Bierstadt, Bross, Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron, Quandary, and Huron: Those are the named 14,000-foot mountains I’ve summited in Colorado over the years. It’s a short list—made shorter by the fact that my climbing partner and I were turned around by blowing snow 250 feet shy of bagging Mt. Sherman. I’m also aware that some people would disqualify 14,238-foot Mt. Cameron, arguing that it’s not a stand-alone fourteener but a subpeak of Mt. Lincoln. And I technically didn’t reach the tip-top of Mt. Bross because its loftiest height is closed to the public. (I count it anyway.)

Still, I feel pretty good about my high-alpine accomplishments—and I plan to notch a few more summits this summer. It was only a few months ago, though, that I learned the history behind the trails that I’ve, admittedly, taken for granted as I’ve huffed and puffed my way to the crests of Colorado.

Considering there are roughly 300,000 hiker use days on the state’s highest peaks each year, I assume I’m not the only trekker who had no idea that as recently as the mid-’90s, there was only a trio of official fourteener trails. Yes, only three—despite the fact that there are 58 named mountains that rise higher than 14,000 feet in the Centennial State. Where did all the well-defined, well-constructed paths I’ve been using come from? Turns out that a Golden-based nonprofit called the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) has, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, built standard routes on 36 fourteeners since its inception 30 years ago.

CFI hasn’t necessarily done this to facilitate recreation, although the trails certainly do that. Instead, the organization constructs hiking paths to save the fourteeners from, well, me and everyone else. Our footfalls, if we’re not careful, can easily erode delicate soil and kill rare alpine tundra plants after just a few wayward steps. So, before you hit the trailhead this season—I’ve got my sights set on Mt. Massive or Mt. Elbert and Longs Peak—think about not only doing your part to protect the fourteeners, but also about giving a little hat-tip to the metro-area nonprofit that has already done a lot of the hard work for you.

Illustration by Arthur Mount

Simone Massoni
Freelance Illustrator

In every issue of 5280, you’ll find our Act Like A Local column. Each month, the tongue-in-cheek page serves as a how-to guide, in five oversimplified steps, for navigating a quintessential aspect of life as a Coloradan—such as picking Palisade peaches or training for a marathon. And for nearly a year, Simone Massoni, an illustrator based in Italy whose whimsical visuals have graced the pages of outlets including the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, has created the accompanying artwork.

After pursuing his childhood dream of being a comic book artist and later sketching for children’s books, Massoni has worked in editorial and commercial illustration for the past decade. Although his profession is far from monotonous, he describes his Act Like A Local assignments as rare gigs in which his job is all fun. “It always puts me in a good mood to both read and illustrate the section,” he says. Massoni was especially drawn to this past December’s story about how to properly shovel a sidewalk—something he’s never had to do before. “We hardly see snow here in Florence, and when we do, it’s just a few flakes,” he says. “That one made me dream about the act of shoveling.”