Trail Report - Longs Peak - Colorado

September 1, 2019

Written by Paul van Valkenburgh

Showing Small Pictures    

Longs Peak! Colorado - 14,255'
Keyhole Route
14.6 Miles Round Trip
4980 feet of elevation gain
Date Climbed: September 1, 2019

Longs From Chasm Lake Turnoff

Longs Peak!! - Sunday September 1st, 2019 set up as the perfect day to climb the iconic Colorado 14er Longs Peak, the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park!! Being so close to the Denver area, Longs is an extremely popular hike. There are many routes up the mountain, and I set out solo to attempt the standard, Class 3, Keyhole Route. Estimates are that about 10,000 people per year attempt Longs but that only somewhere around half will make the summit given the extremely grueling and technical climb. Sadly, many people have died on this mountain. The route covers 14.5 miles round trip, 5000 feet of vertical gain, and 2 miles of technical climbing (up and back to the summit) to complete this bad boy. Assuming you survive, this hike will kick your butt! It took me 15 hours car to car.

Normally you want to start hiking by 2AM or so for an attempt on Longs so you can summit and be back below tree line before afternoon thunderstorms might hit. But knowing I had a bluebird day, and having already been in Colorado climbing for a month, I started at 4:30AM. Of course just as I got started (keeping in mind it is still dark!) I got lost on a side trail near the trail head. Fate would have it that a couple of other guys who I ran into were beginning their ascent and were also lost. Happy that I had downloaded the route onto my GPS from 14ers. com, I was able get us straightened out. The two climbers, Christian and Eric would end up hiking with me all the way and we would end up being pals afterwards!! That's one of the coolest things about hiking is that you always meet great people!! Christian is an Army vet who served in Afghanistan.. and it was an honor to meet him and climb with these guys. They were both strong hikers and it was Christian's first 14er! Normally Longs is not a peak you would recommend for a first 14er, but Christian is a bad ass... this was cake for him. The three of us made a great team!

To even have a shot at Longs via The Keyhole route, you first have to go up about 6 miles of trail, 4000' feet of gain, and across a huge boulder field. This just gets you to The Keyhole itself, a giant fracture in the ridge which, named appropriately so, looks like a huge keyhole!! After passing through the keyhole, this is where the technical portion (and the REAL FUN) of the hike begins!! There are 4 sections past the Keyhole; The Ledges, The Trough, The Narrows, and The Homestretch. All are different and all are challenging.

At The Chasm Lake Turnoff On Longs Peak

Heading Up The Trail Towards Longs Peak

Heading Towards The Boulder Field Longs Peak

The Vast Boulder Field

The Diamond - Face Of Longs Peak

Heading Across Boulder Field To Keyhole

Warning Sign On Longs Peak

Gorgeous View Of Longs From Near Keyhole

Approaching The Keyhole On Longs Peak

Almost To The Keyhole On Longs Peak

Giant Overhanging Rock At The Keyhole

At The Agnes Vaille Shelter

Huge Rock Of The Keyhole

The Ledges is this creepy set of angled rocks that traverses the western side of the mountain. The light is flat and there is a lot of elusive exposure. Quite intimidating, the section is up and down with very careful yet very fun rock scrambling. A slip or slide would be painful if not fatal in many spots. It is quite a ways, maybe close to 3/8 of a mile, across to reach the base of The Trough.

The Beginning Of The Ledges

Beautiful View From The Ledges Into RMNP

Beautiful View From The Ledges Into RMNP

Eric Enjoys The Ledges

On The Ledges On Longs Peak

Christian On The LedgesOn Longs Peak

Eric Climbing On The Ledges On Longs Peak

The Last Part Of The Ledges On Longs Peak

A Look Back At The Ledges On Longs Peak

The Trough is 600' vertical gain, loose gulley from hell. It just goes up and up and up and is painful every step of the way. You've already dealt with the exposure of The Ledges, and The Trough keeps taking it out of you. There are lots of places in the Trough were a fall might not kill you, but it would hurt real bad! And you’re slipping and sliding all over the place to make it more interesting (and grueling). There is a huge chockstone at the top of The Trough which is rather difficult to get over. At the chockstone, I skirted up an angled rock band to the right that had less than ideal hand / foot holds.

