Peak(s):  Longs Peak  -  14,255 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
Date Posted:  07/08/2020
Modified:  07/16/2020
Date Climbed:   07/03/2018
Author:  jvirene
Additional Members:   yvng phil
 Class three progession   

Class Three Progression


After a successful ascent of Decali, Phil and i wanted to up the ante- doing some harder peaks

Preface: When we finished with those peaks in the Mosquito range, we realized how much fun hiking is, so we did more research on fourteeners and some other peaks that we wanted to accomplish. Internet browsing revealed that there are many more challenging peaks, some of which, we thought looked really sick, and we wanted to do them. This report is a combination of all of the more difficult peaks that we did in our first season of hiking.

Longs Peak: (Climbed 07/03/2018)


Mileage: 14.50 Miles

Time: 10.5 Hours

Elevation gain: 5100'

Difficulty: 8/10

For our first more difficult peak, Philip and I decided on Longs. We read about the low success rate of Longs due to the long and committing route, and decided that this peak would be a perfect challenge that would increase our skill level. The class three scrambling on the Keyhole Route made us both anxious and eager to try the mountain. We knew that our physical and mental endurance would be tested, but this is just what we were looking for.

Preparation: I prepared for this route very appropriately, bringing extra water due to the length of the route and how much of it is exposed to the hot, summer sunlight. I also brought a helmet, rain shell, and other standard gear to ensure a safe ascent of the mountain. Philip and I both studied the route carefully, as this would also be our first experience with route-finding.

Approach: Philip and I parked the car at the trailhead at around 4:00 AM, when it was still very dark. We quickly prepared all of our gear and began hiking in the dark with our headlamps. The trail below tree line was very uneventful. It winded its way up the mountain, with low to moderate elevation gain. There were a couple of other groups behind and in front of us. When we broke tree line, the sun was barely rising, and the dark shadow of Longs Peak stood well above us. We were very amazed at the beauty of the mountain, which appeared as a giant silhouette in the early dawn. We continued past Granite pass toward the boulder field, and clumsily hopped over the boulders towards the Keyhole. Once we reached the Keyhole, it was still fairly dark as the sun continued to rise, so we waited, watching the sun rise at the start of the scrambling.


A picture of the Keyhole, taken on our return

Scrambling: I'm going to break up the route from the Keyhole to the summit in sections. The ledges, the trough, the narrows, and finally the homestretch.

The ledges: This is the first section of class three climbing that I had ever done, and I enjoyed it a lot. We were one of the first groups on the mountain, so we were lucky enough to be able to enjoy its beauty without the concern of moving for faster groups, or being stuck behind slower ones. We also quickly noticed the painted Bull's Eyes on the route, which made us feel a lot better about the route-finding and the danger of being cliffed out.

The Trough: Philip and I stopped at the base of the trough for a quick bite, and to enjoy the beautiful scene of the sun's rays hitting the peaks in Estes Park. This section of the climb was a bit more exposed, but the rock was very solid, and Philip and I made it up this section very quickly. Helmets and comfort with exposure are very important on this section, but from the top of the trough, there is not much elevation gain to the summit.


The sun rising over RMNP

The Narrows: This section was a very fun traverse towards the homestretch. There is moderate exposure to hiker's right but the rock is all very solid, and it is wide enough for anyone with decent balance to feel comfortable on. From here it is not much further to the summit.


A picture of me on the Narrows

The Homestretch: This is the most exposed portion of the climb, but honestly despite this being my first experience on real exposure, I was not all that intimidated or concerned climbing up. Again, the rock is very solid, which helped my confidence, and I just followed all the standard instructions, keep your eyes in front of you, maintain three point contact, and test your holds.


The last bit of climbing- the homestretch, after this portion you are at the summit!

The Summit: Something that makes Longs really unique is that the summit is very large, it's the size of a football field, it's cool to think about how Longs Peak formed millions of years ago. Another dope thing at the summit is these flags, which look like they belong on mountains in the Himalayas. By this point, Philip and I were very stoked to have summited our first class three mountain and we were honestly not all that tired.


Me at the summit


One of the flags


Philip, finding some exposure

Descending the Keyhole: The only part about descending this portion that I was a bit uncomfortable on was the homestretch. I felt like I was just going to slip, so I descended very slowly and carefully. This part is steep but we ended up getting down without much issue. The rest of the descent was pretty straightforward. We saw many other groups along the route who were still climbing up the mountain. Philip and I couldn't help but be proud of ourselves for getting up and down the mountain much quicker than these other groups. We read all over the place how due to the prominence of Longs Peak, weather can roll in very quickly and the wind can be very brutal, so we were glad to be off the summit.

