How to Climb Your First Colorado 14er
Welcome to 14ers.com!
If you're reading this, you're probably interested in hiking a 14er or two or maybe you've set a goal to hike all of them. This site has all the information you need to plan, track and document your hikes. What is a 14er? A 14er or "Fourteener" is a mountain that exceeds 14,000 feet of elevation. Colorado has 58 named 14ers, the most of any state in the U.S. California has about 12, Washington has 2 and that includes Mt. Rainier. Then there's Alaska, which has the mighty Denali at 20,310 feet and nearly another 30 peaks/points above 14,000 feet.
Don't underestimate the 14ers. Mountaineering in Colorado can be very dangerous, and many people have died on these peaks. Weather, terrain, and other people can put you in a situation where your knowledge and experience will be vital. 14ers.com was created to help you educate yourself so you can safely climb these peaks and have a more enjoyable experience.
Before we get started, let's take a moment to clear the air on the verbs used when referring to a 14er hike. Many of us use "climb" and "hike" interchangably but there are those who don't like to use "climb" in this context unless it in reference to a technical climb, which require both hand and foot climbing techniques and sometimes ropes. For the starter 14ers, you don't have to worry about technical climbing. Furthermore, using "summit" is ok as well - "Today, I hope to summit Mt. Princeton." Yup, that works.
When to Hike a 14er
The best time to hike a 14er is in the summer months when the snow has melted off of the trails. Sure, you'll see more people in summer, especially on the 14ers closest to Denver, but a lot of those hikers are just starting out, like you. The summer 14er hiking season is from mid-June through early September. In this brief period of time, Colorado's high alpine (above roughly 11,500 feet) becomes colored by delicate wildflowers and plants. By September the colors fade and the alpine returns to it's long, cold pattern. By October, most of the 14ers will have some snow coverage and the routes become more difficult.
You may have come to 14ers.com with the goal to tackle a 14er or two. Or maybe you've already done enough research to know you want to climb them all. Whatever goals you have, please take your time so you can finish them safely. You might also find out the goal of climbing all of the 14ers is not for you. This happens. Your body may not handle high elevation well or you simply don't enjoy the experience. The 14ers can turn into an obsession for some and finishing them may turn into setting new goals since there are plenty of other mountains out there, in Colorado and beyond.
Start With the "Easy" 14ers
No 14er is "Easy" so when you hear this word when discussing 14ers, it simply means the peaks which are the least difficult to hike. Every peak is different and some have trails from bottom to top. Those are the easier peaks. Then there are peaks without a trail or require specific climbing skills to reach the summit. Those peaks are much more difficult and thus more dangerous. Don't jump into the 14ers by starting with the more difficult peaks. Quandary Peak, Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Sherman, Grays & Torreys, Handies Peak - those are the easiest ones.
Once you have some 14er summits under your belt, choose your next peaks based on the hiking/climbing skills required, your endurance and how you dealt with difficulties like exposure and off-trail hiking. Generally, hikers progress through the list of 14ers based on difficulty classification of the 14er route. In climbing, "Class" ranges from Class 1 to Class 5, with Class 1 being trail hiking and Class 5 being technical (roped) climbing. So, expect to move through the 14ers by starting with a few Class 1 peaks, then some (or all) Class 2 peaks, and ultimately advance to the Class 3 and 4 peaks which are the most difficult. Of course there are some who will start out with a more diffcult peak like Longs Peak due to it's popularity but we don't recommend that unless you're an experienced climber and familiar with long, arduous days at high elevation on a dangerous mountain.
Leave No Trace (LNT)
As we recreate on Colorado's high peaks, it’s important to be conscious of the effects our actions may have on plants, animals, other people, and even entire ecosystems. Following the Leave No Trace (LNT) Seven Principles can help us minimize those impacts. We encourage you to learn more about LNT and do your part to help protect Colorado's 14ers. Also, check out the 14er Leave No Trace video series created by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate to Other Visitors
Colorado Fourteeners Initiative
Thousands of hikers attempt 14ers each summer so our trails need frequent maintainence and adjustments to keep up. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI)—a Colorado non-profit—does this work. CFI's mission is to protect, preserve, enhance and restore the natural integrity of Colorado's Fourteeners (14ers) through active stewardship and public education. CFI accomplishes this through volunteer-based trail construction, maintenance and restoration projects, and educational programs. CFI has been building and restoring Colorado 14er trails since 1994 and over that time we've seen some incredible work. Year after year their crews work in harsh and dangerous conditions so we can hike sustainable routes so if you see them on the trail, please take a moment to thank them for their hard work. It's important to mention that 14ers.com and CFI (14ers.org) are two separate organizations; 14ers.com is a free resource to help you plan and safely climb the 14ers and CFI is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit.
If you're a dog owner, you might be wondering if you should bring your dog along on 14er hikes. Frankly, if you're new to the 14ers, please leave your dog at home. You need to determine how you will handle the altitude and difficulties of a 14er before adding the extra challenge of bringing a dog. Take, for instance, my dog Sadie. What if Sadie chases a goat off-route, into dangerous terrain? What if she gets lost or injured? What if she bites a fellow hiker? You don't need these possibilities when you're both new to the peaks. After you're more experienced and think Sadie is up to the challenge, start her out on an easy 14er trail. Always on leash, of course, and remember that LNT also applies to our pets. The fragile alpine environment is no place to let them roam free.
Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks offer the hiker and mountaineer one of the finest arrays of alpine challenges in the Rocky Mountains. You can be in the heart of Colorado's fourteener country in a few hours from its metropolitan areas, and the proximity of these peaks to population centers makes them even more precious. A lifetime of adventures is waiting for you in Colorado's mountains. Climbing Fourteeners has become increasingly popular in recent years, and the challenge of climbing all the Fourteeners captures many people. Gerry Roach
Author and World-Class Mountaineer
Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs