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Longs Peak from Twin Sisters Four Seasons

Longs Peak from Twin Sisters Four Seasons, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Longs Peak from Twin Sisters Four Seasons, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

At 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park and the only Fourteener north of I-70. This storied peak, considered impregnable by early explorers, was first climbed by Colorado River pioneer John Wesley Powell in 1868. Today climbing the peak is a rite of passage for summit-starved residents of the Front Range. Some 27,000 people attempt the mountain every year, mostly in July and August. About 60 or 70 percent succeed. Few attempt Longs in winter, when the average wind speed is 65 mph and the strongest gust recorded (before the wind destroyed the anemometer) was 220 mph.

The famous east face of Longs Peak shown here has been the scene of many triumphs, tragedies and near-disasters that thankfully ended well. In 1871 an itinerant preacher named Elkanah Lamb took a sliding fall that could easily have been fatal down a snow-filled gully on the east face. That gully is still called Lambs Slide. In the winter of 1924, an experienced mountaineer named Agnes Vaille succeeded in climbing Alexander's Chimney, a route on the east face, but died in a ferocious storm during the descent. By 1960 the Diamond, the vertical, 800-foot-high upper portion of the east face, had become the most famous unclimbed wall in the country. It was considered so formidable that for years the National Park Service forbade climbers from attempting it. The Park Service finally relented, and Bob Kamps and Dave Rearick made the first ascent that summer. Even today, the Diamond is one of the most demanding high-country test pieces in the nation. My own personal history with Longs Peak includes several ascents of the Diamond and a marathon 16-hour round-trip ascent of the peak that started from my home in Boulder at 5,200 feet. The day began at 4:30 am. I bicycled 45 miles to the Longs Peak Ranger Station, ran six miles to the Boulderfield, then scrambled and climbed the last 1,400 feet to the summit.

Given my long love affair with the peak, it seemed fitting to make it the subject of a major "four seasons" photo project. I made 12 trips to this aspen grove on the east flank of Twin Sisters over a period of two years, then selected my favorite images from each of the seasons. The sequence begins with winter, which comes early and lingers long in the high country. I shot my "winter" scene in late October with 12 inches of fresh snow on the ground. I shot my "spring" scene right after the last significant high-country snowfall in mid-June. The "summer" photo captures the reddest sunrise light I've seen in 18 years of full-time landscape photography. And the "autumn" scene shows the golden leaves of aspen in late September.

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