Longs Peak FAQ
Colorado
14,259 feet, 4346 meter
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About Longs

Q: Where is it
A: On the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado in the US. It is the 14th highest mountain in Colorado at 14,259' and one of the most popular 14ers. It's 'Diamond Face' is known as one of the best vertical face climbs in the world. The nearest city is Estes Park and major airport is Denver International.

Q: When is it usually climbed?
A: The prime climbing time is from mid July to late August, however, it is climbed year round. Early Spring (late May through June) and Fall (September and October) are less crowded and offer incredible views of the snow covered Rocky Mountains. Between November and June it is extremely windy and with deep snow at times. Longs is quite difficult in the winter with winds normally at 30 mph and regularly gust to 70mph - a hurricane. The snow is not bad since the winds blows it away but it can be deep on the Loft Couloir or beyond the Keyhole. It also can be very deep in the trees below treeline so it is important not to stray from the trail ... if you can find it in the winter.

Q: How hard is it to climb Longs Peak?
A: Depends on the route. There are over 175 routes (mostly technical on the Diamond) on Longs. The Keyhole route is the most popular by far. You gain almost 5,000' from trailhead to summit and walk 14 miles round-trip. The Loft route is an excellent alternative to the crowded Keyhole. The North Face or Cables route offers an easy 5.4 technical climb to the summit. The Northwest Couloir offers an interesting class 4 climb and goes through a "cave". In the winter, every route to the summit requires crampons and an ice axe (the base definition of "technical"). Many years at least one or two people lose their life on this climb mostly due to lightning or falls above the Keyhole. A young 21 year-old fell to his death from the Narrows on the Keyhole route in August 2013. Ice was reported on the Keyhole route - even in August after a series of cold temps and snow - even in August.

Q: Who was the first person to summit Longs Peak?
A:
The first documented summit of Longs was by John Wesley Powell and a party of seven in 1868 but it is almost certain the local Native Americans summited well before him. Park Ranger, Jim Detterline has summited Longs over 300 times

Q: How does Longs compare with the other Colorado 14ers?
A: Depending on the route, your conditioning and experience; Longs can be a moderate climb or one of your most difficult. For the Keyhole, many people find it a wonderful challenge. When compared to 14er walk-ups such as Quandary, Bierstadt or Evans for example, Longs is in a different league. For more challenging 14ers such as Crestone Needle, Maroon Bells or Capital it is somewhat easier. In general the weather makes all the difference. Longs has high winds mostly year-round especially in the winter thus increasing the difficulty dramatically.

Q: Is it dangerous?
A: Absolutely. Longs should be attempted with an appropriate amount of care. The most dangerous part is called the Ledges, just around the corner from the Keyhole - the most popular route. It is steep and slippery with a 1,000 foot drop to Glacier Gorge. A young 21 year-old fell to his death from the Narrows on the Keyhole route in August 2013. Ice was reported on the Keyhole route - even in August after a series of cold temps and snow - even in August.

In the summer of 2007, a Lady took the wrong route on the Ledges and fell from the ridge near the route named the False Keyhole. It appears she climbed too high from the standard route. She was rescued after spending a long, cold and lonely night alone.This is an understandable but avoidable mistake in that the route a few hundred yards from the Keyhole takes a u-turn and climbs.

Upon the return people sometimes miss this turn and keep going higher thinking the False Keyhole is the true Keyhole. If this sounds confusing, it is. But it easily avoided by sighting the bulls eyes clearly marked on the route from the Keyhole to the summit. Just take a direct line to each one. Keep in mind that sometimes they are above, below and even behind you! It is easier than it sounds - don't give up, just use your eyes.

Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died trying?
A: 15,000 people attempt it each year with a success rate of about 50% according to Rocky Mountain National Park Rangers. My best guess is that well over 200,000 people since it was first climbed in 1868. A total of 60 people have died on Longs including 8 heart attacks and 6 by lightning. Almost anyone can summit Longs using the Keyhole route in good weather and with proper preparation and experience.


Training & Gear

Q: How should I prepare for the climb?
A: Longs will test your conditioning. It is hard on your lungs and legs. Focus on aerobic capacity, muscular strength and attitude. The elevation will stress your lung capacity needed to provide oxygen to your muscles. Your legs will hurt on the climb up and your knees on the way down. You may have some pains in your back depending on your overall condition. So, get in shape before climbing this hill! Running, swimming, cycling, weights and stretching are all good ways to get in shape.

