Ascent of Longs Peak on 2012-08-15

Climber: Rob Woodall

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Longs Peak
    Elevation:14255 ft / 4344 m

Ascent Trip Report

I climb this classic peak the day after our Puma Peak ascent and my Bierstadt + Evans traverse. Petter, Sverre and I drive up from Denver early morning, they drop me off at the Longs Peak trailhead then go off to climb Twin Sisters, a P600 just across the valley (they've both been up Longs already). Standard advice is to start Longs by 6 a.m latest but we're confident that a later start time will be ok if I move reasonably fast. I'm in trail shoes, carrying about 3kg which is mostly fluids.

From the trailhead I hike the obvious trail a few metres to the trail register (N40.27212 W105.55690), write in my intended route with a hopefully conservative 10 hour duration and at 0809 set off up the wide woodland trail. It crosses the Alpine Creek on a bridge then the pines become more scattered, then I'm hiking through open tundra with the striking profile of the peak up ahead. As it turns out, the creek is intermittently accessible all the way to the Boulderfield so water shouldn't really be a problem on the route.

It's a perfect morning for hiking: hazy sun, cool breeze. I pass a few folk who are presumably making a shorter hike to Chasm Lake or Battle Mountain. I pass 2 R turns to Battle Mountain: in both cases Longs is well signposted. The only route uncertainty is at N40.26569 W105.59257, 3533m, the Chasm turnoff. Here the R turn,signposted Boulderfield, is the one to follow for Longs, making a long easy traverse R before zigzagging L to the boulderfield where there's a campground.

On the way to Boulderfield a runner passes me descending. With a relaxed smile he initiates the briefest of conversations:
"Looking good!"
"Been to the top?"
Studying the register later I see someone has logged a 3h37 round trip to Longs via the shorter North Face route, which involves a short technical section which used to be cable protected. That's fast! However there's talk on the trail farther on of a much faster time: local park ranger Andy Anderson has just one week ago lowered his own barely comprehensible 2h02 record to 1h56 (1:14 up, 0:42 down, for a round trip of about 10 miles with 5000 ft ascent).

Meanwhile back in the slow lane I reach the Boulderfield (N40.26388 W105.61532) where there are a few tents, and boulder-hop my way along a cairned route up to the aptly named Keyhole obvious in the skyline ahead. Already there are quite a few folk descending, mentioning it's quite windy at the Keyhole and at the summit but the route is otherwise ok.

The scrambling starts a few metres below the Keyhole, on fairly polished slabs but very easy. I'm there in 2h20 at 1030, good enough for a pre midday summit I suppose, but Andy Anderson would have already been back at the trailhead half an hour ago!

From the Keyhole (N40.26020 W105.62108) the route is well marked with red and yellow bulls-eyes but there are a few ups and downs so it's necessary to concentrate to keep on route. There is an initial scrambly section on polished slabs, with one rather exposed ascending move which has 2 metal rods as footholds (maybe added in the last few years). There's then a section of pretty easy trail "The Ledges" then a longish ascent of a wide gully "The Trough", steep and slabby to the L, looser but perhaps easier to the R. I'm passing folk quite frequently now, some ascending, some descending. I tend to keep L to minimise the chances of stonefall from parties above, although the danger seems quite minor; helmets aren't generally worn.

At the top of the wide gully is possibly the crux of the route, with a chockstone needing to be passed. I climb the 2m slab on the R, on polished slabs; apparently L is slightly easier. A couple are standing at the foot of the pitch trying out a few moves: they too eventually go right. Above the pitch the next, quite exciting stage is revealed: "The Narrows". This is a ledge maybe 200m long. At the start it is only about a foot wide but the rock and holds are excellent so it's pretty easy, just exposed. I'm surprised to see a bench mark plaque (N40.25434 W105.61822) just before the ledge starts, inscribed "Colorado State A & M College B.M. Engineering Students 1889-1901" They evidently determined the elevation to be 13749 ft - quite a college project! There's also the remains of another students BM just before the route tops out at the summit.

The ledge is narrow for maybe 5m then widens with plenty of space to pass a party coming the other way. At the far end is a 2m class 3 ascent (N40.25377 W105.61688) which a party are descending: I find an ascent immediately to the L at about the same standard. At the top is a red sign indicating a distinct R turn here in descent.

The remaining section, "The Homestretch" starts with easy scrambling, followed by steepish slabs, rather polished, which are climbed quite easily by wide cracks, but there is some sense of exposure, particularly in descent. I keep a bit R of the most favoured line: plenty of room to pass slower climbers.

A cairn marks the point where the ascent route reaches the incongruously flat summit, again with a red sign indicating the point of descent (N40.25479 W105.61521). The highest point is straight ahead, a bench mark on the highest part of the highest boulder (N40.25502 W105.61509, 4343m). Within a couple of metres are also two geodetic markers and a triangulation marker, also a summit register container which I don't attempt to open. 2 guys from Dallas are also admiring the survey markers (not just me then!) and we take summit photos for each other. I wander to the edge to admire the sheer drop to Chasm Lake, then wander across to the far end of the little plateau for the equally fine view down across the ascent route - all the while downing a can of Pepsi!

I arrived at the summit at 1133 (2h20 to the Keyhole, 1h to the summit). I descend at 1212, am at the Keyhole at 1304 and back at the trailhead at 1424: 6h15 total, 5h35 excluding the 40 mins summit stop. I guess I could have beaten 5 hours without the camera and with a bit more application, and could save maybe an hour if I figured out the North Face route, but as a rather average and long in the tooth hill runner I find the exploits of Anderson et al highly impressive.

I run the whole route once past the Boulderfield. The scrambling on the Keyhole route is treated with due care although I move a lot faster than other parties. Folk seem generally used to the occasional faster traffic and passing is never a problem, showing due consideration on both sides. I consume nothing all day apart from a single Granola bar on the way up, the Pepsi at the summit and half a litre of water, apparently doing the route mostly on adrenalin.

I spend about 30 mins at the trailhead chatting with one of the rangers about the record and routes, then Petter and Sverre arrive having summitted Twin Sisters and had lunch (not forgetting to bring a sandwich for me!) and we head back to Denver. There are a few spots of rain on the way back, underlining the general Colorado rule to be off the summit before midday even with a "perfect" forecast.

Next day we summit Greenhorn Mountain.

Andy Anderson's Grand Teton (2h53) and Longs Peak (1h56) roundtrip records

Longs Peak photo album
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4900 ft / 1492 m
    Extra Gain:98 ft / 29 m
    Round-Trip Distance:13.4 mi / 21.6 km
    Route:Keyhole route
    Trailhead:Longs Peak TH  9551 ft / 2911 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 3
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 10 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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