Longs Peak

4 Aug 1996 - by Tony Cruz

Longs Peak (14,255 feet) is the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park and the 13th highest in Colorado. It has a non-technical route (class 2-3) called the Keyhole Route and several class 4 and technical routes. It has perhaps the biggest wall climb in the Rockies on a 1,500 foot face called the Diamond.

I drove about an hour west on Highway 36 from Boulder on Sunday, August 4. I reached the trailhead at about 7:30 a.m. and began hiking with a light pack and sneakers. The trail switches back gently through a dense forest which leads up to a broad expanse of tundra, where one gets good views of the Diamond and Mt. Meeker, which is next to Longs and is almost a 14er itself.

From the tundra I continued on gentle switchbacks toward the Boulder Field, which is a large flat area south of the peak with excellent panoramic views. Above the boulder field is a long ridge with a rocky notch that looks remarkably like a keyhole. Just before the Keyhole is a rock hut similar in size and appearance to the hut on Muir Pass.

I reached the Keyhole at about 11:30 a.m. There the route became exposed and the views of the tundra, lakes and snow fields below were reminiscent of Sierra scenery. I followed a long class 2 traverse to the right of the keyhole, following red and yellow bullseyes which were painted on the rocks to mark the route. These markers are reminiscent of the system used in the Alps to mark trails.

After about 20 minutes I arrived at a long, steep chute with solid rock. After another 20 minutes, I reached the top of the chute at about 13,500 feet. Another short and exposed ridge led to an inclined summit slab about 250 feet high which led to the summit plateau. The summit plateau was wide and flat like that on Mt. Whitney and the view was similar.

On the way down, it snowed lightly for 30 minutes but cleared up. I found an abandoned snow picket in mint condition, which I added to my collection. I returned to the trailhead at 6 p.m. It had been a lovely dayhike, 15 miles round trip. This was my fifth 14er in 1996 and second 14er in Colorado so far (only 51 to go!). If you're ever in Denver and have an extra day, I highly recommend Longs Peak, which is only 2 hours from the city and can be easily dayhiked in good weather.

Earlier in my Colorado visit, I DROVE to the top of Pikes Peak, which is perhaps the most famous mountain in the state. It is an hour's drive south of Denver, near Colorado Springs. On the same day I toured the Cave of the Winds and the Garden of the Gods, both just north of Pikes Peak.

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