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Key Hole Route, Longs Peak

Rocky Mountain National Park
By Nancy Prichard - October 8th, 2001

Elevation: 4,850 feet - Longs Peak Ranger Station to summit
Number of hours, round trip: 12-15
Difficulty: strenuous; no rope or crampons needed in good, dry conditions
Distance: 15 miles round trip - Longs Peak Ranger Station to summit
Visitor Information: 970-586-1206
Maps: Longs Peak Quad, USGA

Hikers and mountaineers from all over the world flock to Rocky Mountain National Park to ascend mountains that are beautiful and challenging. The grand prize is the 14,255-foot Longs Peak. During the summer months, expect to share the trail with literally hundreds of other backcountry travelers. But after August, if the winter snows aren't too early, you might happen on to a patch of clear fall weather, and a great opportunity to try your luck on the Peak.

The classic trail to the summit of Longs is via the Key Hole, a notch in the summit ridge that allows travelers to circumnavigate sheer faces and technical climbing in favor of a more easily negotiable trail. The trail up Longs is more long and beautiful than difficult, and becomes only mildly technical during the "Homestretch," the ridgeline from the Key Hole Notch to the summit. The Homestretch is rated Class 3 (no rope required) when it's dry, but can be treacherous in snow and rain. The trip from Longs Peak Ranger Station to the summit gains 5,000 feet over eight miles. Experienced hikers usually leave the Longs Peak Ranger Station no later than 6 a.m. A moderately fit party should plan for an eight- to ten-hour trip, car to car. From the trailhead to Chasm View Lake is 4.2 miles of steep, but beautiful hiking through Aspen and Pine. The lake is a good turnaround spot in case you get a late start, or meet bad weather. If you look closely up the spectacular East Face you might see teams of climbers tackling the technical rock routes on the world-renowned Diamond.

Experienced hikers with good conditions and plenty of energy will venture up to the Boulder Field, through the Key Hole, and on to the ridge to the summit. Faint traces of red paint spots with yellow centers mark the trail, but shouldn't be depended upon for route-finding. In good conditions, the Key Hole is not a technical climbing route, and does not require ropes and hardware. But fickle weather conditions can turn a clear day into a raging storm in a moment's notice, so hikers should be prepared in terms of clothing, backcountry experience, and fitness.


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