Mountaineerinng, Climbing, HIking
Longs Peak, named after Major Stephen Long, an explorer to the Rocky Mountain region during the 1820's, stands 14, 259 feet tall and is one of Colorado's 54 "fourteeners."
The first recorded ascent of Longs Peak was in 1868 by the surveying party of John Wesley Powell. There are many routes that lead an adventurous mountain or alpine climber to the impressive summit. The easiest route is non technical and tens sometimes hundreds of people hike this route daily during the summer months. The East Face is quite steep, covered in part by a sheer, gigantic rock face known as The Diamond. This impressive feature can be technically climbed. Along the sides of The Diamond lie permanent snow fields which can also be climbed as part of a mixed route.
Any route you take up to the summit is challenging and potentially dangerous. According to the National Park Service, one person, on average, dies every year attempting to climb the mountain.
This page highlights just a few ways to reach the summit of this amazing peak - The standard hike to the top, technical rock climbing up the face or a mixed snow and rock ascent.
photo source: Labellereuine maps
There are many hiking trails that ascend Longs Peak, the most popular being the Keyhole route, named after the keyhole formation shown in the photo to the left. The Keyhole Route is actually the most climbed route of any fourteener route in Colorado and is a true classic climb.
Most hikers begin before dawn (3 or 4 am) in order to reach the summit and return below the tree line before frequent afternoon thunderstorms bring a risk of lightning strikes.
From the Long's Peak Trailhead the Keyhole route is 15 miles round trip with 5000' elevation gain. It is a long, steep, and arduous hike. It can also be dangerous when conditions are bad. Summer storms can makes scrambling over rocks quite slippery, and there is always the risk of being struck by lightening, plus huge crowds make rock fall a very real threat. The route spirals almost completely around the mountain, starting at the well marked trailhead going up about 5.9 miles to a boulder field, continuing on to the Keyhole (the famous rock formation that gives this route its name) and then it becomes more of a scramble through a section called the Trough to the 'homestretch,' shown in the photo below and to the right, and up to the summit. The most difficult part of the hike is the 'homestretch', the last 1,000 feet, be sure to save your energy for this section!
An Excellent Trail Guide - A must have for planning a hike up Longs Peak
An excellent compact trail guide that details all of the trails, some interesting history and some high altitude hiking tips.
A Stunning View Of The East Face Of Longs Peak
If you are unfamiliar with how technical climbs are rated, here is the briefest or rundowns. 5 means you need a rope. 5.0 - 5.6 are considered very easy and in theory, nearly anyone could climb at this level. 5.7 - 5.9 climbing is more difficult beginner-intermediate level. Once you reach 5.10 the grades break into a,b,c,and d. Each one technically harder than the next. Climbing anything at altitude with possible rock fall, lightening, snow/hail/rain/wind which are the conditions on Longs Peak make all grades significantly harder. A grade of A means the climb needs to be aided on gear as it is generally too hard to climb.
The Diamond was first ascended by Dave Rearick and Bob Kamps that year, 1960, by a route that would come to be known simply as D1 (5.7 A4 or 5.12a)
There are hundreds of technical routes up Longs Peak which require technical rock climbing skills and gear. A few of these include: the Keyhole Ridge route (5.5) Kieners (5.3-5.4) Alexander's Chimney (5.5) Stettners Ledge (5.7+) and Hornsbys Direct (5.8).
The more difficult technical routes lie on the face of The Diamond. A 'bivy' permit may be obtained if climbers wish to spend the night at the base of The Diamond or at Chasm View in order to start the climb at dawn. The 'easiest' technical route up The Diamond is The Casual Route (5.10a).
To get to the Casual Route or any other technical routes on the face of The Diamond, you must first approach via the standard trail and where the trail goes up and through the Keyhole, you veer off and head towards Chasm Lake. This is a 6 mile hike and the lake, which is stunningly beautiful, sits at 11,800 feet. From here you climb the North Chimney, (5th class, loose, wet) to the Broadway ledge where the climbs on the face start. You may also approach the face by the Chasm View rappels which adds another 1,000 feet of elevation gain and hiking but avoids rock fall and potential hazards in the chimney.
The Casual Route is 8 pitches, route finding can be challenging and a description of each pitch can be found here.
To Descend from this climb or many other on the face you have options. You can continue to climb easier terrain to the summit of the peak and then take one long rappel down the North Face, down climb and traverse until you get back to the Broadway ledge, climb to the summit and take the hikers route back down (not recommended unless you are out after dark as its crowded and adds many miles to your descent) or you can rappel down a new line of bolted rap anchors which start down from the top of D7 (the name of another technical route up the face). Five 150' rappels take you down to the Broadway ledge, then another set of four rappels (some 160') goes down the route Crack of Delight (south of North Chimney) to the Mills Glacier.
Be Prepared if You Climb - Get what you need here
The Mixed Routes
There are numerous mixed routes that will lead you to the summit of Longs Peak. Kieners route is just one that I'll discuss here so you can get an idea of what a mixed route might be like.
