Longs Peak-Colorado

In 2009 a friend asked me if I would be interested in climbing Longs Peak (elevation 14,256ft) in Colorado. His family had been having a reunion in Estes Park the last couple of years and they were planning on doing the same again that summer. He had attempted to hike the Key Hole route twice before and had not made the summit. I agreed to travel to Colorado and climb Longs Peak with him and that July flew to Denver where my wife and I drove to Estes park to our reserved ¬†cabin. I met up with Karl and we decided to leave the next morning shortly after midnight to start the hike. In the summer it is prudent to be up and down Longs Peak by early afternoon due to the high chance of thunderstorms. After a few hours sleep we loaded up the rental car and drove to the trailhead where we began the 16 mile round trip ¬†and 4,845 feet climb. The trail switch backed in the dark up through small trees and with the faint glow of our headlamps the sky above shimmered with amazingly bright stars. As we approached Granite Pass a large herd of elk or deer (not sure in the moonlight) stood motionless as we walked ever closer. From Granite Pass we entered the Boulderfield at sunrise and ahead was the easily spotted rock formation, the Keyhole, and the beginning of the scramble portion of the hike. The Boulderfield is an appropriate name for this section as one needs to pick their way through and over large boulders which seemed to take longer than it should. Once through the Keyhole a ledge/path (The Ledges) marked with red and yellow paint spots runs on the backside along a steep exposed slope where one should not stumble. As you are now on the backside of the mountain the rest of the route was mostly in the shade and it was rather cold with a wind that chilled one quickly if you stopped moving. There was one short climbing move around a corner where one had to climb up and use a short piece of rebar as a foothold that added some attention focus before we entered the Trough. This was a gully (another place not to slip due to exposure) full of loose rock that climbed steeply to the next important section, the Narrows. The Narrows is a flat level traverse along a narrow ledge (three feet wide at one point) that drops off dramatically on the one side. The wind howled along this section but there were plenty of handholds and it was in the sunshine. It is fairly easy if one didn’t look down too much and paid attention to every step. After the Narrows we entered another large gully, the Homestretch. This section should have been straight forward but the side one should climb was filled with hard snow and without crampons or ice axes we were forced to move far right which was a more difficult scramble. Once at the top of the gully we arrived at the huge summit plateau and the warmth of the sun. Karl and I congratulated each other, rested for a short time and ate our lunch before turning around for the long hike back to our car and the call of a cold beer at one of the local breweries. A very enjoyable outing on the highest peak in the Rockies National Park.

Photo by Karl Schmidt