Longs Peak can claim many titles: beacon of the northern Front range, monarch of rocky mountain national Park—and Colorado's deadliest peak.
Since 1884, 62 people are known to have died on or near longs Peak, far surpassing any other Colorado mountain (see page 38).
Why is longs so deadly? Part of the reason is visibility. in a 1991 Denver Post article, Claire martin wrote, “anyone who visits or lives in Denver, boulder, longmont, or Fort Collins can see it almost any day of the year. many people climb longs... because they like the thought of pointing to the most prominent fourteener on the skyline and saying they've made it to the top.”
But longs is no walk-up. even by its easiest route, the Keyhole, longs is a 5,000-foot ascent which features two 6-mile hikes—one up and one down— wrapped around 3 miles of bouldering and scampering on steep, unstable and often exposed terrain.
Despite its difficulty, longs draws the multitudes. an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 hikers reach the summit each year, depending on weather conditions.
And weather is certainly a factor on longs. The Keyhole route can easily turn treacherous with a few inches of snow or patches of ice. e wind is often so ferocious that it can blow a hiker o the summit, as occurred in 2010. Weather, and the failure to adequately prepare for it, has played a role in at least 15, or about one-third, of longs Peak fatalities.
As might be expected, falls of various types account for 40 of the 62 fatalities, or about 66 percent. What may be surprising is that only 14 of 40 falls, about one-third, occurred on the precipitous east Face. e other falls occurred at various locations scattered around the mountain.
The Keyhole route, with 13 total falls, is only slightly less deadly than the east Face. e Homestretch, near the summit, is the next deadliest section with six falls. e ledges have claimed three falls, the narrows two, the Trough and east Chimney (o - route) each claimed one.
Other causes of death on the mountain include heart attacks (6), hypothermia (4), lightning (3), exhaustion and exposure (3), falling rock (1), gunshot (1), and one from unknown causes.
For perspective, the whole of rocky mountain national Park (est. 1915) has recorded 344 known fatalities within its boundaries, including the 62 associated with longs Peak. is number includes all manner of cessation such as falls, heart at- tacks, and car crashes. in 2010, RMNP recorded 3,128,446 visitors.
For comparison, yellowstone national Park in Wyoming (est. 1872) lists about 300 “violent” deaths in and around the park from 1839 to 1994. From 1996 to 2010, officials recorded an additional 113 fatalities. Deaths by natural causes, such as heart attacks or other health problems, are not tracked. also excluded are deaths from motor vehicle accidents, although stage and horse mishaps from the early years are included. yellowstone national Park historian lee Whittlesay estimates an additional one to 15 deaths annually on park roads.
While yellowstone's visitation is about the same as RMNP, it does provide a wider variety of deadly diversions: bears, bison, and scalding hot springs, in addition to the usual perils, have all taken their toll on the unwary.
Death Valley national Park, in California (est. 1933), has recorded 72 deaths since 1999. is number includes all deadly mishaps, from heart attacks to car wrecks to extreme dehydration. although most would expect desert heat to be the primary killer, Terry Baldino, the park's chief of interpretation, reports that single car rollovers are the most prevalent cause of death in the valley. Death Valley recorded 984,775 visitors in 2010.
The author would like to thank Alex Depta of the AAC Library, J. Wendel Cox and Bruce Hanson of the Denver Public Library Western History Dept., Kyle Patterson of Rocky Mountain National Park, Lee Whittlesay of Yellow- stone National Park, and Terry Baldino of Death Valley N.P. for help in researching this article, and David Hite for technical support.