Solitude while climbing Longs Peak, even in June? Bushwhacking to this extremely popular summit? Try starting at Copeland Lake Trailhead and climbing Keplinger's Couloir. It may involve a long approach, but it is well-worth it, especially if you have the time and gear for two days and a high camp.
This is also an historic climb, for Keplinger's Couloir is the route John Wesley Powell took in making the first known ascent of Longs Peak in 1868.
As always, Leave No Trace, and enjoy the Great Outdoors!
Start at the Copeland Lake Trailhead, in the Wild Basin Area of Southeast Rocky Mountain National Park, at 8,320 feet. There is a sign for the trailhead along Colorado 7, and a parking lot at the gate, accessible year-round.
You can follow the Sandbeach Lake Trail all the way to Sandbeach Lake, but when Georg and I hiked this, we turned north (right) off the trail about 0.1 mile before reaching the lake. It is close to four miles of easy hiking to this point.
When you turn off the trail, bushwhack your way northwest through the heavy timber, eventually crossing Hunter Creek at about 11,000 feet. A good GPS is highly recommended for this section of the approach. Along the way, you will have great views of Mount Meeker and it's Dragon Tail Couloir, and eventually Pagoda Mountain, then Longs Peak will come into view.
From turning off the hiking trail, it is about 1.6 miles of bushwhacking to where Georg and I set up camp, at 11,300 feet, just before reaching timberline. Nearby is an unnamed lake, at 11,200 feet, useful for referencing your exact location.
Continue straight uphill into the basin, where you will be able to gawk at the impressive cliffs and slopes of Pagoda Mountain
, Longs Peak and Mount Meeker
Ahead, Keplinger's Couloir is readily visible as the westernmost (farthest left) couloir, going straight up Longs' south face.
Climbing the couloir is pretty straight-forward, and at its very steepest it may reach 45 degrees
. It is not difficult, but fairly long, stretching from 12,000 feet to 13,600 feet. Nearing the top, you will be right next to (underneath) the striking Palisades
and Southeast Longs.
At the top of the couloir, turn left (west), onto the ledge or snow-shelf (in summer conditions this may be an easy walk-up, but Georg and I encountered a 53 degree snow slope on our March climb). This eventually leads to the Keyhole Route and Homestretch, where yellow and red bullseyes are painted on the rocks, for the final push to the summit.
Snow shoes, ice ax, crampons, GPS, possibly camping gear.