Mountaineering in the Rocky Mountain National Park
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It is usually better to carry a light pack sack, rather than to leave too much at camp or to have the hands encumbered on the climb. Individual tastes vary on this subject. A small pack sack with shoulder straps does not inconvenience one appreciably and the weight is scarcely felt if less than ten pounds. It does not restrict the breathing as does a strap over one shoulder and across the chest. The pack sack will weigh about a pound. It can be used to carry one's coat, poncho, lunch, kodak and minor articles and still leave the hands free for use in climbing.


A good pair of binoculars or field glasses adds considerably to the view from the top of the peak, and often facilitates the selection of a route by enabling a closer examination of the character of the country to be traversed. It is useful in finding and watching mountain sheep and other game. The additional weight may be burdensome, but in a party of several people, where the pack carried by each member is light, a pair of field glasses can be carried and will add interest to the trip.


A small light-weight compass will assist in correctly orienting a map, either on the summit or elsewhere, and may prove of great value in case of rainy weather or dense fog. Though not often needed, it should always be carried, since its weight is negligible. Select a compass in which the needle can be lifted from the pivot. It should always be carried in this position to prevent damaging the delicate pivot, as this would decrease the accuracy of the compass. An "engineer's" compass, graduated in degrees, is preferable to a "mariner's" compass, divided into 32 "points of the compass." The magnetic variation in this portion of Colorado is 15 degrees east of north, therefore when the compass is correctly set, the north end of the needle will point 15 degrees east of north, or about one-third of the way from north toward northeast.


The mountains of Colorado have so little snow on their slopes during July and August that ordinarily an ice axe will be found of very little use. If, however, one is exploring any of the small glaciers or steep snow fields, it would be desirable to take along a light ice axe or some other means of cutting steps in steep slopes. It is dangerous to cross any of the steeper snow slopes at any time of the year without some implement to cut steps and also a good steel-pointed staff to be used as a brake in sliding down the snow fields. Even then caution should be used, as one may be badly injured by being hurled into the piles of rock at the foot of the snow. A long, narrow rock may sometimes be used to break the speed of the descent, but these rocks are difficult to manage and will be useless if the speed once gets beyond control.


On most climbs in this region it is entirely unnecessary that the members of the party be roped together. A short piece of rope, say 10 or 20 feet long, of light weight, carried by some member of the party is a good precaution, in case any difficult scramble should be encountered. This is usually sufficient. The only condition under which a climbers' rope would be useful would be on a steep snow or ice field when only one member of the party has a suitable ice axe or staff, or else on a difficult climb when some members needed much more assistance than the others. If a rope is used there should be from three to five persons on it, with intermediate intervals of from 15 to 20 feet. The loop to be used in tying the members together is the so-called "guides' knot." It is made by doubling the rope and tying a plain knot with the doubled end. As the party moves along, the rope must be kept taut, so that if one of the party slips the others may immediately check his fall or slide. The guide should take the first place on the rope, in the ascent, the weakest member of the party should be placed next to him, and a good climber should be at the end of the rope. In descending the order should be reversed.


Dark glasses are not necessary unless there is much snow. Some people, however, find them a relief from glare on sunny days. Dark glasses are a real necessity if a long trip is to be taken over snow on a bright sunny day. Snow-blindness, following long exposure, is painful and sometimes serious.

Face cream is good in case of sunburn, and can be used as a preventive as well as a cure. One burns much more quickly on the high peaks than at lower altitudes, because the sunlight passes through less atmosphere and is therefore more intense. Sunburn is increased by the reflection from rocks or snow and also by wind.

PLATE VI. Upper left: Crevasse in Arapaho Glacier.
Upper right: The Pit, Arapaho Glacier.
Lower: The Arapahos and the Glacier.
Photographs by Clark Blickensderfer.

PLATE VII. Upper left: Taylor Glacier.
Photograph by G. H. Harvey, jr.
Upper right: Andrews Glacier.
Photograph by Geo. C. Barnard.
Lower: Part of Sprague Glacier.
Photograph by W. T. Lee.

A camera or kodak is a desirable addition. If there are several persons in the party, the weight of the various packs may be adjusted so that the owner of the camera is not penalized. A No. 3-A kodak weighs slightly over 3 pounds.

A whistle may be useful for communicating with others in the party, and a code should be agreed upon in advance.

A drinking cup is often useful. An ordinary tin cup, hung on one's belt, it better than the various folding or collapsible cups.

A canteen is sometimes desirable, depending upon the locality and season of the year. A canteen holding nearly a quart, weighs, when filled, about 3 pounds.

A piece of candle should always be carried, as the trip may unintentionally be prolonged until after dark. One can always improvise a wind-shield and perhaps a reflector. A small pail or can, if available, is excellent for this purpose.

