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3. Longs Peak via Keyhole Route, Rocky Mountain National Park

The Keyhole route is not for the faint of heart. You want to be in shape and comfortable with scrambling to tackle this.
You’ll encounter steep rock ledges and magnificent views as you near the summit. Photo courtesy of Will Rochfort

A step up in difficulty for a 14er

Last on our list in RMNP is the well-known, even iconic, Longs Peak Hike via the Keyhole Route.

Kevin Capps calls this a major “step up” for a fourteener: the route is long, challenging and much more than just a hike, requiring class 3 scrambling. It is about four and a half to five miles—just to get to the boulder field—and that, Kevin says, is where the difficult part starts.

Some people will just go to the boulder field, eat lunch and turn around. If you choose to continue on to Keyhole, you will then move into what Kevin classifies as “class 2” and “class 3” terrain. Class 2 means you will be hiking in “stairmaster” mode: very steep step-ups that can quickly become taxing. Class 3 requires contact with all of your limbs on the mountain. You will likely use your hands to help scramble up this slope of granite, where there are painted dots on the rock to help you navigate.

With a hike of this nature, there are several precautions you need to consider. It is important to start early, around 2 AM, because you don’t want to be caught on the summit when afternoon storms roll in. In fact, a few of my family members were forced to turn around after being caught in a terrifying storm—but at the boulder field (imagine that happening at the summit?). If there is a chance of storms on the day of your hike, it may be best not going at all due to the lack of shelter above treeline.

Further, Kevin recommends wearing climbing helmets because as you get past the boulder field, rocks can get kicked down from hikers above. If you are not an experienced hiker and still are eager to bag this peak, consider booking a guide to help you reach the top.

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