Q: Will altitude sickness be a problem?
A: Yes if you are not properly acclimatized and even then you may run into problems on Longs. Altitude can be a problem for anyone above 8,000'. Especially if you live at low elevations and come to Colorado and jump on a trail without spending a few days letting your body adjust. The trailhead is at 9,210' so even if you stay or live in Denver at 5,280' there is an adjustment. The best you can do is drink as much water as you can on the climb, protect yourself from the sun and wind and if you feel light-headed or nauseated take a break, have some water and food. Use your best judgment if you should go on. The only cure for altitude sickness is to go lower as fast as possible. Usually you need to descend 1,000' to start feeling better.

Q: What is the biggest problem most people face?
A: Some people underestimate this mountain thus the 50% summit rate. You can see it from the airport and highways. You hear about "everyone" climbing it and then see all ages, shapes and sizes on the trail. Surely I can make it! And, about half do. Many people get discouraged beyond the Keyhole when you deal with wind, rocks, snow and steep climbs. They did not drink enough water and are dehydrated. If there are no thunderstorms or snow squalls pounding you, a little mental toughness is all that is required at this point for most climbers on Longs. But to be clear is is a long and physical day and not to be taken lightly. It is NOT a hike on groomed trails.

Q: What kind of gear do I need?
A: For the non-technical routes take the basics for all climbs: extra clothes, water, food. I like the CamelBak small packs, like the Peak Bagger, which allow room for clothing and food and has the water reservoir with a tube that allows you to sip water continuously. The technical equipment depends on the route but usually includes a long handle ice axe, crampons in the winter and a helmet, ropes and protection for all seasons. Rock shoes are nice on the Cables route. I have a gear page for reference for my overall climbs. It has been updated for 2016.

Q: Do cell phones and SPOT Locators work on Longs??
A: Cell phones may or may not work depending on your service. Verizon seems to have the best coverage. I have ATT and cannot get a signal anywhere on Longs other than just below the Keyhole, in the middle of the Loft Couloir and on the north side of the summit, even then sometimes it is not available at all. I use a SPOT locator or Delorme InReach for my family to follow me and it works well on Longs as long as it is pointed up into the sky clear of rock walls. DO NOT COUNT ON YOUR CELL PHONE for a rescue. If the weather is bad it make take hours or days for a rescue team to reach you and you will die in harsh conditions. If you are in trouble, turn around immediately. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.

Q: What kind of clothing?
A: Layer your clothing and be prepared for rain, sun and wind. Never wear jeans or cotton clothing since they will not dry quickly enough when wet and thus increasing your chances for hypothermia if you get cold. A climber died on the summit in 2004 because of this. A wind jacket, hat and sunglasses with sunscreen are a must. Your shoes should be broken in. I see people in tennis shoes and some in heavy leather boots. In any case, make sure they fit and your socks stay dry. You may get wet feet at some point and at any time of the year, so a change of socks is a good idea. I always carry gloves and a headlamp plus a basic first aid kit. If you are climbing outside of the summer time period, go prepared for anything. Winter climbing on Longs is just as severe as anything on the planet. The winds may be hurricane force, snow squalls appear suddenly - be prepared to turn around with no notice or regret.

Q: What about food and water?
A: Obviously you need to carry everything with you. Depending on the year, there may or may not be water available above treeline so bring what you need. There is no safe water on the climb from lakes or streams without heavy treatment. I suggest at least 2 liters of water - one on the way up and one for the return. 3 or 4 is better. Also a liter to be consumed before you start the climb- while driving to the trailhead, over breakfast, etc. I have found by drinking a reasonable amount of water before you start, you stay ahead of the water loss game.


Climbing Longs

Q: Which route is most popular?
A: For the non-technical crowd, the Keyhole by a huge margin. The Loft Route which is not as popular as the Keyhole is a bit shorter and harder. Keplinger's Couloir is seldom climbed due to a long approach. This was the route taken on the first ascent of Longs. The North Face route is also popular for climbers wanting more of a rock climbing experience. This used to be called the Cables route before the cable was removed since it attracted lightening! Both the Keyhole Ridge and Keiners are popular routes that are low Class 5 technical climbs.

Q: How long will the Keyhole route take?
A: The Keyhole climb should take anywhere from 8 to 14 hours, depending on weather and level of fitness. Most people plan on a 12 hour day. It is about the same time up and down. This being said, I talked to a 24 year-old one summer at the trailhead who had just made the round-trip in 5 hours! He ran it ... You need to be off the summit by noon in the summer time so that means being on the trail before 6:00 AM at the absolute latest. Some people start as early as 2:00 AM just to be sure. The Loft is a bit shorter by mileage but a little longer by time due to a few difficult areas. If you start before 3:00 AM and are not at the Keyhole by 9:00AM, turn back, you are going too slow. If you are not on the summit by noon, turn back, you are putting your life in danger from lightning. Thunderstorms develop quickly so even if it is clear, turn back. If there are clouds forming turn back.

