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Longs Peak via the Keyhole
Trip Report

Longs Peak via the Keyhole

 

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 40.25470°N / 105.6153°W

Object Title: Longs Peak via the Keyhole

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 16, 2002

 

Page By: rob_runkle

Created/Edited: May 27, 2003 /

Object ID: 168906

Hits: 2024 

Page Score: 0%  - 0 Votes 

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Longs Peak was by far the Peak that I looked forward to most. Not only was Longs the most elevation gain and the longest distance of any single peak. It was also the only trail that I had planned that had "class 3" climbing. It was beyond a doubt going to be the most challenging and exciting climb of the trip. I picked the 2nd day of my trip for Longs because I wanted to get at least 1 day for acclimatization before taking on this challenge. Also, I wanted to complete Longs before I had exhausted myself from 2-3 days of climbing.
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I arrived at the Longs Trailhead Campground at around midnight the night before my climb. I had still planned on getting a 5am start, but by the time I rolled out of my tent and started up the trail, it was 7am. This was DEFINITELY a LATE Longs start, but I was not really concerned with afternoon thunderstorms, because the weather was suppose to be great. Most people start up Longs between 3am and 5am in the morning, in order to get off the mountain by early afternoon. Most take 10-12 hours (or more) for the round trip of Longs, which is another reason people start early. Due to my late start, I was motivated to move fast! In fact during the beginning of my hike, I was counting how many people I passed. I did this so that I could feel better that there were other people behind me that were also heading for a successful summit. I quit counting at around 20 people.
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The start of the Longs trail is a nice dirt trail, going through evergreens. After a few miles, the trail breaks out of the woods. The trail eventually goes north and east around the base of Mount Lady Washington. There are great mile markers along most of the trail which give distances to Longs Peak, the Boulderfield and several other trails. On a side note, the trail mile markers indicate a total distance from trailhead to peak of 7.5 miles. Several guidebooks say 6.9 miles. I suspect that the base trail cut through the evergreens is more switch backed than in the past; maybe an upgrade to the trail. At about 5.5 miles, you start to enter the boulderfield. At this same point, you now have a wonderful view of Longs Peak, and the keyhole. It seems so far away at this point. The trip through the boulderfield to the keyhole is about 1 mile. I arrived at the Keyhole about 3 hours after starting from the trailhead.
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The Keyhole is the GO or NO GO point. I entered the small shelter at the Keyhole and talked to a few people inside. Some had returned from the Trough (past the Keyhole) and were not going any further because of the 50+ mph winds. One guy mentioned that two people had been killed on Longs in 2001, specifically by being "blown off of the mountain." This worried me greatly, because I did not want to turn back. I waited for about 10 minutes and decided to venture through the Keyhole. Climbing up into the keyhole gave me a scary sample of the 50mph winds on the mountain today, but once I got through the keyhole and down onto the Ledges, the wind severity came down dramatically. I was still a bit scared, and I was desperately looking for others that were still heading towards the summit. I talked to several people on their way down and asked them about the winds. Most mentioned that it was pretty tough through the Narrows, and that some people were waiting at the top of the Trough to see if the winds subsided. So, I kept going... I eventually made it through the Ledges and started my way up the Trough. About 1/2 way up the Trough, I finally met up with a group that was still heading the same direction as I was. They were from Florida: Allison, Andy, Chance, and Allison's (and Andy's) father, Andy Sr.. I had past their father on my way up the Trough. At the top of the Trough, they decided to wait for their dad, and I was unwilling to go it alone, so I waited also. At this point, I checked my blisters from yesterday, and it was NOT going well. They looked ugly, but that wasn't going to stop me from going on.
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After Andy (the dad) caught up, we ventured over the top of the Trough and on to the Narrows. The winds here were similar to at the keyhole. It was very scary cutting through to the Narrows, but once on the other side, it was not as bad. The trip along the Narrows was not too bad, and we all agreed that some spots on the Ledges were actually worse. But, the Narrows were higher. There was actually one incident that was a bit scary while we were finishing the last stretch of the Narrows. The wind was blowing strong and very unpredictable, like it had been since coming through the Keyhole. At one point, the wind caught Allison's dad's hat and blew it off his head. The scary part was that he actually made a slight move towards the hat, towards a potentially bad fall. Allison screamed at him and he thought twice about trying to catch his hat. Funny thing is that the hat actually blew out, and then back right into Allison. It is really scary how even just a slight amount of mental fatigue (potential onset of AMS) could cause such a potentially catastrophic reaction. The effect is similar to drinking only a small amount of alcohol and driving. Eventually this event caused Andy (the dad) to turn back. It might not affect your normal abilities, but it definitely affects your quick reaction judgment. Once we crossed the Narrows - which wasn't very far actually - we crossed up and over to the Home Stretch, the Granite Face. This cross over was again windy like the Keyhole and at one point, I yelled out, "hold on!" and we all paused as a huge gust came through. Looking up the Granite Face was amazing. It was a 45 degree, 300 ft climb up a rock face. It was still windy, so the climb had to be done in 20 ft lunges. It was truly exhilarating. Once we reached the top of the Granite Face, some girl told us, "congratulations, you made it!" I said, "really, this is the top?" What a relief. The top of Longs is really a huge boulderfield, the size of a football field. It was really windy on top, but not scary, because it would take a really big wind to blow anyone off at this point. I wandered the top for 30 minutes, taking in the view and enjoying the experience. It took me 5 hours to reach the summit from the trailhead. I was very happy with this time. Gee, that last mile sure was a the longest one mile I have ever gone though...
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We started down the Granite Face on our butts and everybody commented about how much easier it was to go down than it was to come up. Also, once we left the top, the wind had calmed considerably and the sun finally came out. This made for a rather enjoyable climb down the Granite Face, and we almost stopped for a bit of sunning. The trip through the narrows and down the trough was similarly better on the way down. We all agreed that we were much more confident at this point. Also, we noticed how we more easily found good handholds, and good foot placement. We had learned a lot on the trip up. We got a little lost on our trip along the Ledges. We tried to go up to soon, but quickly found our mistake. No problem. It was a relief to crawl through the Keyhole. We stopped at the Vaille Shelter and there were high-fives all around.
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I left my summit friends and started down the Boulderfield. Man, that 6.5 miles back to the trailhead sure seems long. Another fact to note was that I drank the last of my water at the Keyhole. I figured that I could make 6.5 miles without water, so I chose not to drink purified water. At about 1/3 mile from the bottom, I became a klutz and fell sprawled out right on the trail. I wasn't really running, but I guess I was starting to wind down from the climb and got a little lax. I wiped out with Meg's (my girlfriend) digital camera in my hand. The camera survived, but it now has a small crack and some scratches to commemorate my Longs Peak climb. I made it to the trailhead in a total round trip of 9 hours. Man, I was beat, and my throat was very dry. If I had it to do over again, I would have gotten some water on the trip down from the Keyhole. As a note, I had 90 oz of fluid for the round-trip, and this was not enough.
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Longs was definitely the pinnacle of my trip, and I highly recommend Longs. It is a great climb!


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