The day hiking wonderland of the Colorado Rocky Mountains has 54 peaks which rise above 14,000 feet. Long’s Peak is one of the more famous and rigorous “Fourteeners” and a “must do” for the extreme day hiker.
However, like the other hikes described on this site, be prepared mentally and physically for this day trek of 16 miles round trip and 4850 feet of elevation climb.
Situated in the Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Long’s Peak is a photographer’s dream with Bear Lake often providing a scenic foreground.
Like any high altitude venture, plan to start your hike about 1-3 in the morning in order to reach the summit and be down below tree line before the afternoon thunderstorms. When I (Dayhiker) did this hike we left at 2:45am, on top by 9:00am and down by 3:00pm. My hiking buddy and I were fortunate to have good weather. However, high winds along with exposed positions and slippery ice/rocks can make this a hazardous non-technical fourteener.
The trail starts at 9,400′ and climbs to 14,255′. The first two miles weave through the woods passing the Alpine Brook several times before reaching the treeless alpine world. The junction to Chasm Lake is at 3.5 miles. The lake is another 0.7 miles from here and sits at the foot of the awesome East Face of Longs Peak.
However, the Longs Peak route heads in the other direction towards Granite Pass. By this spot, you will have traveled 4.2 miles and climbed to just over 12,000′. Work to find a steady pace that doesn’t take up too much energy and try to keep the rest stops brief. A steep section after Granite Pass is followed by nice views of Longs Peak. If you left early enough, dawn should be breaking as you pass through the alpine tundra with elk grazing nearby the trail.
Next is the Boulderfield, starting the all-rock terrain for the remainder of the hike to the summit. Getting through this will be a mental and physical challenge, but once this is done, you will have hiked 6 of the 7.5 miles and climbed over 3/4 of the elevation gain. You are now sitting at the Keyhole an interesting rock opening on the mountain ridge, where a constant wind brings the temperature down to requiring another layer of fleece and wind pants. To be safe, if you are to have a chance at the summit (and return to tree line before thunderstorms), you should be at this spot by not much later than 7 a.m.
Thread the famous Keyhole (picture above), tread carefully on the narrow Ledges, and traverse up the Trough, another mental and physical challenge. There is not a trail in the usual sense as one picks through a continuous series of yellow circles with a red dots in the center of large rocks. The Trough is a formidable, steep stretch of several hundred feet which can be covered with ice. It’s important that a non-ice path is found since going down is all but impossible on a slick ice surface. The top of the Trough is the Narrows, including a 10 foot fun rock climb. Around the corner, then, is the Home Stretch, another few hundred feet of challenging rock scrambling. With the summit view in sight there is no turning back as each step get you closer. It’s no Mt Everest but it feels like it the last 100 feet (that’s me in the blue wind breaker). The top is a large flat surface with incredible views of the lakes and mountains around the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Go down carefully. Most accidents seem to happen then. Look out for wet and/or polished rock going down the Home Stretch.
Returned to your plush accommodations and toast a beer to the fact you took on one of the toughest non-technical hikes the Rockies has to offer!
Header image By Rationalobserver [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons