Longs, Meeker via the Loft

26 Aug 2007 - by Patrick Lilly

We drove to the trailhead/parking lot off Colorado 7 on Saturday evening (the 25th). Unwilling to risk being "busted" for car camping in the parking lot, we caught about 6 hours of sleep by the side of the road a quarter mile below. Waking to a 2 am (MDT) alarm, we drove back up to the parking lot, and snagged just about the last open space (the lot holds about 50 cars!), assembled our gear, and hit the trail at 2:45. It was unexpectedly warm, about 50 degrees.

The old moon cast no light through the trees, and when we emerged above timberline, it had set, so we got to enjoy about 2 hours of dark, starry skies on the easy portion of the route, up to the trail junction where we left the standard Keyhole route and went south toward Chasm Lake. Dawn came shortly after we passed the lake and started climbing again (you give up some elevation after the junction), up the gully to the left of the Ship's Prow.

There was no snow (no real surprise), and only a small amount of running water in the gully. We hung generally to the left. There were occasional cairns, but, basically, all possible routes are of roughly equal difficulty. It's a sustained Class 3 climb over boulders of varying size, with an occasional Class 4 move thrown in here and there. Some interesting exposure, but nothing an experienced scrambler couldn't handle. It is, however, steep. OTOH, the rock is good and mostly very stable.

We had only a bit of trouble finding the ledge which leads off to the left near the top. It is hard to see from below and close up, and we ended up doing some steep scrambling to interesect it, not quite at its bottom end. Once on it, the transition to the second ledge, heading to the right, was quite easy to make, despite the fact that this second ledge is much narrower. After that, it's just a boulder-hop, at a much reduced angle, to the Loft. It would have been fast had I not had trouble sleeping the night before.

From the Loft, a reasonably clear climber's trail leads first south, then east, up to Mt. Meeker. It gets narrower and more exposed as you climb. The last 50 yards or so to the true summit of Meeker is really narrow and exposed, and the views are correspondingly dramatic. I got to the summit at about 8:30. Note: the summit register is not located on the summit! It is on the first ridge point to the west.

The side trip to Meeker took only about half an hour, and was well worth it. Back at the Loft, we headed off on the other adventuresome part of the trip: the downclimb around the Palisades and the hunt for Clark's Arrow. We were fortunate enough to overtake a party of 4 other hikers who seemed to know their way around this part of the mountain, and, in short order, they had indeed found the often-missed arrow.

It's nothing very spectacular, and does a climber going in our direction no good whatsoever. That's because you simply can't see it as you approach! From the other side, yes. From this side? no. Still, it assured us that we were on the correct route.

That's good, because there are no cairns here and no discernible trail. It's all just dead reckoning, as you proceed generally north with the Palisades looming over you. We did a lot of up-and-down, in small increments, to traverse the various gullies and ribs, before we finally found ourselves looking up at the Notch.

At that point, some loose rock must be negotiated, while climbing significantly, to get over to the point where the Loft route finally joins the standard route, at the base of the Homestretch. As expected, this was where we finally encountered other people. (We had seen a handful of people on the first section of the trail, but absolutely no one after the turn-off for Chasm Lake, until we got back down to the Loft.)

Fortunately, the weather was clear and sunny (though a bit breezy), and the Homestretch was bone dry. As such, it was an easy climb, but I would not relish it if the rock were wet or icy. We hit the huge summit about 11:30. There were at least two dozen other people there! The flat area that constitutes the summit is indeed huge. My panorama of photos, taken from roughly the middle of it, does not even show Mt. Meeker, hidden below the lip!

The trip back down the Keyhole route was uneventful, and, as that route is well known, I will not devote much detail to it here. Suffice it to say that I can understand why some novice climbers give up after the Keyhole: It's real climbing and scrambling, despite the well-marked route. But then, I can't understand why most of those novices try to climb Longs in the first place.

We made it back to the trailhead, with only a sprinkle of rain, at about 4 pm, for a thirteen-and-a-quarter hour round trip. It felt good to check off Longs, and I'd certainly do it again. But I'm glad I put a couple of dozen other fourteeners under my belt before I gave it a try. That way, I was in a position to appreciate what it has to offer. Plus, adding Mt. Meeker was a real pleasure.

My pictures are at:

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