A barometer is rarely needed when one has an accurate map of the region. However, if a barometer is available, it will add to the interest of a trip by furnishing information as to the rate of progress and enables one to study the zones of plant and animal life with more accuracy.

A weight of 20 pounds or more is a decided hindrance on a climb and may become quite uncomfortable, if the pack is not suitable. On short, one-day trips, one can often go without carrying anything, but on trips to the high peaks, one should be more completely equipped, to provide for unexpected contingencies.

If the trip includes camping out over night, or if it extends over several days, then more equipment must be taken and bedding, cooking utensils and provisions will be needed.

Night clothing can be dispensed with, since preparation for the night usually consists of putting on all the dry clothing available, and taking off only boots and hat.

A hot-water bottle is an item not frequently considered, but for warming the sleeping bag on a cold night it is much more convenient than hot stones. An attachment consisting of a perforated rubber ring, transforms it into a portable shower bath.


The clothing and equipment that should be taken will vary greatly with the character of the trip. Many articles can and should be taken on a camping trip, when a team is used, that would be left at home, for a pack-horse trip, and the weight of equipment will be still further reduced on a walking trip, and the amount to be taken will, of course, be less on short trips than on long ones. "Go light but right" is a good motto. Take enough and no more. The Latin word for baggage "impedimenta," is very expressive. Excess weight increases delays, inconveniences and fatigue.

The following list is given with the suggestion that before a trip you check it over and make sure that you have not forgotten something that you intended to take. Adapt your outfit to your trip and take only the necessary articles.

Clothing (men's):

Suit of corduroy or other stout, warm material.
Suit of khaki or light-weight material.
A hat that will stand the weather and afford protection from the sun.
Change of shirts, flannel or light-weight material.
Change of underwear.
Change of socks, preferably woolen, two pair.
Mountain boots or stout shoes.
Pair of light shoes for change in camp.
Slicker, poncho or light-weight rubber coat.


Sleeping bag with one pair (or more) of good, woolen blankets
Waterproof cover around bedding, not less than 4 by 6 feet in size.
Small, light pillow.

Toilet articles:

Soap, towel, brush, comb, toothbrush and paste, razor, nail scissors, toilet paper, talcum powder, lip stick, face cream, adhesive tape, absorbent cotton, bandaging, medicine and first-aid kit, safety pins, hot-water bottle, extra handkerchiefs.

Food and cooking utensils:

Food supplies and other edibles such as nuts, raisins, chocolate and candy.
Utensils, such as knife, fork, spoon, cup, frying pan, stewpan, water bucket.

Miscellaneous articles:

Tent or other protection from the weather.
Weatherproof match box and matches.
Pipe, tobacco or other smoker's supplies.
Pocket knife.
United States Geological Survey or other maps.
Memorandum book, pencil.
Mosquito netting.
Kodak and films.
String, cord, and rope.
Field glasses.
Small whetstone.
Nail set (for removing nail points from shoes).


Climbing is usually beneficial to health. It stimulates the action of heart and lungs. The large quantities of pure air and pure water that are taken into the system during a climb are the best kind of medicine. People with weak hearts, lung trouble, or other ailments, should not undertake the fatiguing trips without securing proper medical advice. There are many lesser heights that offer healthful exercise with only moderate exertion. Short trips are the best possible preparation for longer ones.

One can stand exposure to wind and weather without injury while one is climbing, while perspiration is free, the body warm and heart and lungs active. When resting however, the body should be protected from cold and chill. Upon the return to camp, wet clothes and should be changed or promptly dried out.

Bathing the feet or body in cold water, after a trip often will ward off injurious effects of exposure. Warm bathing should be avoided when there is any chance of a subsequent chill.

If the feet become tired and sore on a trip, bathing in cold water is refreshing. Blisters on the feet may be partly or wholly avoided by wearing two pairs of wool stockings, by putting talcum powder or some other lubricant, in the shoes, or by protecting the toes with strips of adhesive tape. Blisters or sores that have formed may be protected from further friction by adhesive tape. A roll of this tape should always be carried; it has many uses and may be employed to repair torn clothes as well as bodily damages.

Medical assistance is obtainable only in the larger communities, and a party going into unfrequented regions should take along a small first-aid kit and the usual simple remedies. If one member of the party has some medical knowledge, or a familiarity with first-aid principles, it will be a protection to the others.

Climbing increases the rate and depth of breathing, and the rate and violence of the heart action. This should not be carried to an extreme, as a strain or injury might result. Do not spurt. Take such a rate that the heart action, though increased, will be kept at a nearly constant rate. This gives "second wind." A slow rate of progress, with no halts, results in better heart action than the "rush and stop, rush and stop" method. If a person can not maintain a slow gait without frequent rests he should go no further, as it is probable that, even though he might reach the summit, the return trip would be too fatiguing.

