Longs to Pikes: High Routes of the Colorado Front Range

Rocky Mountain National Park to Pikes Peak

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Longs Peak to Pikes Peak

The mountains are not hard to climb. . . . All but a few summits can be reached by at least one route that is no more than steep mountainside hiking. Of those few exceptions nearly all can be reached by parties without special technical knowledge provided the leadership is experienced. —Robert Ormes, Guide to the Colorado Mountains, 1970

There are sixty summits that reach 4000 meters on the Colorado Front Range, with Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park to the north, and Pikes Peak to the south, serving as bookends. There are more 4000-meter peaks here than in the Swiss Alps, though few attain the same alpine grandeur.

Most of the mountaineering world thinks in meters, with large round numbers offering a convenient threshold. For example. an elevation of 4000 meters works out to 13,123.36 feet. Nonetheless, the peaks above 4267.20 meters attract the most interest in Colorado, the famed "Fourteeners." What's highest is not always the most interesting, and these summits are often quite crowded. There are many other fine places to explore, away from the shopping-mall crowds. These pages are a guide to the summits reaching 4000-meter summits and above on the Colorado Front Range, including the six that climb to 4267.20 meters (summit list).

Longs Peak Standard.  Route descriptions use the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak as a reference. Each year thousands reach the summit of this mountain, many more try. This route about defines the limit of non-technical mountaineering. There are over fifty 4000-meter summits on the Front Range that make fewer demands than Longs Peak. Those more demanding, or presenting unfamiliar challenges, call for "experienced leadership," a guide, and are so noted.

  • Alpine Gear.  Large drifts and snowfields can block some routes into mid-season, but offer an opportunity for a quick descent. Rugged talus slopes can wreak havoc on ankles and legs, the most common injuries. Cool windy summits are the norm, rain always a possibility. Gear, clothing, and footwear useful for this terrain and these conditions is reviewed.
  • Altitude & Conditioning.  The thin air exacts a phyisical toll when going up a mountain. Acclimatization improves physical ability, but occurs in stages over time. Are you fit? When did you last hike the same distance on level ground?
  • Hazards.  The greatest risk in any alpine adventure is the drive to the trailhead. Other risks can readily be managed by informed common sense, and acting on it.
  • Lessons of Longs Peak.  Over a century ago Isabella Bird and Frederick Chapin climbed Longs Peak. Each related their adventure. Miss Bird was a lucky tourist, Chapin an experienced mountaineer. Not everyone survives this climb. Explore these lessons of Longs Peak.
  • Lightning.  Start early! This advice is endlessly repeated. It is a matter of life and death. Storms appear in the afternoon, and you need to be below timberline. The weather service has studied the characteristics of Colorado lightning fatalites spanning 25 years. Draw your own conclusions. Survival suggestions are offered.
  • Warnings.  The routes described on this site are in surroundings that are unfamiliar to many. This presents hazards that are also unfamiliar. It is helpful to explore the risks that others have found needful to comment upon.
  • Weather & Seasons.  The two distinct seasons of the the High Country are revealed in data from a weather station located just above timberline in the Indian Peaks. Dress for the worst, but is that high winds or driving rain? How warm does it get in the shade? How cold does it get overnight at timberline?
  • Read Me!  Using this mountain guide. Route descriptions, time, and difficulty explained. The elevations shown on maps are not the true elevations. Maps recommended for your pack.

The world above timberline is different.  The earth is no longer flat.  Gravity becomes a powerful third-dimension, a dimension largerly ignored at lower climes but for the occasional flight of stairs.  Now it tugs at you with every footfall.  Everything is brighter, lighter, even the air you breathe.  Shadow lines are rendered sharp, and the snow can linger into August.  Tiny wildflowers bring welcome color to the alpine world, hugging the ground to hide from the unrestrained winds that occasionally shreik across the tundra.  At 4000 meters 40% of the planet's atmosphere is beneath your feet.  The intensity of the sun reminds you of the thin air if your strained breathing does not.

It's cooler than it feels, the shadow of a passing cloud can restore the chill that is never long gone from these heights.  Your attention must be focused on every step you take; the rocky terrain is unrelieved and unforgiving.  At takes only a moment for the weather to close in.  A once bright sunny day can cloud over, the wind can rise to drive freezing rain, creating a world hostile to the unprepared.  This is the Colorado High Country.

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