Explore the Colorado Rockies with Kim Fenske
Story and photos by Kim Fenske
Longs Peak, 14,255 feet, is located near the southern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead and a small campground are situated along Highway 7, south of Estes Park and west of Boulder, about 140 miles from Summit County. Longs Peak is a popular Fourteener, fifteenth tallest in Colorado.
About 20,000 hikers attempt to reach its summit each year. More than fifty-five climbers have died on Longs Peak since Carrie Welton died of hypothermia in 1884. The most common cause of death is a fall on a technical approach to the summit.
The Longs Peak Trail extends 8 miles from the trailhead to the summit along the most popular approach, The Keyhole Route. The round-trip hike is twelve hours in length and is optimally started before sunrise.
The trail begins at 8,930 feet with a gentle hike on well-groomed switchbacks through the forest over a 2,000-foot vertical rise over the first 2.6 miles to a junction with the Battle Mountain Trail near the tree-line.
At 4 miles, two hours into the ascent, Chasm Lake Trail forks south toward Longs Peak, while the trail to the Boulder Field below the Keyhole continues west. The Boulder Field Trail turns south a mile later, at 11,860-foot elevation. The trail vanishes among the boulders, along with any source for drinking water. The Keyhole at the ridge, 13,190 feet, marks the way up.
Stepping over to the west side of Longs Peak through The Keyhole, the summit is only a mile away. Beyond The Keyhole, the pathway to the summit is periodically marked by bulls-eyes of red with a yellow center. The Ledges, the next stretch of trail, crosses the boulder field on the west face of Longs Peak with spectacular views of mountains ranges extending to the horizon.
The trail continues up a rock-filled chute called The Trough to a ridge at 13,749 feet and over to the southeast face of Longs Peak. The Narrows, a seam wide enough to scramble for the next three-tenths of a mile, leads to the final steep climb two hundred feet up the cracks of what is known as The Homestretch.
Kim Fenske is a former wilderness ranger, firefighter who has hiked thousands of miles in the Colorado mountains. He has served on the board of directors of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
Fenske has authored several hiking books filled with hundreds of photographs of Colorado wildlife, wildflowers, and scenery. His books are enjoyed by thousands of outdoor enthusiasts. His current electronic book titles are published on Amazon for Kindle, as well as Barnes and Noble for Nook. Search for these titles: “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado,” “Holy Cross Wilderness Area,” and “Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.”
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