Longs Peak, CO- Elevation 14,255- 09/10/04
I've been waiting a long time to hike Longs Peak. All summer there have been afternoon or all day thunderstorms forecasted on my day off, Friday. Finally I got a good forecast but it has already snowed up at Longs Peak and one person froze to death last week on the summit during a snowstorm. I figured this might be my last chance this year to give it a try and the weather looked good enough to make the summit so I planned and prepared days ahead of time for this difficult hike on the Keyhole route. Elevation gain from trail head to summit is 5000 ft and 15 miles round trip. The Keyhole is at 13,150 and approximately half a mile from the summit. Unfortunately I only made the keyhole so my hike was about 4000 elevation and 14 miles round trip. It took 12 hours total, although I stayed at the keyhole for about 2 1/2 hours waiting for the weather to clear before finally retreating. I was disappointed to not make the summit or even have a chance to try, but still enjoyed the very beautiful hike. I usually don't post 14er hikes when I don't make the summit but thought I'd put this one on since it was still a very eventful hike with lots of good pics.
This sign should have been my first indication that I would not summit today. I actually bought crampons in case I ran into some snow or ice but it would not be enough today. My shoes did not fit the crampons well, I did not have an ice axe, and the tread on my shoes is very worn meaning the slick route past the keyhole would be treacherous even if it were dry.
I got off work after 11pm, then drove to the trail head straight from work and slept for a couple hours. I never really got to sleep like I wanted to because so many people were arriving at the trail head and starting out early today. Some were starting at 1:30 when I first arrived. I started on the trail around 5am and took this picture after 6 when the sun started coming up. Its nicer to see a sunrise while hiking instead of a sunset.
The sun came up as I was getting above tree line which seems quite a bit lower than it is further south where I have been hiking lately. Soon after achieving the tree line I could see Longs Peak which is on the right in this picture, and Chasm lake is at the bottom. This is about the halfway point for distance but not quite for elevation. Within 20 minutes of taking this picture the clouds were descending on Longs and I had to put my rain gear on as it started raining.
As the rain was coming down pretty hard I had to wrap the camera in a garbage bag to waterproof it, and stash it away in my 25 pound backpack. The rain quickly turned to snow and was coming down pretty hard all the way to the keyhole where it finally slowed down enough from me to take the camera out again and snap this shot with a few flakes coming down.
I was relieved to arrive at this shelter and thaw out my frozen fingers. The temp here was right around 30 degrees. On my way up I saw dozens of people heading down from the keyhole and talked to many of them. None of them had made the summit and a few had gone as far as the trough but said it was a thin layer of ice, and the part that didn't have ice was wet and slick as marble. They said since the ice was so thin and slick crampons were no help and it was just to risky too go on.
A very nice shelter was built in memory of two of the many victims Longs Peak have claimed. Just 6 days ago A young man froze to death on the summit here. He was found frozen two days after the snowstorm subsided. Its always harder going down steep terrain than going up. I met a ranger at the keyhole who was on his way down. He said he was finishing the investigation of the guy that died last week, and saw 6 other people heading up to the summit. He noted he was only there because he was working. He said the conditions today were very poor and you'd have to be crazy to try and summit. I took his advice and decided I'd just hang around the keyhole for a while to enjoy the views and talk with my new friends from Nepal that I met. They were waiting for their buddy who was in the group trying to summit, I hope they made it. These two guys from Nepal had all the ice gear and had been up to 19,000 feet before but didn't feel it was safe to attempt the summit today, that reinforced to me that I made the right decision in waiting for another day.
This is a picture of me at the keyhole.
The top section on one side of the keyhole looks almost like a gargoyle or some kind of statue warning all those who pass.
This is a very busy photo focusing on one of the red bulls eyes that is painted on the class III section of the route to guide your way. It is also the edge of the east side of keyhole, with part of the shelter in the background.
This is the other side of the keyhole, you can see several of the red dots marking the way of the route which is much worse than it looks. I left my overweight pack in the shelter to make sure I would not do something foolish like try to summit and ventured a couple hundred feet on this route. I slipped a couple times and nearly slid down the very smooth, slick, wet, cliff side. There would be no way to stop your fall and this was not even the hard section yet. I'd hate to get stuck up here in bad weather and right now even though the snow stopped at keyhole, the route is still wet, and the summit is still shrouded in snow clouds; surely it's snowing pretty hard up there.
After about 2 hours the clouds were circling all around, up, and down faster than I have ever seen on a 14er. Although it appeared to be clearing it was now after 1:00 and way to late to try and summit.
As I arrive near the bottom of the boulder field I took this picture looking back at longs and it was still looking very nasty. The blue spot is a tent where someone was camping out, and the keyhole could barely be seen on the far right.
Earlier the snow storm was everywhere, but now almost 2:00 it was just up around Longs, right after taking the last picture I turned 180 degrees and shot this picture which looked like a sun shiny day.
After about another hour I was getting close to Chasm lake and could finally see the summit of Longs Peak for the first time since early this morning just after sunrise. It was now about 3:00 and I was feeling a little upset that the weather channel predicted 10% chance of rain for Estes park and mostly clear skies all day. This is just one of many times that the detailed weather forecast on weather.com was no where near correct and not even consistent with the weather forecast on their TV channel. From now on I will check several sources for the weather including http://www.intellicast.com http://www.crh.noaa.gov and specifically for 14ers weather http://14ers.com/weather.html
The trail down around Chasm lake is a very easy class I, as is the whole trail all the way to the boulder field. The weather looked so threatening I thought for sure it would start raining/snowing again but instead it cleared and heated up to 60 degrees.
I was happy that I at least made the keyhole and now know that most people either get real lucky or have to try this hike a few times before they get good enough weather to summit. I was able to take several very nice photos on this scenic hike which is very much worth it even if you just go to keyhole and don't plan to go further. Here is a waterfall I shot at a slow shutter speed on the way back down.
I found this chipmunk feeding on something right by my jeep when I got back around 5pm. I got the 300mm zoom lens out to get a close up of him enjoying his dinner. I also talked to another ranger at the bottom who asked me about the weather, and who was still up there. I told him I was disappointed to not summit and the weather forecast was so wrong. He said "that thing makes it own weather, and its typical that only a handful of people that go up each day with the large crowds will make the summit". He went on to tell me more of the story of the guy who froze to death last week and said "at least you didn't wind up like him".
I got to Estes park just about 10 miles away and took this picture of Longs Peak as more storms were moving in. Now I know that if I had waited another hour at the keyhole and decided to summit after it cleared up I'd still be above tree line with that very nasty weather moving in. This storm came from out of nowhere and was accompanied by lots of lightning on the ground and heat lightning. Only a few minutes later the Longs summit was engulfed by the storm.
Before heading back to Denver I took a few pictures of the famous Standley mansion which is supposedly haunted. It does look creepy indeed in this photo. This is where Stephen King wrote "The Shining" and the first movie "The Shining" with Jack Nickolson was shot. It's one of my favorites. As I exited Estes Park the storm had moved in and it was a steady downpour. I watched the lightning show in my rear view mirror all the way home.