Mountaineering in the Rocky Mountain National Park
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The word mountaineer suggests to many persons one who has acquired proficiency in scaling almost inaccessible peaks. It is here used in a much more general sense, and is intended to include all those who find pleasure and benefit from visits to mountainous areas and who have made, or wish to make, more intimate friendships with mountains and peaks. The number of such mountaineers is legion.

The Rocky Mountain National Park and the areas adjoining it offer many inducements to mountain lovers. The accessibility of the area puts it within the reach of thousands. Accommodation is offered to suit all varieties of taste and purse. The peaks vary from low timbered hills up to the barren summits of the high peaks; the loftiest is Longs Peak, 14,255 feet above sea level. Most of the mountains are easy of access or have at least one route that presents no difficulties. A few of the summits may be reached on horseback. On the other hand, the climber who delights in steep and difficult routes will find unlimited possibilities awaiting him, for many of the peaks have one or more sides that are precipitous and from these sides the peaks are difficult if not impossible of access.

The scenery is greatly diversified. One finds large areas of forest, tall superb pines, spruce and fir; interspersed in the forests are flat, open, grassy meadows, and higher up one finds vast plateaus above timberline with a variety of plant life, and then come barren fields of rocks, almost devoid of life, and then great rugged peaks, bristling with crags and walled by precipices.

The life history of a river is clearly written. From the lower edge of a snow field comes a small trickle; farther down among the rocks other rivulets join it and it grows and grows; laughing and leaping it plunges down the valley, over waterfalls, through wooded valleys, lapping the roots of trees, refreshing the flowers on the bank, furnishing a home for the darting trout and forming an important factor in most plant and animal life. Strung along the stream, like jewels on a necklace, are the mirrored lakes, large and small, catching the reflection of sky and cloud, peak and forest. As the stream winds its way unfalteringly down the valley it joins more and still more of its kind, and by the time the lower valleys are reached a river is formed, and with a last salute to its parental hills it starts on its mission to the world beyond.

The peaks from left to right are Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, and Mount Lady Washington.

Photograph by Wiswall Brothers.

The national park is a sanctuary to animal lite. There are few places in the country where one has a better chance to see the Bighorn, or mountain sheep, in his chosen home; coyotes sing nightly serenades, and smaller animals such as woodchucks, squirrels, and chipmunks are frequently seen. Many animals live in the region, but keep very successfully away from visitors, who see only their footprints or their handiwork. Deer, black bear, mountain lions, bobcats and beaver are present, but rarely seen.

Bird life is plentiful and many varieties are found, as one passes through the various zones from the valleys to the peaks.

The wealth of wild flowers is a cause of constant delight and one does not have to be a botanist to love and appreciate them. In all seasons, and in all localities, they welcome the visitor. Hundreds and hundreds of varieties and a profusion of blossoms border the trails and bedeck the hillsides.

When one considers the use and the development of the mountainous areas of other countries, it is surprising that those of our own country have not created more interest. It is certain that a much greater number of American tourists will be drawn to this gigantic wilderness of lofty peaks, steep snow fields, glaciers, romantic valleys and gorges, frozen lakes and precipices as soon as the beauty of the ever-changing scenery is more widely known and when the facilities for the tourists are further increased.


The Rocky Mountain National Park was created by act of Congress, January 26, 1915, and enlarged by a subsequent act of Congress, February 14, 1917. It has an area of 398 square miles, or about 255,000 acres. It includes about 29 miles of the Continental Divide and large areas on both the Atlantic and Pacific slopes. It includes parts of Larimer, Boulder, and Grand Counties.

It is under the control and supervision of the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. The local administration is carried on by a superintendent and a number of park rangers. The address of the superintendent is Estes Park, Colo.

The department has issued certain desirable rules and regulations for the government of the park, which relate to the protection of animal and plant life, regulation of camping, care of fires and prevention of forest fires, prohibition of firearms within the park, careful use of automobiles and similar subjects. The regulations are not made at all burdensome to anyone who wishes to use the park in ordinary ways and with due regard to the rights of others.

Photograph by G. H. Harvey, jr.

Photograph by Clark Blickensderfer.


