My hiking partner, Lindsey, and I arrived at the trail head at 11:30 at night and headed up at 12:30 a.m. in hopes of catching the sunrise from the top.
We got an early start compared to most people who hike the trail so we had the trail to ourselves, though there were many cars in the parking lot. The hike begins at a medium incline at 9,400 feet at the Longs Peak East Trailhead. It was a quiet hike through the woods. I thought as we were hiking, this part on the way down was going to be the worst section. After about 2.5 miles we hit treeline. Both of us are fast hikers and expected the hike to take 8 hours, but here is where we got slowed down.
It was a clear night so we kept stopping every couple minutes to turn off our headlamps and look at the stars. It was a beautiful night and we saw a lot of the milky way and some shooting stars. The moon was close to new so we did not have any moonlight and needed to use our headlamps the entire time.
We continued hiking up and enjoying the starry view for a little bit before we hit the Chasm Lake trail junction at 11,500 feet. At this point it was about 2:00 a.m. We continued right until we reached another trail junction. We stayed left on the trail and continued on towards the boulder field. There were many people camping here and were just starting to wake up when we got to this point. During the day, you can see Longs Peak from here.
From here, we could see a thunder storm in the distance and debated for a few minutes whether we should continue. After watching and gauging where it was heading, we determined it was safe to continue on.
You are supposed to follow the trail and cairns up to the keyhole route. Unfortunately, we lost the cairns and went the wrong way in the boulder field. We saw some headlamps in the distance and headed that way since we couldn’t find the cairns, but realized after an hour of wandering around the boulder field, we were headed to people climbing the face of Longs Peak.
We saw a line of headlamps towards the right of the climbers and hanged our direction. From here, we were past the six mile mark. It was still dark but as we passed the other hikers, we started to see the dark outline of the keyhole.
We continued crawling over the large boulders. When we hit the top, the wind kicked in. At this point, we had passed everyone from the camp. We waited a couple minutes, checking the route description. Past this point is class 3 scrambling and loose rock. This means some exposure and moves that are in no fall zones. It is incredibly important to stay on route at this point.
There have been over 50 deaths on Longs Peak due to its popularity. At this point if you feel unprepared, if you have arrived at later than 6 in the morning, if it is slippery from rain, or if storm clouds are moving in, turn back. It is a mile left of scrambling and this section takes the longest.
The part that is nice about Longs Peak, is from here, the trail is clearly marked by bulls eyes.
As we were deciding where to go as we couldn’t find the bulls eye with our head lamp, a guy familiar with the trail caught up to us and pointed out the first one. From there it was easy to follow them though the wind was brutal until we hiked down a little bit. As we continued, it started getting light out, marking the beginning of a perfect day.
We continued to the Trough, which we both found to be the most irritating part of the hike. Here, I would recommend using a climbing helmet. There was a lot of loose rock and people are not always careful about kicking it free. Some of the rocks that came by were pretty big. We were careful not to kick any and the time or two we did, we made sure to yell ‘rock’, to let anyone below us know it was coming. At this point it was light enough we were able to turn off our headlamps.
Finally, we reached the top to enter the next section called the Narrows. Here it was a tiny bit wet and icy from when the water had frozen from the night before but other than that it was clear. This was the most difficult section of Longs Peak, particularly with the ice. We took this section a bit slower, as we were standing on the side of the mountain. This next section is a no fall zone. It is a long fall down the cliff.
We made our way slowly to the Homestretch, which again was a little icy making the 300 foot scramble up the face a little sketchy. We had some more people joining us and it was starting to warm up. Neither of us wanted to stop on this section and re-adjust so we continued upwards to the summit.
We finally reached the Longs Peak summit at 7:40 a.m. It was an incredible sight. The clouds were off in the distance and the summit was very windy. Right as we reached the top, so did the rock climbers we saw on the way up. It was a mom, dad, and their six year old daughter. Everyone was full of smiles, and taking picture of the breathtaking view.
The summit is bigger than a lot of other peaks and was not as crowded as you would expect a popular 14er summit to be.
At 14,225 feet above sea level, we both felt like we were on top of the world. We knew we had seven more miles to go and Longs Peak’s summit was chilly so we only spent a couple minutes there.
We continued back the way we came, passing many hikers. Here I felt very nervous crossing through the homestretch and the narrows. It is very uncomfortable to hang out on the ledge to let hikers by. This took us quite a while to get down as there were so many hikers coming through this section. At one point we had to stop for five or ten minutes to allow a massive group through a very tight section.
We continued past down through the boulder field. It was a very different sight in the daylight and did not look like anything I imagined it too look like. Going the same way, we jumped, scrambled, and hiked our way through the Boulder field, and got my favorite comment when we are out hiking.
“Turning back too, huh?” I have gotten this a number of times on mountains. And it is always incredibly annoying.
“Nope,” We answered the two guys as we passed them. “Already made it.” They both looked surprised as we continued on our way.
The rest of the hike was beautiful but exhausting as we both hadn’t slept at all the night before. At this point it was incredibly hot and we both stowed all our extra clothes in our backpacks. We passed the other two splits in the trail and passed a good number of people hiking in the area. Chasm lake is also a very popular day hike and draws a lot of visitors.
I was right though. The last two miles were the worst and seemed to continue on for hours. We finally made it back to the car at 12 p.m. A lot later than we had originally planned, but both of us happy at having made the hike.
Total mileage on Longs Peak was supposed to be almost 15 miles round trip. We made it a little over 16 miles getting turned around in the Boulder field. Total elevation gain was about 5,100 feet.
Note that climbing 14ers can be dangerous for a variety of reasons, some more so than others. This was merely my trip report and is not recommended as a guide. For anyone contemplating hiking Longs Peak or any other 14ers, go to 14ers.com, which has route descriptions and other helpful tools for hiking 14ers.
Longs Peak again is a serious hike and only recommended for those with a lot of hiking experience and solid class 3 scrambling and route finding skills. If you have this and still decide to go, be prepared. Also you should know when to turn back if inclement weather is approaching or members in your group are experiencing altitude sickness or fatigue.
If you want to see more of the 14ers I have hiked, my complete list is here. What are your experiences on Longs Peak? What are some of your favorite 14ers? Let me know in the comments!