Note: This is not a rock climbing guide or a Longs Peak guide (I’ve never even seen a Longs Peak map which is part of the problem). This won’t inform you about any camping near Longs Peak and I won’t try to scare you from hiking Longs Peak. This is merely a reference point from a very inexperienced 14,000-foot mountain climber.
In July of 2016, I agreed to climb my first 14,000-foot mountain with a few friends in Rocky Mountain National Park. With a few weeks until we set off for Colorado, I wasn’t taking the feat of hiking Longs Peak as serious as I should have.
Had hindsight told me to train, I would have. And I would have done a lot more research before taking on the challenge. I would have found a good rock climbing guide to prepare myself and at least took a look at a Longs Peak map. Hiking Longs Peak without preparing or following a Longs Peak guide was about to be a detrimental mistake.
Hiking Longs Peak – Telling My Story
Luke and Jake, a few of my friends, had asked me if I wanted to join them on a week-long camping trip in Colorado. I had a free week before I took off for the West Coast, so I figured I’d join. They had planned on hiking Longs Peak to the summit.
Standing 14,259 feet in the air, Long’s is the fourteenth tallest peak in the state of Colorado.
I am an experienced hiker. I’ve been at the top of several peaks in Colorado including the infamous Pike’s Peak which is over 14,000 feet tall. I rode the cog to the top of Pike’s but didn’t struggle at all with dizziness or shortness of breath which is what Luke cited as the main struggles when climbing a 14-er.
Hiking Longs Peak – Find a Longs Peak Guide
Looking back, I wish I looked at climbing a 14-er as a bigger accomplishment than I did. It was single-handedly the most difficult things I’ve ever gone through within my lifetime. However, when I realized just how big of a deal a 14,000-foot mountain is to scale, I found that there is a plethora of information online for just about any 14-er with the capabilities to climb. There are rock climbing guides that can help you prepare, too.
Especially a Longs Peak guide. There is a detailed Longs Peak guide for just about any piece of knowledge you need to know for one of the most popular 14-er’s in the United States. It is one of the most dangerous 14-er’s to climb in Colorado. Do your research online before you go to make your hike infinitely times more rewarding and enjoyable.
Six Tips So You Aren’t Climbing Long’s Peak Without Preparing
There are several things you need to know before you climb any 14-er. For Hiking Longs Peak, in particular, here are some must-knows:
- Acclimate yourself – Any good Longs Peak Guide will tell you the first thing you need to do is acclimate yourself. Head to Colorado a few days prior to climbing. Get up around 12,000 feet a few days before and hike about for a while. Getting yourself acclimated to the mountain air and altitude before your big climb will go a long, long way when hiking Longs Peak.
- Set a schedule – If you think you can wake up at nine in the morning and get up and down Long’s before the sun sets, well, you’re probably either crazy or a local (or someone very accustomed to hiking at high altitudes). It took me fifteen and a half hours to hike the entirety of Long’s (up and back down). The recommended time for hiking Longs Peak is nine to fifteen hours. I thought that was excessive when Luke told me because I was fairly fit and those were merely suggested numbers for those not as fit as I was. I was wrong. It doesn’t matter how fit you are; you never know what altitude sickness will do to you when you’re that high in the air. Pro-Tip: We started the climb up Long’s at two o’clock in the morning, just as a reference.
- Prepare a proper packing list – “It’s only a day hike,” I thought. I could handle going one day with an average amount of water and a few light snack foods. If it rains, it’ll feel good in the heat of summer. I don’t need a headlamp, I can use my phone’s flashlight if need be. All of this is completely inaccurate.
KNOW what you need to bring and come to Long’s peak early in the moonlight morning PREPARED.
- Eat and drink well leading up to your hike – Campfire S’mores and beer isn’t the proper meal to prepare before your hike. I thought it might be fun to start the non-taxing part of the hike with a beer buzz, but I highly regretted this because it severely dehydrated me.
- Pace yourself – You will encounter locals and hiking gurus passing you on the trail after starting hours after you did. You’ll want to speed up. Your hiking companions might be struggling behind you and your first instinct will be to encourage them to move faster. Don’t do this. Hiking a 14-er is a marathon, not a sprint. Trust me on this one.
- Train, Train, Train – Start early and train often. Run, go to the gym, swim, play sports; any physical activity you can do leading up to your hike will help. Don’t take this part of the plan lightly!
