Colorado's Fourteeners

Climbing Long's Big Wall

Although many new routes were found on the east face of the peak, the ultimate technical climb, the ascent of the spectacular 1,000-foot sheer Diamond Face, was not accomplished until 1960, due in part to national park climbing restrictions before that year. In the summer of 1960 the restrictions were lifted, and California climbers David Rearick and Robert Kamps gained the right to begin an assault on the Diamond on August 1.

After two days of difficult rock and aid climbing with obviously incredible exposure, the two reached the summit of Longs on the afternoon of August 3. Since this milestone in Longs Peak climbing history, a number of other climbs of the Diamond have been made, including the first winter ascent in 1967 by Layton Kor and Wayne Goss. The great east face of Longs will unquestionably continue to challenge climbers for generations to come, and, as Robert Ormes has stated, Longs Peak will continue to boast"the nation's greatest concentration of high country rock routes."

The Power of the Peak

Due to the extreme popularity of Longs (it is estimated that nearly 100,000 have climbed it), it is inevitable that a number of fatalities have occurred. From 1884 to 1972, twenty-six fatalities were reported, the causes ranging from gunshot wounds to falls to lightning. The most publicized of these fatalities was the Agnes Vaille tragedy, which followed the first successful winter ascent of the east face by Miss Vaille and Walter Kreiner, in 1925. On the descent, Vaille collapsed due to exhaustion. Keiner went for help, but she froze to death in his absence. To add further to the loss, Herbert Sortland, a member of the rescue party, became lost on the mountain and died as well. Despite these fatalities, Longs has been safely climbed by five-year-olds, an eighty-five-year-old, people on crutches, and a six-piece band. It is not, however, a peak to be underestimated.

While Longs Peak is a worthy goal in itself, perhaps it achieved its greatest worth by providing training for four members of the 1963 American Everest Expedition. Allen Auten, Barry Bishop, Dick Pownall, and Thomas Hornbein all credited climbs of Longs as important to their climbing development. Of these, Bishop and Hornbein reached the summit of Everest, and thus Longs Peak gained the prestige of playing a part in the conquest of another great peak more than twice its height.

In 1974, Longs achieved literary fame as an important geographic landmark in James Michener's classic novel, Centennial. In Centennial, Michener referred to Longs as the peak upon which a huge stone beaver appears to be climbing upward. Indeed, if one looks closely, and with imagination, a beaver does appear etched against the skyline, just to the south of the Diamond Face — just one more unique feature of the incomparable personality of Longs Peak.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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