Copies of the rules and regulations, a circular of general information, published each year, and additional information and literature may be obtained upon request from the superintendent of the park or from the National Park Service, Washington, D. C.


There are several shelter cabins in the Rocky Mountain National Park. One is on Fall River, southwest of Mount Chapin. A second cabin is at Poudre Lakes, near Milner Pass, on the trail from Fall River to Grand Lake. A third cabin is on the North Inlet trail from Grand Lake to Flattop Mountain. A fourth cabin is on the Cache la Poudre River near the north boundary line of the national park.

These cabins have camp stoves or fireplaces. Each has some cooking equipment. They are maintained by the National Park Service for use by the public, and are intended to provide shelter in time of need. They are not intended to be used as permanent camps, and all persons desiring shelter have equal rights to them. Parties using these cabins should take particular care to leave them clean and in good condition, for the next party. The prospector's motto "Keep the woodbox full or the fire out" applies here.


The Mill Creek Ranger Station is on the Flattop trail; the Pole Creek Ranger Station is about 3 miles south of Grand Lake. Another ranger station is a mile northwest of Longs Peak Inn at the base of Estes Cone. These are the homes of the rangers, who are glad to extend assistance or courtesies to visitors.


Telephone lines extend between Estes Park and Grand Lake, along the Flattop trail and also along the Fall River road and trail. Telephones will be found at 5-mile intervals along these lines for use by the public in cases of emergency.


The timbered areas adjacent to and outside of the national park are under the supervision and control of the United States Forest Service, which, in turn, is under the direction of the Secretary of Agriculture. For convenience of administration, the timbered portions of a State are divided into separate forests, each with a supervisor in charge and forest rangers as assistants. Part of the Medicine Bow Range, the country around Monarch Lake, and in general most of the land in the area under consideration lying on the western slope (not included in the national park) is in the Arapaho National Forest, while that on the eastern slope (not included in the national park) is in the Colorado National Forest.

Information regarding the regulations and management of the land under the control of the Forest Service can be obtained from the forest supervisors, or from the district forester's office in Denver, or from the United States Forest Service, Washington, D. C.


The Rocky Mountain National Park is naturally approached through Denver. Four railroads, the Colorado & Southern, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, the Union Pacific, and the Denver, Boulder & Western, carry passengers to points convenient of access by automobile stage to Estes Park village, the eastern gateway. The Colorado & Southern has stations at Loveland, Longmont, and Fort Collins; the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy stops at Loveland, Longmont, Lyons, and Fort Collins; the Union Pacific stops at Fort Collins; the Denver, Boulder & Western stops at Ward. The west side of the park is reached from Denver by way of Granby, on the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad; from Granby stages run to Grand Lake, the western gateway.

Automobile stages cover 33 miles from Loveland to Estes Park, 35 miles from Longmont to Estes Park, 23 miles from Lyons to Estes Park, 32 miles from Ward to Estes Park, and 44 miles from Fort Collins to Estes Park; the fare is the same by all routes. From Estes Park visitors reach their various destinations by hotel and transportation bus or private conveyance.

The automobile run from Denver to Estes Park is 70 or 80 miles, according to the route chosen. The run will take from four to six hours.

The Rocky Mountain Parks Transportation Co. operates the auto stage lines to Estes Park from Denver, Ward, Longmont, Lyons, Loveland, and Fort Collins, and handles both passengers and freight.

The automobile portion of all routes to Estes Park are full of scenic beauty and variety of interest. Whether one goes by. public or private conveyance, it is recommended that a circle trip be made, going in by one route and returning by another. For example, one may reach the park via Loveland, and thence by auto up the rugged canyon of the Big Thompson, and then make the return trip via the shorter "hill road" to Lyons.

PLATE V. MAP OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK. Note: Numbers on the map indicate the locations of the resorts and hotels bearing corresponding numbers, listed on page 105. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The route that gives the most varied and closest views of the mountain peaks is the one via Ward, and is known as "The Switzerland Trail of America." Another good route is to go to Lyons and thence up the canyon of the South St. Vrain River, via Allens Park to Copeland Lodge, to Longs Peak Inn, and to Estes Park village. The regular stages do not run on this route, as it is 10 miles or more longer than the "Lyons Hill road," but it is a very beautiful and scenic route. In fact, every route has its peculiar charm and attraction.

