Longs Peak...Long Hike

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 40.25831°N / 105.61286°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 11, 2006
Activities Activities: Hiking, Bouldering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer

Planning to Go or Going to Plan?

Longs Peak From Emerald Lake TrailLongs Peak from Emerald Lake Trail

I must begin by saying, I did not go to Colorado just to hike Longs Peak. My entire family had planned this trip to Estes Park, Colorado, which I suggest visiting if you're ever in the area. I told my wife that when we're in Estes Park, I WILL be hiking Long's Peak. She was pretty agreeable (until she saw some pictures...then she was a bit more hesitant). As a child, this mountain was always seen as my family went to this particular area for about 16 years in a row (if not more). I had hiked the Bear Lake, Emerald Lake, Flattop Mtn area many times. Longs Peak was always looming on my list of area mountains to reach the summit. I just never thought it would be this easy to plan the trip since the family was going. To top things off, the home we rented for the week, was positioned in plain view of Longs and the Boulderfield. Now don't get me wrong, I didn't just show up and hike. I viewed pictures, read hiker logs, studied maps, and, oh yeah, I did much walking and biking months prior to this hike. I consider myself to be in decent athletic shape. To add to the furry of hiking Longs Peak, I invited anyone else in my family to hike Longs with me. I provided detailed information regarding this hike including terms like, "physically and emotionally strenuous," "difficult," "you may not live," etc. all in the sense of reality and humor. The four who "volunteered" to go on this hike had never done mountain hiking before. I repeat, they volunteered to go.

Early Morning Start

Five AdventurersTodd, Nathan, Brandon, Christopher, Uvaldo (left to right)
Starting at NightBeginning the Hike at Night

On August 11, 2006, my two brother-in-laws, Uvaldo and Todd, and two nephews, Brandon and Christopher, set out at the Longs Peak Trailhead (elevation 9405 ft.) at 4:17am via the Keyhole Route (15 miles round trip - 5000 ft. elevation gain from trail head to summit). We signed in the hiker's registration and noticed that there were 5 other pages of hikers before us, the first hiker signed in at 12:10 am. It was dark and about 45 degrees. All we had to light our paths were our headlamps. This would be an experience that none of us would ever forget. We kept using the saying, "We are all in this together." We took breaks together and constantly checked in with each other as we headed down our dimly lit path. There was an eerie feeling as we knew there was an assortment of wildlife from bears to mountain lions in our presence, or so we thought. We set off through Goblin's Forest (elevation 10,120 ft. - first 2 miles).

Sunrise Doth Break Strangely

Sunrise on Twin SistersSunrise over Twin Sisters

We decided to push each other without burning each other out. Uvaldo works out several times a week while Todd often works out several times a day (he's gotten better though). Brandon and Christopher did not prepare whatsoever for this hike but I must add that their father, Todd, made them go on this hike for the experience. They did their best to not grumble too much. By 6:00 am, we were above the treeline and observed a magnificent sunrise above Twin Sisters. It was only by accident that we saw this as we were not planning on taking a break at this point. We just had to stop to see this though. From the treeline to Chasm Lake Junction is 1.5 miles. At this point, we were still over 5 miles away from our destination of 7.5 miles.

Taking a Break...Got Oxygen?

Stopping for AirTaking a Break

We continued on our path and noticed that the trail difficulty increased. It was those man-made "stair steps" that kept getting in our way of a smooth trail. The steps were every third step and just higher than a normal step. This, we noticed would cause us to wear down quicker than we wanted. We also noticed that the longer we stopped on our breaks, the harder it was to get going again. I recommend short and less frequent breaks and sit only if you have to. Breaks are good...just space them out. In the picture to the left, at least everyone is still smiling.

Chasm Lake Junction

Looking East from Chasm LakeLooking East Towards Denver
Chasm Lake JunctionChasm Lake Trail with Peacock Pool in foreground

It still would be one hour from our sunrise viewing before we got to our first real milestone - Chasm Lake Junction (elevation 11,600 ft. - total distance from trail head is 3.7 miles). Here the view is once again magnificent, with Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak before us, we could barely make out Peacock Pool nestled in the foreground. Chasm Lake cannot be seen although it is only .7 miles away. Here is the first "real" bathroom we ran across. I can't say the privy was much of a "privilege" but when ya gotta go, ya gotta go. At this point, it was 7:00 am and we knew we needed to be off the summit no later than 1:00 pm, which was 4 miles away. We needed to pick up the pace a bit so as to make our destination. However, Christopher and Brandon were already showing signs of fatigue. They were determined to go as far as the Boulderfield (yet another 2.4 miles away). Todd did not want to send them back to the trailhead by themselves either. We continued though.