Avoid drinking an excessive amount of the ice-cold mountain water at any one time. It absorbs internal heat, produces chills, and is injurious when taken in too large quantities. It is, of course, necessary and desirable to drink abundantly, but extremely cold water should be taken at intervals and in small quantities.

The water of streams should be avoided if it is known that settlements or camps are located higher up on the streams. Drinking water is fortunately not much of a problem in the mountains, as one can usually camp beside some small spring or tributary to the main stream, and thus avoid using the river water. In the higher regions, and above timberline, the water is clear, soft, and absolutely pure. A good water supply is one of the delights of an outing, and all intelligent campers take care to preserve the purity of the stream and the neatness of the camp site.

Alcoholic beverages stimulate heart action and should never be taken during a climb. After a trip, a warm drink is usually preferable to an alcoholic drink.


For a one-day trip a light lunch is better than a heavy one. Take all you care to eat for lunch, but don't carry an unnecessary lot of food up the peak and perhaps back again.

Prolonged physical exertion can only be sustained by a well-nourished body. One should eat before getting very tired, and it is well to follow one's inclination, eating part of the lunch on the way up, if one gets hungry. Digestion does not go well with exertion and it is advisable to eat lunch at the top of the peak or at intervals on the way up. Avoid eating a heavy meal immediately before starting on the steep part of the climb.

Individual preference as to food varies widely. Two or three sandwiches, some cookies, a few nuts, raisins, and a cake of chocolate may be suggested as making a compact lunch and one that can easily be obtained.

Chocolate that does not soften when warm is preferable. Milk chocolate is not good in this respect.

A limited amount of candy is a good addition to the menu.

Packages of small seedless raisins can be obtained that are not sticky. In selecting nuts, salted ones should be avoided, as they produce thirst.

A mixture of nuts, raisins, and "jelly beans" has been found to be excellent for eating between meals. Oranges and apples are good, but if there is plenty of drinking water on the trip, they are unnecessarily heavy, considering the small amount of nourishment that they contain.

The food selected for a trip will depend upon individual preference, the length of the trip, the number of people, and also on the distance to the camp and method of transportation.

Hot meals, or at least hot drinks, are desirable for breakfast and supper. The supply of firewood is always abundant below timberline. Coffee, tea, and chocolate are good breakfast drinks. Tea may be tied in small bags of convenient size and dipped into the individual cup. As hot water is usually available at camp, this makes a drink that can be prepared quickly and in any suitable quantity. "Instantaneous" chocolate is well adapted to camp use; one cupful or many may be quickly made. People frequently have difficulty in sleeping in camp, perhaps because of the high altitude, a hard bed, an insufficient supply of warm bedding, or the unfamiliar surroundings. It is therefore often better to have chocolate for supper rather than tea or coffee.

Canned soups are very useful. After a long, hard trip, when one is both cold and tired, a liberal supply of hot soup is better than a heavy meal.

Dried fruits are good for camp use, as they are lighter and less expensive than canned fruits, but of course they require more time for preparation.



One can usually choose between a valley route and a ridge route. The valley route follows water, and frequently passes interesting waterfalls or lakes, and makes the greater part of the trip at a comparatively low altitude. The trails often follow valley routes and pass near to cabins and shelters. On the other hand, the ridge routes frequently make better going, as they are apt to have less dense undergrowth, less fallen timber, more of the distance is above timber line and they afford better views of the surrounding country. As ridges are dry, a canteen should usually be carried. Ridge routes are apt to have more ups and downs, but the valley route leaves the steepest climb until the last. Both routes have their advantages and local conditions will usually govern the selection of the best route. A circle trip, going and returning over different routes, adds to the interest of excursion.


The proverb that "A rolling stone gathers no moss" is sometimes a useful one to remember in mountain climbing. When on a steep slope with much slide rock, the larger pieces of rock, and particularly those with lichens on them, will usually be found the most stable. On the descent, however, more rapid progress can often be made by selecting slides consisting of small rock or gravel, as this material will easily give way under foot and make the descent easy and rapid.

When in doubt of the stability of a rock, it is best to step well on the upper, or hill side, of the rock, as it is then less apt to over turn, and even if it does move, a fall is not so likely to result.

On steep slopes, care should be taken to avoid the starting of loose rock. The party should spread out so that no one is in danger from falling rocks, or if this can not be done, they should go in single file, one close behind the other, so that a rock, if started, may be quickly stopped.


One will frequently find that there is less fallen timber in live forest than in areas that have been swept by forest fire, even though the latter may appear to be more open and seem to present an easier route when seen from a distance.


If one should become thoroughly lost, the best plan is to go down hill to a water course and then follow it down until some habitation is reached. This will prevent wandering in circles and one can go farther down hill than in any other direction. Dwellings are on streams, not ridges, and there are ranches near the headwaters of most streams.


Do not take trips into the mountains alone. A minor injury, such as a sprained ankle or a twisted knee, would be a serious accident to anyone alone in the unfrequented mountains.