There are good garages at the railroad towns referred to above (except Ward).

FIG. 1.—Map showing railroad routes to Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde National Parks.


Camping out is not an essential feature of mountain climbing in this region. One can usually reach the top of one or more of the nearer peaks and return to the hotel the same day. For example, from the hotels at the foot of Longs Peak one may climb Longs Peak in a day, though it is rather a long trip. One may also climb Mount Meeker or, more easily still, the Twin Sisters or Estes Cone. Starting from Estes Park, with an automobile, one may reach some peak of the Mummy Range and return the same day. A variety of one-day trips may be made from the lodge at Lawn Lake. Spragues Hotel is a good starting point, and several peaks may be reached in one day trips from there. Timberline Cabin, on Longs Peak, greatly facilitates this climb by offering a suitable shelter for the night as high up on the peak as firewood is available. Fern Lake Lodge is beautifully located on the trail leading from Moraine Park up to Fern and Odessa Lakes. Several first-class climbs to high peaks of the Continental Divide can be made in one day from this delightful starting point.

With a little planning, and the occasional use of horses or an automobile, a party can take many one-day trips from Estes Park that are full of interest and variety. This is also true of most of the other starting points in this region.

The construction of Government-built mountain shelters can and doubtless will be continued. These cabins will simplify the problem of camping out, since at least a shelter and a stove will be provided, which will make possible trips with light packs. The problem of bedding, however, is not so easily solved. It is hardly practicable to equip such shelter cabins with bedding. Blankets are expensive in the first cost, and they might be carried off. Furthermore, no one has yet devised a bed that is suitable for repeated and frequent use without the care of an attendant.

The reluctance of most visitors to undertake any trip requiring a night spent in the open, accounts, more than any other one thing, for the unfrequented and unvisited regions of our national park and similar mountain areas of the State.


The following itinerary is suggested for those that wish to avail themselves of hotel accommodations and avoid the necessity of camping out.

First. Climb Longs Peak. Start from one of the hotels at the foot of the peak and spend the night at Timberline Cabin. Arrange for a guide to go with you, or at least to meet you there the following morning. Climb the peak on the second day and return to your hotel that night.

Second. Take horses for a three to five day trip; the first day go up the Fall River road and trail and over to Poudre Lakes. Here make a detour to the so-called crater on the west side of Specimen Mountain. If an early start is made from Estes Park, and not too much time is spent at Specimen Mountain, you can reach Squeaky Bob's camp for the night. The Specimen Mountain trip can be made from Squeaky Bob's in a day if you find the trip across the range sufficient for the first day. The following day, ride down to Grand Lake in the morning, and spend the afternoon boating and fishing. The following day ride up to North Inlet trail, over Flattop Mountain and back into Estes Park. This horseback trip can be done in three days, but an extra day or two should be allowed in case of bad weather or for some detour you may wish to make.

Third. Go to Fern Lake and climb Stones Peak or visit some of the small but beautiful lakes in the vicinity.

Fourth. Go to one of the hotels in Horseshoe Park and on to the lodge at Lawn Lake and spend a day or two visiting Hallett Glacier and the Mummy Range.

Fifth. Go to Copeland Lake Lodge or Allens Park and climb Meadow Mountain, which is not a high peak, but a good viewpoint.

Sixth. From Stapps Hotel climb Mount Audubon, then cross over Buchanan Pass to Monarch Lake. From here, return across the divide at Arapaho Pass, spend the night at Fourth of July Mines, and then climb the two Arapaho Peaks.

The above schedule covers the entire region in a general way and provides sufficient occupation for several weeks. It may be changed to meet the individual preferences; some parts may be omitted and others extended.

If you have a camping outfit and wish to spend a few nights in the open, some of the less accessible parts of the region may be visited.


Accompanying this publication is a map (Web Edition Note: this map has been omitted from the online edition) of the Rocky Mountain National Park. This map covers the Longs Peak and a strip from the southern part of the Home Quadrangle maps published and for sale by the United States Geological Survey.

