This 14,259 foot mountain is one of the most popular peaks in Colorado and the only “14er” in the northern part of the state. The peak is the namesake of Longmont and many visitors to the area want to include hiking the peak on their trip.
The standard Keyhole route on Longs entails over 15 miles of hiking, 5,000 ft. of elevation gain, exposed scrambling and difficult terrain above treeline, where storms roar in with regularity. In addition, many summer days are crowded with a wide variety of hikers, all hoping to reach the summit.
Longs is a fantastic mountain but it is also one that is a serious undertaking that demands preparation. If you’re considering climbing Longs, here are 5 things to know that will help ensure a safe and fun experience on the mountain.
1. Make sure you start early in the morning.
A general rule is that you don’t want to be starting the Keyhole portion of the hike after 6 AM—it’s 5.5 miles from the parking lot on a long trail and a big boulder field before arriving at this locale. Getting on the trail at 2 – 3 AM is considered a “best practice”. Longs can take 10 hours to hike and many people will spend 12 – 15 hours on the mountain. You do have the option to camp in the boulder fields at the base and that could allow an adjusted start time.
2. Make sure to factor in the weather.
Weather can move in at any point and you don’t want to get caught in a storm above treeline. From the time you hike above treeline, (Chasm Lake to the summit) there are very few places to escape a thunder and lightning storm (very likely in Colorado in the summertime). A good rule for Longs or any high elevation peak is to summit as early as possible. No matter what month you attempt the summit, bring warm clothes and rainproof layers. If it looks like you won’t reach the summit by 10 AM, consider coming back another day.
There are Rangers that patrol the trail, making sure everyone is safe and offering help if needed. These rangers are experts at gauging conditions and they will shut down the Keyhole if they see weather moving in. Sometimes this may not be apparent to the hiker, but these rangers know what they are talking about—and they prefer everyone stays safe.
3. Camping can be difficult to secure.
There are a few designated camp spots in the boulder field but they are tough to secure. You can contact Rocky Mountain National Park to obtain a back-country permit and reserve a camping spot—but do so at least 30 days in advance of your climb. If you are attempting a spontaneous summit, you’ll likely have to start from the Longs Peak Trail head or camp at the Longs Peak Campground at 9,500 ft, a few miles from the start of the trail head.
4. If you have never hiked in elevation or attempted a 14er, Longs may not be the best one to start with.
Many visitors want to hike Longs because it is one of the two most well-known Colorado summits (along with Pikes Peak). Many hikers decide that Longs will be their inaugural 14er. Unless they already have a lot of mountain experience under their belts, especially at higher altitudes, Longs can be a rude awakening. If you are new to 14ers, it is a very good idea to start with some of the less difficult summits. While it is not as difficult as the toughest 14er summits (Little Bear Peak, Capitol Peak, Crestone Needle, Sunlight Peak), Longs has plenty of Class 3 scrambling.
5. Consider a weekday to hike.
If you start your hike as early as possible, chances are better to ascend without too many people. However, you’re likely to run into many other hikers on the way down. Certain areas are prone to bottlenecks, such as the top of the Trough and along the Homestretch. Consider a weekday ascent to avoid the crowds of the weekend.
For a wealth of information including maps, trip reports, route descriptions and photos, please visit 14ers.com Longs Peak page.
Cover photo: Anne Barela.