Hiking Longs Peak Guide: My Climb
It started off relaxed. From the trailhead to Boulder Field, it is a relatively laid-back hike, and to my obnoxious stupidity, it is what I envisioned the entire hike is like. For the first three and a half miles, it’s a nice hike; however, most of this will be done in the dark. I didn’t bring a flashlight which made it moderately annoying to step lightly everywhere I went. Fortunately, Luke and Jake brought headlamps.
We reached Boulder Field around 8 o’clock in the morning after pacing ourselves through the first leg of the trail and taking quite a break for ‘lunch’. Even Boulder Field wasn’t extremely taxing, although a bit annoying to hike through.
Hiking Longs Peak Guide: Altitude Sickness from Hell
That’s also about the time that the effects of the high altitude started to kick in. The route becomes much more serious and dangerous at the Keyhole. Be prepared; I wasn’t. The wind was powerful at the Keyhole, and right away grabs your attention more so than has been focused for the entire hike leading up to the Keyhole. It is said to often be very windy at the Keyhole, so, again, be prepared! A lot of gusty wind at a high altitude and steep drop-offs will scare even the most experienced climbers. I was, admittedly, terrified.
Hiking Longs Peak Guide: Keyhole to the Trough
The route to the Trough section of Long’s, from the Keyhole, is not much of an elevation climb, however, it is a difficult, time-consuming path that requires a lot of attention to trail markers and climbing up and over small boulders.
Hiking Longs Peak Guide: Climbing the Trough
This is when I was really hit with exhaustion. This is when it became the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. At several hundred points in the ascent up the Trough, I felt like giving up, taking a nap from exhaustion, and making my way back down without reaching the peak. I’ve never pushed myself harder than that 600-foot climb up the Trough to roughly 14,000 feet of elevation.
Hiking Longs Peak Guide: Pushing on in unideal situations
My vision started going blurred. I certainly was in no shape to continue climbing, but I had gone so far and put so much energy into getting to the point I was at that I just couldn’t commit to turning around. Actually, I did quit at several points. Jake quit. I told Luke, as he was throwing up from altitude sickness and I was hugging a rock during one of my blacked-out vision episodes that it wasn’t safe for me to continue. If Luke would have agreed, I wouldn’t have made it to the peak. But I couldn’t let him hike alone in the condition we were in.
In all honesty, at that moment, the hike down seemed just as impossible as making it the rest of the 400 feet (or so) to the peak. Until you’ve been affected by altitude sickness like that, you’ll never quite understand the magnitude and toll it takes on your body and mind. I was sure my heart stopped at several points during the ascent of the Trough.
Luke and I were moving up the Trough at a clip of about a foot per minute. Every boulder we climbed up and inched ourselves towards the peak with would result in a subsequent rest while we hugged onto the boulder in the wind to catch our breath. It was grueling.
When I was at my weakest, a thirty-foot scramble to the top of the Trough (which was the most dangerous part of the hike), led to a beautiful vista view of Wild Basin which I couldn’t even enjoy. I was too focused on breathing.
Hiking Longs Peak Guide: Balancing the Narrows
I was dizzy and shaking from weakness. Then, came the Narrows section of the trail. The Narrows is an exposed ledge on the south face of the mountain with extremely steep drop-offs. Although the ledge wasn’t as bad as pictures make it look, there were some points where you only had three feet of wiggle room. And when you’re dizzy and in extreme wind, three feet can feel like three inches between you and death.
Hiking Longs Peak Guide: The Homestretch
Finally, the end of the ascent; the Homestretch leg of Long’s Peak Trail all the way up to the summit. Similar to the Trough, but shorter, with an easier-to-navigate path; you can tell past climbers have made their mark on this section of the trail, as it would almost be impossible to climb this section without a rope if it wasn’t for the well-carved hand and foot holes.
The safest and the easiest path up the Homestretch is well-marked. You don’t need a Longs Peak map for this part. Don’t navigate too far from this path or else the difficulty of the climb instantly increases and becomes more dangerous.
By this point, all I wanted to do was reach the summit so I could lie down. I pulled myself over the edge of the summit and instantly collapsed to the floor. Other summit climbers, who were already at the summit, who are usually used to celebrating with others who summit, laughed at my inability to celebrate because of extreme exhaustion from hiking Longs Peak.
Luke and I enjoyed our accomplishment for a brief twenty minutes at the peak, but we had to start the descent or else we’d run out of daylight on the way home without a Longs Peak map.
The most difficult thing I’ve ever done had been accomplished, but not without hardships that I’ll always remember while hiking Longs Peak.