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Climbing Longs Peak -- Keyhole Route Description

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Climbing Longs Peak: The Keyhole Route Description
Climbing Longs Peak -- Keyhole Route Description

The Keyhole Route ascends the north and west sides of Longs Peak, opposite of the Diamond, a 1,000-foot-high wall on the majestic East Face.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Longs Peak, one of Colorado's most beautiful mountains, is also one of its most popular Fourteeners or 14,000-foot peaks to climb. The Keyhole Route, the regular and most traveled route to the summit, requires no technical climbing during summer months, generally from early July to mid-September depending on how fast the snow melts. During the rest of the year, climbers need to consider an ascent of Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route to be a technical mountaineering climb with snow and ice covering parts of the route.

Keyhole Route is Dangerous

The Keyhole Route, rated Class 3, is one of the more difficult and dangerous standard routes up a Fourteener in Colorado. An average of one person a year dies each year while climbing Longs, most from falls, lightning strikes, and exposure to the elements, including hypothermia. The route requires scrambling across airy granite slabs and up steep gullies. Inexperienced and nervous climbers may like to be belayed with a rope on some sections. Use your best judgment to safely ascend the route and safeguard your fellow climbers.

Long Day of Climbing

The Keyhole Route, spiraling around Longs Peak, travels 8 miles from the trailhead to the summit or 16 miles round trip, which makes a long day of hiking and scrambling. Begin your climb before dawn so that you climb the difficult upper part of the route to the summit and then descend to a safe elevation before the daily afternoon thunderstorms begin. The scrambling upper sections can be difficult and dangerous if they're wet or covered with corn snow. Lightning also is an ever-present danger on Longs Peak.

Climbing Seasons

The best time to climb Longs Peak is from early July to mid-September. Expect clear, sunny mornings-perfect for climbing above timberline. Afternoon thunderstorms begin building to the west and moving across the peak by mid-day. Expect violent thunderstorms with heavy rain, corn snow or graupel, and lightning. The spring months of May and June are usually fine for climbing with stable periods of weather. Treat the climb, however, as a technical outing and bring ice axe, crampons, and rope. Likewise, mid-September to late October is fine for climbing but expect snow on the upper elevations and possible snow storms and freezing temperatures. For current Longs Peak conditions, call Rocky Mountain National Park Information at (970) 586-1206.

Being Safe on Longs Peak

Be prepared when you climb Longs Peak and bring the Ten Essentials, including warm clothing and rain gear. An ice axe, crampons, rope, and other climbing gear may be needed, depending on conditions. If you're coming from a low elevation, give yourself a few days to acclimate before attempting the ascent. Use caution when climbing and descending the upper route sections. Be especially careful not to knock rocks down since other climbers are below you. It's a good idea to wear a helmet to protect your head. Keep an eye on the weather and don't be afraid to turn around in bad conditions.

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