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Keyhole route advice

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Keyhole route advice

Postby Ben D » Tue Jul 16, 2013 10:37 pm

My friend and I are planning on hiking the keyhole route on Long's here in a few weeks. I'm an enthusiastic hiker and she's just starting out. We climbed Democrat the other week which was her first 14er. She struggled a little bit and said that it was harder than she was expecting. However she's still showing interest in climbing Long's. Neither of us have done a route like the keyhole before but I've tried to give her an objective description of it from what I understand it to be like. I'm afraid of bringing her up there and it ending up being way more intense than she was expecting. I would appreciate any advice that you could give us in this area. Also, are there any good warm-up hikes for longs? (Something longer and more challenging than Democrat, possibly with some class 3 climbing to give us an idea as to what to expect when we climb Longs)

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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby IkeB » Tue Jul 16, 2013 11:22 pm

Be sure to start early. Bierstadt/sawtooth/evans makes a good warm up for exposure and distance.

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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby Kiefer » Wed Jul 17, 2013 1:39 am

Don't do Longs.
I guarantee she's gonna freak out once you reach the Keyhole. IMO, Democrat doesn't have exposure. Long's on the other hand... My advice is to skip Longs.

If it's a good intro class-3 climb you're looking for, first thing that jumps to mind is Kelso Ridge on Torreys. As Ike mentioned, Sawtooth is a good option too. Longs might have a bit too much exposure for her for the time being.
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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby pvnisher » Wed Jul 17, 2013 6:34 am

It depends on what she meant by "harder". If it required more physical exertion than she was expecting, then try something like Quandary or Sherman. If it was that she struggled with vertigo or feeling unsafe at any point, then you are best off not doing any of the Class 3 routes. Sawtooth would be similar, but if she gets on it and wants to bail there is no good escape.
My recommendation, if it was exposure that was the issue, is to not attempt any Class 3. Do some more Class 2 routes first.

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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby peter303 » Wed Jul 17, 2013 6:54 am

Keyhole four times the distance of Democrat and twice the uphill. Plus places where you must use your hands (Class-3) and some dropoffs. Plus you have to start in the dark to beat the storms.
Democrat (by itself) on of the five easiest 14ers. Longs is in the 40s easiest out of 58.

Its a beautiful hike to Chasm Lake or the Boulderfield if you turn around. The wildflowers should be gpretty good with all this rain. Think of this as a "conditioning/scouting hike" for when you would do Longs the next time.

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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby highpilgrim » Wed Jul 17, 2013 7:03 am

Climb Lady Washington instead. It shares the same route with Longs until you get to the boulderfield. And then, before or after Lady W, hike to the Keyhole and take a look at the other side. If you are doing well, not intimidated by the view and the weather is holding, push on and see how things go.

My guess is that Lady Washington will be enough and you will have had an awesome look at another day's climb; the view of the Diamond on Longs is startling from there.

Diamond from Lady W.jpg
Diamond from Lady W.jpg (292.72 KiB) Viewed 668 times
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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby Ben D » Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:07 am

Thanks for the advice. So here's another question because I personally have been dieing to climb Longs for whatever reason: Would it be a bad idea to go solo? (I know that I shouldn't really have to worry about being "alone" because of the amount of people that I hear climbing this route)

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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby IkeB » Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:11 am

Not too terrible of an idea in the summer but you could probably find a partner if you post a date and time.

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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby mcmanusj » Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:12 am

Ben D wrote:Thanks for the advice. So here's another question because I personally have been dieing to climb Longs for whatever reason: Would it be a bad idea to go solo? (I know that I shouldn't really have to worry about being "alone" because of the amount of people that I hear climbing this route)


You'll be fine solo. The route to the keyhole is about as straightforward as it gets. Beyond the keyhole the ledges is well marked with bullseyes, the trough is obvious (go up), the narrows are similar (go forward), and the homestretch is tiring but doable. If you have a smart phone, take screenshots of the trail description here on 14ers, as well as the route photos. That's what I do whenever I solo a route and I've never had a problem

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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby James Dziezynski » Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:31 am

Doing Longs early in your hiking "career" (is that the right word?) is one of the classic blunders in Colorado hiking. The other is getting involved in a land war in Asia... oh wait different blunder.

I think it's awesome to have Longs on the hit list, but I highly encourage you to work up to it. Just getting to the Keyhole is roughly 5 miles and that's before the scrambling begins. I will say that once you are past the keyhole, the route is unique in that it is very well-marked, very well traveled and there will likely be lots of people out there with you. This is in contrast to the other class 3 routes that people have mentioned, which have the added element of route finding.