The size of the party will, of course, depend upon circumstances. A small party travels faster than a large one, for with a large party delays are more frequent and the speed of the party is limited to that of its slowest member. However, with a large party one or two members may be willing to make all the necessary plans and arrangements, thus saving the others time and trouble. The expense per person is frequently less with a large party than with a small one. The sociability of a congenial party is delightful, especially around the camp fire in the evening.

A member of a party who is unable to proceed on a trip, either because of accident or fatigue, should never be left alone, but should be put in the care of some competent member of the party. If it is necessary to send for help, two or more persons should go.

When a party separates, each group should have its definite leader. These leaders should definitely agree upon a course of action and proceed to carry out the agreement. Contingencies which may arise should be considered in advance, and, when separating, each section of the party should have a clear and definite idea of what to expect from the other members of the party. If they are to meet at any later time, the point of meeting should be a definite place and clearly understood. It is well to agree upon the maximum length of time that one party will wait for the other, and also the subsequent action to be taken in case they do not meet.

When possible, a party should keep together. A leader should be appointed and should assume charge of the party. Others may suggest, but his decision should be final. If any member leaves the party he should get the consent of the leader, and relieve the party of any further responsibility on his account.

If the route to be taken is uncertain, let the leader decide on the course to be taken. Remember that if the party separates, to follow their individual inclinations, the entire party can not resume the trip until the last member has arrived. It is better for the entire party to take the same route, even though it may not be the best one.

For a long or hard trip a small party of equally capable climbers should be selected. A party of four is a good size, as no one need be left alone in case it is necessary for the party to separate.

It is well for the beginner to take the first few trips with some one of more experience. He may thus learn much in a short time that would otherwise have to be acquired by unfortunate mistakes.

There are no trails on most of the mountains, and the selection of the best route is aided by experience. Experience creates ability.


Every climber finds it desirable to be able to estimate, in advance, the time required to take a certain trip, and anyone who has reached camp long after dark knows that it is easy to underestimate the time that a trip will consume. To fit the wide variety of conditions and individual needs, each climber should work out his own schedule, but the following is suggested as a trial formula:

Scale the distance to be walked in the round trip, in miles, as shown by the map, and add approximately one-third to give the distance actually to be walked. Determine the number of feet of elevation to be climbed. Add to the distance, as determined above, 2 miles for each 1,000 feet of climb, and the total will be the apparent length of the trip, or its equivalent in miles, compared to a trip on level ground. Divide this total number of miles by two, and the result will be approximately the number of hours required for the trip.

For example, the length of a trip as scaled from the map is 10 miles; the actual distance to be walked will be about 13 miles; the map shows 4,000 feet of climb, which is equivalent to an additional distance of 8 miles. The trip will be about as fatiguing as a 21-mile walk, and will take about 10-1/2 hours. The time given by this formula is usually sufficient to include all stops, such as lunch, views, rests, etc., but some may find that the time of such stops must be added. Each climber may adapt the formula to his own gait by using a divisor either greater or less than two.

The time required for a trip will of course be affected by the number of persons in the party, the character of the ground, the presence or absence of trails, weather conditions, such as snow, rain, or wind, and also by the length of the trip, since the rate of travel decreases with fatigue.

The length of the route as shown by the map is the minimum possible distance along that route and the distance actually traveled is always somewhat greater, due to minor irregularities of the trail or route; hence to get the actual distance walked, an addition must be made to the scaled distance. The addition of one-third, assumed above, is conservative for most mountainous country.

Do not hurry. Take a gait that can be maintained without stopping. "Who goes slowly goes well; who goes well goes far." Most climbers are satisfied with an average rate of ascent of 1,000 feet of elevation per hour.

Start early. "An hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon." Plan to end the trip before dusk.

A moderate day's trip may be considered as one that takes seven or eight hours, and includes a climb of about 3,000 feet, with perhaps 8 or 9 miles of distance traveled. Such a trip is equivalent to about a 15-mile walk over level country. Most persons, even if not in training, can take a trip of this sort without difficulty. If the climb of a peak is broken by camping at timber line, then one can reach the top of almost any peak without making any day's trip longer than this.

If the length of a trip is increased to 12 hours, and includes 5,000 feet to climb and a tramp of 12 or 15 miles, it may be considered a hard day's trip, and equivalent to a trip of about 25 miles across level country.

If the length of the trip is increased to 16 or 18 hours, and includes 7,000 or 8,000 feet of climb, in addition to a journey of 18 or 20 miles, it will prove in most cases to be an exhausting trip, approaching the limit of physical exertion. The return from such a trip usually involves walking long after one is tired out. It is equivalent to about a 35-mile trip across ordinary country.

A trip of moderate length is more enjoyable than one that brings fatigue long before the end of the trip. When in training one can climb three, four, or even five thousand feet a day, day after day—and enjoy it.

