Longs Peak – a fitting climb for my 14er halfway point!
I was tossing around ideas to get #29 under my belt before the winter hit full-force, and the first plan was Humboldt Peak in the southern Colorado in the Sangre de Cristo range.
Humboldt is a nice "easy" peak, but it’s a long drive, and I wanted to get one last camping trip in with Shelby and Tom this year without the time consumption of a 14er breaking the weekend up.
The Front Range and the Sawatch Range are the two close mountain ranges, but only a handful of peaks remain unclimbed. Mount Antero is a stupid-long climb in the winter, and I told my buddy Greg I’d do the other unclimbed peak in the Sawatch, Mount of the Holy Cross, with him.
With only Longs Peak left in the Front Range, and having it looming above us every day at home, it made the list.
I’ve been putting off Longs for a while – 15+ miles, 5100 feet of elevation, and Class 3 climbing has kept it in the back burner while I’ve been banging out the shorter or easier peaks. It’s considered a non-technical route from July-September, but a technical mountaineering climb outside that window due to the snow and ice. An average of one person a year dies on Longs, but that’s not surprising due to its popularity.
Waiting until there was snow and ice on the Keyhole Route certainly doesn’t make it any easier, but since we’ve got mild weather and Mountain Forecast is predicting 55+ mph winds and chills well below 0 this weekend – it’s now or never. It’s up at 2am, breakfast, coffee, and on the road. At the trailhead at 3am, climbing by 03:15. In the summer you have to get to the trailhead well before 3am to get a parking spot. Being December, I arrive to a completely empty lot.
The hike part is looooong – and really quite boring in the dark. I pass time by listening to an audiobook while putting one foot in front of the other, counting the miles away, and watching the sky slowly start to light up as I slowly gain altitude.
Sunrise Breaks Early
By the time I reach the Boulderfield, The Diamond on Longs is starting to light up a brilliant yellow. If I wasn’t on a mission, I’d have stuck around longer to get the entire Diamond lit up.
Diamond on Fire
The Boulderfield sucks! Deep pockets of snow between all the boulders means you have to rock hop or you risk postholing and twisting an ankle or knee. Hard on the feet, and certainly slows you down.
The famous Keyhole, with the Agnes Vaillie shelter built into the rock face on the lower left.
Finally the famous Keyhole. From here it switches from a hike to a climb, so I leave my extra water jugs, snacks, headlamp, and hiking poles rather than carry the extra weight. The chance of anyone coming up here and stealing them is pretty much zero today.
On goes the helmet due to the rockfall risk, and the fun starts at The Ledges. You follow red and yellow bullseyes that the Park Service has painted on boulders along the path. Pretty easy, and pretty easy to follow.
Then it stops being fun.
Up The Trough
As you enter The Trough, a long chute filled with rock, ice, and unconsolidated snow that doesn’t see full sun this late in the year, you get to climb 550 feet up to 13,850 feet, where you finish with a 30 foot scramble up a rock wall and work your way around a chockstone – definitely the hardest part of the route.
Now you enter The Narrows, and this wouldn’t be too bad if there weren’t snow and ice on the narrow path. I had pulled my crampons off at the top of the Trough, and really should have had them on across here. They stayed on for the return trip!
After the Narrows, you get to The Homestretch.
Down the Homestretch
It really is the home stretch, a 300 foot wall that’s easy enough with no snow, but today’s snow and ice make it extra fun. It’s definitely no fun descending this section, as you see the consequences of a slip on the ice or a handhold that isn’t what you thought it would be.
15 minutes on the summit – enough Verizon service to have a video call with Colette, Shelby, and Tom – and time to reverse course and get off this mountain. 13 hours 15 minutes, and 4,813 calories after starting – it’s nice to see the car and think about a Nice. Cold. Beer.
#29 under the belt, and the Front Range complete. It’s time to hang up the 14er quest for the winter season, and see about some nice winter climbs instead!