Fifty-four peaks. More than 140 routes. And hundreds of thousands of feet in elevation. With all of this lofty real estate in our backyard, it’s no surprise that clawing our way up the sides of 14,000-foot mountains has become a rite of passage for Colorado residents. But how does a rookie peak bagger choose which summit to reach for? We present the ultimate beginner’s guide to climbing Colorado’s famous fourteeners.
Should permits be required to climb our famed peaks?
Coloradans like to think of the Rocky Mountains as pristine wilderness, but the truth is many of the state’s popular fourteeners—like Longs Peak, Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Elbert—are experiencing overexposure. To combat the degradation and overcrowding, local wilderness officials have been discussing a permits system, which would decrease the number of people who climb Colorado’s high hills. One such proposal surfaced in 2010 for the South Colony Basin, a spot known for its access to three fourteeners. The U.S. Forest Service began kicking around a $10 day-use permit to pay for necessary maintenance. The proposal met with resistance but is still under consideration, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s Jim Bedwell.
Bedwell concedes there are problems with permitting, including the cost and staff necessary to manage the paperwork and the patchwork system of organizations that would need to issue said permits. Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI), shares those concerns (the nonprofit itself has no formal position on the issue), and adds limiting use doesn’t always mean limiting damage.
That’s why CFI and other similar organizations focus on building trails that can mitigate harm caused by thousands of footfalls. Athearn says a permits system could hurt his organization’s efforts: Hikers who have to pay to climb may be less willing to donate to organizations like his, and more important, money from permits doesn’t always necessarily go toward on-mountain maintenance—which means a permits system could be a detriment to the only solution anyone’s found for rescuing our state’s too-trampled fourteeners. —Dan England