The Front Range sits just west of Denver, offering a few 14ers to choose from, none more formidable than Longs Peak on the northern end. Standing at 14,259 feet, it offers the hiker a more challenging route compared to Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, and Pikes Peak to the south. The Keyhole Route is a Class III approach that is better suited for those with a more adventurous soul.
From the Longs Peak Trailhead, follow the East Longs Peak Trail. The trail starts through a thick forest with gentle switchbacks. At approximately 0.5 miles you will reach a junction: stay left. The trail continues to follow the Alpine Brook through the forest and passes Goblins Forest. There are a few campsites within Goblins Forest, but for the day hiker, continue along the path. The trail eventually crosses Alpine Brook via a wood bridge. There are a few good photo opportunities to capture the mountain landscape here.
The trail will begin to ascend up to a thinning forest, and a view of the Twin Peaks to the east appear. Before long you are above tree line and approaching the tundra at 11,000 feet, where initial views of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak appear. Continuing along the trail, you will reach another signed junction: stay left. The trail will continue to gain moderate elevation through a designated trail toward the Chasm Lake Trail junction. This is a good spot to catch your breath for the upcoming traverse toward Granite Pass.
The traverse is moderately long before reaching Granite Pass. From Granite Pass, the view to the north begins to reveal Rocky Mountain National Park. Continue along the switchbacks up to the North Boulder Field. Longs Peak will now be in your scope as you ascend the mountain.
A designated outhouse is a prominent landmark at the beginning of the boulder field and a good stopping point. The boulder field is the beginning of the technical approach. Route finding will be needed as you follow the manmade cairns through the boulder field up toward the prominent Keyhole. The pitch intensifies, and you will begin to feel the elevation. Plan ahead of time and put on a windbreaker, as the Keyhole tends to be very windy.
From the Keyhole, traverse south following the painted bullseyes. You will be tracking toward the bottom of the Trough. The Trough, at 13,300 feet, is a 600-foot vertical ascent that seems neverending. Make sure you take some time to catch your breath, as the altitude will begin playing a factor. At the top of the Trough there is a short, steep pitch that requires precise footholds. It can get congested in this area.
Once this pitch has been accomplished, the Narrows appears. The Narrows is an exposed southwest facing obstacle that requires focus and deliberate foot placement. The span lasts approximately 200 yards before reaching the Homestretch.
The Homestretch is a steep, almost vertical rock climb up to the summit. Continue following the bullseyes for the best approach. Careful foot placements along the main cracks will help aid in good traction. The Homestretch is about 100 yards up. After completing this section, you will reach the flat and expansive summit of Longs Peak.
Take in the views, as they are impressive, but keep an eye on the weather. Things up at 14,255 feet change fast, and it is important that you leave enough time to descend. Make sure you try and reach the summit before noon, as afternoon summer monsoons are common. Also, keep in mind that you are only half way to your car, and the descent often takes a harder toll on the knees and body. Continue the way you came following the bullseyes. Usually the descent shaves an hour off of the time it took to ascend.