Longs Peak is the quintessential 14er in the Peak to Peak area. One only has to look at the state quarter to recognize that, with its image emblazoned on the back side. While it’s a very social hike, it is also very demanding. But like my wife likes to hear me say,
“Beauty is paid for, in part, by the currency of suffering.”
I like to hike about every weekend, and this one was challenging- to say the least. I would not recommend this hike unless you’ve done a few summits already. As to the day’s itinerary:
o Early start! It’s recommended that you start this hike around 3am, I started at about 0330, with an hour drive to get there.
o Goblin Forest and Boulder field- the first 5 miles or so brings you through the tree line and through boulder field.
o Scramble to the keyhole.
o The Trough and the Narrows.
o Home Stretch…
o Longs Peak Summit!
o Heading Down.
o Meadow Mountain Café.
Early Start- No kidding here, I got there a little after 3am and I got the last parking spot. Longs Peak is notorious for afternoon thunderstorms; the peak is very unforgiving, with plenty of steep scrambles. Getting to the trail head is easy, search for “Longs Peak Ranger Station” on your GPS (On all my posts I use the google maps app, that is also downloaded. No cell service here. I will explain in detail in another post). If all the spots are taken, simply make a u-turn and follow the road back. People are parking along the road, just take the first one you can find.
Goblin Forest and Boulder Field- The beginning of the hike is in total darkness, which can be a little unsettling if this is your first time on the trail. You can hear rushing water, but are not quite sure where it’s coming from. At the first fork in the path, about a quarter mile up, your head beam catches the sign of Longs Peak to the left, and the camp site to the right. It would be a bad four-mile mistake to go to the right, at the beginning of the hike. Once you clear the tree line you catch the front range glowing with thousands of lights, like another world of some kind. To the right, you finally can see your goal. Longs Peak looks daunting from this vantage point- with the trails of head beams, bobbing in the distance ahead of you. Keep following signs to boulder field, for some reason they stop announcing Long Peak in the signs. About this time stop and admire the sun rise, with a little breakfast. The miles click away pretty-fast here, and you start to think you got this thing whipped. Then reality hits you as you come up to the Keyhole.
Scramble to the Keyhole- The trail begins to fade out, and you will have to pick your route from here. Some nice hikers in the past have stacked strategic piles of rocks to guide you. To the right is a bathroom and a campsite, with stones stacked as wind breaks. The toilets are not the cleanest, and it looks like you better bring your own TP- but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. At about this point, I packed away my trekking poles- because I was using my hands more and more to climb the boulders. Keep the keyhole in site and make your way up to the top. Notice to the left of the Keyhole, there is the Agnes Vaille Shelter- a monument built in 1927 (reccomended article on it from the Reporter-Herald by Kenneth Jessen). As you crest the Keyhole, your met with some congratuations from hearty hikers enjoying the veiw. Scan the the skyline, if it looks like “rain is a coming,” I would call it a day- from here the mountain is unforgiving.
The Trough and the Narrows- Navigate your way toward the spray-painted bull’s-eyes along the exposed slope of the mountain. To the Trough, this a 900-foot gulley straight up. Take your time, keep an eye on falling rocks, from your comrades above you. If you happen to knock one down, yell “ROCK!” Once you get close to the top, you should start to come across people heading down from the summit. Try not to hold it against them when they tell you, “I wish I could say the hard part is over”. The next section is called the narrows, even more exposed than the last area. The scenery is breath taking, but I was not comfortable enough to let go of my rock ledge and take any pictures. Scan the area for mountain goats, they’re common around the slopes. At the very least, your toe path for scat 8’).
Home Stretch- This is by far the most technical scrambling I have done. The way is marked, and the hand holds are good. I had to stop about every ten feet up just to catch my breath. This is where you really appreciate how much this is a social hike. Fellow scramblers are giving each other words of encouragement, and obscenities at the mountain. The scramble leads to victory gap- almost there! One last push, and you made it to the summit!
Longs Peak Summit- is surprisingly flat, with great views all around. The U.S. geological marker is to the west. I found a great spot for my lunch, to the north of the summit, where I could pretend I was all alone up here. Enjoy the views- but not too long, your only half way done!
Heading down- I have to admit, I was a little nervous heading down. It was very steep going up, and I don’t think it was going to give me any favors going down. I scanned the area, and picked out what looked to be a couple of able climbers. I waited until they headed down and followed their route, mimicking their moves. Take your time and yield to uphill hikers, now it’s your turn to let them know, “your almost there.” Once I got to the Keyhole, it started raining on me- a good reminder that afternoon showers come fast here. All along the Boulder field I was surprised to find how many fat little marmots were unfazed of me being in their domain. Always ready for a photo op, and it goes without saying, “don’t feed the wildlife.” The last three miles or so, I could hear other hikers saying what I was thinking, “What, did they move this goblin forest or something?” It seems like its twice as far as when you started- just keep pushing on. I finally found where the water was coming from along the tree line. It was an impressive waterfall inside the tree line. A nice gift for the end, unfortunately my camera (iPhone) batteries were dead when I got there- next time.
You’re Finished- If you hiked on a Friday or Saturday, I recommend stopping a few miles down the road to Allenspark’s Meadow Mountain Café. From 4-6 pm, they have homemade barbeque for the weary hiker. Stop in and share your hiking stories from the day, with fellow hikers. The setting is cozy, and the food is great. Don’t expect quick service, everything is homemade. There’s very few tables here, but that’s what I like about the place. They will put you in where ever there’s an empty chair. Get cozy and strike up a conversation.
All in all, it took me about 13 hours, and a little over 14 miles for the total hike, I wouldn’t plan much after this. You’re going to want to get home and relax after this one.
What I brought-
o Day Bag, which included (water bladder, sunscreen, stocking cap, light gloves, light rain jacket, first aid kit, and snacks…)
o Trekking Poles
o A good pair of hiking shoes
o Bonnie Cap
o Sunglasses, I had a cheap pair, I’ve been told to get a good pair for UV protection.
What I wish I brought-
o More Water!! I ran out with about 2 miles left of the hike. I would have packed an extra 16oz bottle next time.
o Chap Stick- the wind can get brutal up there. I used sunscreen to get by, but it tastes bad.
o About a quarter of the hikers had helmets for The Trough. It’s not a bad idea with the potential loose rocks, but if I was serious with myself I wouldn’t bring one next time.
o Dziezynski, James. Best Summer Hikes in Colorado. Wilderness Press, 2012.
o Jessen, Kenneth. Anges Vaille Shelter stands a monument to early Longs Peak death. Reporter-Herald, August 11, 2016
Special thanks to Editor Andi