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Longs Peak from Twin Sisters in Autumn

Longs Peak from Twin Sisters in Autumn, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Longs Peak from Twin Sisters in Autumn, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Twin Sisters is an 11,000-foot peak on the outskirts of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park that provides one of the best views of the east face of 14,259-foot Longs Peak, the highest mountain in the park. I knew of several aspen groves on the west side of Twin Sisters that offered the hope of a good view of Longs Peak, but when I went to scout them, none really worked. Then one day while I was scouting other shots off-trail near the summit of Twin Sisters, I happened to look down the western flank and spotted this grove of aspen, which is not visible from any trail or road. I figured out from my topographic map where the grove had to be, then hiked cross-country through the woods, navigating by compass and altimeter, until I reached the grove. Satisfied that the grove did offer a good shot, I returned twice more and finally found the aspen leaves at their height of color. I made the image with a Zone VI field camera and Kodak Pro 100 film.

Climbing Longs Peak is a rite of passage for summit-starved residents of Front Range cities like Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs. Roughly 27,000 people attempt Longs Peak each year, mostly during July and August; about two-thirds succeed. Intense people-pressure from three million visitors to the Park each year has forced the park to strictly limit backcountry camping permits. Sites in the Boulderfield, the only place along the popular Keyhole route where camping is allowed, fill months in advance. That’s why most Longs Peak aspirants attempt to blitz the mountain in just one day. Savvy mountaineers attempting Longs and all the other high peaks start well before dawn so they can reach the summit and return to the safety of timberline before the afternoon thunderstorms gather strength. Naive flatlanders who start after sunup often get hammered by rain, hail and summer snow while still far above timberline. Too often they find themselves fleeing for their lives before the storm’s wrath. Lightning, falls and hypothermia have killed 54 mountaineers on Longs Peak since the park was created in 1915.

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