# of climbs:
This is the 22nd 14er I've hiked, back in August 2015 with my friend Shaun. It is the 15th tallest peak in Colorado, the 4th tallest in the Front Range, and the tallest in Rocky Mountain National Park. It also holds the distinction of being the only 14er north of I-70.
Longs Peak is a very famous mountain and is unmistakable from just about anywhere east of the Front Range north of Denver. Aside from Pikes Peak, this is perhaps Colorado's most viewed 14er not only because it is highly visible from the cities to the east, but also because it is seen by all 3+ million people who who visit the national park every year (on clear days, that is). Of the 14ers that I have climbed so far, this is one of my favorites!
That being said, just a word of warning. Many people try to climb Longs Peak when they really shouldn't. There are often hundreds of people (some being visitors to the national park) attempting to climb it on any given day, and many of them have to turn around at some point because they came unprepared for what turned out to be, for them, a surprisingly long and difficult hike. This is a serious mountain, probably one of the top 15 most difficult 14ers to climb in Colorado. Both routes described below are 12+ miles long and require over 5,000' of elevation gain, a task that often takes 10-12 hours to complete for an average hiker. Both also have multiple high-altitude Class 3 climbing/scrambling sections, which really shouldn't be attempted by someone with no prior experience on a 14er.
Either way, don't let its popularity fool you. Longs Peak, like many other Class 3 14ers, should only be attempted by those who understand the risks and have at least some experience hiking and/or climbing at high altitude.
- Keyhole Route -
According to Gerry Roach in his book Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs*, Longs Peak has more than 100 routes, most of them being technical climbs on the mountain's sheer east face. The most popular, and standard, route is the famous Keyhole Route. I have hiked about halfway up this route to the notorious Keyhole, a sharp gap in Longs' jagged northwest ridge from which the route gets its name, before turning around due to time and weather. I've also descended Longs via the Keyhole Route after summiting via the Loft Route. The Keyhole Route is interesting because it basically circles all the way around Longs Peak from the east in a counterclockwise fashion in order to reach the summit from the south. A long detour, all to avoid the steeper cliffy sections near the top of Longs' north and west faces.
Up until you reach the Keyhole, the route follows an easy Class 1 trail from the Longs Peak Trailhead at 9,400' to Chasm Lake Junction, a trail junction east of Longs at ~11,500'. Here, the Keyhole Route splits off to the right (northwest) while the trail to Chasm Lake, as well as the Loft Route, goes on ahead (west) toward the basin below Longs' east face. Follow the Keyhole route northwest for another mile to Granite Pass (12,080') and turn left, continuing along the Keyhole Route trail up to the Boulder Field at ~12,500'. From here, the Keyhole comes into view to the southwest. The trail eventually reaches a camping area far into the Boulder Field near the base of Longs' north face, almost 6 miles from the trailhead.
Now the fun begins! Scramble southwest up the large rocks to the Keyhole at 13,150' and cross through it, taking in the tremendous views of Glacier Gorge below you and many of the other high peaks to the west in Rocky Mountain National Park. For the rest of the climb, the trail is occasionally marked not only by cairns, but also by a red and yellow "bulls-eye" symbol that is painted on rocks along the way.
The route turns left and contours along Longs' west face, crossing multiple rock ledges (i.e., the "Ledges" section), before entering the base of the Trough, a 600' loose gully that takes you to up to Longs' southwest ridge at 13,850'. At the top of the Trough the rocks get steeper and a Class 3 move or two is probably required. Once out of the Trough, you have climbed as high as you can for now, since the remainder of Longs' west face above you is very steep.
Head to the right around the rocks to Longs' south side and cross the Narrows, a narrow ledge below the peak's steep south face with several hundred feet of moderate exposure below you to the right. Beyond this, continue following the marked trail across a few more rocky obstacles to the base of the Homestretch, a fairly steep 300' section of mostly solid rock that takes you up to the summit. Once at the top, the summit is large and flat and provides views of the national park to the north and west, the Indian Peaks Wilderness to the south, and the High Plains off to the east about 9,000' lower in elevation. Descend back down the Keyhole Route.
- Loft Route -
*This is not the standard route up to the summit of Longs Peak!
The Loft Route is less-crowded alternative to the Keyhole Route and provides what is, in my opinion, a more enjoyable climb. Granted, I've only ascended Longs via the Loft Route, and my only experience with the Keyhole Route was on a descent. However, as someone who hates crowds, I'm sticking by my opinion. The route ascends the ~900'-high Loft Couloir between Longs Peak and 13,911' Mount Meeker to the southeast, reaching the Loft - a wide flat saddle at ~13,400' between the two peaks.
Do not use this route description if planning to climb the Loft Route, since I leave out some important details. Please seek other more detailed route descriptions, such as the one from 14ers.com (see above) or Gerry Roach's 14er guidebook.
From the Chasm Lake Junction at ~10,500', break off from the Keyhole Route and heading west on the trail toward Chasm Lake. Our hike from here to the base of the Loft Couloir took place in complete darkness and we eventually lost the trail while crossing Chasm Meadows, a relatively flat area at the base of the couloir. However, trail or no trail, the route follows the easiest path of ascent up the couloir and eventually reaches steeper, more "cliffy", sections of rock close to the top.
At this point, Mount Meeker's steep north face towers above to the south. From here, you climb along easy Class 3 rock until you reach an exit ramp to your left (south). If there is still snow in the couloir, stay on the left side of it. Trying to continue straight up the couloir past the exit ramp will lead you to a wall of cliffs that block passage.
Take the exit ramp south, climb over some large rocks, and begin following a path up the rocky slopes to the Loft itself. Once on top, the views to the west open up and the wide saddle lies before you. From here, we quickly bagged Mount Meeker - about a 1 hour excursion - and then headed back down to the Loft.
The route heads toward the Loft's northwest corner and drops into Keplinger's Couloir, a gully that rises up below Longs' south face and reaches the famous Notch, seen in the photo above (from Chasm Lake Junction) just to the left of the peak. On the drop in to the couloir, there are a couple more Class 3 moves that are necessary. If you are slightly off route, you may have to descend a Class 4 section. Either way, once down in the couloir, head north below the cliffs (also known as the "Palisades") on your right. By now, you will be able to see the Narrows and the Homestretch sections of the Keyhole Route above you to the north. If it's a nice day, there will likely be many people along that route and you will probably hear them from where you are.
After a few hundred yards of hiking below the Palisades, turn right and head up toward the Notch when it comes into view around 13,500'. There may be climbers ascending Keplinger's Couloir, so be careful not to send rocks careening down below. Before you reach the Notch, there are a series of Class 3 ledges off to the left that lead up to the base of the Homestretch. Takes these ledges and then follow the Homestretch up to the summit. As I said earlier, we descended via the Keyhole Route.
*Click here to get this book on Amazon!
Longs Peak (August 2015)