Longs Peak (14,255 ft, 4,345 meters), 08/14/2004
Getting up at 4:00, we left the house in Longmont at 4:47. Arriving at the East Longs Peak Trailhead, the parking lot was full, and there were at least one hundred cars parked along the side of the road leading from the parking area down to the highway. We parked along the side of the road at the first good spot, and started walking up the road toward the trailhead at 5:47. One interesting scene on the way to the trailhead was a car whose driver had apparently tried to squeeze the car into a narrow spot between two other cars, resulting in one side of his car dropping over a ledge a couple feet deep into the ditch, which made one of the wheels nearest the road become suspended in the air. The driver was gone, evidently on the way up Longs Peak. We wondered if he was trying to save a few feet of walking by not driving down a little further to a more hospitable parking space.
After ten minutes of walking we reached the trailhead at 5:57, signed the trail register, and began our hike up Longs Peak. We passed the Chasm Lake Trail intersection at 7:20, where there was a group of people sitting around the intersection eating. On the way to Granite Pass, and then the Boulderfield, we passed many people, and those who we talked to said that they started hiking anywhere from 3:30 to 4:40. At 8:53, we were at the Keyhole, with at least one hundred people around it, some of them appearing to be on their last legs, some being comforted and coached by their guides. We stopped near Keyhole for some water and to put on a windbreaker for sun protection and in anticipation of higher wind on the west side of Longs. Continuing past the Keyhole, onto the Ledges, the density of people dropped, and the going was nice, the wind being not bad. Reaching the bottom of the Trough, there were about one hundred people between us and the top of the Trough. There was still ice in the center of the Trough, but it was no problem staying to the left of the ice as we ascended. We passed a number of people on the way up the Trough, some of them stopping for breathers, having a hard time with the altitude. At the top of the Trough, Stefan and I negotiated the Chockstone with no problem, and then began our way up the Narrows. On the Narrows there is a point where the route rises a few feet, and at the top of the rise, you must duck your head so as not to hit it on an overhanging boulder. The guy in front of Stefan did not see this overhanging boulder, and he hit his head on it so hard that Stefan could hear the dull thud. This guy was stunned, unable to move or speak for awhile. Continuing, we ascended the Homestretch rather quickly, and reached the Longs Peak summit at 10:21.
The summit had at least one hundred people on it, and thankfully its flatness and size would allow at least five hundred people on it at one time, a condition I believe is inevitable as Colorado grows in population. We signed the summit register, took a few pictures, enjoyed the view and the circus atmosphere, had a little water, put some warmer clothes on, then began our descent at 10:48. We didn't want to linger on the summit considering that clouds were building up, and that the large number of people would make the return to the Keyhole very slow.
Going down the Homestretch, even though there are two nice "lanes", being parallel cracks in the rock, the people going down and the ones going up were trying to use the same lane. We descended by the empty one. The density of people going up had by now increased compared to when we came up. The pace of descent really slowed at the Narrows, as we had to wait for a large group of upgoing people to go through before we could descend. The Chockstone at the top of the trough was even worse, as a group of teenage girls wearing sneakers was having a difficult time descending it. The Trough was now packed with approximately two hundred people, at least twice as many as when we had ascended. As we approached the bottom of the Trough, we heard a yell from far above "Rock!", and soon heard the sound of rock cracking against rock. Looking up we could see a rock about the size of someone's head rapidly bouncing down the Trough. The rock headed straight for a woman in the middle of the Trough, but by a miracle crashed into a rock just in front of her and came to a stop.
The Ledges were pretty much empty as we returned to them, everyone having reached at least the Trough by now. Reaching the Keyhole at 12:30, we stopped at the little stone shelter to take a photo of it, and the plaque attached to it. There were only about thirty people at the Keyhole now, but at least three hundred people between us and the summit. Taking our time down and stopping for lunch below treeline, we returned to the East Longs Peak Trailhead at 16:08.
Longs Peak is a beautiful and a serious mountain. It is intrinsically enjoyable and a challenge to climb. But the huge number of people on it in the late summer, many of whom have virtually no mountaineering experience, creates a surreal atmosphere of a mixture of crowded shopping mall and a serious mountain climb. The Trough is particularly dangerous with the crowds knocking down loose rock onto people below. Because of this, it is best to climb most of the other mountains in RMNP, and save Longs Peak for last. If Longs Peak is the first mountain you climb in RMNP, you get a very wrong impression of what mountaineering in RMNP is all about.