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.
If you’re ready for more difficult terrain, here are three talents you’ll need to hone. —DE
SCRAMBLING This skill requires the ability to move over challenging and exposed terrain without the use of ropes. Routes that require scrambling are rated Class 2 up to Class 4. Check out Colorado Scrambles (Colorado Mountain Club Press, 2005) by Dave Cooper for routes to learn on.
ROUTE FINDING To climb more difficult mountains, you’ll need to be able to find the best way up a peak. Learn to recognize when a mountain feels more difficult or is taking longer than it should. That can mean you’re off the best route. And while there are no posted signs, cairns set out by previous hikers often mark the way. Being able to navigate using maps and a compass is also a good idea.
FOCUSING It’s OK to be nervous about falling, but fear should focus you, not paralyze you. Learn to be confident on climbs with significant drop-offs and skinny pathways because those things are a part of more challenging fourteeners. You’ll gain that confidence with every climb, but going with a guide or a more experienced friend can help.
THINK YOU’RE READY?
These fourteeners will show you what the harder ones are really like.
MT. SNEFFELS (14,150 feet) This peak in the San Juan Mountains offers a scree-filled gully that feels as if you’re hiking up marbles and a spooky exposed notch just before the summit.
MT. LINDSEY (14,042 feet) From the Northwest Ridge Loop route, there are two ways to reach the top—and both are dicey. One is more exposed but solid, and the other veers from the cliffs but is full of loose scree.
MT. EOLUS (14,083 feet) This peak, deep in the Needle Mountains, challenges your comfort with exposure. They don’t call it the “sidewalk in the sky” for nothing, but the route is solid and fun.