Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Longs Peak

Longs Peak dominates the Front Range skyline up here in NoCo-land, so given the ease of access from tourist haven Estes Park, it's no surprise that it's probably the most hiked/climbed mountain in the state. As a local who also enjoys the trip to the top, the trick therefore is to go early in the week when the crowds are at their least annoying.

After an email from Dan Turk late last week about potential interest for today, and a bit of work shuffling, I signed on and contracted recent FoCo arrival Aaron Marks for the trip too. We got to the trailhead soon after 6:00 and were greeted with a choice of parking spots at the small (for RMNP) parking lot. On weekends at 6:00, one typically has to park a good half mile down the road, so this was a very good sign.

I was unsure if I wanted to push out a hard effort or just take it easy and fully enjoy the outing, so I figured I would just let the run come to me as it progressed.

As far as fastest known times (FKT) are concerned, the only records I could find on the tubes list Kraig Koski as the ascent record holder via the popular 7.5 mile (`5,000') keyhole route. His 1:49 dates back to 2000, and while certainly a solid time on what is a potentially dangerous route if moving carelessly above the boulder field, it seemed like a time that would be within reach.

I actually e-mailed Kraig a couple of days ago to inform him that I might be chasing his time (as that apparently is FKT protocol), and Kraig responded with an e-mail claiming no knowledge of the fact that he held the FKT! I figured therefore it might be fun to put a time out there for people to chase, presuming of course that I was good for a sub-1:49. Bill Wright holds the RT FKT at 3:35, according to details here.

From the off (9,400'), the breathing felt a bit labored as is typical with uphill starts at altitude. I was settled in to the workload and altitude after 10 to 15 minutes, but didn't much feel like pushing things after the pounding at Barr Trail two days prior. All bets were soon off anyway as I managed to head straight through in the wrong direction at the Chasm Lake 4-way. By the time I knew for sure I was going in the wrong direction I was a good two-thirds of a mile down the trail. I turned around and headed back just in time to meet Dan, who figured I'd lost a good 15 minutes. Buggery!

Pushed on and forgot about times and such like. The traffic was definitely thin given the ideal conditions, however there was the usual bottlenecking beginning at the boulder field, which I hit in 1:20. The keyhole (1:34) was as calm as I have experienced it from a wind perspective, as was the rest of the route from there.

I love the quad-burn sensation you get from a hard effort up the trough (~12,500' to 13,500') and homestretch (~13,600 - 14,200') so I had a blast powering up them. Although most everything past the boulder field is non-running, I still consider it a great power workout with all that intense high altitude quad work. I hit the summit rock in 2:08 and immediately turned around and headed back down.

I got off course again on the ledges back to the keyhole, ending up way too high and off to the right, realizing my mistake upon peering over the ridge to a big drop to the Boulder field below. Had to backtrack significantly (and somewhat sketchily) to get back with the bullseye markers (probably lost 15 mins total) and then hopped back across the Boulder field and down at a steady pace on the annoyingly jerky and steppy descent to the trailhead in a total descent of 1:46 and total RT outing of 3:55.

It was a fun outing on a perfect morning, but no damage whatsoever was done to the existing FKTs. Might take another shot next week, being sure to be less careless with the route. Oh, and if anyone has intel on faster times, please post in the comments.

Edits: See comments below for links to Jeff Valliere's 2006 3:23 (FKT) round trip report (Keyhole) and Bill Wright/John 'Homie' Prater's 3:09 report (Cables) .


  1. Nice work. I was hoping to get up there Sunday but you beat me to it. Thanks for the times. Now I know how long it will at least take me plus some.

  2. Good stuff, you got a chance to remind yourself of the route and pacing for next time!

  3. I love that trail. The Chasm Lake trail (with the cool green meadow near the end), and optionally with a run up to the Boulder Field, is just an awesome run.

    Way back when, I used to hear how you'd have to get up in the dark to summit by noon. The best thing about running is I can sleep in and still be down before the storms hit :) My summit run/hike was 3:25. Not going to set any records, but that's OK.

    Nice finish at Barr trail race! I love how you guys run the whole loop faster than I can get to Barr Camp.

  4. >My summit run/hike was 3:25

    P.S. - My 3:25 was just to the summit! I can't believe you clocked 3:55 for the whole thing.

  5. Report from Jeff Valliere where he did the ascent via the Keyhole Route in 1:52 and the roundtrip in 3:23 (5 mins on the summit, 1:26 down). I don't recall, but I'm guessing Jeff and I started and finished at exactly the same time that day, as I had 3:23:25 for the roundtrip (I didn't stop the watch on the summit).

    Note that Jeff and I used some "variations" on the route. I believe Bill's time was sticking to the standard trail the entire way. And I'm guessing Kraig did the same.

  6. You should have kept going after you missed the turn and summited via the loft route. I'm actually a little suprised that the FKT (2:14?) is slower than the Keyhole route FKT. You'll get it next time.