The scale of the map is approximately 2 miles to an inch. It is printed in four colors; the cultural features, such as roads, trails, towns, and buildings, as well as the lettering, are in black; the water features, such as streams and lakes, are in blue; the features of relief, such as mountains and valleys, are shown by brown contour lines, marked with the elevation above sea level. The contour interval is 100 feet. Roads, trails, shelter cabins, and ranger stations are emphasized by a red overprint.

The descriptions in this book refer frequently to this map, and the same nomenclature is followed. The map is based on plane-table surveys, made by triangulation from many peaks and other observation points. Contours and details are sketched in between points whose location and elevation are known. One should not expect absolute accuracy in all details, but in general the map is a trustworthy guide and is of such great value that it is indispensable to climbers and should always be carried on a trip.

The Longs Peak and Home Quadrangle maps may be obtained from the superintendent at Estes Park and from stationers in Denver for 10 cents each. They may be mounted on cloth and dissected so as to fold conveniently and compactly, for about 50 cents per copy. The mounted map is recommended if it is to he used on many trips.


Named peaks (exceeding 11,000 feet in altitude) on the Longs Peak quadrangle in order of elevation.

(NOTE.—In the following list, the location of the peak is given showing whether it is on the Continental Divide or on the Atlantic or Pacific slope.]

No. Peak. Elevation in feet. Location.

1Longs Peak14,255Atlantic.
2Mount Meeker13,911Do.
3Chiefs Head13,579Do.
4Hagues Peak13,562Do.
5Ypsilon Mountain13,507Do.
6Arapaho Peak13,506Divide.
7Mount Fairchild13,502Atlantic.
9Mummy Mountain13,413Do.
10Navajo Peak13,406Divide.
11Storm Peak13,335Atlantic.
12Mount Alice13,319Divide.
13McHenrys Peak13,300Do.
14Mount Lady Washington13,269Atlantic.
15Mount Audubon13,223Do.
16Mount Copeland13,176Do.
17Taylor Peak13,150Divide.
18Arikaree Peak13,147Do.
20Kiowa Peak13,501Atlantic.
21Paiute Peak13,082Divide.
22Mount Chiquita13,052Atlantic.
23Mount Richthofen12,953Divide.
24Stones Peak12,928Atlantic.
25Mount Julian12,928Do.
26Pawnee Peak12,900Divide.
27Howard Mountain12,814Do.
28Apache Peak12,807Pacific.
29Mount Cirrus12,804Divide.
30Mount Neva12,800Do.
31Mount Nimbus12,730Pacific.
32Hallett Peak12,725Divide.
33Mount Cumulus12,724Do.
34Mount Ida12,700Do.
35Terra Tomah Peak12,686Atlantic.
36Mount Achonee12,656Pacific.
37Mahana Peak12,629Atlantic.
39Ouzel Peak12,600Divide.
40Mount Albion12,596Atlantic.
41Andrews Peak12,564Pacific.
42Mount Dunraven12,548Atlantic.
43Bowen Mountain12,541Pacific.
44Lead Mountain12,532Divide.
45Specimen Mountain12,482Do.
46Otis Peak12,478Do.
47Mount Chapin12,458Atlantic.
48Tanima Peak12,417Do.
49Baker Mountain12,406Pacific.
50Nokhi Crags12,400Atlantic.
51Parika Peak12,400Divide.
52Trail Ridge12,400Atlantic.
53Hiamovi Mountain12,388Pacific.
54Watanga Mountain12,381Do.
55Cascade Mountain12,350Do.
56Sawtooth Mountain12,304Divide.
57Platte Mountain12,300Pacific.
58Snowdrift Peak12,280Do.
59Nakai Peak12,221Do.
60Mount St. Vrain12,162Atlantic.
61Mount Adams12,115Pacific.
62Mount Craig12,005Do.
63Thunderbolt Peak11,943Do.
64Battle Mountain11,930Atlantic.
65Satanta Peak11,885Pacific.
66Mount Dickinson11,874Atlantic.
67Mount Bennay11,781Pacific.
68Mount Irving Hale11,747Do.
69Bearpaws Peaks11,735Atlantic.
70Mount Neota11,700Divide.
71Blue Ridge11,355Pacific.
72Mount Orton11,682Atlantic.
73Meadow Mountain11,634Do.
74Red Mountain11,505Pacific.
75Bighorn Mountain11,473Atlantic.
76Bald Mountain11,453Do.
77Seven Utes Mountain11,438Do.
78Twin Sisters11,436Do.
79Shipler Mountain11,400Pacific.
80Mount Patterson11,400Do.
81Porphyry Peaks11,355Do.
82Mount Tileston11,244Atlantic.
83Estes Cone11,017Do.
84Mount Bryant11,000Pacific.

