Long's Peak Trip Report (trip 4)

Trail: The Keyhole Ridge, Class 5.6, 13.5 miles, 4850 ft elevation gain

Panorama of The Keyhole Ridge

Our Route (yellow = unroped, red = roped, dotted red = roped behind the picture)

I have developed a yearly ritual of heading up to Long's Peak and climbing it by some new route.  My two choices for 2006 were to climb Long's by either the Keyhole Ridge (5.6 YDS) or The Notch Couloir to The Stepladder  (AI2-3, 5.5 YDS).  As I was hoping to do the Notch when the ice in it had formed I decided to try for the Keyhole Ridge.  The hardest part of climbing Longs seems to be finding a partner to go up it when your route is not the tourist route or on the Diamond but I was lucky that another graduate student in my department, Nick Moeckel, decided the route sounded fun.

The Keyhole Ridge itself is a fairly moderate climb with anywhere from 2 to 10 roped pitches (depending on your path and comfort level) and is mainly a 4th to low fifth class scramble with the occasional 5.4 -5.5 stretches and one area with a bit of 5.6 climbing over an impressive amount of exposure.

Long's Bathed In Alpenglow

I drove to Nick's house around 1:30 in the morning on Friday, August 4th and we picked him up.  We set out for the trailhead up Left-Hand Canyon and through the town of Jamestown as this way only takes about an hour from Boulder.  As usual I brought along a large rack but I always prefer more than less and don't mind the weight.  We had an entire set of nuts, all the Aliens, a few Metolius (cams, and the first 4 tri-cams)  as well as 12 runners with carabiners.  As it turns out no small nuts were needed but I probably used every cam at one point or another.

We left the (completely parked full) trailhead at 3:10 and made our way up to Chasm Junction through the regular throngs of summer tourists heading to the Keyhole.  It was kind of amusing to watch people turning back after less than a mile but after awhile we fell into the steady rhythm of plodding along heedless of the people around us.  We stopped briefly for a break at the junction before continuing on towards the boulder field.  After a time we came to the switchbacks which lead to the boulder field.  I'm not sure what planning genius created these things and can only assume they are for horses because what could be a moderate half mile line with little elevation gain is forced into a stupid 1.7 mile series of switchbacks up nearly flat terrain.  

After plodding through the switchbacks we found ourselves in the Boulder field where we stopped to make use of the luxurious facilities there.

At The Keyhole

After the bathrooms we made our way towards the Keyhole and arrived at the Keyhole Ridge ramps at about 6:45 in the morning.

Starting Up The Easy Ramps

Up until this point we had been sharing the tourist route with people in groups from 2 to 20, from here on though we would only share our way with one other person.  Just below the keyhole there is a left leading ramp which begins with a series of broken slabs and eventually narrows as it gains elevation. We stopped to put our harnesses on then scrambled up the ramps until it narrowed to around 2 or 3 feet and then looked up.  Above us we saw the distinctive 'False' Keyhole.  At this point we made one exposed move around a slight bulge and scrambled another 50 or 100 feet before we came to a point directly below a prominent tower to the left of the False Keyhole.  Up until this point the scrambling had been 2nd to 3rd class and quite easy.

Scrambling Up From The Ramp

The previous beta I had read said to scramble around the right side of the false keyhole and continue climbing on the back side of the ridge but the climbing looked easy enough that I figured I would go straight up and check out the tower.  We pulled out the rope and set up a quick anchor and I then headed up.  The climb could probably be freed quite safely as it was mostly 4th class punctuated by a some low fifth but the consequences of a fall were enough that it seemed prudent to rope up.  I stopped right below the tower (125 foot pitch) and belayed Nick up.  We discussed the route and decided that it looked benign enough to climb directly up the tower rather than to backtrack and contour around so I headed up from here for about 150 feet.  This pitch was probably ~5.4 to 5.5 and had a lot of loose rock, dirt, water, and moss and was just a bit sketchy but there were ample opportunities for pro so it did not take a long time.  At the top I found a chimney that had to be climbed after which I was on a large ledge.  Since the rope drag would be horrendous if I kept going I stopped and belayed Nick up.  The wind made it impossible to hear each other but fortunately the walkie talkies I brought made communication feasible.
Nick moved up quickly and then climbed on until a point just beyond another small notch (150 feet, class 4 to 5.4) where he belayed me over to him. Once again we were on the backside of the ridge for a moment but quickly simulclimbed up onto the talus fields leading to the summit.  We stayed rope for another two or three hundred feet but mainly because we were moving quickly and didn't feel like stopping, in reality there was no need for rope past the final notch.  

