Longs Peak is a solitary fourteener rising dramatically over the high plains of eastern Colorado, a beacon for pioneers and a dominant local landmark. Longs Peak is a craggy monster with several enormous vertical cliffs, set among the sea of 13,000 foot peaks that make up Rocky Mountain National Park.
The northeastern aspects include the Diamond, an almost sheer 1700 foot face that is the premier big wall in America outside of Yosemite. The west slopes fall away steeply, too, with lots of talus-filled gullies. Oddly, the summit is a large, flat expanse of about a couple acres, like the top of a tree stump falling away steeply on all sides.
Indians are alleged to have trapped eagles on the summit, but the first non-natives to climb Longs Peak were led by one-armed John Wesley Powell, more famous for his boat trip down the Grand Canyon.
The start of the route is on Colorado Route 7, south of Estes Park, the main tourist town for Rocky Mountain National Park. There is camping at the trailhead which is clearly marked on Rt 7.
The Keyhole Route
The Keyhole or Standard Route was our choice. This was Joe’s first fourteener and the classic route up Longs is a great choice. He can see Long’s from his house and often thought of climbing it, so lets go.
All other routes on Longs are technical rock climbs, including the former standard route whose steel cables have been removed. The Diamond offers routes of the highest standard, and it is where many members of the 1963 American Everest expedition, including Tom Hornbein, honed their skills.
Rather than hump camp gear to the boulder field we opted to go light and leave the trailhead at 1-2am. We met at the Millsite and made our way to the tail head leaving just like we wanted to a shade after 1:30.
The path climbed up through a quiet moonless forest, over water a few times for a few miles. We worked our way up toward Mt Lady Washington as we cleared tree line. At the fork in the trail where you can head to Chasm lake (and there is a vault toilet) we got our first awesome view of the Peak and the sheer Diamond. We didn’t pause long and made good time as we switch backed north up to the “boulder field”. Our plan to carry only a couple of liters of water each and a filter paid off just right. We took water high up the boulder field after passing those who camped the night and were working out their breakfasts. The trekking poles got put away as we then made out way for the distinctive Keyhole formation , a huge overhanging rock projection on the peak’s north ridge.
Scampering over the Keyhole to the stunning Glacier gorge view on the other side is one of the great moments on Longs standard route.
From there we scrambled from bulls-eye paint blaze to paint blaze traversing across a steep and rocky slope. The trough was clear of snow and we met a few folks already coming down before 7am! The top of the trough is another great moment where you get to see the other side of Longs with some good exposure past a couple airy corners before the steeply angled slabs named the “home stretch” that lead to the summit. It is a long and crowded 8 miles and 4850 vertical feet from the trailhead, but a popular and spectacular hike/climb nevertheless.
I took a side jaunt up the side of the trough which had long smooth steep slabs reaching to the summit. I followed a crack system up a bit til I needed to turn around. Our path up and back is in the GPS image in the photo gallery.