)
Once you reach the base of the Trough you can see much of the remaining elevation gain. The biggest issue in the Trough is watching for rock fall and keeping an eye out for the best line. One interesting thing I did not fully understand from other reports is the large rock that you must negotiate at the top of the Trough. The rock is not really on the Narrows side but is required to access the Narrows. Interesting moment. The rock is either accessed on the right or left side. I chose the right on ascent and you must reach for good hand and foot holds.
The Narrows were everything reported. They do offer some exposure but if you have a problem with that you can keep your focus on the step in front of you. As you can see in the enclosed there is an up slope at the end of the Narrows that also requires some scrambling to gain access to the Homestretch.
View of Mt. Meeker from the base of the Homestretch
So here I am the day after realizing I did not get any photos of the Homestretch. Needless to say it lived up to all previous reports. Interesting scrambling exercise on smooth granite with crowds of people ascending and descending. The trip up had a couple of places where you had to work out the moves but overall if you take your time it is a fun time.
The descent was fairly uneventful. I did there very graceful butt slide down some of the Homestretch and facing in down climbing where holds existed. For me the toughest part was the down climb of that rock at the top of the Trough. I struggled to find a good hold and id a controlled slide down the thing. I learned a personal lesson to work out the move before you take it on.
View of Chief's Head Peak from the Ledges.
View back at the entry to the Keyhole from the Ledges.
The trip is a long one. Much of your time is spent on the Ledges, Trough, Narrows and Homestretch with very little overall distance gain. Pick a good weather day, start early and enjoy the experience.
The day was very special for me. I have had a fear of heights my whole life. I will never do major Class 4 or 5 peaks but I wanted to challenge myself with some exposure. I was able to work my way through the entire experience and face the challenge. On a beautiful day I was able to accomplish a lot.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):