Sunday, June 20, 2010

Longs Peak to the Keyhole

The Diamond, Longs Peak (photo from August '08)
Yesterday was a beautiful day out, the finish to a week of awesome weather on the Front Range. After spending the morning doing some work inside I decided it was too nice outside to miss out on. I quickly stuffed some extra clothes in my pack, grabbed some water and drove up to the Longs Peak trail head in RMNP. The goal for the day was to get well above treeline and spend several hours at altitude in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I didn't bring a camera so the photos here are from a previous trip in August, 2008.

Due to the outstanding weather and lack of threatening clouds over the mountains I decided to head up the Longs Peak trail even though I left the trail head around 2:30pm. The trail was in pretty good shape with a bit of water in places and without the horse crap I experienced last time. There was no snow until I was above the trees and in the krummholz. Even then, there were only a few short snow fields before Chasm Junction and the trail passed quickly. There were quite a few people headed down the trail, but once I reached Chasm Junction I only saw a few people for the rest of the day.

Views at Chasm Junction were awesome. Peacock Pool is free of ice and there were clouds blowing over the Loft from the south and swirling in front of the Diamond. After a short break to eat a granola bar and empty the sand from my shoes I headed up trail toward Granite Pass. There were two longer snowfields on a fairly steep side slope here, but no real issues. I soon rounded Granite pass (windy here) and headed up to the Boulder Field. There was no more snow until just below the Keyhole and I made my way up to the area of the Boulder Field campsites.

The top half of the Diamond as seen from the Boulder Field.
The Boulder Field is ENORMOUS! There are people at bottom right.

The Boulder Field had been my intended destination, but when I got there I still felt good, the weather was fine and the Keyhole, with its promise of views into Glacier Gorge, seemed to be beckoning. I sat and soaked in the scenery for 20 minutes or so while I tried to gauge the time, my watch, cell phone and camera had all been left behind. I finally decided to push for the Keyhole and soak in some more solitude and spectacular views. I had a headlamp anyway so it was no big deal if I ended up hiking down in the dark.

The Keyhole, Agnes Vaille Shelter is just below/left of the keyhole.

I headed left and then switched back to the right between the snowfields lingering in the Boulder Field and scrambled up to the Keyhole without setting foot on snow. The view into Glacier Gorge was well worth it. I just stood there in the wind and sun for ten minutes or so, enjoying the solitude and the incredible scenery spread before and behind me. Mills Lake and Jewel Lake were free of ice, Black Lake was partially melted and the higher lakes were still frozen. I could also pick out Hallett and Otis Peaks near the Divide to the west. There's something about Longs Peak that really appeals to me. Maybe it's the fact that it towers above the Front Range like no other peak does, but I love nearly everything (aside from the usual crowds) that comes with hiking on this mountain. The solitude of the late afternoon was really incredible. For me, there's no better feeling than being alone in the mountains on a gorgeous day. Feeling strong and confident and without a single other person for miles around.

Eventually I headed down, across the alien landscape that is the Boulder Field and down the switchbacks to Granite Pass. From here I decided to take the Jims Grove shortcut to save some time and distance on the descent, and also to explore a new trail. To find this trail while coming down, continue a short distance below Granite Pass and look for two prominent rocks on the left, just a few yards off the trail. There is also an old, broken wooden post sticking out of the ground. You should see a faint trail and some wooden timbers which form steps leading down to the left of the main trail. This trail saves quite a bit of time and distance compared to the long arc out to Chasm Junction. It drops you back at the main trail at the sign which points to Battle Mountain.

The hike below treeline was uneventful, but for the first time didn't seem endless. I finally arrived back at the car at 7pm, much earlier than I would have guessed it was. All in all it was a great hike and I met all my goals for the day. I planned on taking it easy, but I wasn't able to help running some of the flatter spots on the way down. I think I probably ran less than a mile of the whole trail and I took lots of breaks to just sit and soak in the scenery. Even so, I made pretty good time and I felt really good when I got back down. I think I brought just enough food and I finished the water in my 72oz. Camelbak on the drive back to Boulder.

Also, as I mentioned briefly, I didn't bring a camera. In some ways this was liberating since I didn't even think about taking pictures. Anyway, I certainly enjoyed the views and the pictures would never do it justice. However, that means no one else gets to see the sights in this post, just pics from a couple years ago. Too bad for you!

Once the top of the mountain melts out (the trough was still a full on snow climb) I'll be back to do a fast ascent. Looking forward to more great days in the alpine tundra!

My best guess at the stats: ~12 miles, ~3800' of vertical, ~13100' high point, 4hrs 30min

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