Peak(s):  Longs Peak  -  14,255 feet
Date Posted:  09/23/2012
Date Climbed:   09/19/2012
Author:  aliciaf
Additional Members:   jmc5040
 Long Day on Longs Keyhole Route  

Start Time: 2:15am
Reached Boulderfield: 5:45am
Summit: 9:00am
Leave Summit: 9:45am
Back to Car: 2:50pm

After a long and exhausting weekend in the San Juans, it was tough to find the motivation to continue on with our plans to climb Longs via the Keyhole route mid-week on my day off of work. After I got out of work on Tuesday, Jordan and I started our drive to Longs Campground, where we arrived around 8:30pm or so. We registered and set up our tent in anticipation for five hours of sleep. We crawled in and we were both alseep by 9:30pm.

It was a very windy night, as it woke us both up multiple times despite how tired we still were from our sleepless nights in the San Juans just a few days prior. The alarm finally went off at 1:30am - all I wanted to do was go back to sleep and push Longs off for another day, but I reluctantly crawled out of my sleeping bag, knowing Jordan really would not be happy had I suggested that.... We broke down camp and got ready and drove the short distance over to the Longs Peak trailhead. We were on the trail by 2:15am.

I wasn't sure what to expect as far as crowds go on this trail considering it was late in the season and a Wednesday. I knew I probably shouldn't expect the massive crowds the route can see in peak season on a Saturday, but I definitely expected more than what we saw. We didn't see a single soul from when we hit the trail at 2:15am until we were descending around 9:50am (with the exception of two climbers descending near the creek crossing and some headlamps far behind us above treeline).

The hike up to the boulderfield was very cold and windy - at times I couldn't even keep my eyes open due to the winds. But we pushed along and would re-evaluate once we got to the keyhole whether we should continue or not. We arrived at the boulderfield around 5:45am (3 hrs, 30 minutes after starting). We didn't want to approach or pass through the keyhole in the dark, so we chose an open campsite/wind shelter and hunkered down for about a half hour until it was light enough to proceed. We saw maybe 4-5 tents in the boulderfield, but no one was awake yet. We got moving again and passed through the keyhole around 6:45am. It was still slightly windy just after passing through, but we pressed on since we had heard that the wind will often subside shortly after the keyhole.

Sunrise at the boulderfield

Approaching the keyhole

We put away our trekking poles and started along the ledges, following the bullseyes. It wasn't too difficult to following the bullseyes, and before we knew it we were standing at the base of the trough. The wind had died down significantly, so we weren't worried for our safety heading up the trough. The trough was LONG. This section definitely took us the longest of all of the sections past the keyhole. We tried to follow the bullseyes for the most part, but ultimately chose our route based on the locations of the few spots of snow and ice. It was completely avoidable, but it definitely affected our route decisions at times. About an hour later, we were at the top of the trough, trying to figure out the best way over the choke stone. The normal way up was a little slippery due to some lingering snow on our boots. We opted to go left and take a short Class 3+ route with a little bit more exposure to get above the choke stone.

Looking up the trough

Jordan heading up the trough

We were now entering the Narrows. I can definitely see how this area might freak some people out, but I didn't think it was too bad at all. We crossed over the "badly positioned rocks" with no trouble and quickly reached the final rock wall to climb. I struggled a bit trying to find the safest way up and over the final rock in this section since I'm so short (5'3"), stretching my legs and arms to try to find a secure hold to pull myself up. I wasn't comfortable enough to make the move and I didn't want Jordan to pull me up - I wanted to do it myself. So, Jordan descended to spot me from behind so that I would feel comfortable enough to finally make the move. He suggested a new foothold for me that I hadn't seen prior and with the comfort of knowing he was spotting me from behind, I was able to pull myself up and over on my own accord.

Entering the narrows

We were now finally looking up the homestretch. It is very intimidating when you're looking at it, but once you start up it your fears are dismissed, seeing that there are numerous hand and foot holds to help you make your way up. We made quick work of the homestretch and we were on the summit by 9am, 6hrs, 45 minutes after leaving the TH. We had the entire (huge) summit to ourselves the entire time we were up there, which was about 45 minutes. We took our routine summit photos, ate some lunch and even took a quick nap. The view from the summit was kind of hazy, so we couldn't see very far. At about 9:45am we started making our way back down the homestretch. I wasn't sure how hard it would be to descend the homestretch or the trough, but it proved to be pretty easy. I crabwalked down the majority the homestretch and we chatted for a couple minutes with the first person we'd encountered all day who had come up via the Loft route.

Looking up the homestretch

Me heading up the homestretch

Empty summit

Us at the summit - apparently we take too many self portraits, haha

Descending back across the narrows

From here on out, we saw a handful of other people but not nearly the amount we thought we would. We donned our helmets for our descent down the trough just in case anyone above us knocked rocks down. We were careful ourselves descending to make sure we didn't knock any rocks down on the two other people coming up the trough. The rest of the descent was uneventful. It was like a brand new hike once back in the boulderfield now that it was light out, as we were seeing many things for the first time in the light. The descent from the keyhole to the TH seems neverending, but we just placed one foot in front of the other and kept a fast pace to get back to the car as quick as possible. We made it back at 2:50pm. In total, our hike took 12hrs, 35 minutes which included a 45 minute summit stop and a decently long stop to chat with an older couple.

On the descent with Longs in the background

Neither Jordan nor I were sure if we would be summiting Longs this day due to the wind, but we were both happy the wind died down once past the Keyhole and that we were able to summit successfully. Longs was definitely a fun hike once past the Keyhole. I'm definitely glad we waited to do it until we did because it doesn't seem like it would be a fun hike with the massive amounts of people this trail can see. It was nice to have the trail and summit to ourselves and to find some solitude on a mountain normally overflowing with people.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Great job!!
09/24/2012 01:48
Yeah, it's always a little tough to get out of bed and start an early hike. But once you're on the trail it all seems worth it. Rare that you can claim Longs' summit for yourself like you guys had. But most of the time I actually kind of enjoy meeting all the climbers when I come down again. Fun to chat with them and encourage them as they ascend. Thanks for sharing your experience!


Always like seeing Longs
09/24/2012 15:30
It's great to see trip reports on Longs Peak. It is one of only 3 class three routes I have done, but it was an absolute blast! That's awesome that no one else was up there. It looked like an ant hill when I was there and most had no climbing experience. Congrats on the solitude!


09/24/2012 18:31
I did Longs the same way, on a late September weekday. That seems like the way to do it. Congrats on yet another climb! You two should keep it going through the winter...just sayin'...


09/24/2012 19:48
SurfNturf - I don't know that I have what it takes for winter climbs. I've never hiked in legit snow and I'm terrified of avalanches!! Mayyyybe some early spring climbs next year?


09/25/2012 21:41
Im glad you did Longs. Its such a great peak and one of my favorites. I can't believe you had the summit to yourself. So rare. Congratulations on a long hike/climb!

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