PLATE VIII. FERN LAKE. Photograph by National Park Service.

PLATE IX. ODESSA LAKE. Photograph by National Park Service.


The word "park" as used in this region has several meanings and is the source of more or less confusion to the visitor. In mountainous regions of the Western States it is customary to refer thus to a comparatively level and open tract of land. North Park, Middle Park, Moraine Park and others have become official titles in Colorado. These parks are usually grass-covered areas either treeless or only sparsely timbered.

The name Estes Park originally meant only the flat lowlands in the valley of the Thompson River and tributary streams, but has popularly, not officially, been applied to a wide area. The application of the same name to the town does not simplify matters, though the latter is usually referred to as Estes Park village.

The boundaries of the national park exclude, as far as practicable, all land that was under private ownership at the time of the passage of the bill creating the park. For this reason, most of Estes Park village, Grand Lake and other areas of private ownership are not included within the boundaries of the national park. The Rocky Mountain National Park includes most of the area formerly referred to by the more inclusive term Estes Park and for this reason the railroads have tried to secure the maximum amount of publicity by the use of some designation including both names, such as "Rocky Mountain National—Estes Park." Eventually the name Estes Park will probably be used chiefly when referring to the village.


The Colorado Mountain Club placed one of its standard mountain register books, contained in a weatherproof bronze cylinder, upon the summit of Longs Peak, on July 17, 1915. The book was found to be nearly filled on July 23, 1916, and was then replaced by a new book, which in turn was replaced on October 1, 1916. Although exposed to summer and winter weather, the cylinder and register books remained in good condition. The two books contained a total of 883 names. The following tabulation shows the number of entries in the two books, by months:



1July 17 to 31.     2Oct. 1 only.

Late snows in 1915 made the peak inaccessible during June and part of July of that year, and the total number of persons who climbed the peak during 1915 is estimated at 280. This number was more than doubled the following year, and it is believed that more persons climbed the peak during 1916 than in any previous year.

August is the favorite month, with July in second place, a decreasing number of visitors in September and only occasional trips during June and October. The peak is rarely climbed during other months of the year, as it is usually considered difficult and dangerous, if not inaccessible, during the winter.

Nearly one-fourth of the climbers were women. More than half of the people reaching the top of the peak are visitors residing outside of Colorado.

Thirty-five States and Territories and three foreign countries were represented in the list of persons reaching the summit of the peak during the years 1915 and 1916.

The Colorado Mountain Club has placed similar registers on Hagues Peak, Ypsilon Mountain, Hallett Peak, Mount Alice, Mahana Peak, Mount Copeland, Navajo Peak, North and South Arapaho Peaks, Mount Audubon, Paiute Peak, and others.



July, August, and September are the best months for trips to the high peaks. In June, the winter's snow has usually not left the peaks, and late snows of considerable depth may fall. In October, one-day climbs can often be taken, but there is liability of cold weather and a heavy snowfall. Throughout the winter the lover of outdoor life usually delights in snowshoe and ski trips at lower elevations, and the peaks are practically unvisited, though there are times during an open winter when ascents can be made. Winter storms are serious and may easily become dangerous, and one should not plan winter climbs to high peaks without a full knowledge of the conditions. Even the three summer months there are frequently times when the high peaks are inaccessible.


The mountain storms are frequently accompanied by lightning. If the storm is heavy and the flashes are close, the lightning should be treated with the respect and deference that are usually accorded it. A projecting rock affords the most secure shelter possible. Next to that would be a close thicket of low trees. Avoid the shelter of a tall, conspicuous tree, as it might act as a lightning rod. For the same reason, one should avoid remaining on the top of a peak or on an open, bare area above timberline. The brass cylinders of the mountain registers have been struck by lightning and the chain melted, without injuring the contents. Leave them alone if there is lightning in the air. One is more secure lying on the ground than standing up.


One occasionally encounters a so-called static storm. In this phenomenon there are no lightning flashes, but the presence of electricity is manifested by snapping sounds in the air, tiny blue flashes between the rocks, crackling in one's hair, which involuntarily stands on end, and if one's finger is pointed upward small flashes may emanate from it. This static electricity is not dangerous unless an approaching storm indicates that genuine lightning is to follow. The usual procedure is then to "stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once."


The weather in the mountains is controlled by a few natural physical laws which are easily understood and when once grasped will add so much interest to trips in the mountains that a little study of climatic laws is well repaid. Afternoon showers are of such frequent occurrence in the mountains, and one has such a good opportunity to observe the entire life history of a storm, that the following outline may be of interest.

During the day the sun warms the ground which in turn warms the air adjacent to it. Warm air is lighter than cold air, so a rising current is formed. For this reason the wind usually blows up the valley during the day, but reverses its direction at night when the radiation of heat from the ground has stopped and the cold air, no longer driven upward, flows down into the valleys.

