Loft Route
Longs Peak
14,259 feet, 4346 meter
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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 climb.

The Loft route follows the couloir between Mt. Meeker, 13,700' and Longs. The trail in the SummerIt 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).

Meeker CouliarTake 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.

If 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.

Robert and Lee climbing Meekers CoulairThe 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.
Looking West from the Summit
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. Marmott on the summit

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.