If your partner had a tough time on Democrat, that's perfectly ok -- even the "easy" 14ers are still quite a bit of work! I would suggest a few fun class 2 routes like Mount Elbert (highest in the state!!), Mount Sherman, Grays and Torreys just to get started and work up her fitness and comfort levels.

If you are a bit stronger and ready for Longs, I'd suggest hiking it in late summer, as the storms are less likely and there's no snow on the peak (snow can come as early as mid September). Mid August is nice. The thing about the keyhole route is that despite being class 3, it's not so much "ridgey" as it is ledgey, with steep gullys. I always point people to the hourglass route on Mount Alice as a great warm up for Longs -- it's actually a longer route, but gives a good sense of the long time out, the moderate scrambling and hey, it's in Wild Basin -- Lion Lakes are beautiful!!

Good luck!! I'm sure you'll get good advice from folks here.
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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby bohlsen » Wed Jul 17, 2013 10:24 am

James Dziezynski wrote:Doing Longs early in your hiking "career" (is that the right word?) is one of the classic blunders in Colorado hiking. The other is getting involved in a land war in Asia... oh wait different blunder.

I think it's awesome to have Longs on the hit list, but I highly encourage you to work up to it. Just getting to the Keyhole is roughly 5 miles and that's before the scrambling begins. I will say that once you are past the keyhole, the route is unique in that it is very well-marked, very well traveled and there will likely be lots of people out there with you. This is in contrast to the other class 3 routes that people have mentioned, which have the added element of route finding.


I disagree, at least for some people (myself included) climbing something big like Longs early on can really spark a love for 14ers and hiking in general. Longs was my first 14er when I was 14 and I think that its length, difficulty and beauty really started me obsession with hiking to a far greater degree than if my first had been Sherman or Bierstadt or one of the other easy 14ers. Yeah it was a really long, tiring day and some of the scrambling past the Keyhole was a little intimidating at first but I never felt I was in any objective danger and overcoming these challenges gave me confidence for future hikes. Perhaps my experience isn't typical since I was in excellent shape at the time and had been climbing on boulders on camping trips as a kid but I don't think its absolutely necessary to build a hiking resume before giving Longs a go.

James Dziezynski wrote:I always point people to the hourglass route on Mount Alice as a great warm up for Longs


+1 on Mount Alice, I haven't done it myself but I've been to Wild Basin a number of times and I'm dying to try this route.
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Re: Keyhole route advice

Postby mcmanusj » Wed Jul 17, 2013 11:03 am

bohlsen wrote:
James Dziezynski wrote:Doing Longs early in your hiking "career" (is that the right word?) is one of the classic blunders in Colorado hiking. The other is getting involved in a land war in Asia... oh wait different blunder.

I think it's awesome to have Longs on the hit list, but I highly encourage you to work up to it. Just getting to the Keyhole is roughly 5 miles and that's before the scrambling begins. I will say that once you are past the keyhole, the route is unique in that it is very well-marked, very well traveled and there will likely be lots of people out there with you. This is in contrast to the other class 3 routes that people have mentioned, which have the added element of route finding.


I disagree, at least for some people (myself included) climbing something big like Longs early on can really spark a love for 14ers and hiking in general. Longs was my first 14er when I was 14 and I think that its length, difficulty and beauty really started me obsession with hiking to a far greater degree than if my first had been Sherman or Bierstadt or one of the other easy 14ers. Yeah it was a really long, tiring day and some of the scrambling past the Keyhole was a little intimidating at first but I never felt I was in any objective danger and overcoming these challenges gave me confidence for future hikes. Perhaps my experience isn't typical since I was in excellent shape at the time and had been climbing on boulders on camping trips as a kid but I don't think its absolutely necessary to build a hiking resume before giving Longs a go.


I'd like to second this. My first 14er attempt was in May of 2011, snow starting at the trailhead and crampons necessary on the approach up to the keyhole. Front-pointed our way across a good section of the ledges without rope. This was my first experience with any technical climbing, let alone a full on winter ascent of a 14er. I made it across one ~300 foot section of the ledges requiring me to front-point with no protection and had enough. Waited for my brother and one of his friends to summit (brother currently runs a guide service in Wyoming), while I waited 3 hours on a rock ledge.

Didn't make the summit, but was determined to get after it. Solo'd it 13 months later because I was so inspired by what I had seen before. I say go for it.

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