| Meeker and Longs - Loft Route
September 3rd, 2009
Mount Meeker - 13,911'
Longs Peak - 14,255'
Longs Peak Trailhead - SOLO
Distance : No idea. 15ish miles?
Elevation : Around 5,800' including mistakes
Time : 11 hours 10 minutes
Recently, my plans have not been working out.
After climbing and enjoying Crestone Needle the previous weekend, I decided to take some extra time off during the week which I was hoping to use to get back down to the Sangre's. However, after using a couple of these free days helping to install a cement driveway, the idea of backpacking anywhere (which I had intended to do) was becoming less desirable. A day trip close to home was sounding like the right choice.
Mount Meeker had been on my short list all year, however I had been unable to make time for it. That time finally came in the form of an alarm blaring at 11:45 PM. I slowly got around and made my way from Denver to the Longs Peak TH (barely missing a deer west of Lyons) by 1:30 AM. The parking lot was nearly empty on arrival, and I saw only one other group from Wisconsin gearing up for a hike of Longs.
I signed in at the register just prior to 2:00 AM. I had decided to start off only taking a 1 liter Nalgene of water with the plan of using my water filter to fill up my water bladder near Chasm Lake. I ended up pleased with this decision, as carrying a very light pack allowed for a quick ascent through the woods. I made it to the Chasm Lake trail split around 3:45, and reached the rangers cabin below the lake around 4:00. I kept glancing back while hiking, however I did not see any headlamps following from the trees. I figured it was turning out to be a slow day for the busy mountain.
Barely making out the Notch in front of the setting moon.
After stocking up on water in Chasm Meadows, I began to debate my route choices up Meeker. I had already decided against the Iron Gates route due to some unfavorable information I had received. This left me with either the loft route or the NE ridge route. While standing and pondering there in the darkness, I realized that I had a decent view of Ship's Prow to the SW thanks to some minimal lighting from the moon. This sense of direction (and my inability to find the start of the NE ridge route) made my decision.
I began to slowly make my way up the broad trough between Meeker and Ships Prow. I lost track of the trail a couple times in the darkness, but was quickly able to find it again with some scanning from the headlamp. The trail was much more defined than I expected, however much looser. Not in the dangerous sense, but in the annoying sense. Luckily, I had no way to measure my progress up the trough so I just kept chugging along slowly until I reached some (finally!) solid 3rd class options. The skyline was just beginning to spray some light on my route when I reached the exit gullies to my left. I quickly made it up the ramps just in time to see sunrise as I reached the Loft.
The sun creeping up near the exit ramp for the loft.
...and finally showing itself.
Fresh sunlight on Longs from the Loft.
With some a good trail and some light to guide my way, the final 400' to the summit of Meeker went quick and I topped out just before 7AM. It was around this time I heard a "WooHoo!!" coming from the top of Longs, shouted I assume by some early summiters from the Keyhole route.
To give an idea of the trail up to Meeker.
Looking across at Meeker Ridge.
Meeker Meadow and Sandbeach Lake from the summit of Meeker.
The view north with a partial summit register.
Longs Peak from the summit of Meeker.
I spent a little time on Meeker trying to find the highest point (its one of those summits where every spot seems higher than where you're at) and descended back to the Loft a little after 7:30.
Although Longs had not been a primary factor in this hike, I figured it was still early and I was curious to see the Loft route around the back of this popular mountain. I followed some bright white cairns across the broad Loft, however due to some information I saw in previous trip reports I tried to stay perfectly level going across. (Neither gaining nor losing elevation.) By doing this, I ended up wrapping around the "Beaver" at a higher than normal point. I came across the "descent cairn" from above rather than below. Either way works.
My route in red, staying slightly higher. (Notice the white cairns.)
Rounding the corner under the "Beaver", being watched by some creepy shadow person....
It's usually around this point in the Longs Loft Route trip reports that people state what they did wrong and what should be done differently in terms of route finding. This report is no different.
My mistakes: I assumed (incorrectly) that the descent from the cairn was much shorter than it actually was. I also assumed from pictures that I would be hugging the wall during the descent. Both assumptions were wrong. The route drops much further than you would think, and leads directly down instead of veering right towards the wall. I felt this to be the most difficult section of the entire route both in route finding and scrambling. (It didn't help that I went back up to the beginning of the gully to retrace my steps twice before I found the exit cairn marking the right turn out of the descent gully.) Even though I was never officially "off route", I was happy to be back on track and Clark's Arrow was a welcome sight.
Needed to go down in the left corner of this picture, not follow the wall on the right.
The next portion of the route was very straight forward, and I simply took the path of least resistance all the way over Keplinger's Couloir. However just before reaching the left turn at the notch (seen in Photo #19 of the route description) I decided to veer left early and climb a steep (class 3/4) but solid wall to meet back up with the route.
Route description in Blue, my route in Red.
This allowed me a quick ascent up to the base of the homestretch on the Keyhole route. It was here that I finally saw the first hiker of the day since leaving the TH earlier that morning. I also saw my first blaring bullseye of the day.
Looking back while in Keplinger's Couloir.
Looking back towards the "Notch".
Looking above the route back towards the Loft.
I felt the homestretch to be the easiest part of the route since leaving the Loft due to its grade and solid rock. I walked up the center crack to the summit cairn for the second summit of the day at around 9:30 AM.
The homestretch...Solid Rock!!
Meeker from the Summit of Longs.
Me on the summit.
A view from the top.
A very empty summit.
After wandering around the summit for a bit, I started my decent back down the homestretch and continued on the Keyhole route to allow for a loop hike. I met up with another solo hiker and we hurried down the rest of the "bullseyed" route and into the boulderfield. The rest of the day was uneventful, just chatting away with my new-found hiking partner and descending past some late ascenders and some backpackers headed up to the boulderfield.
Scenes from "The Keyhole Route".
More "Keyhole Route".
We made it back to the parking lot just after 1:00 PM. My full day was complete, and I didn't feel quite so bad about not making it to the Sangre's.
Final thoughts on the route:
1. Much looser than I thought. As stated before, not dangerous, just annoying.
2. Not a lot of exposure. (If you stay on route)
3. Not a lot of fun scrambling sections like I had expected.
4. Very low traffic, no hikers seen until meeting the Keyhole route.