Long’s Peak (Front Range) – Keyhole Route (Class 3)
- Attempted 7/04/12
- 14.5 miles round trip
- It is rated at about 11.5 hrs, my friends and I tackled the hike in 9.5 hrs
- Moderate 14er (Class 3)
- +5,100′ net elevation gain to peak (14,255′)
- sunblock (at that elevation, you’ll feel the sun)
- tech shell (you will want a shell to protect you from the wind)
- Soft shell (always layer when attempting a 14er)
- headlamp (you’ll have to be starting this hike earlier than most 14ers)
- Lunch and lots of snacks
- Lots of water
This was our first annual fourth of July 14er and wow, it was beautiful! While I admit that this was my first 14er, I wouldn’t suggest this as a first 14er to anyone. I didn’t know it was a class 3 going in, or what that even entailed, my roommate and I just knew that it was close to Arvada. A class 3 entails “scrambling or un-roped climbing. You must use your hands most of the time to hold the terrain or find your route. This may be caused by a combination of steepness and extreme terrain (large rocks or steep snow). Some Class 3 routes are better done with rope” (14ers.com). While the first two thirds of the hike are nothing but steep elevation gain, the last third of the hike is dangerous if you are unprepared. There have been 60 fatalities on Long’s Peak and it has a 50% success rate of summitting. If you intend to bail on the hike, do it at the keyhole if possible, because once you cross the narrows it will be that much tougher to turn around.
We left Arvada around 1:30-2am, arriving at the trailhead by 3am or so. We began hiking right away. Make sure you get a solid breakfast for this hike, because it’ll be a doozy otherwise.
It makes the hike up a bit slower since you are seeing by headlamps, however, we broke tree line by the time the sun was beginning to rise in the East.
This was probably just before 6am or so. We were probably at the Keyhole by 7am, but I honestly cannot remember. What I do remember is that I was exhausted by the time we hit the keyhole and that the weather pattern was completely different on the other side of the keyhole. If the weather isn’t cooperating or you feel too tired, do NOT continue on past this point.
On the other side of the keyhole begins the narrows. This is a very thin trail that extends along the side of the mountain. A wrong step and a tumble over the edge is likely to be a fatal one. If passing people going the opposite direction, it may have to be done by taking turns in certain sections. Be sure to take your time in this section, there is no shame in a slow hike here. You’re at 13,000′ by now and have already hiked several miles – you ARE going to be tired!
After the narrows will be a section that’ll require some light climbing – you’ll need your hands for a few sections to get up and down some of the terrain. Shortly thereafter will be the final ascent. It is pretty steep but can be managed with smart hand placement. By the time we got here, there were already groups ahead and behind us so we knew exactly what the appropriate line was to go up and down. The narrows and this section together are likely what give this hike a exposure rating of 3.
You’re exhausted, no doubt, but now you’re at the summit and it doesn’t matter anymore!
Now after a nice long break where you get some lunch in you, hydrate a ton, and reapply some sunblock (making sure to get the grease off your hands) you’re ready for the descent.
Even after finishing the narrows (again) you have conquored Long’s! Oh wait, there is still another 5 miles or so to the bottom. You’re legs will just keep moving and then you’ll get to the car and wonder how you’ll drive home. Best take another break at the car and let your legs regain some strength. It is a super rewarding 14er filled with careful hiking, some light climbing, the whole works! If you feel comfortable with class 1s and 2s, this is likely one of the easier class 3s to attempt. Like I said, I attempted this as my first 14er; granted, I have done some light bouldering around boulder, so the light climbing required here was nothing new to me.