The Keyhole Route
Saturday August 6, 2005
I headed-up to the trailhead parking lot on Friday night and the surrounding peaks on the way up route 7 out of Lyons were all cloaked in fog at their upper reaches and with the sun going down it made for a most beautiful sunset as I reached the Longs Peak Area turnoff.
I pulled into the parking lot about 8:10PM and there were about a dozen cars parked which made my “positioning” move a good one as I was able to park directly across from the trail entrance. I then made ready to spend the night in the back of my GMC Sonoma which has a topper and got myself comfortable with mattress and sleeping bag. About 11:15PM things started getting active as one car after another arrived, many with enthusiastic people, about 1:00AM seemed to be the peak time with the parking filling quickly. My friend Kevin arrived about 2:25AM and “shoehorned” his car into the last available parking spot.
We signed-in and started-up the trail at 2:50AM each equipped with headlamps (a first for each of us) the stars were amazing and the “conga line” of hikers coming up from below created a line of lights all the way back to tree-line. We made pretty good time to the “Boulder Field” where the sun rose and exposed a red hue to the “Keyhole” before us. We entered the “Keyhole” at 6:30 where the crowds had stacked-up as many people turn back down from here.
The back side through the Keyhole revealed a huge beautiful basin below as we made our way along the “Bull’s-eye” route to the “Trough”, this is where the people formed a long, steep, line straight up and out of view. We made a long, slow ascent (often on all fours) with many groups of different people as we passed them and they passed us until reaching the uppermost section where things came to a halt due to the volume of people. Slowly things cleared as one-by-one people either went forward to the “Narrows” or turned back.
The “Narrows” offered another spectacular view with shear rock cliffs and Mt Meeker, single file only in this section for a short distance and since everybody was still going up at this point it wasn’t a problem. I can see where this part could be a bit “un-nerving” but there are plenty of places to hold on while moving through to the “Homestretch”.
Here again at the “Homestretch” the volume of people really slowed things down as the steep pitch and “finding a line” to hold on as again being on all fours is the only way, some people literally crawl through this last section before the summit directly above. This was the only section where I heard some people “whining” as waining patience, endurance, smooth/slippery rocks add to fatigue and frustration because the summit can now be seen with people standing looking down just above, all you can do is press on and wait your turn.
The summit is absolutely huge and flat, plenty of room for the hordes of people coming up. Kevin and I had gotten separated as I summited at 8:04 and he followed at about 8:30. There was a chilly breeze on top and I added another layer. The views are breathtaking all around and the weather was clear with blue skies. We took several photos, signed the summit log, grabbed a bite to eat, and took a long rest before heading back down at about 9:05. When I reached the summit there were about 25 people on top, when we left there were at least 60-70 with many more on the way up.
“Crab-walking” on all fours with your butt against the rocks seemed to be the most effective way down all back through the “Homestretch” and with so many now coming up and going down you had to take it slow and be patient and selective while choosing which way to go and negotiating back down and across the “Narrows” where you simply had to wait for a pause before proceeding. Grouping with other people became a more pleasurable way to go as sharing your experience added humor, made you forget the perilous side of descending, and made it more fun.
The “Trough” was really packed again, but going down you can pick and choose your line a bit better and go where those coming up can’t see to. Thus, getting back down through this section is greatly simplified although you must take care not to kick any loose rocks down and be certain to have at least one hand hold at most times. Back to the “Keyhole” along the “Bull’s-eye” route is about the same going down as coming up and with the sun now shining on this section it was just plan gorgeous. I “peeled” down to a t-shirt and added some sunscreen as I knew it would be bright sun all the way back down from here.
The “Keyhole” had it’s normal collection of a good many people; some heading through and up, while others “laid-out” resting on the rocks before heading back down, I got back down through here without pausing as I didn’t want to wait and add to the congestion and I found a good line down through the “Boulder field” and then waited briefly for Kevin near the camping area. We then removed our gloves*, leggings, and got out the sunscreen again to make ready for the final 6+ miles descent back to the trailhead.
*Note: good gloves are a must on this route; leather “bricklayer” type may be the best choice as we each wore holes in our fingers, with Kevin ruining his nice fleece pair. Suck!!
Kevin and I made quick work of the rather barren (didn’t see one “critter” or wild flower) trail back down to tree-line, I was glad we had done this portion in the dark on the way up as it was somewhat unwelcoming and became more of a necessary chore than anything else. Tree-line brought some flowers, shade, and a couple of ground squirrels as we did the last 2.5 miles in about 50 mins flat and signed-out at 1:55PM. Then on to The Grumpy Gringo on route 34 for a cold cervesa and a nice Mexican lunch.
This one felt particularly good, as I can actually see this peak on a daily basis and it's been "on my list" for some time now. My 16th 14’er and Kevin’s first. Sweet!!!