Rock Formations On The Side Of The Trough

The Trough On Longs Peak

Making My Way Up The Trough

Looking Down The Trough On Longs Peak

Christian And Eric At Top Of The Trough

At the top of the Trough, the trail turns a hard corner to the southern side of the mountain and the beginning of The Narrows. The sharp turn takes your breath away as the floor literally drops away into nothingness!! (See the video posted in this album) … This exposed ledge is one of the coolest mountain features I've ever experienced. In many places we're talking about 2-3 feet of rock that you walk along with a huge drop off to the right hand side (while ascending). The cool part is there is always a great place to hold on to a wall or a rock. So, while the adrenaline is pumping the whole way across, if you take your time (and make sure your shoes are tied well with no loose laces!), you can make it across and it actually helps you build confidence. I would definitely recommend having done at least a bit of other exposed hiking before attempting this. The section is much shorter than the Ledges (maybe 1/8 of a mile). At the end, there is another chockstone, and then you arrive at The Homestretch.

Rounding The Corner To The Narrows

Christian Surveys The Narrows

Taking In The Sights Before The Narrows

Beginning The Narrows

Christian At The Beginning Of The Narrows

The Beginning Of The Narrows

Eric On The Narrows On Longs Peak

Eric And Christian On The Narrows

Regrouping At The End Of The Narrows

Graphic Of The Narrows

Beautiful Scenery From The End Of The Narrows

Check out this video of The Narrows!! NOTE!! ... THIS IS NOT MY VIDEO and we ARE NOT IN THIS VIDEO!!! This was taken from a YouTube video put up by Eric Scharf. I have reposted it here because we did not have video and this shows you what The Narrows is like!! It is a long video to watch, but if you really want to feel The Narrows, kick back and take a ride!!

The Homestretch is this steep, angled, rock slab that goes all the way to the summit! While it looks bad, there are lot of cracks to give you great hand and foot holds. It's actually really fun climbing / scrambling, plus you know you are almost at the summit!! A few more moves and you arrive!!

Scrambling On The Homestretch On Longs Peak

The Homestretch On Longs Peak

The Steep Rock On The Homestretch

Climbers On The Homestretch On Longs Peak

Looking Towards The Palisades And Mt Meeker

More Scrambling On The Homestretch

A video of the the beginning of The Homestretch:

The summit of Longs is very different than most peaks as it is long and wide and flat!! It's basically the size of a football field! Under normal circumstances, I might have gone to explore the summit more, but I was already tired and knew I had to downclimb the technical sections and then walk the long trail out!! We stayed a good 45 minutes on the summit taking pictures, having some snacks and celebrating. It was a perfect, warm day with very little wind and barely a cloud in the sky... a rare day on Longs and a blessing as it let us take our time.

The Summit Of Longs Peak

Mad eIt In 2019

Geologic Survey Marker On Longs Peak

The Football Field Like Summit Of Longs Peak

Beautiful Views From Summit Of Longs Peak

Beautiful Views From Summit Of Longs Peak

Beautiful Views From Summit Of Longs Peak

View To Chasm Lake From Summi tOf Longs Peak

View To Mt Meeker From Summit Of Longs Peak

A video of the summit of Longs Peak:

I was also blessed to have have met Christian and Eric. My friend Bob and I had failed on Longs in 2016, and as bad as I wanted to make it, I had doubts in my mind. Christian and Eric were true brothers, and we supported each other as we ran into difficulties. Eventually we gave each other so much confidence we knew we were going to make it!! Longs is an unbelievable day, but it is really tough, even if you are in shape. Unless you're a super-experienced mountain climber, it definitely helps to have someone with you to help you evaluate route challenges, and just to give you the "we got this" confidence.

Beginning The Descent Of Longs Peak

A Long Way Down From The Summit Of Longs Peak

Eric And Christian Descend The Homestretch

Saying Goodbye To Longs Peak

The descent across the 4 technical sections takes pretty much as long as the ascent. You just have to watch every step!! Getting back to the Keyhole is such a relief mentally. You still have a major haul out of 6+ miles but you know that the part where you will die is in the rear view mirror!!! As painful as it was to do the death march out, I had a smile on my face the whole way because I SUMMITED LONGS PEAK!! What an accomplishment!! This mountain is beautiful, but is no joke!!

Hope this has been enjoyable and / or helpful to anyone reading it!!


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