The warm air rising during the day reaches higher altitudes where the atmospheric pressure is less. The air expands and expansion is a cooling process. As it cools, its capacity for holding moisture is diminished. First a light cloud appears, then heavier clouds, and soon the downpour begins. It is usually short-lived, however. As the sun is hidden and the ground cooled, the direction of the wind is reversed, the moisture is then carried downward, is absorbed by the warmer air, the sky clears and the storm is over, though a mist may fill the valley.

The precipitation in the mountains is more than it is on the plains, because these rain-producing conditions occur so frequently. Similar phenomena explain the plume of cloud that sometimes clings to a mountain peak, though the wind is blowing and other clouds are sailing by overhead.

If the early morning weather is not favorable to your trip, do not start, as it is apt to get worse rather than better.


During the summer the rainstorm of the valley is often a snowstorm on top of the peaks. The snow is usually not in flakes but the particles are round and sleetlike and sting when driven by a high wind. These summer snows are usually brief and do not accumulate on the ground to any considerable depth; often hardly enough falls to make the ground white. The snow also disappears promptly.


The density of the atmosphere decreases with elevation. It decreases in density about one-half for every 3 miles increase in elevation, so that at 14,000 feet elevation the atmosphere is not much more than half as dense as at sea level. The warmth of the atmosphere decreases with elevation.


Timberline in Colorado varies from about 10,500 feet to 12,000 feet, and is usually found at an elevation of 11,000 to 11,500 feet. "Tree line" would be a more accurate term, since useful timber ceases to grow a few hundred feet below the last trees, which are usually gnarled and stunted. Timberline is governed by climatic conditions and not by the rarity of the atmosphere. It may differ by several hundred feet in elevation in different locations. Thus, on the north and south slopes of the same mountain, timberline may vary considerably. Similarly, it varies in different parts of the country and in general decreases in elevation, as latitude increases, toward the pole.


In a climb to higher altitudes one passes through successive zones of plant and animal life. These zones are determined by the climatic conditions resulting from altitude. The plant life in the zones corresponds quite closely with the plant life of more northern regions. The latitude of the national park is between 40° and 41° north at timberline. The vegetation at timberline corresponds with the plant life that will be found at sea level at a latitude of about 65°. In a trip to the summit of a 14,000-foot peak one passes through the same climatic zones that would be encountered in a trip to the polar regions at about 75° of latitude.

(Elevation about 9,000 feet.)

Weather observations have been regularly taken at Longs Peak Inn since the year 1892.


Maximum and minimum self-registering thermometers are used, and record the warmest and coldest temperatures of the day. The average of these two readings is called the mean temperature for the day, while the difference between them is the daily range. The following figures, in degrees Fahrenheit, represent a summary of these records for a period of 20 years.

Month.Average mean temperature. Average of the daily maximum temperatures. Average of the daily minimum temperatures. Maximum recorded temperature. Minimum recorded temperature.
January23.935.1 12.756-21
February22.033.2 10.860-31
March27.138.4 15.870-23
April33.545.0 22.069-9
May41.654.1 29.1793
June50.665.0 36.18519
July54.569.4 39.68226
August54.969.7 40.18322
September48.963.8 34.0827
October39.252.5 26.076-10
November31.343.4 19.072-17
December24.636.0 13.062-27
   Year37.750.5 24.885-31

The above data shows that July and August are the warmest months. The maximum recorded temperature is 85°, though the average temperature in the middle of the day in midsummer is less than 70°. There is no month of the year in which freezing weather has not been known.


The average monthly precipitation in inches (the snowfall being melted to obtain the equivalent in rainfall) is as follows:

Inches of precipitation.
  Total for year20.14

The spring and summer months have more precipitation than the winter months, July and August being the wettest of the summer months. June and September have only about half the rainfall of July and August. The annual precipitation recorded during the 20-year period has varied from a minimum of 13.5 inches to a maximum of 28.71 inches per year.

The above figures are taken from Bulletin 182 of the Colorado Agricultural College, entitled Colorado Climatology, to which the reader is referred for additional information.


The forests of Colorado consist chiefly of cone-bearing trees commonly called evergreens. The following brief keys will enable any one to distinguish the various kinds found in northern Colorado.

Pines (leaves in bundles of two, three, or five needles):

Rock pine—Leaves in two's or three's; scales of cones with prickles; common in the foothills up to 8,000 feet elevation.

Lodgepole pine—Leaves in two's; scales of cones with prickles; cones remaining on the trees for many years; 8,000 to 10,000 feet elevation.

Limber or range pine—Leaves in five's; scales of cones thick and with out prickles; most common at high elevations.

Bristle-cone pine—Leaves in five's; scales with prickles; at high elevations, rare, not found north of James Peak.