Off the Beaten Path

Off the TrailChristopher and Brandon Off the Trail

Here the elevation gain was cozier across Granite Pass (elevation 12,080 ft. - 4.2 miles of total hike. As we made our way around Mt. Lady Washington, which to the naive hiker, seemed to be the long way and the wrong way, we would find the terrain not changing much, let's just get around the mountain because surely Longs Peak would be right there. Well, soon enough it would be. Granite Pass seemed endless and those stair steps (remember those?) were somewhat cumbersome and tiresome. Brandon and Christopher decided that in spots it was much easier walking next to the trail as opposed to on it. I tried it a few times and found the theory to be true.

View Before Longs Peak/Boulderfield

Longs Peak Peeking Over RidgeLongs Peak Peeking Over Ridge
The Five AmigosOur Final Picture Together. Estes Park in background

Finally, Longs Peak was peeking over the ridge. We were very excited although it was premature. The winding trail caused only greater agony for Uvaldo as a workout "injury" was starting to cause him problems. He decided to allow the four of us to continue. At 8:21 am, he told us to go on. His goal was the Boulderfield and he would make it there at some point. We felt bad about our group separating as we had developed a group bond not only together but with other hikers as we kept passing back and forth between rest stops. The view was spectacular as we grew closer to the mountain we had been seeing all week 7 miles away from the house in which we stayed. This was even more exciting to me as I had planned this whole hike for many months.

Halfway Through Boulderfield

Halfway Through BoulderfieldIn the Middle of the Boulderfield

At 9:43 am, we had reached the middle of the Boulderfield (elevation 12,760 ft. - 3/4 of total elevation gain - 1.7 miles long - 5.9 miles rom trail head) and there we took our final rest together. Brandon, Christopher, and Todd made the decision that they would venture back to the trailhead. They had decided Longs Peak was the conqueror that day. Another quote we had tossed around had been read at the sign at the trailhead, "The mountain does not care." We would live this quote.

Closer Look at the Keyhole

A Steep Climb to KeyholeLooking Up to the Keyhole

As I decided I would venture further to my summit goal, we could see Uvaldo fast approaching our rocky rest resort. He made his goal of reaching the Boulderfield despite the pain he was experiencing. We were very happy about this. Todd contemplated continuing on with me to at least the Keyhole, but he was experiencing some aches and pains of his own. I told the boys when they got back to the Ranger's Station, take the van back to the house. I would call for a ride back to the house when my hike was done. So at 9:54 am, I left the group as they cheered me on. They knew what this hike meant to me as they saw the excitement and exuberance throughout the morning. As I got closer to the Keyhole, I did not expect the steep embankment of rocks. This was a new part of the trail as I found myself actually "plotting" my route, climbing, hopping, and shuffling. I reached the Keyhole at 10:42 am. Like I mentioned earlier, I had studied this trail as best as I could but hiker logs and pictures cannot prepare you entirely for this hike�neither could it prepare you for the view once in the Keyhole (elevation 13,160 ft.). I met up with 20 other hikers in the Keyhole and I was not sure how we all fit in the space. I must tell you, I am not typically afraid of heights but as the view opened up before me, I do believe my words were, "What the crap?" Briefly flashed across my mind also was, "Whoa, perhaps if I turn around now, I can catch up with the guys" and "Now I can see why so many people only go this far." But no, I couldn't, shouldn't and wouldn't stop here. I made a deal with myself to get to the summit. I was determined! I wanted to see things that others have seen up there, to take this challenge and conquer it, to be able to tell others "Yea I made the summit alright." I would continue. I hooked up with a Colorado man who made the summit 10 times. His last name, incidentally, was Long. He was with his boy, 11 years old, who was on his own personal challenge, to get to the summit before age 12 (the following week) when his father first summited Longs Peak at that age. What an inspiration! I became a coach to him as we cheered him on his path.

Shuffling Through The Ledges

Pointing the WayPointing the Way

I did not find The Ledges particularly difficult. The Ledges held its own challenge though as I had to meander this way and that way in an attempt to follow the yellow and red bullseye trail targets. At times, they could not be seen. I was just hoping I was still heading the right way. I could easily see the next destination at the bottom of The Trough. We got closer and closer. Every once and awhile I would look back to see where I came from. It didn't seem that was the path I took but somehow it was.

