Longs Peak - 14,255 feet
Longs Peak - 14,255 feet
Day: February 2, 2020
Trailhead: Longs Peak
Peak: Longs Peak
Route: Keyhole (standard)
Mileage/Elevation gain: 13.85 miles and 4971 feet of gain
I arrived around 10 pm the night of our climb to get a few hours of truck sleep before an early start. The Longs Peak trailhead parking lot was mostly empty except for a couple vehicles. One of those belonged to my climbing partner. I went to sleep almost immediately on my front bench seat. Sleep though, was very hard to come by as the winds were screaming all night with my truck constantly swaying to and fro. I thought to myself, a morning summit would most certainly not be possible.
Miraculously though, when I awoke at 2:30 am everything was calm and we were a go! After slowing waking up, getting ready and drinking my customary 5-hour energy, we were on our way. My beta told me that the approach trail was boot packed and windblown above treeline, so we left the snowshoes behind hoping we wouldn't regret needing them higher up. Sure enough, the conditions were exactly as we thought as we cruised to the Chasm Lake trail junction and then eventually the Boulder Field. So far the trail had been snowpacked the entire way and our snowshoes weren't missed. There also had been very little wind. This changed drastically at the start of the Boulder Field where the winds really started whipping right in our faces.
The winds steadily increased as we worked our way through the Boulder Field following the standard trail. They were sustained and hitting us head on. Again, I started doubting if a summit attempt was in the cards for us today. Keyton and I talked it over, and we agreed to at least try to make it to the Keyhole and hope the conditions improve the beyond that. So, we continued on with our hoods tightened and our heads lowered to help fight through the wind.
At the end of the Boulder Field we scrambled up the steep rock to the Keyhole entrance. The wind was absolutely blasting here as my partner and I climbed through. We couldn't hear each other speak as we went left towards the ledges section of the route hoping (and praying) to get out of the wind. At this point, we were pretty sure we'd throw in the towel and head back. To be sure though, we scrambled some, slowly to the south along the ledges to see if the winds might abate on this side of Longs. Fortunately, it did a bit, so we continued on cautiously. The constant wind slowly eased giving way to only occasional wind gusts. These gusts were strong and required us to hunker down for a few moments each time until they passes. We could live with that, so we continued on in high spirits believing our summit chances had greatly improved.
We then followed the bullseye markers as best we could along the ledges. The snow was manageable in just our boots at first. As we progressed though, the snow levels quickly deepened, so we stopped to attach our crampons as the terrain became increasingly more sketchy. A slip anywhere on these ledges would not have been good, so we moved through this section with extreme caution. There were a couple snow gullys that were particularly troublesome. One almost stopped me in my tracks as it had an awkward move that I barely had the nerve to execute.
Thankfully, we soon came to the end of the ledges as we approached and entered the Trough. At first glance the Trough was drier than expected. Although, as we climbed higher, it began to be filled in more and more with snow and our crampons became very useful.
We climbed through the upper section of the gully without too much difficulty. The snow was mostly consolidated, and great for our crampons as we climbed the final steeper section and exited onto the Narrows. After negotiating the first obstacle we found the Narrows filled in with a crusty layer of snow. Once again our crampons came in handy as we carefully crossed this section without any problems.
Next, we arrived at the Homestrech which would lead us to the summit. It was mostly dry except for some snow and ice in filling in the gaps. We had expected more snow, but were more than happy with what we saw. We easily climbed up the Homestrech sticking mostly to the consolidated snow when possible. The wind was mostly absent on this section as we hit the summit in no time. It was about 10:15 am and we had the huge summit to ourselves.
I had never expected to climb Longs in the winter so I was beyond excited to summit. We had thought about turning several times, and I'm so glad we persisted as I believe we timed the conditions perfectly. With very little wind at the summit, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch and took in the views before heading back down. We knew our day was only halfway done.
Our descent went well as we followed the Keyhole route back to the trailhead. The gusty winds had lightened a bit on the Narrows and ledges, but they once again pounded us as we trekked across the Boulder Field. We made good time though with the winds at our backs, and arrived safely at our vehicles by 3.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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