Monday, August 29, 2016

Trail heads to summit of 14er Longs Peak

Longs Peak from the north.
East Long Peaks Trail. Courtesy of NPS.
While certainly no day hike, you can walk to the summit of Longs Peak, the highest point on Rocky Mountain National Park. Around 15,000 mountaineers try it each year.

At 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is one of Colorado's most visibly prominent fourteeners – a mountain more than 14,000 feet high – on the Front Range. Longs Peak is the northernmost of Colorado's famed Fourteeners.

To reach that trailhead, from Allenspark drive north on County Road 7. Turn left/west onto Longs Peak Road. Upon entering the park and just before the campground curve left/south. The trailhead is past the ranger station at the end of the road.

The East Long Peaks Trail runs 13.6 miles one-way. You start at an elevation of 9418 feet and will gain 4786 feet. It’s a well-marked trail.

The trail initially parallels Alpine Brook then later crosses it as well as Larkspur Creek and Boulder Brook. A spur leads to Chasm Lake. Ultimately, the trail ends just past an area known as Boulderfield, where there is a campground.

Major Stephen Long first explored this region of Colorado for the United States in 1820. His expedition didn't enter the mountains, but he recorded sighting the park's highest point - Longs Peak - which was named for him. Explorer John Wesley Powell made the first recoded ascent of Longs Peak in 1868.

Due to the high altitude, you definitely need to be physically fit and spend a couple of weeks acclimating your body before attempting this adventure.

Since air pressure is lower at higher elevations, you will inhale less oxygen in mountainous areas. For most hikers, the problem begins when reaching 8,000 feet above sea level, in which acute mountain sickness can affect you.

More serious and deadlier problems can occur at higher than 12,000 feet, and parents shouldn’t take their children above that level. Children will suffer from altitude sickness more readily than adults. As their bodies are still developing, they simply don’t have the ability to adjust as quickly to changes in oxygen levels as do adults.

To avoid altitude sickness, go at a slow pace that allows time for your body to adjust to the changes. Limit altitude changes to no more than 2000-3000 feet so long as you’re returning to your starting point.

Signs of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, dehydration, headache, nausea and dizziness. If you become confused, clumsy, vomit and have a dry cough, the condition is serious. Treating altitude sickness requires descending to a lower elevation where there’s more oxygen. In addition, drink extra water to avoid dehydration, and eat light, high-carbohydrate meals. If the condition is serious, get medical attention immediately.

A route at a lower altitude with great views of Longs Peak is the Bluebird Lake Trail, which runs south of the Fourteener.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks series.