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.
COMING UP SHORT
Our sub-14,000-footers deserve love, too.
Colorado’s fourteeners get all the attention, but many other peaks are just as fun to climb. Dan England, outdoor and entertainment editor for the Greeley Tribune, occasional mountain guide, and conqueror of all of Colorado’s fourteeners, suggests four shorter hills.
FLATTOP MOUNTAIN (12,324 feet, Easy) Unlike many in its height category, this popular peak in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) offers a trail all the way to the top. Take a left at the summit to hike over tundra and hit Hallett Peak (12,713 feet), about a half-mile jaunt away, for a stunning view of Longs Peak.
MT. AUDUBON (13,223 feet, Easy) The Indian Peaks Wilderness’ most well-traveled peak has a trail almost all the way to the summit, and yet its wild beauty and breathtaking views make it feel like a much more exciting adventure.
JAMES PEAK (13,294 feet, Moderate) Many aspiring mountaineers—the kind who might one day like to summit more dangerous and exotic peaks—learn how to navigate snow and ice by trekking this peak’s St. Mary’s Glacier route.
MT. ALICE (13,310 feet, Difficult) The long approach is the bane of any peak bagger’s existence, as the fun stuff often occurs near the summit. Mt. Alice’s approach is a really long 18 miles, but the journey truly is the reward. Alice’s trail winds through the Wild Basin segment of RMNP, an underrated beauty full of waterfalls, streams, and the famous Lion Lakes. Alice’s summit, if you can believe it, is boring in comparison.
PACK IT IN
The must-have equipment list.
DAYHIKING PACK Nothing heavy or bulky
STURDY SHOES Cross-trainers or hiking boots will do fine
LAYERS Summertime climbs can be chilly in the morning and hot in the afternoon
WATER A bottle or a bladder is required; bring enough for your dog
FOOD Pack trail mix, jerky, or granola bars to replace spent calories
WATCH It’s good to keep track of time—afternoon thunderstorms are a real threat
SUN PROTECTION Many trails are exposed and, at 14,000 feet, the sun is piercing
CELL PHONE You may not always have reception but bring it anyway—it could be a lifesaver
MAPS AND A COMPASS Most of the “easy” fourteeners do not require route-finding skills, but it’s always good to have these in your pack
FIRST-AID KIT If nothing else, you may want Band-Aids for blisters
MATCHES This fits into the it-can’t-hurt category