Longs Peak is a very popular mountain and has been for many years.
Part of what makes this route so enjoyable is the variety of challenges that must be conquered along the way - the long approach being the first. This is a 14-mile trip, so be prepared for a long day of hiking. You can start early as the first 5.5 miles is well-traveled and easy to follow in the dark.
The approach ends and the climbing begins when the trail passes through a feature known as The Keyhole. It's a gap in the ridge with a precarious-looking rock that overhangs 30 feet or so over the route. The Keyhole is the door to the challenging upper slopes of Longs.
After passing through The Keyhole, hikers are faced with a section known as The Ledges. Glacier Gorge drops off dramatically to the right. At the sight of this, many people turn back. The drop-off is dramatic and doesn't get any better the higher you climb. While hiking through The Ledges, you might notice that the rock is fairly smooth and slick. This is a result of the large number of people using this route.
The trail then reaches what is known as The Trough. The Trough is easier hiking but full of loose rock so you must be cautious of hikers above and below you. On a busy weekend, the shout "ROCK!" can be heard every couple of minutes in this area. The finish to The Trough is a tricky class 3 section of rock that is solid but harder to climb. At the top of The Trough, there is a flat area that can sometimes fill up with people waiting to move to the next challenge.
The Narrows is a ledge that crosses a cliff face and slopes outward. The footing in The Narrows is quite good compared with that in The Ledges. The challenge of the section is more mental than physical. To reach The Narrows, you must pass a large rock that sits in the middle of the ledge - either by squeezing through a narrow gap between the rock and the cliff or by carefully going over the top. It's this rock that causes traffic jams as people ease by one at a time. Passing people headed in the opposite direction through The Narrows requires someone to move out of the way. Try to be courteous here.
Once past The Narrows, only the final challenge remains. A section known as The Homestretch is a bit of a relief in that the rock is solid and you don't have to climb right next to a drop-off. It is, however, sustained class 3 climbing on more polished rock. If you have a good pair of boots or shoes and The Homestretch is dry, it's a fun challenge; if it's wet, icy or your shoes don't grip well, it can be frustrating and even frightening.
When you come out of The Homestretch, you're standing on the largest and flattest fourteener summit.
Friesema is a Colorado native who has scaled each of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. He has been a member of Teller County Search and Rescue since 2003. Read about his high-country adventures at hikingintherockies.com.