How many mountain names have you checked off on your T-shirt normal Colorado’s 14ers? None? Maybe it’s time to start hiking! Upon peaking some of these great mountains you’ll be standing atop the Continental Divide. Eastward, there’s nothing higher than you are the entire way to the Atlantic Ocean. Westward, it’s all downhill to California.
Colorado boasts 53 or 55 mountains that top out at 14,000 feet (4,200m) or more above sea level. (The exact number is argued constantly by peak baggers, quoting a variety of ways the peaks are measured, including the official numbers posted by the U.S. Geological Survey.) Hiking as many as one can, until you can brag about climbing all of them (or wear a fully checked T-shirt, a common site), is a popular activity in this state. Even if you don’t want to climb every one, walking or scrambling up and down one or two during a vacation is a must for many visitors to Colorado.
The peaks are centered in several mountain ranges, including the Sawatch, the Sangre de Cristo, the Front, the Tenmile-Mosquito, the San Juan, and the Elk Range. Each of the ranges has a special character, and if you’re just starting to climb 14ers you should get local advice on which ones are appropriate for your skill level. A good online resource is 14ers.com, where you can learn more about these mountains, whether you live in Colorado or you’re planning a visit and want to connect with dedicated peak baggers. The site lists the 14ers, has routes, trip reports, and a forum where you can connect with other hikers and climbers.
Mount Elbert is the highest peak at 14,433 feet (4,330m), and Sunshine Peak just makes the list at 14,001 feet (4.200m). But choosing which peak to climb and what route to follow should be based on your experience and physical condition. Many of the peaks are walk-up hikes; others require scrambling or climbing skills. Among the 14ers with less difficult routes are Mt. Elbert, Mt. Bierstadt, and Quandry Peak. Some of the most difficult routes are on Mt. Wilson, Capitol Peak, and Crestone Peak. One popular way to “claim” two peaks in 1 day is to climb one peak and traverse along the ridgeline to another. Climbing Evans and traversing to Bierstadt, or the reverse, is popular. Other choices for claiming two in a day include Grays and Torreys, and Maroon and North Maroon.
Bagging 14ers has become so popular that on weekends, some of the routes get very crowded. Some of the trails on the busiest routes have also become worn down. Because these routes go above treeline, there are points where hikers must scramble up loose rock and follow cairns set along the way, which at times are hard to find.
Don’t start climbing any mountain in Colorado without proper preparations. You need to wear or bring layers and waterproof gear, because it can rain or snow even in the summer. Bring enough water, energy bars, and other snacks to keep yourself from becoming dehydrated or weak. If you experience altitude sickness, which may happen if you live at sea level, head back down right away. Everyone should bring a route map and a compass; many climbers bring a GPS. Afternoon thunderstorms with lightning are common in the summer, so locals climb early in the day and plan to be off the ridges and mountaintops (where you could be the target of lightning) before storm clouds gather. —LF
When to Go: Summer or early fall.
Denver International Airport.