Longs Peak Hiking & Climbing

Overview

Longs Peak stands as the crown jewel of Rocky Mountain National Park - not only as the highest and most sought-after summit in the park and its only fourteener, but also as the home of many of the area's most famous rock climbs.  With no true hiking trail to the summit and a long approach hike, Longs poses significant challenges and offers great rewards to those willing to brave its rigors, whether climbing with a professional guide or independently.

RMNP Climbing Nps Authorized Concessioner

From the summit, Longs offers commanding 360-degree views stretching to the great plains of eastern Colorado, the glacier-scoured Front Range, the 13,000-foot-plus Indian Peaks just to the south of the park boundary and, to the west, the headwaters of the Colorado River.  With more than 9,000 feet of elevation above the plain, Longs Peak offers a view of stunning variety and grandeur.

The northernmost of Colorado's fourteeners and one of the most accessible to the Denver area, Longs Peak is one of the more difficult of these peaks to climb, owing to challenging routefinding, semi-technical and high-consequence scrambling, and the length of the approach trail.  In addition to the inherent difficulties of the climb, regular thunderstorms and other unpredictable weather in the high peaks can rapidly turn any hike or scramble into an arduous adventure, bringing snow or hail, lightning, rain-slicked rock, and low visibility. Though many climbers do summit the mountain every year without ropes using the famous Keyhole Route, many others choose to join a guided ascent of the route in order to reduce the risks.

American Alpine Institute offers a 2-day guided ascent of the route. While a single day might be sufficient for a local who is acclimatized to the mile-high Denver area, climbers will appreciate a 2-day climb so they can bivouac high on the mountain and begin the climbing route fresh before first light.

The Institute also offers technical rock climbs on Longs Peak, including the classic North Face Cables Route and expert routes on the Diamond.

For those who would like to hire a guide for instruction or guided rock climbing in Boulder, we offer both group courses and private climbs in Eldorado Canyon, the Flatirons, and other locations within the City of Boulder.

Longs Peak Hiking & Climbing

Keyhole Route

The Keyhole Route (II, Class 3) is among the most coveted scrambles in North America. This high quality route travels through a variety of environments and terrain from the montane, sub-alpine, and alpine ecological zones culminating at the summit at 14,259 feet.  

The first six miles involves a hike that offers gorgeous views of alpine lakes, wildflowers, and a bird’s eye view of the Estes Park Valley. Towards the end of this spectacular hike, climbers reach the infamous boulder field, where Longs’ North Face and the Keyhole, a broken arch on the ridgeline that divides the North and West faces, come into view. The boulder field is also the stunning location of climbers’ high altitude camp, at approximately 12,700 feet. 

The next mile and a half hold some of the most stunning landscapes in the region, as the route spirals around the west and south faces of Longs. Four distinct scrambling sections guard this unparalleled summit: the Ledges, the Trough, the Narrows, and the Homestretch.

The Ledges involve dramatic exposure as climbers pass through the notch named the Keyhole. This section offers first-hand views of Glacier Gorge, traversing across the entirety of Longs’ west face.

The Trough is one of the physical cruxes of the Keyhole route, as climbers scramble up a broad gully riddled with loose rock and engaging steps of 3rd class climbing. Every step along this section gifts climbers with greater and greater views of Rocky Mountain, as the trough tops out at 13,800 feet.

The Narrows section is by far the most exposed and exciting part of the route. Longs’ south side boasts a clean vertical rock face with an unlikely ledge going right though its middle. Climbers carefully traverse across this ledge utilizing good footwork and positive hand holds. This section is a spectacular feature on the Keyhole and is perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of this entire climb.

The Homestretch is the final passage from the narrows to the summit. Clean slabs offer fun scrambling up high-friction rock littered with big handholds and cracks. The culmination of previous sections is about to pay off, as they crest onto the large and breath-taking summit plateau!   

This summit program is a fantastic two-day adventure focused on an achievable climbing itinerary and an unbelievable overnight experience at the gorgeous Boulder Fields camp, above 12,500 feet.

Program Itinerary

Day 1 – Climbers will meet their AAI guide in Estes Park to go over the trip itinerary and a gear check. Mid morning climbers will drive up to Longs Peak Trailhead, where our climb and adventure begins. After an incredible 6-mile hike, climbers will make camp at the Boulder Fields and enjoy an evening meal with Longs Peak dominating the skyline.

Day 2 –  Climbers will begin before dawn, starting with the scramble through the Keyhole formation. After a memorable summit, the team will descend back through the Boulderfield and ultimately descend to the trailhead.  Celebrations of an epic climb will be in order when we arrive back to Estes Park!

Custom Itinerary

The Keyhole can be climbed in one of our group programs, or as a private ascent. Contact the AAI office for more information on private programming.

