Longs Peak Diary:
Introduction to the Climb


My interest in mountaineering is now acute to the point that I've had to acquire some expert instruction in matters such as use of ropes, ice axe and crampons. But in calmer days I was keeping my eye peeled not for week-long adventures but decent one-day challenges. While in this weekend-adventurer mode I discovered Longs Peak.

Climbing Longs Peak is as close to a full-fledged mountaineering adventure as one can experience without being a full-fledged mountaineer (or without being pathologically adventurous). Longs Peak is high, over 14 thousand feet, where the thinner air becomes a real issue in determining whether or not you will have the strength to make it to the summit. It is exposed. All four sides have steep drop-offs, at one place or another, if not whole cliff walls throughout, which make for spectacular views and an occasional test of nerve. This is also the reason no road has been paved all the way to its summit, like so many other high mountains. It just cannot be done.

Longs Peak can be climbed in any season by many routes, virtually all of them requiring technical climbing skills and equipment including ropes, harnesses, ice axes and crampons. But one route to the summit can be climbed without equipment during a few weeks in summer between mid-July and early September: the so-called Keyhole route. The availability of this non-technical route is what makes Longs Peak a magnet for anyone wanting a taste of high mountaineering.

Weather is also a factor that makes climbing Longs Peak interesting. Even during its most climbable season, in summer, Longs Peak is guaranteed like clockwork to be hit daily by noon thunderstorms and lightning. Standing exposed anywhere on the mountain above treeline is no place to be during an electrical storm. And so you have to hope to reach the summit and be off the mountain, and below treeline (if possible) before these storms hit. This takes planning and preparation. Trying to predict your performance during all phases of the climb, days before the event, in order to devise a safe timetable for reaching the summit of Longs Peak is part of the fun. Fortunately, so many thousands of people have climbed the mountain successfully that the appropriate timetables are published in various literature and you don't have to go to a lot of trouble to figure out every detail.

The striking east side of Longs Peak showing its
vertical face, The Diamond. The non-technical
Keyhole route approaches from the right and
winds behind the mountain on the west and
south sides.
And finally, because the mountain is located within Rocky Mountain National Park, the conservation ethic of the National Park Service has resulted in policies which restrain development of the mountain and its surrounding moraines and valleys. The result is that just getting to the mountain is not easy but involves a long 7-mile approach hike, on foot (or sometimes on horseback) that takes several hours. Amenities such as shelter cabins, phones, etc. (which once existed on the trail) were removed by the Park Service long ago. In maintaining the present rather arduous Longs Peak trail, the National Park Service has guaranteed that the would-be Longs Peak climber must be committed. The total package is a 16 mile hike with a summit climb above 14,000 feet. This is not a casual stroll but a substantial challenge. The experience will last most of a full day. Hopefully, the day will be a very memorable one.



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