This iconic peak in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of Colorado’s most well-known. Due to a lengthy approach, it’s also one of the most frustrating, a 14.5-mile, 5,100 feet up hike that will have you sweating and cursing long before you’ve even reached The Keyhole, a notch in a rock wall after which the route gets more difficult, with nausea-inducing exposure. It’s one of the three monarchs of the Front Range, along with Mount Evans and Pikes Peak, visible for long distances across the plains. The top offers panoramic views of the playground that is Rocky Mountain National Park and the Front Range cities that may look close but might as well be a million miles away.
4 a.m. seemed like a decent time to start this hike, but to my shock the trailhead register showed about 30 people ahead of me that day, some having begun hiking at 2 a.m. As I labored slowly up this hulking peak and the lights of Boulder in the distance faded with dawn, I realized I had started entirely too late. By the time I reached the Keyhole, clouds were forming already and people who had summited were already coming down. I decided to turn around. As legendary climber George Mallory, the first man to lead an attempt on Mount Everest, once put it: “You can start too late, but you can never start too early.”
- Plan your climb months in advance and get a permit from the park to camp in the Boulder Field. Yes, it’ll be cold and windy but your chances of bagging the summit will vastly improve.
- The campground at the trailhead doesn’t take reservations so get there early if you want to find a site. And don’t try camping at the trailhead. You’re apt to get a rude awakening from a park ranger.
- Some years, snow and ice mean this hike is rated as technical. Contact the park before attempting if conditions are questionable.
Recommended season(s): Mid-summer – early fall.
—R. Scott Rappold