Adventure at Altitude
At 14,110 Feet, Pikes Peak dominates the skyline above Colorado Springs, but it’s only one of many 14ers in the state. The list of Peaks Ranges from Mount Elbert, the tallest at 14,433, to Sunshine Peak, which just makes the cut at 14,001 feet.
Though it’s home to more mountains over 14,000 feet, Colorado has 53 ranked 14ers. With an additional 5 named peaks, the total accepted number of 14ers is 58.
The list of climbers who have summited all 58 fourteeners is long. Enthusiasts come from all over the world to experience the majesty of the Colorado Rockies and seek the challenge of conquering a peak… or several. For each of the last 5 years, Colorado has broken its own tourism record; over 3 million visitors came to Colorado for outdoor trips in 2015. This popularity ensures you won’t be alone in the mountains, at least not on the easier peaks between June and October.
If you’re ready to tackle the mountains now, numerous websites provide all the information you’d need; 14ers.com is the resource for any of the peaks. If you’re not quite confident in your skills, Colorado.com provides an excellent listing of schools across Colorado where students learn mountaineering, rock climbing, and ice climbing skills to take up the mountain. REI even offers 14er clinics. In either case, the basics still apply: you’ll want to be acclimated to Colorado’s altitude and physically fit enough to handle long and often strenuous hikes.
The 14ers span seven ranges across the Rockies: Elk, Front, Mosquito, San Juan, Sangre de Cristo, Sawatch, and Tenmile. The best place to start depends on where you live and how prepared you are. Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, Mount Bierstadt, Quandary Peak, and Mount
Elbert are among the best for beginners and most record more than 20,000 climbers annually. In the Mosquito Range, Lincoln, Bross,
Democrat, and Sherman are almost as popular.
GRAYS AND TORREYS PEAKS
Accessed via I-25 and I-70, the trailhead is about two hours from Colorado Springs. Climbers can bag both in one day by traversing the saddle connecting the two. These peaks are nearly the same height: Grays sits at 14,270 feet and Torreys at 14,267. The trail gains 3,000 feet in altitude, but it’s clear all the way to the top.
The Bierstadt trailhead is near the Grays trailhead off of I-70. The easiest way up is via the West Slope, with a 2,850-foot gain in elevation. This beautiful hike crosses through willows on Scott Gomer Creek and then through the Mount Evans Wilderness Area; at the summit, climbers can spy Grays and Torreys Peaks. Because the climb is relatively short at only seven miles round trip, start early to avoid crowds.
Just two hours up Highway 24, Quandary Peak—the only 14er in the Tenmile Range—is among the easiest to access from the Springs. The seven-mile round trip trail intersects with old mining roads as it winds through pines before finishing in scree fields.
The climb starts from the Fourmile Creek trailhead outside Leadville, two hours from Colorado Springs. At just over five miles long, Sherman can be completed in under four hours; although this is a relatively short and popular hike, climbers are a bit more exposed on this trail than on other mountains. Plan accordingly and be prepared to turn around if the weather changes.
For more challenge, drive two hours west to the Sawatch Range, just outside Buena Vista. Mount Princeton’s summit offers stunning views of the Arkansas River Valley and the other Collegiate Peaks. This hike is not easy—it covers more than 13 miles as it gains 5,400 feet in elevation—but the
Collegiate Peaks, especially Mounts Columbia and Harvard, see fewer visitors than the more popular mountains.
If you’re looking for climbs even closer to home, Pikes Peak appeals to beginners and experts alike. This trail is long—26 miles round trip—and gains over 4,000 feet in altitude. Beginners must be in shape and acclimated to tackle this mountain on foot, but a road to the top offers the chance to reach the summit by car. Climbers also have the option of climbing to the top and taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railway back to Manitou Springs. As one of Colorado Springs’ top tourist attractions, expect crowds and refreshments at the summit.
The inventory of Colorado’s 14ers is lengthy, inspiring, and a little intimidating. Many teams have tackled the entire list in a single season and even more have hiked the list several times. Although many of the hikes are well traveled, don’t take summiting for granted. Every mountain offers its own particular challenge on any given day, and conditions often do not meet expectations. Although every Colorado 14er can be climbed without technical skills or equipment in good weather, conditions can change quickly in the high country. Early afternoon thunderstorms can bring high winds, snow, lightning, and whiteout conditions, so plan to summit by noon and don’t be tempted to linger. If conditions deteriorate before you get to the top, turn around! Be careful, be prepared, and have fun!!