Peak(s):  Longs Peak  -  14,255 feet
Date Posted:  10/11/2007
Date Climbed:   08/11/2007
Author:  piper14er

 Longs Peak - Keplinger Couloir  

August 10-11, 2007

We started at the Copeland Lake Trailhead (actually heading for Sandbeach Lake) which is right at the entrance booth for the Wild Basin Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park off Highway 7. After reading about the route we decided to leave on Friday evening and hike up to the lake or beyond depending on daylight. We stopped at the Wild Basin Ranger Station which is inside the park a couple of miles from the entrance booth to get our permit.

A permit is required for all overnight stays in the backcountry. Reservations may be made in advance. Day-of-trip permits maybe obtained in person year-round. Backcountry camping is limited to seven nights between June and September, more nights during the remainder of the year. Backcountry camping is allowed in designated campsites only, unless authorized by permit. After looking at our options for a camping permit we decided to get a Crosscountry permit for the zone (Hunters Creek – 1G) closest to the unnamed lake near the couloir. You can get a permit to camp at Sandbeach Lake which costs the same (fee $20).

There are four different types of backcountry camping sites in Rocky Mountain National Park. Below are the two that would pertain to this hike. The special regulations to each are summarized here.

Designated Sites:
Camp must be established within 15' of the metal arrowhead and post which marks the site.
Use stoves only. Fires prohibited, unless staying in a wood fire site with visible metal fire ring (using dead and down wood only).

Crosscountry Areas
• Camp must be established
1. within the designated cross-country zone.
2. at least 200' (70 adult steps) from water.
3. out of sight and sound of trails and other campers.
4. below tree line and out of meadows.
5. and moved at least 1 mile each night.
6. no more than 2 nights in 1 cross country zone
• Party size is limited to 7 people.
• Fires prohibited. Use portable stoves only.
• Stock prohibited.

The trailhead is at 8300' elevation. The first 4 – 4.5 miles follows a well groomed trail. There are probably a lot of hikers and fisherman going to the lake, we only saw a couple of people at the lake. The hiking up to Sandbeach Lake is easy to moderate and uneventful. Image There are some nice views of the valley to the left and there appears to be a large blow down area on the hills to the south.

We followed the trail to the lake which is at 10,300' elevation. We proceeded on and past Sandbeach Lake as it was still light and we decided that we could get another mile up toward Keplingers. There is not a true trail beyond here that we could ever find, bushwhacking only. Almost immediately (this is the real reason to write a trip report, to help a few others going this way) you head into what we fondly called the "Field of Boulders". Boulders ranging in size from small (Mini Cooper) to large (ski area shuttle bus). It was sort of amazing how all these boulders got in amongst all those trees because if there was not a boulder there seemed to be a tree. Our rate of travel decreased but we were determined to reach the next unnamed lake. Determined as we were the boulders just kept on going. There were a large number of downed trees also. We finally dropped down the hill to the north, found a small nearly level spot among the many downed trees and pitched the tent for the night.

We were up early and waited for a little daylight to get started again. You are heading to the upper Hunter Creek. There were still a lot of downed trees but thankfully less of the boulders. I will get ahead of myself here, which is quite a trick, and tell you that we did find a better route back out and so avoided most of the boulders and even quite a few of the downed trees. I have included a map that I found on-line that indicated two routes that other people had taken. Our return route is generally marked with the dots. We followed the creek more and stayed farther north. We actually hit the main trail a couple of tenths of a mile below Sandbeach Lake on our return.Image

Back to the trail at hand we headed towards Longs Peak. There still was not a trail so we kept bushwhacking. It was easier going up to the next unnamed lake which was not the unnamed lake at 11,200 feet shown on the map. We left our tent and camping equipment here and continued bushwhacking our way to the couloirs which are in the basin formed by Meeker, Longs and Pagoda. Oh and it was here that we found out that Rob's camera batteries were nearly dead and so much for pictures. We had another stretch of rough going over boulders and through the trees until we finally broke out at tree line and the foot of the couloirs. Rob was able to coax his camera into taking a picture here. Image

Keplinger Couloir is easy to see and is the largest and westernmost of the couloirs. Here is the route. Image The route from here involves some scrambling up the moderately steep and rocky gulch. Image You will pass the Loft route which ties into the top of the Keplinger route and proceed another 300 feet or so to 13,600 feet elevation. At this point and before you go into the notch turn to your left and follow a series of moderate ledges for about 600 feet or so and vertically about 300 feet to the "Homestretch" at 13,900 feet. The "Homestretch" is described in the standard route for Longs Peak. Scramble up and past about a hundred people to the summit. We borrowed some batteries and got a picture on top. Image

The great thing about this route is that there isn't the crowds you get on the standard route. We only saw one other person past Sandbeach Lake up to the Loft route. We saw 2 people there. This is the historical first route. The palisades are impressive from this route. I got a little dizzy looking up at them. Perfect weather and a good climb added to the day.

Rating: Class 3
Total miles roundtrip: 16 +/-.
Total Vertical: 5940' starting at 8300' and ending at 14,255'
Total hiking time: 14 hours (probably would have saved 1–1.5 hours if we had gone up the way we went down).
Total pictures: 4 (two at the top) not good for an epic journey.
Total number of people on summit: endless.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Exposure compared to Keyhole Route?
11/30/2010 17:20
This route looks from your few pictures less exposed than the ledges and narrows sections on the Keyhole route up Long's. How do the routes compare in terms of exposure?


Longs Peak - Keplinger Couloir
10/15/2007 18:10
I would say that the Keyhole route has a good deal more exposure. For me the couloir, which was maybe 30-35 degrees, had no exposure. The crossing from the top of the couloir up and over to the homestretch had minimal or no exposure, a little scambling only. I thought that it was pretty stable and the trail was easily seen. Then up the homestretch. I wish that we had gotten a few pictures on the crossing as that was my question before we went up also.


The "Historical Route"
10/16/2007 18:46
Outstanding trip report! The ”Historical Route” looks interesting and I enjoyed reading about it. I can appreciate the camera difficulties. My Nikon succumbed during a 7/26/2007 ice storm on the Ledges! However, your graphs and route descriptions are very helpful should I try this route in the future. It looks like you had a truly memorable trip!

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