Keyhole Route- Starting the climb!
This hike was a really really great experience. I loved every second of it, even though it wore me out. The views are great, and the climb is full of exposure near the top. It's a bit crowded at times, but the view from the top is worth dealing with the crowds. We started at 2 am in August of 2009, and it was about 55 degrees. Dress lightly for the first few miles, because you are going to warm up like no other going through the forest. The beginning of the trail is absolutlely gorgeous, but you won't really be able to see much of it until your descent because, if you're going for a day trip like we were, it'll be to dark to see really much of anything. Still, you'll want to save some batteries to take photos on the way back down. There's also some really great waterfalls, and and the way down you'll most likely be nearly out of water. Grab a bottle or camelback, fill it up in the stream, pop in an iodine tab, and enjoy it. It's about the most refreshing water you'll ever drink.
Nearing the tree line and above
I started to really feel the burn once we started approaching the tree line. I'll be honest; I didnt train as much for this climb as I should have, mainly due to the fact that the mountain is climbed so often by so many age groups that I thought I wouldn't really need to train. But man was I wrong. The entire portion of the trail leading to the boulder filed is essentially one big stair master, and believe me you'll wish you had trained if you didn't before the climb. We reached the tree line just before 4 am, and you can see the entire city of estes park from this area. It's also a really great spot to take a rest. Above the tree line youll see a giant snow field to your right. Keep on truckin', because you're nowhere close to the summit. It's also a really awesome sight to see people's headlamps trailing down the mountain. Make sure you check it out! It looks like a night time vigil on long's. It's really something. Once you reach sky potty junction you can go two ways. You can go left and check out Chasm lake and continue on to either Mt. Meeker or the loft route, or you can stay to your right and head to the keyhole. Obviously we went the direction of the keyhole.
Boulder field, through the keyhole, to the trough, narrows, and homestretch/summit
Getting to the boulder field feels great. You'll feel like you're making some progress once you see the keyhole. Be careful, though, as from here on out you're going to be fighting some pretty strong winds and some truly horrible cold. When we reached the boulder field it was already -5 degrees. The trough isnt too bad, but the narrows are really something. If you are afraid of heights, I strongly suggest re-thinking this climb. There are points that are literally no more wide than 3-4 ft with sudden drop offs. And it is unbelieveably windy up there. I almost got blown off but a buddy grabbed me, if only for me to grab him later when he was in the same situation. The homestretch is also a little challenging when you set your eyes on it. It looks worse than it is. My key to success was not looking down and just going. Right after you complete the homestretch- congrats! You've bagged a 14'er! It's about the size of a football field, and the views are AWESOME! If you've got the time, take a break and eat some much derserved food. You're going to need it on the descent, and going back through the homestretch and narrows without any energy is definitely a situation you don't want to find yourself in. All in all it's a great experience. Definitely recommended to at least those with an intermedite experience level though.
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