Longs Peak Hiking & Climbing

Other Routes

Scrambles:  The Longs Peak area offers many scrambling routes (Class 2, 3, and 4) that can be climbed to gain access to the summits of Longs and Mt. Meeker, just to the south. Though non-technical in nature, these routes entail skilled movement on rock in steep terrain, and are best attempted with a guide who will use a rope to protect the party on dicey or exposed moves.

Some of the most important scrambling routes are listed below. They can be arranged as private climbs.

The Loft and Clark's Arrow (Class 3, Moderate Snow/AI2)  The Loft couloir route gives access from Chasm Lake to the Loft, the wide, level area that forms the saddle between Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak.  Though the route does not summit Longs, it is an excellent training area and provides access to Clark's Arrow, which traverses to the south side of the peak and joins Keplinger's Couloir to give access to the summit.

Keplinger's Couloir (Class 3)  This was the first ascent route, initially scouted by L. W. Keplinger of Maj. John Wesley Powell's surveying party and then climbed the following day by the full party on Aug 23, 1868.  The route makes a 3000-ft climb from the head of Wild Basin on the south side of the mountain, ascending a steep, winding gully to the Notch, then a rising traverse to meet the Keyhole route near the base of the Homestretch.

Technical Climbs on Longs Peak

Longs Peak is the home of many technical climbs, including routes on the East Face, whose vertical upper section is known as the Diamond.  See our rock climbing page if you are an experienced  climber and have an interest in climbing the Diamond or other alpine rock routes in the park. These climbs and those listed below can be arranged on a private basis.

Longs Peak, North Face "Cables" Route (II, 5.4)  The North Face is a historic gem and an excellent introduction into technical climbing. In the 1920’s a large cable was installed on this route to assist climbers and became the standard route up Longs for many years (before the cables were removed).

Present day this is a wonderful objective for outdoors enthusiasts looking to climb Longs via a moderate technical route- and avoiding crowds. Many climb the North Face as an alternative to the Keyhole- only requiring one extra day of skills before making an ascent.

This route includes spectacular scenery, a few pitches of 5.4 rock climbing, and provides climbers with a quality alpine route without the crowds. Day One will be spent learning the basics of rock climbing. Day two will be our summit day, starting at 3-4 am to provide ample climbing time and to avoid thunderstorms. Those with previous climbing experience may be eligible to omit the skills day. The option to do a two-day ascent is also available, camping for one night in the boulder fields.

The North Face can be climbed in one of our group programs, or as a private ascent. Contact the AAI office for more information on private programming.

Kiener’s Route (III, 5.4 Steep Snow, AI 2)  The east face of Longs is an awe-inspiring and intimidating sight – but Kiener’s Route finds its way up this imposing face via an incredible yet moderate line.

Starting at Longs Peak Trailhead, climbers hike into Chasm Lake before making their way up the steep snow chute known as “Lamb’s slide”. From here the world-class quality of this route comes into fruition as the route traverses onto the east face along a narrow ledge known as Broadway. With the Mills Glacier hundreds of feet below, the exposure is dramatic. Finally, climbers make their way towards the summit via the 4th class and low 5th class climbing on the upper east face, along the southern edge of the 1,000-foot vertical wall known as the Diamond.

Without previous alpine climbing experience, climb this as a four-day program with two skills days and two days for the ascent. With previous climbing experience, contact us for further details.

 

Longs Peak Hiking & Climbing

Dates & Pricing

Group Courses

2017 Dates

  • June 17 - 18, 2017
  • July 8 - 9, 2017
  • July 22 - 23, 2017
  • August 12 - 13, 2017
  • September 2 - 3, 2017

More dates available on a private basis. Call for details.

 

Pricing for Two-Day Group Program

  • 1 Climber - $770
  • 2 Climbers - $530 Each
  • 3 Climbers - $450 Each

 

Private Trips

  • Pricing
  • 1 Climber to 1 Guide: $385 Per Day
  • 2 Climbers to 1 Guide: $265 Per Person Per Day
  • 3 Climbers to 1 Guide: $225 Per Person Per Day

Program Cost Inclusions and Exclusions

Inclusions:

  • Guide fees
  • All group technical climbing equipment
  • Permit and access fees

 

Exclusions:

  • Personal equipment such as clothing, boots, personal climbing gear (e.g. harness, helmet), sleeping bag, tent, etc. Personal climbing gear is available for rent at a nominal charge.
  • Transportation to the program's meeting location and during the program. We ask that you provide transportation for your guide from the point of rendezvous, and if there are other climbers in your program we encourage you to carpool.
  • Lodging costs (if any)
  • Meals
  • Fees for changing air itineraries because of canceled or delayed programs
  • Gratuities to guides
  • Personal health, baggage, and trip cancellation insurance

Longs Peak Hiking & Climbing

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