Bottom of The Trough

Halfway Through the TroughMe in the Trough

Finally, we reached the bottom of the Trough (a 1000 ft. 45 degree ascent). Looking up, we could see all the hikers that were coming down. It was amazing to see all those little dots filtering down through the very loose rock. Was it too late?? They were all coming back and I knew I still had another hour or more to hike. I felt pretty good though and I knew I had the stamina and ability. However, I also trusted my hiker companions, one of which had been on this mountain before many times. We looked out towards Glacier Gorge behind us and there was saw something I did not wish to see...storm clouds. "These were not supposed to come today," I told myself, "This was the day I was supposed to conquer this mountain." Ever since I was a youth, I decided I would hike this mountain...no matter what. At that point after seeing flat-bottomed dark storm clouds, we knew we weren't safe continuing up The Trough for fear of getting caught in a storm we did not need to be in. I had been caught in a snow storm with my dad on Flattop Mountain...not cool! We got almost half way up The Trough and it still was an amazing sight to behold. I've never hiked this altitude before. We estimated being about 13,600 feet in elevation. I was very extremely disappointed to put it mildly in not making the summit that day and at 12:08 pm, I turned around and headed back. Before I did, I called my wife and attempted to tell her the "bad" news. When she answered, I could not speak but somehow she knew of my disappointment.

A Final Look

On my way back (which by the way was not much easier than ascending), I called my wife and told her to meet me in the parking lot at the trailhead. I told her to be there at 5:00 pm and we were within 5 minutes of getting to the parking lot at the same time. She of course met me with sympathy and understanding. All I could think of was, "Thanks for bringing me a Mt. Dew" and "I've never felt soooo exhausted in all my life." This day on Longs Peak will never ever be forgotten!! It is a day that I knew the mountain did not care if I made the summit. But it was also a day I vowed to come back though and hike this extreme trail. I am making this journey another time...July 2007. I am going by myself and not inviting anyone else. I am camping in the Boulderfield and maybe, just maybe, I will conquer this great mountain...Longs Peak...and I will care more than the mountain that day!
Early Morning on Longs PeakLongs Peak


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 22

Dean - Feb 21, 2007 5:43 pm - Voted 10/10

Enjoyable TR

A nicely written TR and nice pics.

Nathan B

Nathan B - Feb 22, 2007 1:41 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Enjoyable TR

Thanks for your comments.


mckbill - Feb 21, 2007 7:03 pm - Hasn't voted

tough call

I'm sure it was a tough call, but you were wise to turn when the weather started looking bad. As you said, "the mountain doesn't care", and it will wait for you to make another visit. I'm sure you will achieve your goal someday. Thanks for your great report and cool pictures.

Nathan B

Nathan B - Feb 22, 2007 1:40 am - Hasn't voted

Re: tough call

Thanks for your comments...looks like we've been in similar places before.


jvarholak - Feb 21, 2007 8:12 pm - Hasn't voted

good call

congrats on acting on your desire (since you were 16) to attempt Longs. Good call on turning around. She'll still be there for you to summit next time. When you DO attempt her again...a little advice....leave the jeans and cotton attire home, grab something sythetic cuz, as you saw, the weather can change quickly and being cold and wet in demin can be dangerous.
Good Luck and have fun

Nathan B

Nathan B - Feb 22, 2007 1:45 am - Hasn't voted

Re: good call

Thanks for your comments and response. I will keep the advice in mind also as I tackle Longs again this summer. Looked at your pics...very beautiful!


Kiefer - Feb 21, 2007 11:46 pm - Voted 10/10

wise deceision

Very good TR write-up. I have to applaud your decision not to continue for the summit. Though by no means, an easy decision, many of us climbers get caught up in the fog of temerity in the name of reaching the summit. You showed wise decision making and safety. You know, at least you saw 'your mountain' on an up close and personal level. Nice trip.

Nathan B

Nathan B - Feb 22, 2007 1:48 am - Hasn't voted

Re: wise deceision

It was a very hard decision to turn around but I knew being on a mountain where I was, left me exposed to something that could have been bad. I hit a few sprinkles of rain once back in the Boulderfield. I'll be back though.

bob adams

bob adams - Feb 22, 2007 12:13 am - Hasn't voted

Nice Trip report

Well written and great photos.

holly sorenson

holly sorenson - Feb 22, 2007 2:49 am - Hasn't voted

a long hike

It was nice to reminisce while reading and viewing your Longs Peak TR. Having lived in Estes for 4 years, I became a little familiar with that wonderful mountain region. My best advice is to start at least an hour earlier at that time of the year. It is good to reach the Keyhole at dawnish :) The first rays of the sun there are... incredible.

