Climbing Longs Peak: A Magnificent Class 3 Climb
Longs Peak is the queen of the front range, rising high above the northern Colorado rocky mountains. She isn’t a mountain to be trifled with; More people have died climbing Longs Peak than any other mountain in the state. Most who perish or get injured do so because they’re unprepared and don’t realize the significance of this route. It involves long distances, climbing on steep rock, and requires and early 2am start to be back below tree line before afternoon storms hit. Be prepared before you attempt climbing Longs Peak. Get your research started with my Keyhole Route Guide below.
Climbing Longs Peak: Fast Facts
Climbing Longs Peak - Keyhole Route
Note: Climbing Longs Peak is extremely difficult and risky – more people have died on Longs Peak than any other fourteener – More than 50. I highly recommend you do not climb Longs Peak until you have climbed several Class 2 fourteeners. Give the Longs Peak route the respect it deserves.
The Longs Peak route is a long ascent for a single day. If that’s your plan, aim to hit the trail by 2 am to ensure you are back safe below the treeline before afternoon lightning storms strike. The section of the trail below the treeline is well-built and maintained. You’ll go up a few switchbacks and cross a stream before you approach the tree line. Once you pop out from under the forest you’ll have a great view of Mount Lady Washington in front of you with Longs Peak beyond it (if you can see in the dark).
At the junction to Chasm Junction, there’s a National Park-maintained bathroom you can use. Otherwise, take a hard right here to walk along the slopes of Mt Lady Washington. Your next goal is Granite Pass, where you’ll take a left.
After Granite Pass, climb a series of switchbacks up Mt Lady Washington’s northwest slopes. You’ll probably begin to see dawn during this section. In the boulder field, you will pass your last chance to use a bathroom along with the tents of those who reserved a spot up here for the night. Continue southwest and aim for the Keyhole rock feature. The scrambling will become more difficult and the boulders will get larger as you approach it.
The Keyhole is often a significant bottleneck while climbing Longs Peak, as the scrambling beyond it considerably slows most individuals. Be warned: From this point, you are only about halfway there time-wise. Stop to check the weather here. If storms are near, it’s best to head back and try another day. If things look clear, pass through the Keyhole and head to your left.
You now enter a section called “The Ledges.” It’s a relatively easy section of scrambling with a dramatic drop-off to Glacier Gorge below. While the scrambling isn’t technically difficult, it may be a lot to handle for those who prefer avoiding heights. Follow the red and yellow bullseye marks painted onto rocks by the Park Service. These will lead you to the summit.
Towards the end of the Ledges, you’ll enter a large boulder-filled gully called the Trough. This is where you’ll gain most of your elevation to the summit climbing Longs Peak. Follow the bullseye up the trough, passing back and forth from the left to the right side to take the path of least resistance. Wear a helmet during this section and beyond. Falling rocks are commonly knocked loose by those above you. If you knock a rock loose, shout rock to those below. If you hear rock – don’t look up, Look straight forward – your helmet will protect you.
At the top of the trough lies the chockstone: a series of large rocks leaning up against one another. There are several ways to scramble up this rock. Take time, watch how others go up, and make it up and over this point into the Narrows section.
The Narrows takes you along the south face of the Longs Peak route as you traverse to the Homestretch. Here the scrambling is again not difficult, but a fall would be fatal. Take your time moving carefully, especially over one awkwardly placed rock early in the route.
Finally, the flat Homestretch takes you the last several hundred feet up to the summit. This is the crux of your trip climbing Longs Peak. The surface has many cracks which are perfect to follow up to the summit. Things are more difficult if the rock is wet or covered in ice.
Finally, you’ll inch your way onto the strangely flat summit of Longs Peak! Enjoy a spectacular view of the entire Front Range, including Longmont, Boulder, and Denver below on the plains. Make sure you head back with time to make it back below treeline before noon.
I hope you enjoyed my Longs Peak Route Guide. This isn’t an easy objective, so take your time working up towards doing this Longs Peak route. Best of luck climbing Longs Peak, and safe travels on the trail!
No guide is complete without a topographical map of the Longs Peak route. If you plan on climbing Longs Peak, you will need a good map. You can download this to look at on your phone on your trip, but I also recommend you print out a paper copy to bring along as a backup in case anything happens to your electronics. A compass is also a good idea, along with the skills and knowledge required to use it to navigate.
You should always check the weather forecast multiple times before climbing Longs Peak, from multiple sources, before your climb, especially for this Longs Peak Route. Here are several mountain weather sources you can use specifically for the Longs Peak route area.
Longs Peak is a serious 14er with plenty of hiking and scrambling required to reach the summit. A good pair of hiking boots are essential if you want your best chance for a successful ascent. Here are my hiking boot recommendations.
You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). This is especially true on a dangerous peak like Longs Peak. To carry them all, bring a backpack with 20-30 liters capacity. These are several good backpack options that won’t break the bank.
While trekking poles are not a necessity on this mountain, I use them myself as they offer many benefits and make hiking easier. If you want a pair, I share my personal favorites here.
Don’t forget to bring 2 liters of water, and a good bit of snacks and food for the trail. Learn more about packing for a 14er here.
Camping near Longs Peak:
- Longs Peak Campground
- Meeker Park Overflow Campground
- Estes Park Campground at Mary’s Lake
- Olive Ridge Campground
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those climbing Longs Peak. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead or in most areas of the national park. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Longs Peak:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Estes Park, Nederland, and the surrounding area, ideal for those climbing Longs Peak.
Longs Peak is located in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park, a wild area with amazing wildlife. The area is busy – more than 40,000 try to climb the mountain each year. Please follow these Leave No Trace practices to help protect the vulnerable tundra and sub-alpine forest:
- Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
- Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
- Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
- Urinate off-trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
- Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
- Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Safe travels, and good luck climbing Longs Peak! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Longs Peak is the only Colorado fourteener located within a national park. This makes it a very busy peak, even though it is a difficult class 3 scramble. The difficulty of the climb often overwhelms people, unprepared for the thin air, severe weather, and exposed scrambling beyond the Keyhole rock formation.
The mountain is named after Stephen Long, an early U.S. explorer who first sighted the mountain in 1820 during an expedition to Colorado. The peak has been climbed for hundreds of years by Native Americans to collect eagle feathers from the summit. It was originally climbed by tourists via the “Cables,” a series of bolted in cables that ascend the sheer northeast face of the mountains. The National Park removed the cables because they were a lightning risk, and to preserve the wilderness experience, during the 1970s. The Keyhole route has been the standard route ever since.
Just below the Keyhole rock formation, the Agnes Vaille Shelter stands as an emergency refuge for hikers and climbers. It was built in 1935 by the family of Agnes, who died attempting the first winter climb of Longs Peak a decade beforehand. It’s a stark reminder of the hazards found on this route, the most deadly 14er in overall numbers.
Climbing Longs Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Climbing Longs Peak is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.