The approach back to the car: Up until getting past the Keyhole on our descent, both Philip and I were mentally alert and our bodies felt great. By the time we got past the Keyhole, we were getting a bit tired. The boulder field was tough to navigate, and it was getting hotter and hotter. The approach felt way longer on our way back and by the time we got back to the car, we were exhausted and dehydrated. Regardless, we were super stoked to have finished our first class three summit, and we better understood our capabilities and ability to push ourselves in the mountains.

Review: Longs is a sick mountain and amazing intro to class three climbing and longer days of hiking. At some point, we had to dive headfirst into longer and harder days of hiking and Longs Peak incorporates both elements into a challenging day that will improve your endurance and technical ability. There is nothing that is extremely technically challenging on Longs, and rockfall is not too bad, the mountain is mostly solid rock so if you test your holds, nothing will get sent down. If you're hiking longs, start early because it takes most hikers 9+ hours. As we were down-climbing, we say people heading up at around 1:00. Another thing is that Longs gets very windy, all the more reason to start early and be off the summit before 12:00. I very much enjoyed longs, despite how exhausted I was at the end.

Crestone Needle (Climbed 07/18/2018)


Mileage: 12.00 Miles

Elevation gain: 4400'

Time: 2.00 hours to camp, 6.00 hours on the mountain, 1.5 hours to the car

Difficulty: 7/10

Preface: After doing Longs, Philip and I gained the confidence on class three rock we needed to attempt one of Colorado's harder peaks. By this point we were also ready to drive out a bit further, no longer worried about proximity to home or paying for gas to get out there, we were head over heels in love with hiking in the mountains. Crestone needle looked interesting to us due to how gnarly the mountain looks, in addition to the beautiful Crestone conglomerate, which would make the scramble a lot more fun. We also have a guest appearance from our buddy- Harry, who joins us on this and a couple other peaks.

Preparation: Since this peak is a bit further from home, and a bit more demanding, I upped my game on preparation. I brought lots more food and water, and did more research to ensure that we were prepared enough to have a safe and successful journey. I brought all the essentials, but I was the only one (at the time) with all of the gear for backpacking. Philip and Harrison ended up using regular backpacks and carrying some of the camping gear.

The Drive: Driving out to the Colony Lakes Trailhead was an adventure itself, so I'm dedicating a section of this report to describing this drive, and how much of a mess that it ended up being. We typed the trailhead into google maps, and it was supposed to be around a 4 hour drive, but it ended up being a little over 6 hours. Furthermore, we took the longer route, which drops down 1-25, then west on highway 96. The faster way to reach the trailhead is to take 285. When we were driving on 96, we was a sign that said that the road was closed ahead due to rockfall in the canyon. We ignored this sign since we did not see any notification for a road closure on google maps, so we decided to keep going. We reached a CDOT vehicle, indicated that we had to take a detour to get to our destination, and this tacked on around 30 miles and another 1.5 hours to our drive. Once we were around the detour, the sun was already setting. I knew that we would be setting up camp in the dark. We drove past a very small town out to the dirt road leading to the lower trailhead.

Strange encounter: Once on the dirt road, we continued driving towards the trailhead. This road is in a flat field with houses on either side. It was very dark by this point and even all of the lights for the houses were off. All of the houses have very long driveways that lead to the road we were on. As we were driving, I noticed headlights pull out behind me, they came from one of the houses and the car followed us up to the lower trailhead. I thought it was strange because we were not speeding, blaring music or anything to disturb the residents. Once we reached the lower trailhead, the car turned around when it saw we were heading up the 4WD road.

4WD Road: Driving up the 4WD was a bit interesting. We were driving up this part in the dark, which made it more difficult than it should have been and even my Trailblazer had some trouble getting up this road. The only part that I was truly concerned was the drainpipe, my car bottomed out on this portion. I was very relieved when we finally got to the trailhead.

The Approach: It was around 9:30 and very dark by the time we were ready to start hiking. We were a bit irritated that we had been delayed and would have to set up camp in the dark, but we were still excited and determined to get up to the lake and set up camp for the night. About two miles into the hike, we were unsure how much further it was to the lake and we were very tired, so we decided that we could camp alongside the trail, and just hike from there in the morning.

