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Rocky Mountain National Park: Longs Peak via Clark’s Arrow and the Keyhole

Climb this iconic summit on an uncrowded sneak route.

Rating

No fewer than 78 of the Rockies’ 100 highest peaks lie in Colorado, but even with all of that competition, 14,259-foot Longs Peak is in a class by itself. Credit its striking profile, excellent rock, and spectacular approach. Not surprisingly, crowds of hikers storm the standard Keyhole Route in good weather. Avoid this bottleneck—and goose the adrenaline factor—by taking the 13-mile Clark’s Arrow Loop. The clockwise traverse ascends 6,300 feet via the scrambly Loft/Clark’s Arrow Route and descends the Keyhole.

Start at 2 a.m. at the Longs Peak trailhead and hike 4.5 miles to Chasm Lake, beneath the gigantic East Face Diamond. From Chasm, scramble steep slabs, then a straightforward but very narrow ramp (class 3) that leads south across cliffs to The Loft, a wide saddle between Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker. Cross the broad, flat Loft and drop down a steep, loose gully until you reach the base of the Palisade Cliffs.
Find the faded paint splotch called Clark’s Arrow, then begin a 1,500-foot, class 3 scramble up Keplinger’s Couloir, until you intersect the Homestretch, the upper section of the standard route. Ascend the final 350 feet to the broad summit. Complete the loop by returning on the Keyhole Route, which rejoins your inbound trail at Chasm Lake Junction. Caution: Snow, ice, rain-wet rock, and thunderstorms can complicate any climb on Longs. 

INFO For information on permits, current trail and camp conditions, and wilderness guidelines, go to nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations accepted ($20 administrative fee for permits during peak season). nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/backcntry_guide.htm

CONTACT Rocky Mountain National Park, (970) 586-1206; nps.gov/romo

-Text by Steve Howe, howephoto.us

To Trailhead

Longs Peak trailhead is 9 miles south of Estes Park, off CO 7.

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