Spruces (leaves short, single; sharp-pointed, four-sided, borne on short stalks):

Engelmann spruce—Branchlets usually minutely pubescent; cones short, reddish brown; dense, forests; from 8,000 feet elevation to timber line.

Colorado blue spruce (the State tree)—Branchlets smooth and leaves often silvery; cones long, light brown; along streams up to 8,000 feet elevation.

Alpine fir—Leaves flat, blunt-pointed; cones upright and falling to pieces at maturity; forests above 8,000 feet elevation.

Douglas fir (not a true fir)—Leaves soft, short, flat, and blunt; cones with exserted three-pointed bracts; common up to 8,000 feet elevation.

Junipers (leaves either scales, or awl-shaped needles; fruit berry-like):

Rocky Mountain cedar or juniper—A small tree scattered throughout the mountains.

Trailing juniper—A prostrate shrub; from the foothills to 12,000 feet elevation.

NOTES.—(a) At timberline are found dwarfed specimens of Engelmann spruce and alpine fir, limber, lodgepole, and bristle-cone pine are often found with these.

(b) The altitudinal ranges given above are only approximate. Occasional trees of each species will be found above and below the elevations here given.



Habitat: Along courses of mountain torrents, 5,000 to 11,500 feet elevation.
Size: Slightly smaller than a robin.
Color: Uniform dull, slaty gray.
Note: A beautiful liquid, thrushlike note and during nesting season a noisy chattering note.
Peculiarities: Equally at home on shore or in the swiftest water. Builds a beautiful covered nest of moss where the spray keeps it continually moist. Not migratory.


Habitat: Throughout mountainous area from plains to 10,000 feet elevation. Most abundant between 7,000 and 9,000 feet elevation. Sometimes winters on plains at base of foothills.
Size: Slightly larger than a robin.
Color: Wings and tail brilliant, deep blue, head black, breast dull blue chin streaked with white.
Note: A wide diversity of call notes impossible to describe. The harsh loud single note is most common, but many others identify the bird.
Peculiarities: The tall conspicuous topknot and brilliant coloring render it easy to identify.


Habitat: Heavy evergreen forests, 8,000 feet elevation to timberline during summer. Sometimes somewhat lower during severe winters.
Size: Slightly larger than a robin.
Color: Light slaty gray with white-tipped wing and tail feathers, crown pure white, breast with slight brownish tinge.
Note: A rather weird, harsh single note, or a low-pitched garrulous chatter, quite conversational in tone.
Peculiarities: Tame, unsuspicious, wise to a degree and the craftiest thief of camp provender in the bird world.


Habitat: In summer, mountains from 10,000 to 14,000 feet elevation. In winter, south to Mexico and Guatemala.
Size: About that of a tame canary.
Color: Light grayish olive above, pale buffy white below, white edging on outer tail feathers. Viewed from a distance, appears uniform light brown.
Note: Males are wonderful songsters during the nesting season. Note during the rest of the year is a weak whistle, but quite characteristic.
Peculiarities: The only truly migratory bird, which nests among boreal weather conditions above timberline.


Habitat: In summer, above timberline, 11,000 to 14,000 feet elevation. In winter, just below timberline, unless driven lower by storms.
Size: Slightly larger than an English sparrow.
Color: Body cinnamon brown, wings and tail dusky black, edged with pink; wings, tail coverts, flanks, and abodmen washed with pink; head dusky black.
Peculiarities: The highest ranging small bird in America. Not known to exist outside of Colorado. Nest and eggs not found until 1915.


Habitat: In summer, from timberline to tops of highest mountains. In winter, at about timberline, occasionally a little lower.
Size: Slightly larger than a bantam hen.
Color: Tawny buff, mottled and barred irregularly with black and white in summer, slowly changing to pure white in winter.
Peculiarities: The most truly boreal of all Colorado birds. The only American bird which changes to white plumage. The only large bird which lives entirely within the Arctic-alpine zone.
Note: Harsh, loud, rattling cackle.

By Robert B. Rockwell.

Animals with stripes on back. With stripes only. Four light stripes on back. SmallerLittle chipmunk.
Two light stripes on back. LargerBig chipmunk.
With stripes and spots. Thirteen stripes on back, six light, seven dark, with white spots. Generally tawny color. Common striped gopher.
Animals without stripes on back. With long bushy tails. "Squirrel-like." Typically in or among trees or rocks. Ears with long tufts.Tuft-eared squirrel.
Ears not tufted. Brown or rufous, whitish below, not mottled. Less than 18 inches long, including tail. Tree squirrel. Friendly and noisy.Fremont squirrel.
Sandy colored, mottled. Over 18 inches long, including tail. Large ground-living squirrel. Shy.Rock squirrel.
With short tails and not bushy. "Mole-like." Long front claws. Naked tail. Small eyes and ears. Hair silky.Pocket gopher.
"Gophers" in or earth burrows. Not "mole-like." Large eyes. Coarse fur. Tail hairy. Ears and claws normal.Picket-pin gopher.


