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 Peak:  Longs Peak (14er)
 Route:  Keyhole Route
 Range:  Front
 Posted By:  kushrocks
 Date of Information:  02/11/2012
 Date Posted:  02/12/2012

We attempted the Keyhole route yesterday with a 3:45am start, which was about an hour later than we had hoped. The icy roads and snow on the way the whole way up to the trailhead slowed us down even more. My car said the temperature was 5 degrees out when we started. The trail to start with was easy to find and was mostly boot packed except for the new snow of about 3 o 4 inches. As we approached tree line snowshoes were definitely needed. With the new snow the trail immediately disappeared so it was really helpful to have the GPS. From there we experienced steady winds around 10mph with intermediate gusts from 30 to 40mph that seemed to come out of nowhere. It snowed almost constantly from start to finish although it was almost all very light.

As we followed the trail there were a few sections where there was some serious trail breaking with snow up to our waist even with snowshoes. About a mile below the boulder field almost everything was windblown at that point so we took off our snowshoes and ditched them below the boulder field. Winds were HOWLING through the keyhole. It had taken us about 6 hours just to get that far so we figured we would try to go past the Keyhole about a hundred yards to see if the winds died down. . We got to just below the trough when we noticed slabs of snow starting to slide as we tried to traverse them. We sank into our waist on a few of these sections and noticed how easily the snow broke away and slid down the mountain. Looking up we saw that the slopes looked very unstable and anywhere from 35 to 45 degrees. We also figured with that with the conditions at our pace it would take us probably another 4 hours to summit from where we were and with the conditions we being what they were we decided to call it a day. I am no avalanche expert but what we saw just before the trough was pretty frightening. I would not recommend this route until the avalanche danger decreases. Also do not follow our "shortcut" down from tree line. We ended up postholing with snowshoes in waist deep powder for about 1/2 a mile.

To give you an idea of the conditions it took us 13.25 hours to go only 11.36 miles and only 4196ft of elevation gain. Even if there were no avalanche conditions with the deep snow and winds if we would have continued it would have been about a 20 hour day. Either way it was still a fun day with two good hiking buddies and as always a really good learning experience. Thanks Jameseroni (James) and Dchild10 (Ryan) for a fun trip.

Photos (click for slideshow):
Image #1Image #2Image #3Image #4

  • Comments or Questions

Nice effort     2012-02-12 14:39:38
After trying to plan it for so long, at least you got to experience the route. You'll get Longs in winter sooner than later Ryan, I'm sure of it...


thanks     2012-02-12 15:46:39
Thanks for the report. I'm anxious to do this myself in the winter. Good call on stopping at the ledges. Sounds nasty up there.


Nice!     2012-02-12 17:32:46
The ledges are definitely the winter avy crux. That Glacier Gorge blowdown sort of ruins the trough direct bypass. Great job continuing as far as you did, despite the winds.

I Man

Great effort     2012-06-20 07:38:00
Sorry it didn't work out, you will just enjoy it even more when you do get the winter ascent! Glad to hear it was a good day anyway

Cool Hand Luke

Wind at the Keyhole     2012-02-12 20:48:30
Longs is a tough one in winter. I once spent over an hour in the A. Vaille shelter waiting to see if the winds would die down...they didn't and I was knocked down several times on the way down.


Trough in Avalanche Conditions     2012-02-12 23:05:34
I remember last August doing Keyhole route, and wondering what the Trough would be like in deep winter with unstable snowpack conditions. Kind of unnerving! Did you notice distinct layering in the snowpack below the Trough, and a lack of bonding? As far as the wind, I imagine the Keyhole gets a good venturi effect.


North face conditions     2012-02-13 09:31:00
Kush, do you have any other pictures of the North face/cables route? It looks pretty windblown except for the crux gully, but it's hard to tell in picture #2.


A lot more snow     2012-02-13 17:59:59
There was definitely a lot more snow for you than for my brother and I. Good report. Do you have any more pictures?


Nice     2012-02-14 12:38:27
Looks like fun. Thanks for the report!


North Face/Cables     2012-02-21 13:38:58
Just to respond to North Face/Cables question. My friend and I were up the same day. Relatively dry, a little slogging below and above the rock pitches but not a big problem.


Longs in winter     2012-03-03 19:39:43
These slopes, north face and keyhole/trough can have dangerous avalanche conditions on many winter days and you should be prepared to turn around when conditions are unfavorable. The north face is particularly treacherous as it traverses through unsupported snow slopes with a terrain trap as big as the Diamond below which will kill you quick in even a small slide/sluff. Proper avalanche training and preparation should precede any winter adventure on these 14ers and below. More information at:

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