We woke up very early in the morning and the first thing I saw when I poked my head out of the tent was a group of deer in the field. Their eyes were glowing, and their bodies, lightly illuminated by the headlamp. We pressed onwards towards the lake, and reached it in the early morning.

In terms of the approach itself, there was nothing noteworthy. The trail is easy to follow, even in the dark with headlamps and the elevation gain is never too steep or difficult.


Crestone needle seen from Colony Lake

The hike: Our next objective was broken hand pass. We worked our way up the steep slope, which took a bit of time but we felt good throughout this section, by the end we started to feel the elevation gain. Beyond the pass, the fun part of class three scambling started. As we expected, the Crestone conglomerate lived up to the hype. All of the rock we were on throughout the day was very solid and enjoyable to climb.


Myself and Harrison on the rock


A shot of the exposure


There was one other person at the summit and he got a picture of all three of us at the summit.

Down Climbing: The descent is pretty straightforward, the route is well cairned and the rock is solid. On that note however, there is some exposure so we took the descent a bit slower to be safe. We all felt very confident on this rock so there was not any portion of the route where we were too concerned. None of us were too tired throughout the descent of the class three, our attention was all directed towards down-climbing. Once we got back to the summit of the pass, the remaining route back to camp went by quickly. We stopped for a break at the lake and then proceeded back to our camp. By the time we were at the lake, fatigue started to catch up to us. We hiked back to our campsites and packed all of our gear up, relieved to see that neither animals or people disturbed our gear.

Return to the car: The hike up Crestone Needle was very fun, but tiring. Hiking the few miles back to the car with all of our gear was very exhausting. Furthermore, we did our approach in the dark the previous night, so we had no clue how close we were to the car until we were very close. We were tired when we finally got back to the car. Once we got off the 4wd, we were very content with our trip and stoked at what we just did.

4WD: I was fairly exhausted after hiking with all my gear back to the car, as were Philip and Harrison, but we still had another obstacle ahead of us, getting my car down the jeep trail safely. I was tired, but I knew that I would need to pay attention for this trail. There were a couple parts where I struggled, but luckily we made it without any issues. I was very relieved when we got back to the paved road.

Review: Crestone Needle is still one of my favorite 14er hikes, it was truly an adventure. A couple things to keep in mind:

  1. Give yourself extra time for the drive/approach, you can see how we didn't do that and ended up having to hike/set up camp in the dark.
  2. The 4wd trail is not extremely difficult but you definitely want higher clearance to ensure your car won't scrape or bottom out on the drainpipe. The hike up to the summit was really fun, there was lots of fun rock scambling, airy exposure, and the solid rock gives you confidence. It is also gorgeous out there, hopefully the pictures can do it some justice! I'd recommend this hike for anyone with some class 3/4 experience and if you're okay with a somewhat longer day of hiking.

We are going back to do the Crestones Traverse for sure!

Maroon Peak (Climbed 07/26/2018)


Mileage: 13.00 Miles

Elevation gain: 4800'

Time: 12:00 Hours

Difficulty: 9/10

Preface: Philip and I, after finishing our first difficult class three peak (Crestone Needle) felt that we were prepared to continue doing harder peaks. We knew that our ability level was sufficient enough to get us up Maroon Peak, but it would definitely be a step up from Crestone Needle. Maroon Peak would be harder for us due to the higher commitment factor, and the rotten rock of the Elks. After looking at the route, we decided that we were prepared, so we got all of our things together and headed out west.

Preparation/Drive: We assumed that the availably of dispersed camping or car camping in this area would be similar to Crestone Needle, however due to how highly regulated Maroon Bells wilderness is, this was not at all the case. Any camping, whether that be car camping or backpacking, requires a registration and permit, so plan your trip well in advance and ensure that you have done all of the proper research before you take on any of the peaks in this area. Philip actually forgot our tent, so we would not be doing any camping at all, and we ended up sleeping in our car at the trailhead. *Note that you SHOULD NOT do this as it is not allowed, we were out of options at that point.

Devil's Punchbowl: On the day we drove out to Aspen, when we were going over Independence Pass, Philip suggested that we stop at a cliff jumping spot on the Aspen side of the pass. The water was frigid and the cliff was really fun, it is about 20'.


Philip sending the bigger cliff and reppin' the lobster shirt.

Maroon Lake: We reached the trailhead in the evening at around 6:30, and we were very hungry, so we decided that we would try and cook some food, while eyeing our objective- Maroon Peak. This was my first time at the Bells and I was amazed at how beautiful the mountains were. Unfortunately, my little MSR stove was not working very well so Philip and I, starving at this point decided that we were just going to go get dinner in Aspen.


