Longs Peak offers more than one hundred routes to the summit but
most people take the Keyhole Route.
If you want an alternative that is less crowded, slightly shorter
by mileage, longer by time and more difficult actual climbing
then the Loft Route is for you. I have summited Longs 42 times, most recently in July 2016. I use it for training for climbs such as Everest
and K2. Please see my other Longs
Peak pages for an overview of the mountain since this page will
cover the Loft Route only.
This route, like all the others on Longs can be dangerous year-round.
On September 3, 2006 a climber died while descending from the top of
the couloir. Apparently he was a victim of rock fall from the cliffs
at the top of the couloir. Here is a link to
an eyewitness report. My sincere condolences to the climber's family.
I have summited Longs 38 times, most recently in January 2015. I've
climbed up via the Keyhole route and descended using the Loft route.
It was spring weather with winter climbing conditions above 12,000'.
Please see this video of
The Loft route follows the couloir between Mt. Meeker, 13,700'
and Longs. It is a class 3 climb thus requiring scrambling using
your hands for balance. Normally ropes are not used but could be
useful for novice climbers especially on the down climb from the Loft
proper on the northwest side. I use it as a training climb in the winter
months since it is full of snow and steep - a great workout. But I
rarely get to the top due to high winds, avalanche danger or other
risky conditions so always be careful.
There are four parts to the day: 1) trailhead to just below Chasm
lake, 2) Loft couloir and the Loft 3) the downclimb (looking for
Clark's Arrow) and traverse to the homestretch then up to the summit
and 4) back down. The first part is simple enough: beautiful trail
through the pine forest rising above the tree line at 10,500'. You
will see the trail going left to right high above the treeline. If
it is windy, this will be your first test of Longs. After about two
hours you should arrive at the junction signs pointing the way to the
boulder field (to the right) and to Chasm Lake (left).
Take the left trail
down about 100'. Make sure you enjoy the views of Peacock Lake
on your left and the Diamond straight ahead. Soon you arrive
at the rebuilt ranger's cabin (left) that replaced the old one
that was destroyed in Spring 2003 by an avalanche from the couloir
you are about to climb! This a reminder that this route can be
difficult and dangerous in the winter.
Now the fun begins. From the Ranger's cabin, follow the trail
on the right side (north) of the rising ravine. You soon turn due
west as you head straight up this couloir. The trail meanders
amongst the sofa size rocks and soon begins a lazy switchback
pattern to the rock ledges just below running water or a frozen
waterfall, depending on the season. In the winter, take any route
up the couloir but be aware of avalanche dangers. It may seem like
a long and tedious climb up the couloir - and it is! But maintain a
steady pace and you will be surprised how soon you are near the top.
The next challenge is to find the exit ramp off the couloir and to
the Loft. About 90% of the way to the top, look to the left (South)
for a rock ledge ramp. It is easy to see from the Chasm Lake junction
but can be hard to find up close. You will have to do some class 3
scrambling on big rocks to see the ramp. It goes straight left towards
Meeker and is about two feet wide. Do
not climb straight up the cliffs. This is serious climbing with rock
fall danger. Also do not downclimb the cliffs without proper protection
and skills - even then it is very dangerous.
you find yourself still scrambling once off the main couloir, you are
not on route. The ramp, while a little narrow, is relatively flat and
you should be able to walk easily. There is one spot where you have
to take a big step up and over a large shoulder high boulder. Once
to the end of this ramp, it is an easy and obvious switchback path
to the Loft, the main saddle between Meeker and Longs. You will feel
like you made a U-turn.It should take about an hour or two make the
climb from the junction sign to the saddle. Click on
the couloir picture above for a diagram of the route.
The Loft is an area the size of two football
fields and just as flat. You are about to tackle the crux of the
Loft route. In the summer there could be cairns marking the route but
don't count on it. Head northwest to the corner. If it looks like you are
heading towards a cliff, you are on the correct path! There are several
gullies that can be down climbed - some easy, some not. The key to finding
the correct downclimb is to stay higher than you think is necessary.
Usually there are a few large (1 foot high) carins marking the route.
Look for a rough and rugged rock filled gully going down. A large buttress
splits the bottom of the gulley. Clark's Arrow is on the west face of this
buttress. While it looks hard, most people can make this down climb of 100
feet. Some people hug the wall to the climber's right - this ia a good alternative
but not the standard route and can be a bit more daunting. The standard route
has two five to seven foot drops that require some stressful moves and
leaps (or butt scoots) of faith! For very inexperienced climbers, they will
need an experienced partner to help on a few big moves but experienced climbers
will make the down climb in 15 minutes.
This is the "normal" route from the Loft and takes you to
the infamous "Clark's
Arrow" - an arrow painted on a west-facing rock, pointing south.
Most people never find it and it is really visible only once you reach
it! See my trip
report on finding the Arrow.
Regardless of how you descend, don't go all the way to the valley floor
but take a right about 1/3rd down looking for the trail that goes
underneath a rock wall aptly named the Palisades. The trail is
obvious and you must scramble over some huge boulders with interesting
exposure. Just keep looking towards Longs and you will see carins on
the well worn path. You are through the tough part and now need to
continue North toward Longs as far as you can. There is a fairly well
worn and carined trail for this section but it can be hard to find
so always spot the next carin as you progress north. It will be obvious
when it is time to turn left, west, up the boulder filled slope to
join the final section on the Keyhole route or the Homestretch. On
a summer weekend, you will see many people on the Homestretch. Hug
the wall on your left as you climb these smooth rock slabs. And then
You are on the summit! It may take as much as six hours to reach
the summit using the Loft route.
Take some time and enjoy the view. Don't forget
to sign the log. It is in a plastic tube between two big rocks
near the East side of the summit. There are usually people standing
around it. Make sure you eat and drink since it is likely you
have not had enough of either to this point. Now you have a decision:
return the same route of via the keyhole. Either way, you have
4 to 6 hours of downclimbing and trails ahead. Remember to get
off the summit by noon or at any approaching thunderheads. Many
people are killed by lightning than falling on Longs.
Returning via the Loft route involves some interesting climbing
back up to the Loft. While not hard, it can be challenging for
some inexperienced climbers. And you might find Clark's Arrow this
time! If everyone is tired, I would suggest the keyhole route. It is
a little easier but a little longer. Please see my page on
this route for details
Congratulations, you have summited Longs Peak, the highest mountain
in Rocky Mountain National Park by a route few people take. The
Keyhole is clearly the most popular given it is well marked.
But the Loft offers more challenging climbing, steeper terrain,
more ups and down and just as stunning views. The weather can
be difficult, especially in the couloir between Longs and Meeker.
The wind is the biggest problem on any route up Longs but especially
so in this narrow steep valley.
If you have climbed the Keyhole for years, try the Loft one day. But,
please, be careful.
Note: I climbed the Loft route via the Lamb's Slide snow couloir in July 2010.
it was a wonderful variation on this approach.
This video is from June 2013 where I ascended the Keyhole route and descended
the Loft route. it was Spring weather but still winter conditions.