Longs Peak (14255')- CO Rank 15, CO Prominence Rank 22
Boulder county & Rocky Mtn Natl Park highpoint
Mount Lady Washington (13281’) CO Rank 416
~12.5 miles RT, 5680’ gain
via Keyhole route
Participants: Risa Hayes, Patrick Thornley, & Kevin Baker
I have been putting off Longs for quite awhile since moving to Colorado over two years ago, so I decided to try it on a Monday to avoid the crowds, using it as a final training stomp for the Pikes Peak Ascent race. In the end, a list of 8 of us was whittled to Patrick, Risa, and myself. Back in ’96, my wife and I were new to serious hiking and hiked up the Longs Peak trail for a stunning view of the Diamond Face at Chasm Lake, truly one of the most spectacular places in this great nation. To show you how green we were to hiking, we started at 11am and brought a whole loaf of bread, which was snatched away by a hungry marmot! Nine years later, I am back for the real deal.
The gameplan was to pickup Risa in Denver around 1:30am so we could be hiking by 3:30. We figured there couldn’t be that many people on the trail on a Monday. Yeah right. Construction on I-25 slowed us down a little, but we were at the trailhead at 3:30. I bought one of those Gensing drinks to give me some energy after only 2 hours of sleep. The parking lot was nearly full and there were a full page and half of people ahead of us, some starting as early as 1:30! We headed out at a rather late alpine start of 3:51 as Pat’s thermometer checked in at a balmy 44 degrees. The hike through the forest was gradual and relaxing as your world is confined to the light from your headlamp. We broke out of treeline with views of little white dots heading up to Granite Pass, evidence that things were going to be a little crowded today. We arrived at the Chasm Lake junction at 5:20 and took a breakfast break as there were several groups breaking here. As I grabbed my camera to capture the sunrise, I discovered I didn’t put my memory card back in! One of the most spectacular mountains in America and I have no camera. Risa would have to be my photographer today and I would use my video camera more.
The next segment of the hike is the climb to 12100’ Granite Pass on the north side of Lady Washington. Here we were rewarded of sweet views of the Mummy Range. As we wrapped around Lady Washington, the Diamond face on Longs shown in all her glory. We could now see the route up to the Keyhole, our access to the fun part on the west side. At the beginning of the Boulderfield, we put away poles and began the fun hop over huge boulders to the distinct 13150’ Keyhole. Here there were 10-15 people getting ready for the fun parts of the climb and considering their future. I had a snack as I watched Pat & Risa navigate through the maze of boulders. At around 8am, we started across the ledges eager to see if the terrain was all it was hyped up to be.
At the start, it was imperative to get around an older couple who had actually hired a guide for a class 3 climb! More power to them for being out there I guess. I got around them right before the interesting v-slot, two metal posts that help you get around an exposed slab, easier done on the return. We then followed the helpful bulseye markers painted on the rocks. The exposure all the way to the Narrows was not bad, as there was always at least 3 feet of ledge to work with, most often more room than that. The people were pretty spread out initially, so it wasn’t bad. The 550’ climb up the Trough couloir was not as steep as the pictures I had seen led me to believe. A helmet would probably be smart in this section, but I just paid attention to what people were doing above me. At the top of the Trough, I went left of the large chockstone that Roach describes as the crux of the climb. Most people went right which I heard is easier.
Around the corner I went and next came the Narrows section, which as the name implies is the narrowest part of the climb. Here the drops are not as gradual, but once again there are plenty of holds for extra security and there is still 3’ of room at worst. I rounded another corner and there was the Homestretch, logjammed with 20-30 people climbing it. It was much longer than I thought it would be and it was a lot of work weaving around people. There are a few icy sections that are easily avoided and areas where the oils of so many people climbing over the years has made some things slick. This would be a scary place to be in a storm or when wet. I pushed through the crowds and at 9:28 I abruptly popped out on the football field size summit. I strolled over to the highpoint on the edge of the face and settled down on the Meeker side away from the crowds. Wow, what a glorious day. There was plenty of sun, no wind, and minimal clouds with plenty of time to get down. What a lucky day we picked! The drop down to Chasm Lake is stunning. Meeker looked close enough to touch, but I did not have an axe or recent beta on the Loft route, which still had patches of snow. I walked backed over to the top of the Homestretch, congratulating Pat & Risa as they topped out a few minutes later.
We basked in the beautiful day, fueled up, and mingled with some of the other hikers. One group was from Poland, another group of guys was from Michigan, as there main goal for coming to CO was to climb Longs. This mountain attracts all sorts of experience levels and it is cool to see people make it to the top and realize they have made it up a tough climb! With reluctance, at 10:46 we headed down the Homestretch, which at times was a combination of balance, crab walking, and butt scooting. The two-way traffic up and down was busier, so we took our time. We made it back through the Narrows and downclimbed the Chockstone. I helped spot some people as I waited for Pat & Risa at this spot. We made it back to the Keyhole in about 2 hrs, definitely not a speed record but we had plenty of time. Mount Lady Washington was now calling me with the weather still giving me another hour or so at worst. Pat & Risa were not interested, so we agreed to meet at Chasm Lake junction unless the weather closed in. I walked down to the campsites in the Boulder Field and climbed up solid boulders to the west summit of Lady Washington. Wow, these are the best views of Longs as its cliffs fill the western sky. This was well worth the extra effort. I scampered over to the true eastern summit at 1:51 and quickly headed down as clouds were now overhead. I went directly down the s.e. slopes back to the trail at 11900’, which was big boulders at first followed by loose, annoying smaller rocks. I made it back down to the junction at 3pm and Pat & Risa arrived after wrapping around Lady Washington 15 minutes later.
The hike out was uneventful and the weather held as we made it back to the car at 4:46. As we checked out, there were four pages of names in the register. I estimated about 200 people were in the log! Longs is a special place and I can see why it is the most popular mountain in CO. What a day!