While everyone else on Long's stumbles over the boulderfield and picks his or her way through the Keyhole, the Trough provides a "paved" access to the Narrows on the northwest summit area of the peak. Visible throughout Estes and from any point on the hike after Black Lake, the Trough shines through as the longest snow field of the three or four that form on the NW face. Continuously steep, but without any technical difficulties, the climb eventually becomes monotonous as each crampon step is the same, but with the waterfalls of Glacier Gorge below you and hordes of scramblers with too-big packs clogging the rocks above, you are alone in paradise.
True, this route has some drawbacks. The drive from Denver takes longer to start at Bear lake, you have to pay to enter the park, and it's always possible that rocks will be dislodged from the Keyhole route above. If the snow is dangerous, gone, deep or slushy, it's not as much fun as when the snow has set up into perfect corn. Fortunately, you have a good chance of being alone on one of the busiest peaks in Colorado.
It helps to wear light hiking boots for the approach, change to mountaineering boots with crampons for the ascent, then drop your pack at the top of the snow for the continuation of the climb through the Narrows and the Homestretch of the Keyhole route (follow the dots). The smartest bring skis for the trip back down.
Park at the Glacier Gorge Junction trailhead (a mile below Bear Lake), and follow signs to cliff-ringed Black Lake at 5 miles. Cross the lake at the outlet boulders and follow up the East side. Scramble over talus and ledges up to the snow. The route is the longest finger of snow and reaches up into the NW face of the mountain. Descent is by skis, glissade, or crampons. It is also possible to reverse the Keyhole route through the boulderfield and follow signs back down to your car near Bear Lake.
No protection necessary. Crampons and ice axe are recommended, and avalanche gear is always a good idea. Watch out for rocks from above and funny looks from the people on the Keyhole route when you arrive at the top of the snow.
A zoomed photo of the Trough taken from the summit...
A view of Longs, the Keyboard of the Winds and Pag...
Kurt Johnson looking at the Trough from the summit...
Ben Williams heading back down the Trough, 6-2-200...
The bottom half of the Trough as seen from about h...
Climbing up the trough, Winter 2008. Photo taken ...
Looking at the Trough from the Keyhole, 3-11-2007....
Looking at the Trough from the Keyhole, 3-11-2007.
Ben Williams in the Trough, 6-2-2007.
Ben Williams on his way to the base of the Trough,...
Ben Williams on his way down the Trough, 6-2-2007....
Ben Williams cruisin' up the Trough, 6-2-2007.
BETA PHOTO: A photo of the trough in late March, 2008 after th...
The top half of the Trough as seen from about half...
Traversing into the Trough from the Homestretch.
By Greg Sievers
From: Bozeman, MT
Jan 8, 2012
Newz flash 1/8/2012:
RMNP and access to the Black Lake cirque - Due to a Nov. 12 micro-burst, there are thousands of mature, downed trees between Mill's Lake & Black Lake. Many are ripped up attached to their entire root ball. If you plan to climb ice up there (like Stoneman or Yellow Tears or summer routes on Arrowhead, Chiefshead, Spearhead), expect a 4 hour approach.
From: Denver, CO
Jun 29, 2007
I'm interested in climbing this on Sunday. What are the conditions? I plan to haul the snowboard up as high as possible...does it go?