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.
THE FIRST PEAK BAGGER
Carl Blaurock pioneered a craze that lives on today.
Prospectors and American Indians hiked many of Colorado’s highest peaks way back in the 1800s, but it’s safe to say that no one had climbed all of the state’s fourteeners until 1923. That year, Denverites Carl Blaurock and Bill Ervin completed the list of 46 (revised surveys later raised the count to 54) by summiting Kit Carson Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range. In the ’20s, there were no guidebooks, no trip reports on 14ers.com, not even roads to many trailheads. Blaurock, who climbed his first fourteener, Pikes Peak, at age 15, recalled that he and Ervin would ride the train from Denver to Creede and “walk over to Ouray and Telluride and climb the peaks in between.” For perspective: The shortest walking route between Creede and Telluride is at least 75 miles and traverses the state’s wildest terrain—and that’s before any detours they took to bag other peaks.
To put their feat into further context, lightweight, weatherproof Gore-Tex was but a dream for these hardy hikers. Blaurock wore Army surplus wool shirts, neatly buttoned at the collar, baggy Army britches with puttees, and a floppy wool hat. The climbers smeared a concoction of charcoal and petroleum jelly on their faces to serve as sunscreen. And when the wind howled, they stuck folded newspapers inside their shirts and trousers for extra protection.
Though today he would be labeled an “extreme” climber, Blaurock welcomed beginners on his hikes and never took himself too seriously. In fact, Blaurock was known for celebrating successful ascents by doing a headstand on the highest point of each mountain he climbed. He was also a charter member of the Colorado Mountain Club (which still operates today) and taught hundreds of others to climb and ski, including women, who joined his trips as often as men. David Lavender, who Blaurock taught in 1927 to glissade down sweeping snowfields, wielding an ice axe as a brake, wrote of his mentor’s “gentleness, patience, and ability to make others feel comfortable on an uncomfortable cliff.” —Dougald MacDonald
Credible information from local sources.
COLORADO MOUNTAIN CLUB, CMC.ORG
COLORADO FOURTEENERS INITIATIVE, 14ERS.ORG