| For a Love of Longs
Longs Peak (14,255)
Keyhole Ridge (5.6 YDS) - 5.7 Variation
Climbing Team: Peter & Matt
The route (Taken from another report - we did a variation of this)
Longs Peak always has been, and likely always will be, my favorite mountain as we go way back. In my non-climbing days, pictures of the Homestretch and the narrows made my heart speed up and my palms sweat. I distinctly remember telling a friend last may (shortly after moving here) that I “might try Longs Peak in 5 years or so if I think I am ready.”
1 year ago I did the Keyhole Route as my first true Class 3 Mountain and absolutely loved it. This past January I took a solo trip up the Keyhole and enjoyed the summit all to myself. Long story short, Longs has captured my imagination and is never far my thoughts.
That being said, when Peter & I were looking for an alpine route for the weekend, it was pretty clear that we were going to climb Longs. After talking to some friends, we settled on the Keyhole Ridge route. The general consensus is that it is very fun, tricky route-finding and slightly committing. After a bit of research, I was certain that we had chosen the ideal route.
I headed to Boulder Canyon after work Friday night to get in some trad practice, before having dinner at Peter’s and finally hitting the sack around 10pm. We set the alarm for 2am and hoped to be hiking by 330am. We arrived at the TH and were not surprised in the least when we had to drive back down the road and park along the side. It was a Saturday in August. Longs was going to be busy.
Weighed down with a rope and some gear, we started off with a leisurely pace. Being quite familiar with the trail, I put on my headphones and zoned out for a while as we made our way to the Chasm Lake turnoff. We arrived at the Boulderfield and filtered water a little after 6am and to the bottom of the ledge by 7. We took our time between the Boulderfield and the ledge and didn’t really get moving on the route until 730am.
The intial ledge - it is quite wide and Class 2
The ledge is very obvious and starts just below the shelter. It is around 10ft wide at the start and straight class 2. I had already changed into rock shoes, but Peter was the wiser of our pair and kept his trail runners on. The route follows the ledge for a while and then pretty much has infinite variations.
Early morning, about to start the fun
Another view of the ledge
The “actual” route climbs to the false keyhole where there is an old sign (really bummed I didn’t get to see this!) and then climbs easy 5th class terrain on the left, or a class 2 walk around on the right. We made our way across the ledge until we were at what we thought was the base of the first tower. Just to be sure I headed further along the ledge (Crossing 1 extremely exposed section) and took a peak around the corner. I instantly knew that we did not want to go that way. Peter and I regrouped and he put on his rock shoes. We decided that in the interest of time we would free solo as long as we were both comfortable. We started making our way up some slabs and ramps before getting into some 5.4/5.5 terrain. After about 20 feet of this we were stopped at a 5.5 move over some healthy exposure. “It’s time for the Rope,” I said. Peter thought for a minute before agreeing.
Looking down from the first belay stance.
Looking up at the first pitch from the belay
We set an anchor on an exposed ledge and Peter took first lead. He pulled the move that had stopped us and continued on. While he was leading, a large party of 5 (split into 2 rope teams) was coming towards us. Either they had also missed the false keyhole (and the proper route) or they were following us, but either way, both of our teams were now climbing the variation.
After what seemed like eternity, especially since my feet were on slick, wet moss, Peter finally yelled “off belay!” I made quick work of the pitch and we met up on a pretty broad ledge. As soon as I anchored in, I took 1 look up and I knew where we were.
Looking down from the top of the second pitch - my first lead of the day
I had spoken to my friend Brian and he had convinced us to take the “Brian C Variation,” an off-width crack that is pretty much unprotectable that gains the ridge crest. Neither Peter nor I are good crack climbers and progress slowed to a halt here. I did a quick lead of about 20 feet to gain the ledge below the crack and belayed Peter up.
The "Brian C Variation" - a 5.8 OW Crack that stopped us dead
"Don't wanna go that way!"
By now the other team was close behind us and they watched as we struggled with the crack. After deciding that this was not a good idea, Peter found a flake 10 feet to the right that looked more promising. After placing a #3 far, far, FAR back in the flake (I had to take off my helmet and pack and was still barely able to remove the piece) he pulled himself onto the ridge crest. I soon followed.
On the ridge crest above the crack. The clouds were putting on a show.
The views from here were incredible. It was hard to take it all in. Clouds were rushing past Longs and moving up its sheer cliffs. The weather did seem to be a concern, but the views with the clouds were mesmerizing, it was hard to feel alarmed. We hung out for a bit and looked at the route before I located the short 10ft rappel on the West side of the ridge. The webbing looked a tad bit old, but the rap wasn’t too bad and we did not back it up. Once off rappel you are greeted to a “really cool, really exposed ledge” on the west side of the ridge.
