| A Double Longs Vacation: Part I - The Keyhole
July 26, 2010
Longs Peak (14,256')
Ranger Station Trailhead (9,400')
Round-trip Length: 14 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,100'
Climbers: MtnHub and Wish I Lived In CO
Starting Time: 0320
Return Time: 1530
Longs Peak has been a favorite mountain of mine for quite awhile. It is one climb that I seriously doubt I will ever get tired of. It offers such a wide variety of fun and interesting terrain from beautiful forest pathways, to boulder hopping, to class 3 scrambling along ledges and up rock cracks.
Back in my days of naiveté, it was also my first experience of peak bagging. I climbed it with no real knowledge of what it involved or how dangerous it really could be. I began it with no map or any real sense of the route at all. I had simply read in an article that so many hundreds of people went up it every year, and came to the conclusion that, well then, so could I. Fortunately I had a perfect weather day and survived the ordeal with the exception of mild acute mountain sickness when I got back down, but needless to say, I became addicted immediately.
In the past several years, my wife and I have spent the last 4-5 days of our summer vacations in Estes Park before heading for home. And it has become an annual event to climb Longs with every visit. Last year was witness to a very unusual weather pattern. There were several consecutive days of cool, wet weather, which prevented anyone from even seeing the mountain skyline from town. During my 7th ascent I was forced to turn back because of verglas in the Trough. It was the first time I was unsuccessful in my bid to summit the peak.
Not having any close family or friends who share my obsession with the mountains, I've mostly climbed solo in the past. Therefore, my only real experience with class 3 climbs has been on the standard Longs' Keyhole route. I've always felt quite safe and comfortable with the fact that the route is well-marked, and there are always other people around if need would arise. But in the last couple of years, I've wanted to try the Loft route as well. This year I was very fortunate to have found a partner willing to go with me.
In addition, my buddy from MI, Wish I Lived in CO, was anxious to give Longs a try. I had told him the previous year I would be happy to climb it with him if it ever worked into our schedules. He only wanted to do the Keyhole however, which suited me fine too. I really love that route and didn't mind repeating it with him. And because of this, I was excited to have the opportunity to do two summit bids this year and possibly make up for last year's failed attempt.
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(captions are above each image)
We meet at the parking lot at just after 0300, sign in, and are starting up the trail by 0320. It looks to be a perfect day. It is 52 degrees and a clear sky with a just-spent full moon ahead to light our way. We both are feeling limber, as we'd just completed a loop hike of Yale two days previous.
Within two hours we pass by the Chasm Lake trail junction, and by 0535 we reach Granite Pass. Here we stop for a short break to grab a snack and enjoy the beautiful sunrise breaking in the east. Wish finds a rock to recline on and claims it is more comfortable than his La-Z-boy at home.
Starting up the switchbacks just above the Pass, I notice significant trail improvements that I didn't remember from previous climbs. There are sections where flat stones were laid making the trail look more like a sidewalk. I also noticed a little earlier that there were also places where rock walls were piled high along the steep side for erosion prevention:
(photo courtesy of Wish I Lived in CO)
Once we gain the top of the slope we can finally see the Diamond face of Longs and the long skyline of the mountain ridge. On the horizon near the bottom of the 'V' the Keyhole can also been seen.
Going across and up the Boulder Field, I stop to take a dramatic shot of the northern edge of the Diamond and the lingering snow along its flanks.
The last part of the Boulder Field leading up to the Keyhole is steeper, the rock head formation lies imposingly above the tiny Agnes Vaille stone refuge.
A closer look:
Wish I Lived in CO checks the hut out:
and then climbs up to the Keyhole where I'm sitting:
We once again take a short snack break and visit with some of the other folks who have made it this far. By about 0745 we pack up and begin the Ledges. Just follow the painted bull's-eyes. We are aiming for the gully just above the lowest snow field.
About 2/3's the way across the Ledges, the Trough is more evident:
The Trough doesn't seem as loose and unstable to me as in previous years, but I still stay on the left side where more solid rock is present:
(photo courtesy of Wish I Lived in CO)
Wish starting up the Trough with Black Lake in the background:
A little higher up with a better vantage point, I take a shot of Glacier Gorge. Mills and Jewel Lakes remain in the shadows:
Looking straight out from the Trough there is an interesting rock balancing along the side:
Near the top of the Trough there are a few imposing rocks to negotiate:
Another climber makes his way through some of these rocks:
We take a short breather at the top of the Trough and look over the beginning of the Narrows. A chock stone blocks the entrance to the Narrows, which can be a little tricky to maneuver around. Wish takes the exposure very well:
The Narrows is one of my favorite sections of the entire route and I always regret that it is also one of the shortest. I wish it went on as long as the Homestretch or even the Ledges.
We cross the Narrows and reach the bottom of the Homestretch by around 0900, and I stop to take a picture of the Loft and Pallisades, with Mt Meeker in the background. I hope to be coming up that way in another couple of days.
The Homestretch takes us about a half hour to ascend. There are certainly a few people going up and down at this point, but nothing like the continuous queue of climbers as I've seen in the past. Wish makes progress at the base of the Homestretch:
By 0930 Wish I Lived in CO has his first summit of Longs:
and I join him for a congratulatory pose:
There are around 30 people celebrating along with us at the top. By the time we leave however, only 5 other climbers remain. Even though it is a weekday (Monday), it is still about as sparse a crowd as I've ever seen.
I study and take a few shots of Mt Meeker and the Loft from this perspective in preparation for my next climb:
and then another of Chasm Lake and the trail leading down to it:
We bask at the summit for nearly an hour before we begin our descent.
Near the top of the Trough the view over to McHenrys Peak is stunning:
We return down the Trough and across the Ledges in good time and once again take a breather at the Keyhole. I visit with a couple from CA who plans to climb Mt Whitney in a few weeks. I'm envious! The climb up Longs is just a warm up for them.
The view across the Boulder Field with its scattered debris of rocks as far as the eye can see, and Lumpy Ridge in the distance, still gives me a thrill!
Just below the Boulder Field as we start the switchbacks down to the Pass, a large herd of elk graze just off of the trail. As a backdrop to this beautiful scene, a snowfield in the shape of a unicorn rises above them like a guardian spirit.
At Granite Pass I stop once more to take a picture of an interesting pile of rocks. I've seen this before on other trips but it doesn't strike me the way it does today. I love the play of light and shadow on them, and the random, yet distinct, way they seem to be placed. It almost seems like a giant cairn created by a heavenly hand, marking the Pass. And indeed it is.
I arrive at the parking area at 1530. It has been an outstanding day! I am richly blessed!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):