Longs Peak: Keyhole Route

Posted: July 26th, 2020



On Saturday, July 25th, 2020, I began hiking to the Keyhole Route of Longs Peak (14,259 feet) in Colorado. The Keyhole Route is a 1.5 mile class 3 climb on exposed rocks and ledges, requiring the use of one's hands. I began hiking at 2:00AM and reached the summit shortly after 8:00AM, spending about half-an-hour at the Keyhole determining if I thought it would rain or not. The entire hike is 15 miles and it took me about 11.5 hours to complete. The trail to the Boulder Field, where the Keyhole Route begins, is only a class 1 or 2 hike. At approximately 1:45AM, the parking lot was 85% full.

Having gloves for rock climing and boots with good traction are important. Drinking 2 liters of water before the hike was helpful because even during the hike and climb, I consumed 3.5 liters. The day I went was cloudy to the point I only saw the sun during sunrise and briefly for a few minutes during the Keyhole Route. I didn't end up putting on any sunscreen.

Some people decide to wear a climbing helmet to protect from falling rocks in sections like the Trough. I wore a helmet and did see a few times rocks fell down the Trough. This section has a lot of loose rocks and dirt, so it is possible rocks will fall here if there are people climbing above you.

With appropriate time spent at high altitude and recent leg strength doing 10-15 mile hikes plus some basic experience indoor rock climbing, it is possible to summit Longs Peak in 10-15 hours alone. The rocks are slick due to all the hikers on them. Rain can make the rocks much more dangerous so it's important to know if it will rain and how much before committing to the Keyhole Route. Getting to the Keyhole rock formation at sunrise is considered the best way to have visibility and time to get to the summit and back before storms.

Overall, Longs Peak is a difficult but manageable route with the correct training. The quantity of people on the weekends can make the route more difficult in some sections but also, talking to people on the route can help guide you in some sections. No route finding is really needed on the Keyhole Route, follow the bull's eyes you see to get from one place to the next all the way to the summit.

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