Longs Peak, like Pikes Peak, is a solitary fourteener rising dramatically over the high plains of eastern Colorado, a beacon for pioneers and a dominant local landmark. The similarities end there, though. Pikes is to the south of Denver, and Longs to the north, but more important are their differences in topography. Pikes Peak, while more famous, is a gentle, almost rounded summit featuring a road and railroad to the summit and almost no other nearby peaks of interest. Longs Peak is a craggy monster with several enormous vertical cliffs, set among the sea of 13,000 foot peaks that make up Rocky Mountain National Park.
Viewed from the plains, Longs Peak's southern ridge presents a jagged profile resembling a beaver trying to climb the mountain, a familiar image to readers of James Michener's novel Centennial. The northeastern aspects include the Diamond, an almost sheer 1700 foot face that is the premier big wall in America outside of Yosemite. The west slopes fall away steeply, too, with lots of talus-filled gullies. Oddly, the summit is a large, flat expanse of about a couple acres, like the top of a tree stump falling away steeply on all sides.
Indians are alleged to have trapped eagles on the summit, but the first white men to climb Longs Peak were led by one-armed John Wesley Powell, more famous for his boat trip down the Grand Canyon.
The standard route on Longs is called the Keyhole route and it is usually done as a very long dayhike. Many, many inexperienced and out-of-shape climbers start out early in the morning and are turned back by altitude
sickness, fatigue, steep rock, and bad weather. The route, while non-technical when no snow is present, is still very steep and demanding. It corkscrews around the mountain, finding the path of least resistance, but
still clambers up steep rock gullies and rock-hops across endless talus.
The start of the route is on Colorado Route 7, south of Estes Park, the main tourist town for Rocky Mountain National Park. From the Longs Peak campground a good path climbs up through the forest to awesome viewpoints of the Peak and the sheer Diamond. It then switchbacks north up to the "boulder field", then makes for the distinctive Keyhole formation , a huge overhanging rock projection on the peak's north ridge. From there paint blazes show the way as the route traverses across a steep and rocky slope, heads up a steep and blocky gully often clogged with snow, and then around a couple airy corners before the steeply angled slabs that lead to the summit. It is a long and crowded 8 miles and 4850 vertical feet from the trailhead, but a popular and spectacular hike/climb nevertheless.
All other routes on Longs are technical rock climbs, including the former standard route whose steel cables have been removed. The Diamond offers routes of the highest standard, and it is where many members of the 1963 American Everest expedition, including Tom Hornbein, honed their skills.