The exact elevation of some peaks in the above list is not shown on the map, and in such cases the elevation assumed is that of the next lower contour line. Such assumed elevations are usually accurate within 100 feet or less.

In addition to the above list, there are a number of peaks that are not named on the map, though some of them have more or less generally accepted local names.

The point of lowest elevation on the map is on the Thompson River, just below Estes Park, where the elevation is between 7,400 and 7,500 feet. The highest point is Longs Peak, 14,255 feet. The difference in elevation between these two points is about 6,800 feet, or over a mile and a quarter, measured vertically.


The following is a list of the seven passes over the Continental Divide that may be crossed on horseback. They are listed in order of location, along the Continental Divide, from north to south.

Name of pass. Elevation. Watersheds adjacent.

Bowen Pass11,500 North Platte River and North Fork of Grand River.
Lulu Pass11,300 Cache la Poudre River and North Fork of Grand River.
La Poudre Pass10,192 Cache la Poudre River and North Fork of Grand River.
Milner Pass10,719 Cache la Poudre River and North Fork of Grand River.
Flattop Pass12,300 Thompson River and North Inlet of Grand Lake
Buchanan Pass11,700 St. Vrain River and South Fork of Grand River.
Arapaho Pass11,906 North Boulder Creek and South Fork of Grand River.

All but two of these passes are at, or above, timberline.

At the present time there is no road for wagons or automobiles across the Continental Divide covered by the map. The Fall River road, when completed, will cross the Divide at Milner Pass, which is the second lowest pass in the above list.

About 67 miles of the Continental Divide are included within the limits of the map.


To the transitory visitor, the expense of purchasing camping equipment is prohibitive. The national park authorities, however, grant concessions to qualified individuals, authorizing them to furnish or sell camping outfits to visitors at a fair and reasonable cost. These concessioners will furnish as much or as little as a party desires. They can furnish guides, saddle and pack animals, tents, camping equipment and all necessary articles, including provisions. The guides are examined as to their qualifications before being licensed.

The names of these concessioners can be obtained from the superintendent of the national park, at Estes Park.


To some, camping out seems a hardship not to be undertaken if it can possibly be avoided. To others, however, a night out under the stars, far from human habitation, has a charm and a thrill that make it well worth while for the pleasure of the camp alone, if for no other reason. Very many persons to whom camping out does not seem attractive become, after an experience or two, ardent campers-out.

There are many peaks, high and remote, that can not be reached in a day from any available shelter. These are the summits that lure a mountain lover. Many climbs that make a long one-day trip are more easily accomplished if one night is spent in camp. When one intends to climb several peaks in one locality it is a great convenience to have a camp centrally located, and thus save the wearisome return to the nearest hotel for the night. For many reasons camping out is frequently necessary or advisable, and all who can should plan to take some camping trips. The discomforts are soon forgotten and the pleasures live long in the memory.

There are a hardy few who, on a two-day trip, dispense entirely with bedding, and spend the night by a camp fire. Their feeling is that one is not likely to sleep well in any case, so why bother with blankets. This is an experiment not to be recommended.

Mountain nights are very cold, and climbers should take along sleeping bags, even though they have to carry them as far as the camp or make use of a pack horse. One is less at the mercy of the weather, and a blanket is welcome even on the warmest night. Fortunately night storms are not frequent.

If a pack horse is elected to membership in the party, the trip is freed from its greatest discomfort. One may then consider the advisability of taking along a small tent, particularly if the camp is to be occupied for more than one night.

