Of the over 100+ routes that lead to the summit of Longs Peak, The Loft is one of the two easiest (Keyhole being the other). Of these two routes, my personal opinion is that Loft is slightly easier. I know that goes against what Gerry Roach says in his Colorado’s Fourteener’s guidebook (pg. 14), but the exposure is considerably less on the route vs. the Keyhole (think West Face Ledges, Narrows). Both routes are fairly equitable but again, exposure here is the defining factor.
The Loft is class-3…so a moderate scramble and slightly shorter than the Keyhole. The Loft is roughly 13 miles RT and about 5,090ft of elevation gain. The Loft does have two objective hazards that the Keyhole doesn’t have…snowfield travel. The Loft wraps around Longs Peak pretty much opposite of the Keyhole taking the climber on an east to south direction.
The actual loft area that gives this route its name is the wide-open flat plateau that separates Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak (SE Longs, ‘The Beaver’). Regardless of season, due to the somewhat uniqueness of this small area, The Loft is usually a windy place. Since Longs Peak carries so much prominence and is anchored by the equally lofty Mt. Meeker to the southeast, this area, though definitely NOT a col, functions in accordance by funneling the winds across its flat expanse. Exceptions in weather always exist of course, but the norm is to expect windy conditions on this plateau.
It’s not really known who ascended the Loft first. I’ve come across the names, Werner Zimmerman (Swiss mountaineer) and Roger Toll in two publications: Longs Peak- Its story and a climbing guide by Paul Nesbit and the superb, Longs Peak: The Story of Colorado’s Favorite Fourteener by Dougald MacDonald. I suppose Zimmerman could have ascended the Loft as early as 1919 though this is doubtful considering the archaic description he left in the summit register that is more conclusive of Gorrell’s Traverse. Roger Toll (superintendent of RMNP) could possibly have made the first ascent in the early 1920’s but alas, I think this small facet has been permanently lost to time and the mountain. And as far as its name, sadly, the Loft retains its de facto moniker strictly from the topography…in other words, origins of no special import.
Leave the main trail and head left into the cirque. Contour around Mt. Lady Washington’s southeast face and above Columbine falls. After another mile, you’ll arrive in a wet, marshy, grassy area below Chasm Lake (mile 4.5). There is another outhouse here. DO NOT cut right up the cliff face towards Chasm Lake. This is the wrong direction. Instead, continue straight, due south towards the imposing North Face of Mt. Meeker and wrap around Ship’s Prow. Climber’s right, a second snowfield will come into view. This is the apron of the Loft and marks the beginning of your route.
* If approaching the Loft in late spring or summer, just be knowledgeable of these two snowfields (for those less adept on snow). Without proper self-arrest technique with an axe, even a 30’ slide into talus and rocks can result in broken bones. It’s staggering at how fast one picks up speed.
Route DescriptionShips Prow dwarfs anything on the cirque floor. If the apron of the Loft is filled in with snow (hope that it is), the ascent to the necessary ledge is quick & easy. The snow usually lasts until mid-summer. If it’s melted out, expect a long and tedious scramble on moderate talus.
Scramble or hike up the increasingly narrow trough for perhaps 150’. The trough cannot be climbed entirely for the cliffs that guard passage to the Loft. Come spring, it may be possible via WI-4(?). I’ve heard of folks climbing it. There is a straight-forward ledge system climbers left pretty near the base of the cliffs that one needs to take. If this easy ledge can’t be found due to snow cover which, I’ve personally encountered, there is an alternate, dicey class-4 way up instead. Find the entrance to this ledge and follow it south towards Mt. Meeker. Down lower, this ledge is cairned a little bit. Some switchbacks will be encountered with very small ‘foot ledges’ but as one climbs higher, the difficulty will decrease and the cairns will increase in regularity. It is possible to bypass the switchbacks and simply climb straight up the cliffs. You can make the difficulty basically as hard as you want.
Walk across the Loft in a WNW direction. Mt. Meeker and SE Longs are easy and quick side trips from here. Fact, Mt. Meeker RT is about 45 minutes. As you progress closer to the western edge of the plateau, cairns will start to appear again. Follow these down into a shallow gully that starts initially, as class-3 but quickly moves into 4th class. If one stays to the rocky crests on either side of the short downclimb, you can keep the difficulty at 3rd class.
Once down, follow the evident climber’s path. It is well marked from here all the way to the Homestretch. . Look for Clark’s Arrow! An old park ranger for RMNP marked this section with a white arrow inside a circle to assist climbers descending this route to stay on route. It’s terribly faded now and impossibly hard to see but it is there. Stay to the cairns as they lead you under the massive palisades for roughly 1,500ft to the start of the Homestretch then onwards for another 300+ feet to the summit. Either retrace your steps or descend the Keyhole or Cables Routes.
* The 4th class alternative route I briefly mentioned climbs the cliff band directly coming out near a rap station about half way across the ledge. The holds are small and not ideal but they work well. Surprisingly not too much choss but we did encounter some. Simply pick the avenue of least resistance. It will ascend gradually to climbers left up small toe holds and shallow but short corners. I packed out some old, cut rope left at the rap station where this short alt. exits but left the slings.
Essential GearJust your standard summer hiking faire (gear) with perhaps more attention to fluids, wind jacket.
This makes for a decent if not considerably more challenging route in winter as well.
In terms of technical climbing gear, it's not needed.
In winter, crampons and axe are absolutely necessary. In fact, I wouldn't be above even taking a rope. This route has the potential of having a lot go wrong which, makes this route not among my favourites on Longs Peak.
External LinksGreat trip report of the Loft from August 2012
14ers.com route description of Loft
Supertopo trip report