The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Colorado's Fourteeners

Fifty-four peaks. More than 140 routes. And hundreds of thousands of feet in elevation. Here, the ultimate beginner’s guide to climbing Colorado’s famous fourteeners.

June 2013

—Photos by Jeff Nelson


Climbing lingo you’ll need to know—and use.

ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS (AMS) Caused by low-oxygen environments (anything above about 5,000 feet in elevation), this usually minor medical condition is often characterized by headache, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. AMS can become serious during extended stays at very high or extreme altitude (above 11,500 feet). Fluid can build up in the lungs (high altitude pulmonary edema, HAPE) or brain (high altitude cerebral edema, HACE), both of which require immediate descent to lower elevation.

CLASS Routes on Colorado’s fourteeners are generally rated by class. Classes 1 and 2 are “hiking” routes and include easy to moderately difficult hiking on good to slightly less-well-maintained trails. Routes that are classified as 3, 4, or 5 are considered “climbing” routes, which can range from moderate scrambling (Class 3) and climbing steep and dangerous terrain (Class 4) to technical climbing that requires rope and belaying (Class 5).

CAIRN A noticeable pile of rocks placed by hikers to mark a trail, particularly when the trail is difficult to discern.

SADDLE A high pass between two or more adjacent peaks. SCREE Small, loose rocks that often make stable footing difficult.

SUMMIT As a noun, the topographically highest point of a mountain; as a verb, the action of reaching such a high point.

STANDARD ROUTE The most common—and often easiest—path of a particular climb; many fourteeners have multiple routes to their summits.

TRAVERSE As a noun, a section of a route that progresses in a horizontal direction; as a verb, the action of climbing in a horizontal direction.

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