Peter looking at some route info high on the ridge
The word ledge gets thrown around a lot, sometimes unfairly (some ledges can actually fit a Mini Cooper), but this ledge was really a LEDGE!! There was a sheer drop of over 100ft and the ledge was barely 2 feet wide. I looked down on the ledges part of the standard route and calmed my nerves a bit. We had a brief discussion about rope management since we were obviously not going to pitch this out. We decided that instead of coiling the rope we would just build an anchor and stay tied in. I moved across the ledge and to the base of a friction pitch and built an anchor. Peter soon followed.
Looking back the the start of the ledge from halfway across
I stayed at my anchor and Peter moved onto the friction pitch. Up ahead we had a clear view of 5.6 crux wall of the route. It looked intimidating but doable. The climbing didn’t look too hard but the exposure was nauseating. Blowing the first move could send the entire team plummeting hundreds of feet to their death.
Anyway – despite being barely 4th class, Peter placed a cam mid-way up the friction pitch to guard against a team catastrophe. He quickly built an anchor below the crux and I ran up to join him.
Peter fake leading the frcition pitch
Looking towards the crux
Looking down at the Trough section of the standard route
“You’re all set to lead,” he said as I arrived.
“EXCUSE ME!?” I said, as I tried to wrap my head around what he was saying. After a few moments though, I realized he was right. It was my lead and I was feeling up to it. I grabbed the rest of the rack, took a few deep breaths and I was off. “Climbing!” I said, likely sounding extremely nervous.
Luckily I was able to place a cam before getting onto the pitch and the first move has a ledge that you can stand on which mentally made a huge difference for me. I started off slow, but soon found my groove. I placed a few more cams before even realizing that I was above the crux. The angle relented and I pulled myself onto a large ledge. The climbing on the crux is the definition of 5.6 (IMO). It is steep and exposed, but the holds are plentiful and the pro is good. I placed mostly cams, slung a rock horn and clipped an old piece of pro that looked like it was older than me. Feeling extremely relaxed knowing that the crux was over; I set a bomber anchor and belayed Peter up. From the belay I looked down on the First tower on the ledge and was in complete awe of our route. It is truly amazing.
Just after leading the crux
Looking down at the ledge and the rappel from the top of the crux pitch
The route ahead looked pretty easy, but we weren’t convinced that we wanted to be so low. Peter took a short lead and brought us onto the ridge crest. At this point we coiled the rope and threw it into my pack. The crest is wide and offers a lot of climbing opportunities. After a short while we traversed a ledge system on the East side of the ridge that eventually led us to a notch. It was time to cross to the West side for the final time.
High on the ridge after the crux pitch. This ledge leads to a notch.
Terrain to gain the top fo the ridge for the final time
The ridge crest after all of the technical climbing had ceased
Once on the West we saw many options of varying difficulty, but both felt comfortable continuing unroped. We started up a 3rd class chimney that moved to low 5th towards the top and pulled onto the ridge crest. It was undeniable, the ‘climbing’ was over…the most unique looking ridge I had ever seen (Longs slabs) presented itself, and the route, to the summit. Peter stopped to take off his rock shoes and I continued on. The climbing here is extremely fun and not very exposed. A few minutes later I was on the summit plateau. It was 11:45am.
Peter High on the rdige, approaching the summit
We walked towards the summit marker, ate some snacks and debated descent options. The weather looked alright and we still had time. I had plans for the next day and didn’t want to stay out too long, so peter’s initial (and absolutely ridiculous plan!) was out the window. We should have rapped the Cables, but instead decided to give The Loft a go with the option to bag Meeker.
The Homestretch was pretty nostalgic and we enjoyed the downclimb. The routefinding on The Loft was challenging, but not too bad. It was hard to believe how different this route was from the standard. We passed a few parties still coming up, got some directions and found the gully to gain the saddle.
Maybe we just suck, but we never found a Class 3 route and eventually just took a low 5th class one. Once on the saddle I lost all motivation for Meeker (partly due to the fact that I was climbing in the Sawatch the next day) and we headed down the Loft and into Chasm Lake area. Despite adding a lot of time to our day, I was very happy to be in my favorite place (Chasm) and to have enjoyed another new route on Longs.
The hike out went by pretty quick and I made it home in time to get a decent amount of sleep! Woohoo!
I highly recommend this route as it has many, many climbing options, offers solitude and unique views. I look forward to my next climb of Longs!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):