Rising 14,259 feet above sea level on the horizon of the Front Range, Longs Peak beckons climbers and hikers of all stripes. You won’t have the standard Keyhole Route all to yourself, but this 10- to 15-hour adventure is worth the effort. To reach the summit, you’ll travel 15 miles round-trip, gain about 5,000 vertical feet and climb over rugged trailless terrain with puckering exposure. Sudden storms can make it even more harrowing, so start extremely early (think 1:00 a.m.) and by the light of your headlamp.
Start at the Longs Peak Trailhead and often packed parking lot. From here at 9,400 feet, begin the steep and winding climb through thick pine, spruce and fir.
After about .5 miles, you’ll reach the Eugenia Mine Junction. Head left.
After just two miles, you break free from the forest into a subalpine wonderland with crazy pines twisted into Dr. Seuss-like shapes, and your first glimpse of Longs Peak. Head left at the junction with Jim’s Grove Trail.
Approximately 3.5 miles from the trailhead at 11,450 feet, the trail forks. The left branches off to Chasm Lake, a stunning blue-green tarn which rests in a glacier-scoured basin. Take in the breathtaking views of the Roaring Fork drainage with Long’s famed Diamond face soaring above. Head right, away from the lake.
Climb another mile to reach Granite Pass (12,080 feet), the saddle between Mt. Lady Washington and Battle Mountain. Stay left at the junction with the N. Longs Peak Trail and continue southwest toward the Boulder Field, where the maintained trail ends, and you begin a fun section of rock hopping. At 5.9 miles, you’ll reach the Boulder Field Backcountry Campground which has nine sites and an outhouse. If you’ve planned to make this an overnight excursion, camp here. Otherwise, continue southwest as you scramble, and bound over a rugged, steep section that gains about 500 feet in .75 miles and requires route finding.
You’ve reached the famous notch at about 13,150 feet where the class 3 mountaineering route begins. Take note of the weather and turn around if clouds are rolling in. The next 1.5 miles are the last place you want to be in a thunderstorm. If blue skies prevail, go through the Keyhole and traverse a series of narrow ledges across a cliff. Red and yellow painted bulls-eyes guide you through.
The route descends to the base of the Trough, a long, steep and aptly-named couloir. Climb this broad gulley from 13,300 to 13,850 feet and be aware of climbers above you who often kick down loose rock. Near the top of the Trough, a short steep section which brings you to the Narrows, a constricted ledge across a sheer vertical face. You’ll need to use some hand holds and careful foot placement to get through this section safely.
Use your hands and feet to scramble up this last 250-yard smooth slab of granite just below the summit. Though you can taste the summit, keep your wits about you here and go slowly as a slip could have severe consequences.
You’ve Made It
Catch your breath and enjoy the stunning 360-degree views from the surprisingly large summit. Return the way you came: Be careful and stick to the route.
SALOMON X-ALP PRO GTX
This lightweight mountaineering boot (23 ounces) can handle narrow ledges, slick rock faces and snow-filled couloirs, but still feels comfy.Credit that performance to a super grippy sole, an integrated gaiter, and a waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane. $280; salomon.com
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
Made of silky fabric that stretches with your every move, this ultralight hooded softshell provides an emergency layer for protection from nasty wind and light, intermittent precipitation. It packs down tiny and it weighs in under 9 ounces. Toss it in your pack or just clip it to your harness. $149; blackdiamondequipment.com