A cliche photo, but it's still very beautiful :)

We got back from Aspen at around 9:00 and attempted to get some sleep in my car. Sleeping in the car yielded very little sleep, regardless I was still excited to be hiking and we worked our way around Maroon Lake towards the peak. Due to it being dark, our navigation was hindered and we ended up doing the loop around the lake for about 1 hour, a maneuver that costed us lots of time and energy. Laughing at our dumb mistake, we finally got back on the trail towards Maroon Peak and soon enough, we were at the base of the steep class two where the elevation gain starts. Lack of sleep and elevation gain was getting to me a little bit, my balance and coordination felt very "off" and I almost felt drunk. Nevertheless I pressed on, ensuring that my nutrition and hydration were sufficient and hoping that I would feel better when I started to wake up more.

The Steep Slope: We were one of the first groups to start the peak that day, but we saw groups behind us. We worked our way up the slope as the sun was rising and I progressively started to feel better, I guess all I needed was to gain elevation and get my blood flowing more. This slope was very steep, and it definitely gave us a leg workout. Unfortunately, as I was hiking, I accidentally stepped on a loose rock, sending it all the way down the hill. There was no one in the direct path of the rock but we shouted down to hikers below to ensure they were aware of the football sized rock barreling down the mountain. Seeing that rock flying down the slope was very scary and I made damn sure that I did not send anything else down the mountain.


Working our way up the slope as the sun was rising.

The Scambling: Once we topped out on the slope, the actual class three starts soon after. We were very awestruck at the beauty of the Elk Mountains and the gnarly, fun climb that stood ahead. This portion of the hike was very enjoyable, getting on the rock made my sickness go away, and all my attention was directed towards ascending Maroon Peak. There is a good amount of loose rock on this scramble, but if you test all your holds and space yourself out from other hikers, it should not be a huge issue. My best advice is what you need on any class 3/4: Don't sell out on your holds, test them and counterbalance your handholds. The only part where rockfall is very dangerous is in the gullies, which I will show in the pictures. I enjoyed this climb, but it took longer than we expected. There are many false summits on Maroon Peak, which was morally defeating but it made the summit all the more worthwhile. Philip, at the beginning of the day wanted to do the Bells traverse, and from the start, I knew that would not be a good idea with our experience at the time. The traverse looks very fun and we'll be back for it soon.


The steep, rocky gullies.

The Summit: Views from the summit of Maroon Peak are breathtaking. You can see Capitol, Snowmass, and of course, Pyramid and the gnarly class five bells traverse. We were very stoked and proud to have achieved the summit of Maroon, and Philip agreed that the Bells traverse would have to wait until we attained more experience. We took lots of pictures and had snacks to ensure that we were rested enough to make the descent safely.


The Bells traverse.


Pyramid Peak.

The Down-climb: Descending this mountain was more difficult than anything we had previously done. On the class three, we were very alert, so as to ensure keeping our safety as well as that of others by preventing rockfall. Once we got back to the slope, we were very tired and the steepness was hard on our knees. I kept slipping and was getting a bit frustrated. There were also these guys who were calling down to us from way above on the slope, but we were not waiting or going back up to them. We reported it to the forest service in case they were injured but nothing ever came of it.

We were very happy once we safely made it back to the flat trail. From here it was a straightforward hike, but at this point, it was around 1:00 and the trails were very crowded.

Review: Maroon Peak was a really fun mountain, it is certainly challenging but it was not anything that we could not handle. There was nothing that was super technically challenging, which is to be expected since it is only class three. The only part that I found challenging was the steep approach, it drained a lot of my energy before we even started the scambling. It was a much longer day than we had anticipated, but that was partially due to a lack of preparation on our part. Regardless, the views of other peaks are incredible, and we will be back to do the Bells traverse soon.

*Philip and I were 17 at this point and this was our first season of legit hiking. I think that Maroon taught us a lesson about being prepared, and it developed our endurance and climbing ability

Review of these three peaks:

I reported these three in the order from easiest to most difficult. We did these ones back to back and I think they all taught us lessons about being prepared, and having good judgement in the mountains. My favorite peak was Crestone Needle, but I enjoyed all of these hikes. Thanks for the read!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Excellent report
07/09/2020 15:59
Longs is a wonderful mountain and easily my favorite 14er.
Thanks for the report

07/10/2020 13:34
Thank you for the report.

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