Reports from the Field: Climbing The Keyhole on Longs Peak

The Keyhole of Longs Peak, RMNP Trip Report

A view of The North Face of Longs Peak at sunrise. The Keyhole Route passes through The Boulderfield (seen here), then trends right, through The Keyhole itself.

Colorado Mountain School guide Mike Coyle and two clients climbed Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park on July 15th, 2019. This was the climbers’ first time attempting a 14er, and their first time climbing in Colorado! See and hear their adventure from Mike’s point of view.

Disclaimer: Conditions change quickly in the mountains. The conditions you read in this trip report may be outdated. There is inherent risk of being in the mountains and this climb is no exception. Proper skills, experience and decision-making are a must.

Planning

Climbing Longs in a single day takes a while (11-16 hours for the average party) so you need to plan accordingly by researching conditions and weather. We had a 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms increasing after noon with a considerable amount of snow on the route, so we needed to get an early start.

We met at midnight to do a gear check, hoping to be walking by 1am. Because there was still snow on the route, I outfitted my clients with mountain boots, crampons and ice axes, in addition to our harnesses and helmets. 

The Approach

We left the car at 1:00am and began hiking in the dark with our headlamps to light the path. The July air was cool at 9,400’ but we were able to hike in our t-shirts up to 12,000’, adding a light fleece as the wind picked up above tree line. The trail was dry and in good condition. It took our group six hours to reach the Keyhole, which is the beginning of the technical climbing. We’d already knocked off five miles with 3,800’ of elevation gain.

Two climbers pose for a picture in The Boulderfield of Longs Peak. The Keyhole route can be seen on the skyline over the trail.

The Climb

We put on our harnesses and our helmets at the Keyhole and left the morning sun behind as we climbed through the Notch towards the shady ledge traverse.

A pair of climbers, pass through The Keyhole on Longs Peak. The men are wearing harness, helmet and are roped up in preparation for the more exposed sections of climbing on Longs Peak - from The Keyhole to The Homestretch.

The Ledges are a class 3 traverse that last a little over a quarter mile, gains 320’ of elevation and descends about 180’. The Ledges deposit you at the Trough, a 600’ couloir. Depending on the time of year the Trough might be filled with snow. If not, it’s a class 3-rock scramble. We had both snow and rock in the Trough, so we took to the snow for the second half of the couloir, getting to put our crampons and ice axes to good use.

After the Trough start the Narrows, a traverse that crosses a series of exposed ledges for about one tenth of a mile. This is my favorite part of the climb for the amazing views and the exciting exposure. For many people this is the mental crux of the climb, walking next to a cliff that drops off over 1,000 feet.

After traversing the Narrows you reach the Home Stretch, a 300’ rock scramble that deposits you on the summit of Longs. It took my team 3 hours to climb from the Keyhole to the summit.

The Summit

The Summit provides 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape, a view that seems to stretch on forever. We reached the top at 10:00am in perfect weather. The summit is large and flat. We hung out in the sunshine, ate lunch and enjoyed the view for about 20 minutes before beginning our descent.

The Descent

There are multiple descent options from the summit of Longs. We reversed the Keyhole route, which is the most common descent method for the Keyhole. It took our group 2.5 hours to get from the summit back to the Keyhole.

Another option is to rappel the Cables route on the North Face, but the existence of snow can make this more difficult. The North Face is still currently holding snow, but some of my fellow guides have been guiding clients on the route this season. 

Back to the Trailhead

The Keyhole is generally done in an out and back style. We summited at 10:00am returned to the Keyhole at 1:00pm and returned to the car at 5:00pm. The whole day took us 16 hours.

A Day Well Spent in the Mountains

We arrived back to the car with tired legs and happy hearts. This being their first 14er and first climb in Colorado, their minds were blown. They got to practice scrambling on rock, climb snow, were rewarded with expansive views, and experienced enough exposure to get their hearts pumping. They are currently planning on getting Longs Peak tattoos.


About Longs Peak

Longs Peak tops out at 14,259 feet, making it the tallest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Longs is part of the spectacular Chasm Lake cirque and offers some of the best alpine routes found on the Front Range.

Longs offers hundreds of routes for all levels of climbers and mountaineers. The Keyhole is a must for any aspiring alpinist looking for a classic route this summer.

Conditions are great for those looking for a more technical, challenging climb. If you want to wait until it’s dry, it should be good to go in early August. Wet or dry, Longs Peak is a technical Colorado 14er with high exposure. Want to climb Longs? View our Longs Peak Classic Climb – a scheduled group climb that is offered at special rates on select dates, or book a private Longs Peak climb on any day of the week.