Kieners (shown in red in the topo to the left) is one of the most classic moderate alpine routes in the Lower 48 States . It is a mixed route that contains snow, ice and rock. Once you reach Chasm Lake via the standard climbers approach (see above) the Lambslide couloir will stand out on the north side of The Diamond. For this steep snowfield, crampons and ice tools are needed. Reaching the Broadway ledge, 4 or 5 pitches of technical traversing take you across it passing the Notch Couloir (another technical mixed route). The upper section of the climb either heads through some chimneys (in higher snow conditions) or climbs up the technical rock crux section (5.4). More Chimneys lead up to 3rd class slopes of grass/rocks/ice and eventually up some steppy granite ledges to the summit.
An Excellent Read - On this most interesting mountain
Magnificent photos and an accurate and detailed history of this incredible mountain are presented in this well written text authored by the former editor of Rock & Ice who has been climbing Long's Peak since 1982.
Climbers Along the Broadway Legde Traverse
My Story -The Hike
I have Hiked Longs Peak successfully 1 time and have climbed Longs Peak successfully 1 time via the Casual route on The Diamond.
The first time I tried to hike the keyhole route I was in my early twenties, but having never worked out a day in my life, I was grossly out of shape. Step by agonizing step we made it to the 'homestretch' when lightening struck within just a few feet of us sending us down in a hurry. I remember laying on the trail on the hike out convinced I would die right then and there as I was so exhausted.
Fast forward a few years to my actual successful ascent up the Keyhole Route. (the photo to the right was taken at the start of the homestretch, the final push to the top) Having discovered exercise and incorporated it into my life on a regular basis (1-2 hours a day 6 days a week) I was in excellent shape and looked upon those I passed on the trail who were sucking wind and moving at the pace or molasses in June with deep understanding but also joy at how much easier it felt this time around.
My Story - The Climb Part I
An epic adventure begins...
Flash forward yet again a few more years and I have become a technical climber. The Casual Route became a dream and a goal. I attempted it twice before being successful. Both times my partner succumbed to altitude sickness and we had to retreat.
To start: A week prior to our ascent, a friend, traversing across the Broadway ledge unropped, slipped and fell to his death. A year or so previous to our climb another friend lost his leg in the North Chimney from the knee down when a refrigerator sized block fell crushing his leg. The day before we set out to do the climb, a climber was struck by lightening on the very route we were to do and died.
When we got to the trailhead, they would not allow us to start the hike in as the helicopter was in the process of removing the body. Finally at 4 pm we were given the all clear to begin the hike in and climb up the North Chimney to the one bivy site on the Broadway ledge. Since we had planned to take all day to make this hike and first part of the climb, we were now stressed and pressured for time. By the time we made it to the base of the North Chimney it was 8 pm and rapidly getting dark.
I tried not to think of my friend and the loss of his leg in the North Chimney or of the people who had just died on the wall recently as we made our way up the loose, wet rock, ice and snow that covered sections of the chimney. Carrying heavy packs with climbing gear and bivy gear did not make this an easy task. We climbed most of it without ropes and roped up for the final section leading to the ledge. It was 11 pm by the time we reached the ledge and collapsed with a meager dinner of a few power bars and trail mix..
At 5 am we started the climb. The image to the right is of myself climbing one of the many pitches near the start of the climb.
The thing that surprised me most was how difficult it was to breath at this altitude. I had climbed other alpine routes before, most being around 12,000 feet and been fine. At this higher elevation I could hardly breathe, even when I was belaying and not climbing. Water and food helped tremendously with this. The climbing was fun, exposed and challenging at times. The epic began just as we reached the last pitch.
This book is a careful examination of the physical, biological and mental processes necessary to improve your performance as a rock climber. I highly recommend it to anyone who seriously wants to rock climb.
My Story - The Climb Part II
Dark clouds came in over the top of the mountain. The temperature began to drop. Just as we made it to the top of the climb and traversed to the rappel route down the face, the sky let loose. Lightening struck all around us, the memory of the deceased climber who was just hit by lightening a few hours prior made it all the more real. Sleet, snow and hail came pounding out of the sky. We decided to simulrap in order to get down as fast as possible taking care to communicate and check in. (The photo to the right is my climbing partner leading a pitch just prior to reaching the top and the storm. There are no photos from during the storm as it was a fight for survival at that point.)
I was shivering uncontrollably. At one point over an inch thick layer of sleet had built up on my legs. The sky became so dark you could hardly see 2 feet in front of you. Another party was right behind us, one of them wearing short sleeves. Thunder roared. At one point we simply had to stop as it was too dark to see where to go. My hands frozen, I dropped my belay device, looking down it was simply gone. Thankfully my friend was able to use the Munter hitch giving me his belay device and we were able to continue down. Finally, we reached the Broadway ledge and I have never been happier to see my sleeping bag in all my life. Quite a few climbers now huddled out of the storm at our bivy site. I loaned my down vest to the climber in short sleeves who eventually made it safely to the ledge as well.
In an hour or so the storm passed, as they usually do in the high country, and the skies cleared. Everyone made the final rappel off of the Broadway ledge and began the 6 mile hike back down to the trailhead.
I have no desire to ever climb the face of the Diamond again though I do hope to hike back up to Chasm Lake some time with my family or perhaps take the Keyhole route to the summit again.
If The Photos Were Not Enough... - See it here
A short video set to nice music showing various scenery and stunning views along the hike to the summit via the Keyhole Route.