  7. Homie - yeah, I figured there were probably some faster times out there, and that JV was a likely candidate. I guess for the record then we'll call that a joint JV-Homie RT FKT for the keyhole, with Kraig's 1:49 still out there as the ascent FKT. What were your variations on the route by the way?

    Rob - If I'd known, I might have done that.

  8. Homie - guess I should have read the report first. Nice work on the cables route!

  9. http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?board=1&id=3615231&thread=3614800

    Per LetsRun:

    "9.5 hours is consider moving"

    "What to take with you: Plenty of water, sports drink or diluted juice, a few energy bars, sunscreen, a ballcap, sunglasses, disposable cameras, first aid supplies, a Garmin, cell phone, and a map."

  10. Based on the lack of pics, I'm guessing you forgot the disposable cameras?

  11. Lol. Yeah, I always seem to forget something. I also forgot the Garmin, cell phone, map, first aid supplies, ballcap, sunscreen, energy bars and sports drink. My oh my.

  12. Apparently the down FKT is 42 minutes (via cables). That is dropping 120 feet/minute which seems really fast!

    Since there is an FKT from Boulder you should set one from FoCo - should be about the same time ~28 hrs...

  13. Bill Wright has done the RT in 3:09, I believe. You should email him to confirm this.

    I believe he's hoping for a sub-3 eventually. Maybe you two should hook up for a joint push. Bill knows a TON of tricks up there.

  14. P.S. I don't know if Bill did the Cables for his 3:09 or stuck to the Keyhole.

  15. John - yeah, chatting with Dan on the way home yesterday, he kind of put the 3-hour number out there as something to shoot for.

    Boulder field in an hour or less should be doable, then 45 mins to the summit for 1:40 - 1:45, which would leave 1:15 - 1:20 for the drop, which if pushed hard once past the Boulder field should be within the realms of possibility.

    Without my wrong turns yesterday, I figure I would have been in the 3:25 - 3:30 range, and there was definitely room on the running sections for significant time chops. Kind of hesitant to push the sketchier exposed stuff too hard, but could probably pick up some time on yesterday's effort going up the trough and maybe the homestretch, although I probably pushed those sections the hardest.

    Do you happen to have Bill's contact details? If so, could you email them to me at the address on my profile page. Cheers!

  16. There are a bunch of old trails in the woods between the trailhead and treeline. These can be used to get you to treeline much more directly than the standard trail. Note that I'm not simply suggesting cutting the switchbacks of the standard trail. The best route that I've found avoids the standard trail between the trailhead and treeline except for maybe a half mile section of the standard trail. Locating these old trails takes some exploration, though. Pretty sure the fastest Longs times have used these variations (plus the Cables route).

    Here's how to find the first variation, which is only a minute or less from the trailhead. Start up the trail, pass the trail register, then come to the first right turn. After this right turn, look for a log fence on your left. Pass through this fence and pick up an old road. Simply follow the road/trail. There are some trail variations through here, but they all will get you back to the standard trail eventually.

    From treeline, I take the Jims Grove trail rather than the standard trail. On my fastest trips, when the Jims Grove trail intersects the standard trail just below Granite Pass, I'll just cross over the standard trail and head cross country over the north ridge of Mount Lady Washington headed for the Boulderfield. This bypasses the long switchbacks leading up to the Boulderfield. This certainly saves time but is obvious "shortcutting" to other hikers. I'll generally only do this en route to the Cables, where I'll stay way left in the Boulderfield, well away from the standard trail.

    All that said, it's up to you to decide how you want to do it. Sticking to the standard trail allows you to compare your times to others who've done the same. Maybe confirm with Kraig that he stuck to the standard trail the entire way. If you can hit his 1:49 sticking to the trail, you'll have no trouble crushing the 3:23 sticking to the trail on the down. Then you can come back later and work on the variations if you want.

  17. Homie - wow, thanks for the beta on the old trails, definitely good to know for future attempts at an absolute fastest time. But, yeah, will probably stick to current trails for the next attempt for ease of comparison if others want to take it on.

  18. Yes, I stuck to the standard trail back in 2000 when I did the 1:49.

  19. Thanks for the info on those trails, Homie. I've been wanting to try the shortcut variations for some time.

    Nice job Nick. Keep kicking Pete's butt up there in FoCo. :-)

  20. So funny that you just posted this. I'm headed up there on Wednesday for a long day on my feet. Not a run, just a hike with poles and all for a slow fat burning day. Maybe if you give it another go next Wednesday, I can throw a gel in your mouth as you fly by!

  21. Just ran into Dan Turk here in Asheville, great guy.

  22. Dan Turk in Asheville, huh? What are the chances of that? I'm guessing there was a running connection.

    Speaking of which, John the Ashville beer miler is now working in Leadville at the local coffee shop. Was buying a cup of coffee last month and he looked at me all strange and asked if he knew me, then made the beer mile connection:

    "Oh, that's right, your the beer mile guy"

    Good stuff.

  23. Love this kind of stuff! I think Dan's here for work, but had a chance to show him the trailhead closest to his hotel. Jon's running his first 100 this weekend, Run Rabbit Run. Won't be surprised if he shows up at your beer mile this year.