Colorado State Researcher Studies Impacts of Hiking and Mountaineering on Longs Peak

The history of hiking, mountaineering and technical climbing on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park and the impact of these recreational activities on the mountain’s natural and cultural resources are part of a new study by a Colorado State University researcher.

Beginning this summer, Ruth M. Alexander, a CSU history professor, will work with graduate research assistants and staff at Rocky Mountain National Park to determine how hiking, mountaineering and climbing have changed since 1925 and how they have impacted cultural and natural resources on 14,259-foot Longs Peak. This includes studying the damage caused to geological resources from technical climbing, litter and soil erosion.     

"We will be looking at how and why people have engaged in recreation on the peak and affected its cultural and natural resources since 1925. Our goal is to offer information that will help park staff develop management plans that protect Longs Peak and simultaneously allow people to enjoy the beauty and recreational challenges it offers," Alexander said.  

The modern history of recreation and its impact on Longs Peak have never been systematically explored. As recreational activities evolve and visitation to the peak increases, an inventory of the mountain’s resources and an analysis of the impacts of recreation on them is critical to park managers who must offer long-term protection to resources and resolve complex questions about balancing use and preservation   

As part of her study, Alexander also will investigate changes in the social identities, cultural values and environmental perceptions of people who have hiked or climbed Longs Peak and analyze changes over time in park management goals in relation to the mountain.

The study will provide National Park Service managers direction and documentation when developing land and resource management plans, interpreting the area, managing visitors and protecting wilderness resources.

Longs Peak is a key recreational attraction in Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite lacking a road, unlike other Front Range fourteeners, Longs Peak draws thousands of people up its hiking trails each year. Hiking destinations include the summit or the view of Chasm Lake. The peak, which is the highest mountain in the park, also attracts thousands of technical climbers to its vertical faces.  

This project is the first phase of a multi-phased study that will extend its analysis from Longs Peak to other high peaks in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region. Later phases of this project will use resources and themes identified in this initial study to evaluate the meaning of high peaks in local, state and national contexts and guide the development of visitor use and impact surveys for park and resource managers outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.

This study is being conducted out of CSU’s Center for Public History and Archaeology. The center hosts an interdisciplinary team of historians and archaeologists who engage in public history and public archaeology research projects throughout the American West and the United States. For more information about the center, visit