The dawn is lighting up the eastern sky. The black shadows of the pine forest are taking on detail of trees. The sky is clear. There is a stir at your side. Your companion thrusts his head out of his sleeping bag to see what is going on. Well, the bed isn't any too soft, so let's get up and stretch. Put on your good old boots that have taken so many pleasant and memorable trips with you. Come down to the creek where a splash of water—that was snow a few hours ago—removes any trace of drowsiness and fills you full of energy and ambition. A match, a few dry twigs, then branches, and soon the bacon is sending out its appetizing fragrance and the coffee begins to boil. Did ever a breakfast taste so good? The birds too, know that another new day has come.

Look! The sun has touched the top of the peak and painted it a rosy hue. Watch it creep down the side and light up the lesser peaks all around us. No wonder they used to worship the sun. What a glorious thing it is!

Look! The grand old peak stands there so majestically. He has watched the Sun rise day after day, year after year, for centuries, who will say how many? No wonder he has such a solemn dignity! Follow the slope with your eye, on and on, up and up, to the summit towering several thousand feet above us. The mountain is so great—man is so small. Do you suppose we will ever stand up there on the highest point—it seems so inaccessible, remote and so far above us.

Well, let's start. We will follow this laughing, leaping stream through the forest of fine big spruce, on a soft carpet of moss. How beautiful the flowers are! Hear the squirrel and the other familiar sounds of our wild neighbors. The trees that we are approaching are stunted, and their branches grow only in one direction. Life is a hard battle for them up here at timberline, but they cling to it tenaciously. Here is the last tree. How twisted and gnarled! How many years of slow, slow growth have been required for it to attain its few feet of height?

Now we are entering that other world, the country above timberline. Even the flowers have short stems, as though they are fearful of getting too far from the protecting earth. Look about you; the view is unobstructed. See the valley where we camped last night. Ridge after ridge, peak after peak lies in perspective. Every little white new and more distant peaks show over the nearer ridges. Here and there is a little patch of snow. How refreshing is the clear, cold water! Is this the top ahead of us? No, a little farther beyond there is a higher point.

It is like one's life. The distance to be covered seems so great; progress is so slow; any single advance seems so trifling. Still, with the goal always in view, and every step leading in the right direction, perseverance brings success.

Photograph by W. T. Lee.

Photograph by W. T. Lee.


Surely that must be the top. Well, come on, one pull more. Here we are. Don't exclaim, don't say anything, just look around and below. Miles and miles in every direction. Forest, hills, ridges and peaks; a veritable empire. There in the distance are the plains, with their innumerable little lakes, and away off at the horizon the earth blends with the sky.

How little change the centuries bring to these old mountains! They looked just as they do now when the pioneers came into the country—yes, when Columbus made his first voyage; and as we think back, back over human history, we know that the changes within all of human history must have been slight indeed. Even the trail left by the glaciers still shows clearly, uneffaced by the countless centuries. Surely if one can ever grasp the infinity of time and space, it is here, standing on the peak and looking off to the vanishing horizon.

Take a few more deep breaths; such air! What a feeling of difficulties overcome; success at last! Stretch out your full length on this flat slab of granite. Absorb its strength as did Antaeus, redoubling his power with every touch of Mother Earth.

Here, unwrap that little package. How good the lunch tastes! Now, what time is it? Well, perhaps we should start back. One last look.

Descending is faster than climbing, but slow enough at that. Fatigue makes itself felt. Well, just keep going. Here come the trees again, and the world that people live in. Here is the camp once more and our trip is over.

Tired? How good it feels to stretch out on the soft ground! There will be no sleeplessness tonight but, oh, such a well-earned rest. How the pleasures of this day will remain, long after the weariness is forgotten! And the hardships? Well, they were part of the fun and who will not bear them in happy remembrance?

—R. W. T.


Do you mourn the wrecked cathedrals gone from Antwerp and from Rheims?
Look above you! Nature's temple far surpasses human dreams.
Hush your soul and enter humbly, Climb the velvet-covered stair,
Stand between the massive pillars carved in solid granite there;
Softly tread the mossy carpet spread along the silent nave;
Lo! a glacier for an altar, red with fire the sunset gave.
Here no saints stand carved in marble, folded hands and upturned eyes,
But the figures Nature sculptured point directly to the skies.
While above—the dome of azure with its hangings snowy white,
Touched with rich embroidered colors from the sunset's golden light,
And the priests who serve this temple, guard its halls and galleries steep?
Giant peaks of the Arick'ree their eternal vigils keep.
Was your soul moved in man's temple? You can never be the same
Since to Nature's vast cathedral you in silent worship came.
—Emma R. Barnard.

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Last Updated: 5-Jan-2007