When one has a long, hard climb planned for the following day, it is well to camp for the night at or near timberline. Collect the firewood and arrange the camp before darkness comes. Gather enough wood to keep the fire going all night, but plan to replenish the fuel once or twice during the night. A small fire is often better and safer than a large one and will burn nearly as long. Before starting a fire, scrape back the pine needles, or build the fire in a bare spot. Fire will creep in pine needles or similar material.

Do not build a large fire under the projecting branches of a tree.

Do not go to sleep until you know that the fire is safe for the night.

Do not leave camp in the morning until you are certain that the fire is out, and can not be rekindled by a wind.

Few cooking utensils are necessary. One can do much with an ordinary lard pail; a frying pan is a good addition, and of course other utensils are useful and facilitate the preparation of meals.

At night it is well to put provisions and small leather articles in a sack suspended from the limb of a tree, out of the reach of Mr. Porcupine.


For a trip to the high peaks in summer, dress about as you would in October at lower elevations. The exertion of a climb makes one warm, but the cold wind usually blowing on the summit, quickly chills the climber. It is best to carry the extra clothing, on the way up, and put it on when the top of the peak is reached.

On a trip of more than one day, remember that you may get soaked by rain and will be glad to have a change of clothing and dry shoes, in camp.

A suit of corduroy or other strong, heavy material that will keep out the wind or a light rain is usually needed. On a short one-day trip in midsummer, a suit of khaki or other light material may be worn instead of the heavier suit, if the weather is favorable. The lightest clothing often feels excessive during the climb, but the warmest clothing is frequently insufficient on the top of a peak, where a cold wind and snow may be encountered. A warm day quickly changes to a cold night and in case the return to camp may be delayed until after nightfall, warm clothing will be necessary. It is better to carry a coat on several trips, and not use it, than to be in need of it once, and not have it. A warm coat weighs about three pounds. Numerous pockets will be found useful. A sweater may be of use as an extra garment.

Some men find knickerbocker breeches with knit leggings a good combination.

In general, select from the clothing that you already have those garments that are strong, durable and seem the most suitable. Wear them on a few one-day trips and only purchase such additional articles as you find to be desirable.

The hat should be light weight, broad-brimmed, and durable; one that will protect the wearer from sun and storm.

Shirts of flannel are preferable, but lighter material may be used.

It is better to wear summer underwear, as light clothing is preferable on the climb, and outer garments can be added for warmth on the summit.

Footwear is of the greatest importance. A pair of stout, heavy soled shoes or boots, waterproofed, well broken in and comfortable, is best. High boots are preferable to shoes, as they offer more protection against rocks, but shoes and leggings can be used. Ordinary shoes are usually inadequate for long trips. Hobnails increase the durability of shoes and add to the safety on rocks. Hobnails of soft, malleable iron are preferable to those of hard steel. A good plan is to have an extra sole put on the boots as soon as they are broken in, and then add hobnails. If the soles are not thick, the nails will feel like lumps and will be uncomfortable.

Shoes that are waterproof are greatly preferable to those that are not. It is very difficult to obtain perfection in waterproofing. Several specially prepared oils are on the market, but bacon fat, lard or axle grease may be used. These oils or greases should be applied to the shoes when they are thoroughly dry, and frequent applications should be made to keep them waterproof. Particular attention should be given to seams and creases. These oils make the shoes soft as well as waterproof, and add to their comfort. Care should be used to dry shoes slowly, as they are easily injured by heat. The shoes must be extra large so that two pairs of socks can be worn. Personal preference as to footwear shows considerable variation.

It is advisable to wear two pairs of socks, both, or at least the outer pair, being of heavy wool, to keep the feet warm when wet, and to prevent chafing, blistering and bruising. Soaping the inside of the sock or using a liberal amount of talcum powder will also tend to prevent chafing or blistering.

A slicker, poncho, or other waterproof covering is frequently useful, though such garments are usually heavy. One should select the lightest weight that is available, weighing 2 or 3 pounds. Some prefer getting soaked to carrying rubber coats, feeling that they are only a partial protection at the best. Afternoon showers are frequent, and are followed by a chill in the air.

Gloves are advisable for warmth and to protect the hands from being scratched or scraped on the rocks. They are useful about camp when firewood is being gathered, and will protect the hands on many occasions.

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Last Updated: 5-Jan-2007