Longs Peak (originally Long's Peak, see below) is one of the 54 "fourteeners" in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It can be prominently seen from Longmont, Colorado, as well as from the rest of the Colorado Front Range piedmont. It is named after Major Stephen Long, who explored the area in the 1820s.
Longs Peak rises to 14,259 feet (4,346 m) above sea level. Surveys conducted prior to 2002 list the elevation as 14,255 feet (4,344 m).
When taken with its neighbor Mount Meeker, they are sometimes referred to as the Twin Peaks (not to be confused with a nearby mountain called Twin Sisters).
As the only fourteener in Rocky Mountain National Park, the peak has long been of interest to climbers. The easiest route is not "technical" during the summer season, and was probably first used by American Indians collecting eagle feathers, but the first recorded ascent was in 1868 by the surveying party of John Wesley Powell. The East Face of the mountain is quite steep, and is surmounted by a gigantic sheer cliff known as "The Diamond" (so-named because of its shape, approximately that of a cut diamond seen from the side and inverted - see image at right). Another famous profile belongs to Longs Peak: to the southeast of the summit is a series of rises which, when viewed from the northeast, resembles a beaver. The photo shows the beaver climbing the south (left side) of the mountain.
In 1954 the first proposal made to the National Park Service to climb The Diamond was met with an official closure, a stance not changed until 1960. 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. This route would later be listed in Allen Steck and Steve Roper's influential book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. The easiest route on the face is the Casual Route (5.10-), climbed in 1977 and has since become the most popular route up the wall.
As with Pikes Peak, there is officially no apostrophe in the name, although a number of Colorado residents continue to object to this ruling by the Board on Geographic Names.
Longs Peak has one glacier named Mills Glacier. The glacier is located around 12,800 feet (3,900 m) at the base of the Eastern Face, just above Chasm Lake. There is also another permanent snowfield, called The Dove, located north of Longs Peak. Longs Peak is one of less than 50 mountains in Colorado that has a glacier.
Hiking Longs Peak
Trails that ascend Longs Peak include the East Longs Peak Trail, the Longs Peak Trail, the Keyhole Route, and the Shelf Trail. No technical climbing is required to reach the summit of Longs Peak during the summer season, which typically runs from mid July through early September. Outside of this window the popular "Keyhole" route is still open, however its rating is upgraded to "technical" as treacherous ice formation and snow fall necessitates the use of specialized climbing equipment including, at a minimum, crampons and an ice axe. It is considered to be the most difficult Class 3 fourteener in Colorado.
The hike from the trailhead to the summit is 7.5 miles (12 km) each way. Most hikers begin before dawn in order to reach the summit and return below the tree line before frequent afternoon thunderstorms bring a risk of lightning strikes. The most difficult portion of the hike begins at the Boulder Field, 5.9 miles (9.5 km) into the hike. After scrambling over the boulders, hikers reach the Keyhole at 6.2 miles (10 km).
The following quarter of a mile involves a scramble along narrow ledges, many of which may have nearly sheer cliffs of 1,000 feet (305 m) or more just off the edge. The next portion of the hike includes climbing over 1,000 vertical feet (305 m) up the Trough before reaching the most exposed section of the hike, the Narrows. Just beyond the Narrows, the Notch signifies the beginning of the Homestretch, which is almost vertical climb, to the football field-sized, flat summit. It is possible to camp out overnight in the Boulder Field (permit required) which makes for a less arduous two day hike, although this is fairly exposed to the elements. 57 people have died climbing or hiking Longs Peak. According to the National Park Service, one person, on average, dies every year attempting to climb the mountain. In the summer of 2005 a Japanese climber was blown off a ledge after reaching the summit. On September 3, 2006 a man fell 800 feet (244 m) to his death when some rocks let go while he was descending the Loft route.
For hikers who do not wish to climb to the summit, there are less-involved hikes on the peak as well. Peacock Pool and Chasm Lake are popular hiking destinations and follow well-maintained trails. It is also rewarding to hike just to the Boulder Field, the Keyhole, or the seldom-visited but spectacular Chasm View. Camping is available at the Boulder Field and also on the lower portions of the mountain, such as Goblin's Forest. Technical climbers, with the correct permit, are allowed to use "bivy" sites at the base of the East Face and at Chasm View. It is also possible to camp to the south of the mountain at Sand Beach Lake.
Climbing Longs Peak
In addition to the standard "Keyhole" route, there are more serious and more technical climbs on Longs Peak. Climbers should seek qualified instruction; deaths on Longs Peak are an annual occurrence. Some of the more common routes are, in approximate order of popularity,
- North Face Cables route. This follows the Keyhole route to the Boulder Field, then ascends the North Face of the peak. It requires one or two pitches of low-5th class climbing, and is often downclimbed or rappelled by technical climbers since it is one of the fastest ways to ascend or descend the peak. In the early 20th century, enterprising guides installed a series of large steel eye bolts along this route, connecting them with a steel cable similar to systems in the Alps. The cables were removed later due to the lightning hazard, but the bolts remain and are used as rappel anchors.
- Kieners Route. A traditional mountaineering climb that involves a climb of Lambs Slide, which is icy later in the season, then an exposed traverse of the Broadway ledge, and then low-5th class climbing. Lambs Slide is so-named because of the Reverend Elkanah J. Lamb's nearly fatal tumble down it http://earthboundsports.com/RMNP-History.pdf. The most recent fatal tumble was November, 2006.
- via the Loft. The Loft is the semi-permanent snowfield between Longs Peak and its south-eastern neighbor Mt. Meeker. From the saddle you can traverse to either peak. One such traverse route is Gorilla's Traverse. It is also possible to ascend to the saddle via Lambs Slide.
- via the East Face. The East Face is the steep, 1,000 + foot (305 + m) wall that includes the Diamond and the Lower East Face. All climbs here are technical, from 5.10 to 5.13. It is also possible to ascend to the (climber's) left of the Diamond face proper. The routes on the right side of the Diamond are often aid climbed, and may require spending the night on the wall; the rock here can be very wet. Routes on the left side of the Diamond are usually free climbed. Only qualified climbers should attempt climbs on this face, and should take into consideration the effects of altitude and alpine conditions in addition to the difficulty rating.
- via the Notch Couloir. This is a technical climb involving rock climbing and, at some times of year, ice climbing. The Notch Couloir is to the (climber's) left of the Diamond face.