Q: Should I camp and make it a 2 day climb?
A: This is very popular in the summer months and incredibly rewarding with fantastic views. The Boulder Field is the place to camp (permit required). There are rock walls that specify designated camping spots. There is no reliable running water but there are solar toilets, but bring your own TP. Water might be available in early summer depending on the snowfall that winter, but always treat it with idonie or a SteriPen. Be aware that it might be very windy anytime of the year so make sure you secure your tent well. Also protect food from marmots.

Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: Almost all the Longs climbers never a pay for a climb of Longs. But the costs can range from $200 to $500 for a guided climb depending on who you use and how many in your party. Estes Park based Colorado Mountain School is a good service to investigate.

Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: No, it is inside Rocky Mountain National Park and you will not need even a park pass for a one day outing. If you are camping you will need a back country permit from the Park including camping at the Boulder field. There are only a few spaces there and a reservation is strongly suggested in the summer months. The reservation number is (970) 586-1242. There is no overnight camping at the parking lot, even inside your car.
Danger Sign

Q: Can you get rescued on Longs?
A: Cell phone coverage is spotty. Yes, but. Park Rangers from Rocky Mountain National Park rescue people throughout the Park but it is nothing to depend upon. It usually requires a huge amount of manpower and equipment, sometimes helicopters and can take hours if not a day to reach climbers depending on conditions and location. So, yes, getting a rescue is possible but should never be used as a reason to do anything you are not comfortable and experienced at high on Longs.

Q: What kind of weather conditions will I experience?
A: Hot and sunny, cold and windy! Temperatures can easily reach 0 degrees F in the winter and above 80 F in the summer. Because of the elevation, on a sunny day, the sun is oppressive. The winds are one of the biggest problems in the winter and can be all year round. Check the weather for Estes Park, Colorado to get some sense of what it is like. I use the "hour by hour details" before going up. If it rains, it may be a deluge so be prepared with your gear.

One August, we ran into 40 m.p.h. wind gusts, sleet and driving rain. We got very cold but luckily it lasted only about an hour and by having the proper gear, we never got into trouble. The summit of Longs has recorded the state's highest wind gusts of 200 m.p.h. twice in the 1980s. Both times the winds blew apart the weather instruments. See my page on the Anatomy of a Storm to see pictures of a forming storm on Longs.

A young 21 year-old fell to his death from the Narrows on the Keyhole route in August 2013. Ice was reported on the Keyhole route - even in August after a series of cold temps and snow - even in August.


My Experiences

Q: How many times have you summited?
A: I have summited Longs 42 times, most recently in July 2016. In June 2013, I climbed up via the Keyhole route and descended using the Loft route. It was spring weather with winter climbing conditions above 12,000'. Please see this video of the climb. I use Longs as a training climb for my other expeditions, including Everest and K2. I have climbed on it over 150 times and in every month of the year.

Q: What is your favorite standard route?
A: The Loft is my favorite because it is less crowded and a bit more challenging than the Keyhole. But also I like the North Face. While I have not climbed the Keiner's route yet, I am looking forward to this more technical climb one day.

Q: What is you favorite non-standard route?
A:
The Northwest Couloir. It is a fun class 4 climb that requires squeezing through a narrow "cave". Please see the full report and video.

Q: What kind of weather conditions do you normally experience?
A: From late June to early October it is absolutely beautiful with clear blue skies, mild temps and manageable winds - however the threat of killer lightening from thunderstorms keeps me away from the summit from noon on. In the other months, Longs is extremely windy. While snow is sometimes a problem, the high winds keep the lower slopes above treeline free from anything very deep. Near the summit the snow depths can be deep and it becomes serious alpine climbing conditions.

This video is from June 2013 where I ascended the Keyhole route and descended the Loft route. it was Spring weather but still winter conditions.


Bottom Line

Longs is a mountain that offers something for everyone. The normal route of the Keyhole is attainable by almost anyone in good shape. The Diamond offers world-class rock climbing. And the other routes - North Face, Keiners, Keyhole Ridge, Loft - all offer unique challenges. Many people use Longs as their first 14er, some make it their last but whatever order you climb the Colorado 14ers in, Longs is a must that will provide lifelong memories.