On The Other Side

At this point we found ourselves on the back side of the ridge and had good views of the hordes of people below following the standard route.  The climbing from here looked pretty easy so we decided to simulclimb for awhile.  Nick lead the way down initially 3rd and 4th class terrain which ended in some 5.4 climbing (this stretch was probably around 300 feet).  After gaining a small ledge system we noticed that a lower fifth class downclimb awaited us and decided to set an anchor and pitch it out as a fall here would have been serious.  As we were setting up we noticed a guy in his 50s, wearing running shoes, was free soloing up harder slabs than we were roping across.  It would turn out he would traverse the whole crux pitch unroped and manage to beat our round trip time by 5 hours.  You have got to love Boulder, just when you are starting to feel tough a guy nearly twice your age, wearing running shoes, will come along and own you.

In any event after we watched this (very friendly) guy make his way up towards the crux pitch Nick headed off and then belayed me over to him at the base of the ramps leading to the crux pitch.  From here he climbed up the slabs to the base of the crux and belayed me up again.  A more experienced party would likely simul-climb or free climb the entire section behind the ridge as it was fairly solid and easy (mostly 4th class to 5.2).

Traversing Towards The Crux Pitch

Looking Towards The Crux

The ramps leading up to the crux pitch were really fun to scramble up and had a great wall of rock on the right side which helped considerably by blocking the wind.  Nick graciously let me take the crux pitch and I started off on it after briefly enjoying the location.  My initial plan was to scramble out for a while before heading up the rock as the easiest climbing is supposedly a hundred or so feet out but after about 20 feet I looked down and noticed around 500 feet of air.  Figuring I didn't NEED to find 5.5 climbing I headed back to Nick and climbed up the inside corner which starts with the ramp rather than air beneath you.  

Climbing The Crux Pitch

I threw a nut in immediately to insure I would swing back over the ramp rather than out into thin air and made a few 5.6 moves before traversing out onto the exposed face.  Once on the face the climbing was superb.  The holds were solid and there was a plethora of flakes and ledges which protected extremely well.  Overall the pitch was 5.5 with a few 5.6 moves.  I tended to climb a few feet up, traverse left, and repeat the process.  After maybe 125 feet I found myself on a big ledge system where the climbing turned to walking with the occasional mantle of face moves to move upwards.  After I had used all but a few feet of rope I stopped and belayed Nick up.  

500 Feet Of Exposure

Self Portrait of Nick

Looking Back

Nick moved up quickly and then climbed on until a point just beyond another small notch (150 feet, class 4 to 5.4) where he belayed me over to him. Once again we were on the backside of the ridge for a moment but quickly simulclimbed up onto the talus fields leading to the summit.  We stayed roped for another two or three hundred feet but mainly because we were moving quickly and didn't feel like stopping, in reality there was no need for rope past the final notch.  

Cool Rocks

Once on the summit we called our wives to let them know we were safe and spent a few minutes admiring the views.  The whole ridge itself had been pretty easy but had such fantastic position and views that I would not hesitate to repeat it or suggest it.  My main suggestion on gear would be to bring long sling as 12 inch and 24 inch draws would result in awful rope drag.

Almost There

I was enjoying relaxing but the clouds were building and Nick noticed that there was a family of eight people next to us all of whom had harnesses and belay devices.  They had come up the Keyhole (I think) but it looked like they were going down Cables.   I didn't like the idea of being behind eight people rappelling the Cables route so we headed down before they could.  

Since we only had one rope and mistakenly used the very top bolt (there is another one an easy scramble down) we ended up rappelling three times.  This was the third time I had been down Cables and the first that there was no snow at the base of it.  Usually there is a nice steep field that makes getting down a breeze but not this day.  Without snow the area below the climbing on The Cables route is crappy slab and talus and made for a miserable descent.  After an interminable time we found ourselves back at the bathrooms where we relaxed for 30 minutes.

The hike out was (as usual) miserable.  I always wonder why I climb Longs every year whenever I am hiking out.  The section above the trees is long, hot, and punctuated by obnoxious, knee-jarring steps.  The section in the trees, while maybe pretty by itself, is long, boring, and has the longest half-mile in the world.  One thing which ended up disapointing me was noticing that the Notch was totally dry, this means I will be waiting at least another year before climbing it. We finally arrived back at the truck around 4 and headed home.  I made plans to climb Halletts Peak with Nick in a couple weeks, dropped him off, and headed home for 13 hours of sleep.

All in all my present opinion of the routes I have climbed on Longs is:

Loft: Pretty route, technically easy, can be tricky to find Clarks Arrow, avoids the crowds, makes for a fun day.

Cables: Only one pitch of easy climbing, can be wet which makes it tricky, way too little fun to warrant carrying rock gear to, not worth it unless you do it in winter conditions

Keiners: Tons of fun, superb position and exposure, great mix of snow and rock, Broadway is not to be missed, my hands down favorite so far

Keyhole Ridge:  Pretty easy climbing, super views, well protected, cool crux pitch, neat views of the tourist route, harder rock climbing than Keiners, well worth doing, my second favorite route

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