| Through the Keyhole - Longs Peak
Longs Peak (14255 feet)
Rocky Mountain National Park
Date Climbed: Monday, August 3, 2009
Trailhead: Longs Peak Trailhead (9400 feet) near Meeker Park
Route: Keyhole Route
Round-trip Distance: 14.1 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 5,038 feet
Start Time: 4:40 AM
Summit Time: 9:45 AM
Finish Time: 2:38 PM
NWS Forecast: 10% chance of thunderstorms mainly after 3 PM, 15-20 MPH wind, gusts to 35 MPH
Actual Weather: Windy, thunderstorm developed overhead at noon, first thunder at 12:30 followed by light rain and graupel.
My hand trembled with excitement. I dated the rental agreement: 02/23/01. The smiling attendant handed me the car keys. My life was changed forever by the turn of the key.
I was in Colorado for the first time - on a business trip - eyes wide open, jaw dropped. This place was beautiful. Fresh snow lined the highway like ribbons of frosting on cake. Smoke spun from chimneys like billows of cotton candy. I swore I had driven onto a movie set - a make-believe wonderland - a Christmas card studio where the walls glowed with feel-good gestures of warmth and love. I was unfamiliar with snow, but I knew I liked this.
The distant mountains slowly unveiled themselves as I drove north on Hwy 36. I was heading to Boulder, unconcerned with the a dire project deadline that loomed over me. Job, what job? Who cares. I was totally enamored by the endless range of mountains that stretched out before me. My worries and concerns vanished like the chimney smoke. My vehicle strained to crest the last big hill on Hwy 36. I pulled off the highway at a scenic viewpoint. I took a deep breath and stepped out into the cold crisp air. Boulder spread out before me like a Chirstmas quilt. Longs Peak stood proudly above the town - a monarch dressed in a white velvet robe. The Indian Peaks were her chessmen. It was love at first sight. I convinced the company that they needed my skills here and the rest is history.
Five years passed quickly. It was a cool summer afternoon in 2006 - a great day to enjoy beers on the patio. I was relaxing with a good friend at his place in Longmont. The laughter broke and I said "I want to climb Longs Peak." He forced a laugh and said "Do you want to die?" He meant it. We knew a little about the peak - the seemingly constant accident reports in the Daily Camera and Rocky Mountain News told the story. That mountain killed and hurt people. My good friend really wanted to know why I would consider something like that. At the time, I didn‘t have an answer.
Captions on top of images
My trip starts on Sunday afternoon. I drive up to the Meeker Park campground and pitch my tent in the half-empty campground for the bargain price of 9 bucks. The trailhead is a short drive away.
I drive to the Longs Peak trailhead and get front-row parking at 5 in the afternoon. I hike to the Eugenia Mine ruins as sunlight fades.
I return to the campground and enjoy a fire. I‘m asleep by 10:30 PM. I wake at 3:20 AM and tear down my tent. I down a cold Double Shot and swallow a bagel. I‘m cranky, but I‘m ready for this. I drive to the trailhead and park in nearly the last available spot.
I sign the trail register at 4:40 AM on a Monday morning. More than sixty people have signed in before me - the first person at midnight.
Mmmmm - here comes the light.
I arrive at the junction for Battle Mountain. It‘s 5:57 AM. I turn towards Chasm Junction.
The Twin Sisters try to hide the sun from me.
I arrive at Chasm Junction at 6:20 AM.
Columbines reach out for the warm morning light.
On my way to Granite Pass.
I approach the Boulder Field less than an hour later.
It‘s 7:50 in the morning and the wind rips through the Keyhole. It sounds like a jet. It feels like a wind tunnel.
The memorial tells the story: "A Colorado Mountaineer conquered by winter after scaling the precipice." I can‘t fathom what this mountain was like in 1925, before painted bullseyes, guidebooks, and Mountain Hardwear.
Humbled - I pass through the Keyhole with some trepidation. The ripping wind just became still. Did I just step into Land of the Lost?
The formations are primal and surreal. I duck from hungry pterodactyls. Ancient pictographs decorate the rock.
I may be solo but I‘m not alone on Longs‘ Ledges.
I aim for the next target and up the Trough I go.
I imagine the long and steep Trough as a snow climb. I‘d likely cough a lung and suffer a heart attack.
This pitch at the top of the Trough was fun and enjoyable. I wasn‘t very difficult, but I thought it was the most difficult section on the route.
An old survey marker at the entrance to the Narrows.
The Narrows. Woohoo!!!
A fun scramble marks the end of the Narrows.
I enter the Homestretch!
I climb a crack to the right of the well-traveled route. The climb to the summit goes fast.
The top of Longs Peak!
The view towards the southwest.
The view towards Mount Meeker and the Loft.
The view towards the Boulder Field.
I enjoy the summit for 45 minutes. I start down the Homestretch at 10:30 AM.
Pagoda Mountain creates an awesome and imposing backdrop for the descent from the summit. Wow!
I start across the Narrows as storm clouds form quickly to the west.
Miss the bullseyes and the terrain becomes difficult really quick.
The most narrow section of the route.
A fall here would hurt.
I start down the Trough. Longs is a gorgeous mountain. Every turn unveils a new side of the mountain - a new vantage and angle - another Kodak Moment. The mountain‘s personality is ever-changing.
Spires rise high above the route as I near the Keyhole.
The last few bullseyes of my fantastic journey. Wow - what a mountain!
I just like this picture of an unknown hiker identifying peaks at the Keyhole.
I pass back through the Keyhole as thunder clouds roll overhead. The fantastic journey is complete, but the adventure isn‘t over. The sky cracks with thunder, shaking me to reality. Do I take shelter here, or do I scramble down the Boulder Field to a lower elevation? I take off across the Boulder Field, passing everyone else, and listening intently for a humming ice axe on my back. Paranoia is a terrible thing. But it adds to the adventure - the forbidden fruit - like I stole the jewels and must now escape the gun fight.
From Granite Pass, I head straight for Jims Grove. I turn and give thanks to Longs Peak before I‘m swallowed by the trees. I made it to the top and back, and I‘m richer for the experience. But I remind myself that others haven‘t been so fortunate. This mountain is for real.