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 2am to ensure you are back safe below tree line before afternoon lightning storms strike. The section of trail below tree-line is well-built and maintained. You’ll go up a few switchbacks and cross a stream before you approach 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 swicthbacks 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 chokestone: 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 prefect 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 on to 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 tree line 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.
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 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.
Alex is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others explore the mountains, stay safe, and preserve the peaks for the future. Subscribe to the Next Summit Newsletter here.