| Keyhole - October Fury
Length: 15 miles round trip
Gain: Approx. 5,200 ft.
Participants: stevevets689, Tommy Boy (new 14ers.com member!)
Weeks ago, I was in Ft. Collins visiting my girlfriend, Katie, and we were hanging out in her friends' room. One of them, Tom, and I were discussing mountains and I discovered that he was a hiker and had already hiked Mount Elbert and Bierstadt. I casually mentioned that we should go climbing together sometime (originally thinking sometime in 2008, seeing that it was nearly October). Tom took this very seriously and before I realized what I was doing we arranged to climb Longs Peak on the weekend of October 13th.
I spent the week leading up to the climb watching the weather forecast for Longs, and it didn't look particularly good. By the time I drove to Ft. Collins on Friday, it was showing a 40% chance of storms for the next day. I figured that we could at least go as far as the Keyhole and decide about the weather there. Maybe we would just climb Mount Lady Washington. It remained to be seen.
Friday night came and it was time to drive to the trailhead for the night. I gave Katie our route info and said farewell. We arrived at the East Longs Peak Trailhead at around 10:00 PM and quickly got to sleep in the back of my Volvo.
My alarm woke us up at 2:30 AM Saturday morning, and a half hour later we were on the trail. The morning was brisk, but not terribly cold. I was still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the thought that I was attempting Longs Peak in October, but my common sense told me that I had everything I needed to make this work. But for my helmet and boots, I basically had all my ski gear with me, so everything should be fine.
Tom and I chatted away for a few hours as we broke timber and continued up the trail by the light of our headlamps. After a while we noticed that we were no longer alone on the mountain as we saw lights moving along behind us. Nonetheless, we had much more solitude on this trip than the last time I was on the trail in July. Maybe most other people aren't as crazy as we are.
When we were most of the way through the Boulderfield it was finally starting to get light. The lights behind us had caught up and passed us, which I didn't mind. The weather was looking good (albeit a little cold) and we were both feeling strong. In the Keyhole there was a bit of wind, but other than that everything looked good. We continued on.
Tom making his way across the ledges
The ledges went as well as can be expected, although we were both feeling the effects of the altitude and the cold working on our bodies. We arrived at the Trough and I looked up. I couldn't help but think "600 vertical of this crap… again." Up we went, and I could tell that I was going quite a bit slower that last time but considering that I hadn't really been hiking much lately and that it was a chilly October morning, I didn't feel too bad about it. Soon we started to encounter some snow and ice in spots which limited our route options. I took out my ax and did a little pseudo snow climbing as Tom mostly kept to the rocks. I found that the snow actually made the ascent of the Trough more interesting and I enjoyed the last couple hundred feet of it more than I thought I would.
Yours truly making my way up the Trough
Tom making the moves at the top of the Trough
Looking down from the top of the Trough
We made our way past the last few moves of the Trough and took a small break at the top, looking at the next part of our journey. Since I had already traversed the infamous Narrows once, I didn't think much of it. Tom was a little nervous, but did very well as we made those first exposed moves onto the long ledge. We had very little trouble getting to the other side of the Narrows where we stopped for another small break.
October in Rocky Mountain National Park
The Front Range with a lotta clouds
Tom traversing the Narrows
The sun came out for the first time on the trip and I stripped off my outer coat, leaving it and my ax near the bottom of the Homestretch since it was bear of snow. Of course, since I decided to ditch my coat, we were then doomed for colder, fouler weather. About halfway up the homestretch, the sun became obscured by a dark cloud. I kept my ears open for the sound of thunder but none came, and I looked around at the other peaks for signs of precipitation but saw none. We were too close to the top to turn around now. We carefully made our way up, and finally topped out at roughly 10:00 AM.
Looking up the Homestretch
Time number two at the top of Longs and it was no less beautiful. It was a little cold and windy, but I was doing fine even without my coat so it wasn't bad. We had the summit to ourselves, something that I know is somewhat rare for this peak. We stayed for about ten minutes, taking pictures and signing the register. I called Katie (who was still in bed) to let her know we made it to the summit, and then we began our descent. The dark cloud above our heads had become a bit "furry."
Tom on the summit
Chasm Lake from the summit
Tom descending the Homestretch
Descending the Homestretch was just as awkward the second time. We dubbed the motion of sitting on the rocks, extending our legs in front of us and using our hands for extra support as we slid our way to the next hold, "a$$ing it," which became a common phrase for the rest of our descent to the Boulderfield. We both were feeling very accomplished by the time we had rounded the corner onto the Narrows and then began back down the Trough, but our climb wasn't over. About a quarter of the way down the Trough I looked up and noticed that a few of the peaks in the next drainage had become darkened by precipitation. I tried not to worry about it too much, but soon a few snowflakes appeared in the air around me. I was already thanking God that we were as far as we were before it began to flurry.
Tom showing his displeasure on the ledges
We reached the traverse point back onto the ledges and the snow wasn't accumulating yet; it was only landing on the rocks and melting. We made the long traverse across the ledges and shouted in our excitement when we saw the Keyhole again. We climbed through and stopped in the shelter there to warm up a little. We toasted our "victory" with beef jerky and took a picture to commemorate it. Only when we packed up our things to continue descending did we notice the snowstorm's new intensity. It was now snowing so hard that I couldn't see the tent sites or the privies in the middle of the Boulderfield from the Keyhole.
Our beef jerky toast
We assessed our situation for a minute and decided that the best option was to try to get down. I could see cairns leading to the tent sites and I knew that from there I had a trail to follow. We both had very warm clothing still in reserve, so we started down the boulders. For future reference, the boulders are not fun with they have snow on them. Neither of us fell at any point, but we had some close calls.
After a while we arrived at the tent sites. It did not take long to locate the trail, and after a quick break and a couple pictures we continued on. Neither Longs nor any other of the nearby peaks were visible in the snow, but the trail wasn't terribly difficult to follow and the cairns did their job. Be warned that there were a couple icy patches on the trail in the Boulderfield that were extremely slick with the snow on them and I came dangerously close to biffing it.
Tom in the Boulderfield showing his displeasure at the sudden snowstorm
For the next few hours, we were trudging along the rocky trail in the snowstorm. We were surprised and a bit worried to hear thunder coming from the direction of Mount Lady Washington but it never got close to us. The long trail out seemed even longer than last time, as my ankles started to become very sore. Every little anti-erosion step in the trail made them feel worse. We did not come out of the storm until maybe a mile before timberline, at which point we looked back to see a fresh coating of snow on Longs Peak.
A fresh coat of snow on Longs Peak
Once we were in the timber the snow on the trail lessened. Exhausted, in pain, and extremely proud of ourselves, we at last arrived back at my car at 4:30 PM. We had spent 13 and a half hours on the mountain. We quickly moved everything into the back of the car so that we could drive back to Ft. Collins. We returned so tired and sore that I barely had enough energy to get in the car with Katie to go to Chipotle.
It was definitely the most physically challenging climb I had ever gone through, as it was for Tom. We were both actually happy about the snowstorm, because without it this story wouldn't be nearly as good. For now, we tend to our sore muscles until we get the chance to climb something again. INTENSITY!!!
To see more photos from this climb please visit my online photo album:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):