Colorado is infamous for being the home of fifty-eight 14ers. A 14er is when the peak of a mountain sits at or above 14,000 feet. Hikers flock to these peaks and around 500,000 people summit them each year. Within these fifty-eight, there are some mountains ranked as easy. Others can be rated as extremely difficult. Longs Peak falls at the difficult end of that spectrum. Sitting at 14,259 feet, it can be easily spotted at Rocky Mountain National Park. You are able to see Longs from almost anywhere in the park. Making it an iconic mountain in the area.
Every year, 20,000 people come to Estes Park in an attempt to climb Longs. More than half of those climbers do not make it to the summit. It is the most tried and failed fourteen in the state. In addition, it has been awarded the title of the deadliest mountain in Colorado. Since 2000 more than 58 people have died while attempting to climb Longs Peak. Making the fatality rate an average of two people per year. It is recommended that only experienced hikers and mountaineers attempt this hike.
There are several routes that will take you to the summit. The Keyhole Route is rated the easiest. It was given the name due to the break in the rocky ridges, resembling a keyhole. This route is fifteen miles long with a 5,000 feet elevation gain. It takes an average of twelve hours to complete without stopping overnight. Overnight camping is an option for backpackers in the Boulder Field Area. Which is a little less than six miles into the hike. There are nine tent sites that are surrounded by rocks. Nearby the site, water is available for filtering located between the rocks. Be sure to check with the park rangers for water availability beforehand. The camping area is at 12,760 feet and is above the treeline. Which can become dangerous if a lightning storm hits in the summer months. Wind can also be a life-threatening concern without trees blocking it. It is important to stay very hydrated at that elevation as well. Altitude sickness is fairly common in Colorado, especially for visitors coming from sea level. Keep in mind you do need to contact the park and make reservations at least a month prior to camp in this spot.
Weather plays a big part for those who are able to complete Longs Peak. Mid-July to September is the most popular and recommended time to try it. Summer hiking can be a concern in Colorado due to afternoon thunderstorms. When hiking at that elevation lightning strikes become more common. Especially since there will be no trees to shelter under while the storm passes through. Rocky Mountain National Park will post Longs conditions on their website in the summer months. It has also been known to snow all the way up until late June, depending on the year. It will be important to pack and prepare for all four seasons in your fifteen-mile hike. Base layers are recommended to easily stay warm. Rain jackets and ponchos can be a lifesaver during a soaking storm. Wool is windproof and should be considered as one of your main layers. Extra socks and even more socks, in case they get wet due to storms. Sunscreen and sunglasses are needed due to being so close to the sun. Most importantly, bring as much water as you can carry because you will need it throughout your journey.
There are some other must have items to pack for your 14er adventure. A first aid kit for emergencies or injuries. A compass since there will be no GPS or signal. A flashlight or headlamp, even if you are not planning on camping. It is possible to get stuck due to the weather and end up hiking in the dark. A whistle is good to have if you have to alert someone for help. Most importantly, high energy food. Nuts, granola or protein bars, beef jerky and peanut butter are a few to name. Fruit snacks or something with sugar, in case your blood sugar drops. Backpacking meals are offered at hiking stores such as REI. Remember that your body will be needing back the calories you are continuously burning off. Always bring double the amount of what you think you would need. While staying positive is always important, preparing for the worst could save your life.
The most concerning part of this trail is the last mile before you reach the summit. This is when a dangerous situation can occur and the hike turns into a climb. It involves a lot of scrambling and is rated Class 3. Meaning you will need to use your hands to climb the rest of the way up. Normally over large rocks and boulders. The texture of the rocks will become slippery from any leftover snow or rainstorms. Finger climbing gloves and helmets are needed here. Falling rock is common and without a helmet, it could become fatal if hit by one. The path becomes very narrow towards the summit and has very steep cliffs. This climb could take a few hours to complete. It is better to go slow and watch your every move than to make a rushed and careless mistake. Once you do reach the summit it will become flat. Ideal for sitting down, refueling and taking in the view. You are not done yet, hiking back down can be even harder than the hike up. Don’t rush, take your time and be mindful of every step you take. Proper footing will become your best friend on a class 3 scramble.
Longs Peak is one of the greatest accomplishments a climber can achieve in Colorado. It can seem very intimidating on paper. But, it should still be a goal for those who are properly prepared and trained on how to hike this beast. Checking popular hiking apps like All Trails could keep you updated on current completed hiker stories. This is also a great way to view hiking conditions. If you aren’t quite ready to take Longs on yet that is fine too! It is just as beautiful viewing it from inside Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether you are on the top of the mountain or the bottom. Take the time to soak in the majesty of this peak.