Nathan B

Nathan B - Feb 22, 2007 3:44 am - Hasn't voted

Re: a long hike

I love the Estes Park area. We were supposed to start about 2:30am that day...but missed our window. I'm camping out in the Boulderfield this next summer and then going up the next morning. Thanks for your comments.

T Mac

T Mac - Feb 22, 2007 3:56 am - Hasn't voted

It'll be there for round 2

On my first attempt at Long's, I turned around at the Keyhole. Like you said, there's a difference in reading about it and crossing the Keyhole. I tried to tell myself that countless flatlanders hike it every weekend, but I lost my nerve. Now, I'm waiting for this summer's attempt.

Nathan B

Nathan B - Feb 22, 2007 4:03 am - Hasn't voted

Re: It'll be there for round 2

It was quite the experience and I "climbed" into the Keyhole. I just decided I was there to get to the top...proceed now Nathan. :-)


BobSmith - Feb 22, 2007 11:51 am - Voted 10/10

Great report.

I'm sorry you didn't make it to the summit. But you gave it a shot. Good for you for not taking any chances with safety.


CRiedel2 - Feb 22, 2007 6:09 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice Report

Cool trip report. Sounds like y'all had a great time up there, even without the summit.

tds5611 - Feb 23, 2007 4:28 am - Voted 10/10

Cool report

Nice report, man. I've been wanting to get to the rockies and do some climbing. Sorry you didn't get to the top.


Saintgrizzly - Feb 23, 2007 5:46 am - Voted 10/10


...on having the smarts to turn around, but you're in trouble now. It won't end with Longs. You'll no doubt be successful on your next attempt, but then you're up against it: what's next? Enjoyed the honesty in your writing!

chursch - Feb 23, 2007 10:34 pm - Hasn't voted

place names

While it has been a long time since I have been on this peak, like maybe nearly twenty years, I remember it well, the hike to the summit on a beautiful day in September 1988. Not a cloud in the sky all day, which once you get past the monsoon season of late summer, can be a frequent occurrence. You might give some thought to doing this trip post - Labor Day. May have fewer people too.

I too had looked forward to a Longs Peak climb for a good part of two years, hiking many other 14'ers in preparation for this. I had also through another decade earlier spent time lower down on the mountain, near Chasm Lake and on the back side of the mountain in Glacier Gorge.

Very nice shots!

However, if memory serves me, your shot of Chasm Lake is probably of some other lake down the ancient glacial steps. I believe Chasm Lake is smack under the Diamond to the right in the picture, and to the right of the Ship's Prow, the triangular-shaped object just right of center. Your Chasm Lake shot really shows the bedding in the mountain - the geologist in me came out looking at your shots.

Where you say "Shuffling Through The Narrows", I don't believe you made it to the Narrows, as you were in the Trough. I believe the Narrows is on the south side of the summit pyramid, just before the final summit pitch, called the Homestretch. The Narrows has significant exposure down the south side of the mountain, although you are ensconced in a low path with practically a guard rail on the outside.

I think you made a wise decision to turn around when you did. While the summit pyramid seems pretty safe while it is dry and warm, I suspect it becomes quite dangerous in storm conditions. All that steep rock becomes a slippery nightmare. And I second the recommendation to leave the cotton (jeans) at home. This was drilled into me countless times by instructors in the Colorado Mountain Club, for whom on winter hikes, the only cotton they have on them is the hankerchief in their pocket. Cotton holds onto water and loses its insulating ability. Cold and wet = death!

By the way, does that brown rock hanging above and to the left of the Keyhole strike anyone else as a very weathered old man, with long chin and nose and a crease of a smile, all facing to the right? I wonder if it has such a name. It struck me that way virtually the first time I saw it, and I see it in these pictures again many years later.


markhyams - Feb 24, 2007 6:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: place names

chursch said:

"However, if memory serves me, your shot of Chasm Lake is probably of some other lake down the ancient glacial steps. I believe Chasm Lake is smack under the Diamond to the right in the picture, and to the right of the Ship's Prow, the triangular-shaped object just right of center."

You're right. That little body of water in the photo is known as Peacock Pool. Chasm Lake is further up to the right.

Nathan B

Nathan B - Feb 24, 2007 7:10 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: place names

Thanks for the clarification. I thought it was a bit small to be Chasm Lake. Pics are now corrected.

Viewing: 1-20 of 22