| Longs / Meeker via the Loft
Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker via Loft Couloir -up / Keyhole Route - down
Trip Length: 14.5 miles
Trip Duration: 12 hrs. 20 min.
Elevation Gain: 5800 ft.
Climbers: Myself, ngoodnight (Nolan), and Adam
On Friday, the 29th, Adam and I drove to the Long's trailhead to catch a few hours of sleep before heading up the trail. Apparently, snoring makes it pretty hard for people to sleep in the back of a truck. Fortunately, I was the snorer and Adam the snoree. Adam only got about an hour of sleep before our 14 mile marathon. Sorry, dude.
Nolan met us at the Ranger's station, we signed in, and we got underway right at 3:00 AM. It's amazing how many people were already heading up the trail, even at this early hour. As soon as we turned towards Chasm Lake at Mills Moraine, we immediately found solitude.
It was still pitch black by the time we started up the Loft Couloir, and you could just make out the brooding hulk of the Ship's Prow as we began climbing. By the time we were all about 1/2 way up the couloir, we were able to turn the headlamps off and watch the sun come up.
Sunrise over the Dreamweaver Couloir on the upper flanks of Mt. Meeker
There was still some water running down the couloir, melting from the previous week's snowfall. As the sun started coming up, we got our first good look at the trail back to Mills Moraine and a look down onto the Ship's Prow
Once the couloir "cliffs out" the exit ramps become obvious, and there's cairns marking the route. However, some lingering ice and snow made traversing the ramps much spicier than it needed to be. Crossing this patch of snow with exposure underneath the ramp probably was the most difficult move of the whole day:
Once turning back to the climber's right, more snow caused us to have to scramble up and over the traditional route:
A quick scramble got us to the top of the loft.
Two more climbers were about 1/2 hour behind us coming up the couloir. On one of the busiest days of the year on Longs, I think we were the only 5 people to ascend the Loft Couloir. The others caught up with us at the top of the loft at around 7:15AM.
They'd had a much easier time with the exit ramps than us, and apparently there's several natural ramps to choose from. Keep that in mind - if there's snow/ice on your path, backing up might yield an easier route. From here, the summit of Longs is tantalizingly close, yet still almost 2 hard hours of climbing away. The first climbers of the day were already appearing on top of Longs.
The weather looked like it was going to be bomber, we were making really good time, and we all still felt strong. So the five of us joined up into one group and we decided to climb the 500 vertical feet or so to the summit of Mt. Meeker. This diversion only adds about an hour total to the day - highly recommend if your schedule allows it and the weather looks favorable. The summit block of Meeker is exposed, though easy to climb as long as the sheer drops don't freak you out.
The summit ridge of Meeker:
Me on the exposed summit block:
A look back at Longs from the summit ridge of Meeker:
Once back down at the Loft, it was time to drop down the south side in search of the elusive Clark's Arrow. There are several gullies that you can choose from, and just as many cairns promoting each gully. To downclimb the gully described in Bill's route, make sure you head northwest as long as a possible. We turned south too quickly, and ended up having to make a lower traverse followed by some Class 4 downclimbs.
A look back at one of the most technical sections on the downclimb:
Even though all 5 of us knew where we were trying to go, we still screwed it up. Amazing. We ended up passing underneath Clark's Arrow by about 20 vertical feet, and never saw the arrow until we were well past it. (Still hard to see it even in this photo):
A look back at Clark's Arrow from Keplinger's Couloir (circled in red). This should help show exactly where the downclimb should have been initiated.
The route quickly passes under the Palisades and turns up the natural drainage of Keplinger's Couloir. This can be made as easy or a difficult as you'd like. There's a lot of loose talus and scree, but if one sticks to the slabs, much of it can be avoided. The slab climbing is steeper than what you'll find along the homestretch, but it's good, sticky granite - provided it's dry.
Adam and I on the slabs of Keplinger's Couloir.
You also get a really cool view of the Notch that Keyhole route climbers will never see:
Nolan admiring the view of the Notch with the Palisades behind him:
A little more steep scrambling, and the climbers lining up for the homestretch will quickly come into view. This shot of Nolan gives a sense of the grade of this pitch:
I loved the "Where did you guys come from?" reactions we got at the Homestretch from people who didn't realize that there even was an alternate route.
Once connecting with the Homestretch, the grade became easier. The natural trough is how most climbers ascend / descend. We found a line a few feet to climber's right that was a really fun scramble with much less traffic. You can see Nolan about 1/2 way up several feet to the right of the main group:
After about 1000 vertical feet of climbing up Keplinger's Couloir, I was really beginning to bonk. You could've timed my climb up the Homestretch with a sundial. Nolan basically sprinted up the last pitch, while Adam and I took several breaks before finally summiting. ... Damn 20-somethings ...
By 10:00AM we were all finally on the summit plateau of Longs - 1 hr. and 45 min. after having started down the backside of the Loft.
The first clouds of the day were beginning to form, so we thought it best to not linger on the summit. After about 20 minutes, we started down.
Intending to take the traditional Keyhole route back, we soon got our first glimpse of the famous 'Narrows'. Truthfully, after having dealt with the diciest bits on the way up, I felt pretty numb to the exposure of the Narrows. Still, many of the people who were heading towards the summit seemed to be on about Pucker Factor 12:
Me about 1/2 way across the Narrows:
Our first look at the crowds at the top of the Trough. Just after snapping this photo, the guy in the grey and red jacket took a nasty tumble. A reminder that this mountain can reach out and bite you at any time:
Although not as technically challenging as the Loft route, the sheer amount of traffic on the Keyhole route makes the rock much slicker than anything we'd encountered in the Loft or Keplinger's Couloir. I can really see how a lot of accidents happen along the Ledges, and mistakes here can obviously have disasterous consequences. Approaching the Keyhole on the Ledges:
Passing through the Keyhole at 12:00PM. This was the first breath of wind we'd encountered all day long, and also marked the end of about 7 hours of Class 3 moves:
Once past the Keyhole, we got our first good look at the slope that the 'Cables' route would force a climber to negotiate - not trivial:
The hike back also gave us a really nice view (from left to right) of the Beaver, the Notch, the Cables route, and Keyhole (at far right).
As well as our first daylight view of the Loft Couloir. Our route roughly traces the red line:
The hike back from Mills Moraine was uneventful except for the fact that it really does degenerate into a 'Death March'. What seemed so easy and quick to climb up in the dark feels like FOREVER on the way down. It was the longest 4 miles of my life - which is surprising considering it's all downhill. The hike is very scenic once below treeline - especially since the trip back was the first time we'd been able to see any of the sights along the way:
By 3:20PM, we were back at the Ranger's station, and made sure to sign out of the log. Reading other entries (I got sick, only 1 out of 3 made it, etc.) gives you a sense of how difficult it really is to summit Longs from the parking lot in one day. Change of socks, change of shoes, and it was off to Estes for a well-earned beer and bragging rights for having nailed Longs and Meeker in one day. 8)
I highly recommend this route as an alternative to the crowds of the Keyhole with the precaution that it's a bit more challenging than the traditional route. This would be a little much for anyone's first Class 3 climb due to the distance, elevation gain, and exposure. Also, the majority of the climb is above treeline, so weather is a major factor to consider. However, if the weather looks solid, and you hit the trail early enough, this is a really fun climb. Happy hiking!