Longs Peak (14255')
January 26, 2012
Via Keyhole Route
12 miles RT, 5150' gain
Participants: Sarah Behnke, Kevin Pustulka, & Kevin Baker
We have become spoiled in yet another "fake" winter in Colorado where the toils to attain high hanging fruit in the alpine are not near as daunting. This weekend was more winter like in some regards as plans A and B in the Sangres went south with the forecast. Kevin and Sarah invited me along for Longs and I didn't have an elusive Jan grid slot for Longs yet, so I bit. The forecast deteriorates a bit calling for a 50 percent chance of snow, 1 to 3 inches, and moderate winds. Very rarely does it snow with only moderate winds on Longs. It's not a place to be in a nasty storm, so we use Lady Washington or Storm as nice consolation prizes in the event of a whiteout.
We set out at a not so alpine start of 6:15am and plod up the familiar Longs Peak trail. It is well tracked and we take a few winter variations to cut some distance. We hit treeline fairly quick and there are a few folks heading up with various destinations. It's a far cry from the conga line of summer though!
Meeker and Longs near Chasm View
We take advantage of the wide open frozen expanses of wind scoured tundra to make a direct beeline for the trail as it contours below Lady Washington. The skies are looking good and the wind is very light. Hopes are soaring that we may be able to sneak this in before the storm comes. The rocks turn icy around the Boulder Field though and we're worried what the scrambling is going to be like beyond the Keyhole. We see a group on the Cables route and find out later it is George Barnes, who is in pursuit of a grid project on just the Cables route! They are the only other group we know of to reach the summit today.
Oh no, we're off trail! Shhh, don't tell the tree huggers.
The north face looking mighty barren
The boulder hop to the Keyhole is not near as annoying as I recalled, and we make good time up to it.
Nearing the famous Keyhole
I peak over the Keyhole and it looks like there's a lot more frost on the rocks on that side. It must of been the prevailing northwest winds earlier in the morning coating the rocks. We take a break at the luxurious Agnes Vaille shelter and fuel up for the long road to the summit. This seems like such a fake winter ascent with no snowshoes, a shelter high on the mountain, and little wind. We'll take what we can get though! We all just brought microspikes thinking there wouldn't be enough snow on the crucial areas to warrant crampons, and it's a good move. The microspikes provide a good bite and the frost isn't really much of an inhibitor of traction. We take our time going around the rebar boulder getting used to the conditions and it feels much more intimidating than summer.
Starting across the Ledges. Pic by Kevin P.
There are a couple short downsloping patches of snow on the Ledges that we have to cut steps across as there aren't any tracks, but the snow is pretty loose and shallow.
Crossing a section of snow on the Ledges. Pic by Kevin P.
The Trough is up next and we're amazing at the lack of snow. When I did the Trough route in winter a few years back, it was almost continuous, bulletproof snow. Today it feels like early fall conditions.
Looking up the Trough
The climb around the chockstone is spicier with the frost to deal with, but luckily it isn't exposed there.
Sarah climbing the chockstone
Kevin P sneaks by the frosty chockstone
We're expecting better conditions on the Narrows and Homestretch since they are south facing, and we are correct. The final sections are familiar and fun. We top out around 1pm and it looks like we've beat out the weather! It's actually quite pleasant on the summit, but we don't hang around long as we still have a long way down.
Sarah and I crossing the Narrows. Pic by Kevin P.
The final notch to the Homestretch.
Looking down the Homestretch. Pic by Kevin P.
Sarah nearing the top.
As usual on Longs, the journey back to the Keyhole goes much faster. I'll never grow tired of the Keyhole route as it has so many intricacies even though it's the easiest route on Longs. It will be fun exploring the many alpine routes on Longs in the coming years. There's a brief snow shower of 5 minutes or so in the Trough, but the real weather doesn't show up until we're driving home.
Heading back across the Narrows.
Another Narrows section
A few minutes of light snow in the Trough.
Back at the shelter. Pic by Kevin P.
The short sections of snow on the Ledges are much easier on the way back with steps in place going uphill. We're soon back at the shelter refueling for the rest of the journey down the trail. I feel pretty good on the descent, maybe because that hybrid Paleo diet is starting to benefit me after 3 weeks! We retrace our cross country path back to the Jim's Grove shortcut and we're back around 6pm, happy to sneak in a winter ascent on Longs! The Paleo diet is off on hiking days, and I have 6 pieces of Little Caesar's pizza at home to celebrate after we find out the Southern Sun is too crowded for dinner. Good time with the Pappersons!