Rocky Mountain National Park: Longs Peak

Climb this iconic summit on an uncrowded sneak route.
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No fewer than 78 of the Rockies' 100 highest peaks lie in Colorado, but even with all of that competition, 14,259-foot Longs Peak is in a class by itself. Credit its striking profile, excellent rock, and spectacular approach. Not surprisingly, crowds of hikers storm the standard Keyhole Route in good weather. Avoid this bottleneck--and up the adrenaline factor--by taking the 13-mile Clark's Arrow Loop. This clockwise traverse ascends 6,300 feet via the scrambly Loft/Clark's Arrow Route before descending to the Keyhole.

Start at 2 a.m. at the Longs Peak trailhead and hike 4.5 miles to Chasm Lake, beneath the gigantic East Face Diamond. From Chasm, scramble steep slabs and a straightforward but very narrow ramp (class 3) that leads south across cliffs to The Loft, a wide saddle between Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker. Cross the Loft and drop down a steep, loose gully until you reach the base of the Palisade Cliffs.

Find the faded paint splotch called Clark's Arrow, then begin a 1,500-foot, class 3 scramble up Keplinger's Couloir until you intersect the Homestretch, the upper section of the standard route. Ascend the final 350 feet to the broad summit. Complete the loop by returning on the Keyhole Route, which rejoins your inbound trail at Chasm Lake Junction. Caution: Snow, ice, rain-wet rock, and thunderstorms can complicate any climb on Longs.

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-Text by Steve Howe