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.

Grand Tour. There are 80 featured routes described in these pages. Where to start? A short list of ten, scattered the length of the Front Range, comprise a Grand Tour. They have been selected for their ease of access, and especially for the great view they offer, or the fun you can have getting there.

Getaways. Sometimes it's fun just to spend a genial day hiking in the mountain. A list of such possibilities has been compiled (Getaways List). Featured getaways, those with a great view, are described as Area Getaways indexed with the various regions.

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.

  • 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?
  • Grade & Terrain.  The steepness of a route and the difficulty of the terrain are important factors in describing a route and estimating the time needed to make the journey. These measures as used with the route descriptions are explained.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Read Me!  What you need to know when using this mountain guide. Route descriptions, time, and difficulty explained. The rationale for using solid footwear, gaiters, and crampons is explained. A list of National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps are suggested for your pack.

Adjusted Elevations. The National Geodetic Survey has determined that all previously reported elevations in the United States are short by a few feet. These pages report the map elevation, which have not yet been adjusted, to avoid confusion when comparing maps with the route description. Elevations given in meters have been corrected using the NGS VERTCON (VERtical CONversion) program. For more information visit the Summits page.

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. A once bright sunny day can quickly cloud over, the wind rising to drive freezing rain, or even snow, creating a world hostile to the unprepared. This is the Colorado High Country.

Image above: Summit of Grays Peak.