Mountain goats chill on the east ridge of Quandary Peak.
Mountain goats chill on the east ridge of Quandary Peak. (Patrick Traylor / The Denver Post)

Colorado's fourteeners

Front Range

Grays Peak 14,270'

Torreys Peak 14,267'

Mt. Evans 14,264'

Longs Peak 14,255'

Pikes Peak 14,110'

Mt. Bierstadt 14,060'

Tenmile Range

Quandary Peak 14,265'

Mosquito Range

Mt. Lincoln 14,286'

Mt. Cameron 14,238'

Mt. Bross 14,172'

Mt. Democrat 14,148'

Mt. Sherman 14,036'

Sawatch Range

Mt. Elbert 14,433'

Mt. Massive 14,421'

Mt. Harvard 14,420'

La Plata Peak 14,336'

Mt. Antero 14,269'

Mt. Shavano 14,229'

Mt. Princeton 14,197'

Mt. Belford 14,197'

Mt. Yale 14,196'

Tabeguache Peak 14,155'

Mt. Oxford 14,153'

Mt. Columbia 14,073'

Missouri Mountain 14,067'

Mt. of the Holy Cross 14,005'

Huron Peak 14,003'

Elk Mountains

Castle Peak 14,265'

Maroon Peak 14,156'

Capitol Peak 14,130'

Snowmass Mountain 14,092'

Conundrum Peak 14,060'

Pyramid Peak 14,018'

North Maroon Peak 14,014'

San Juan Mountains

Uncompahgre Peak 14,309'

Mt. Wilson 14,246'

El Diente Peak 14,159'

Mt. Sneffels 14,150'

Mt. Eolus 14,083'

Windom Peak 14,082'

Sunlight Peak 14,059'

Handies Peak 14,048'

North Eolus 14,039'

Redcloud Peak 14,034'

Wilson Peak 14,017'

Wetterhorn Peak 14,015'


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San Luis Peak 14,014'

Sunshine Peak 14,001'

Sangre de Cristo Range

Blanca Peak 14,345'

Crestone Peak 14,294'

Crestone Needle 14,197'

Kit Carson Peak 14,165'

Challenger Point 14,081'

Humboldt Peak 14,064'

Culebra Peak 14,047'

Ellingwood Point 14,042'

Mt. Lindsey 14,042'

Little Bear Peak 14,037'

Source: 14ers.com

At sunrise on my birthday July 8, I was swallowing down bouts of nausea, stooping to catch my breath, sucking water through a tube and fighting through wooziness.

No, I wasn't hungover. I was enduring the sufferfest of hiking Mt. Bierstadt, one of Colorado's 54 peaks looming taller than 14,000 feet.

My more experienced hiking buddies convinced me that the mountain was one of the easier summits. So my expectations were low because I run and bike and climbed Quandary Peak in 2016, but altitude bites. And "easy" is an entirely different standard in mountain climbing terminology.

It takes more preparation to climb these beasts than lacing up your boots. Thinner air makes it tougher to breathe deep, staircase-like steps for miles fatigue your body, and rock scrambles can trip you up and slow you down.

Clouds hover around the tops of 13,911-foot Mount Meeker and 14,259-foot Longs Peak.
Clouds hover around the tops of 13,911-foot Mount Meeker and 14,259-foot Longs Peak. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)

Whether it takes you two hours or triple that to summit, it's common knowledge among hikers that you should be off of the mountain by the time afternoon storms roll in. This could mean waking up at 2 or 3 a.m. — if you're not camping nearby — and starting the hike in the dark for some ascents.

Before conquering Mt. Bierstadt, we camped about 5 miles away from the trailhead along Guanella Pass so we could sleep in until 5:45 a.m. We hit the trail at 7, though we had hoped to be hiking 30 minutes earlier.

The fastest hiker of our group set a brisk pace, so we summitted at 9 and were down the mountain by a little after 11, when dark clouds appeared in the sky and our hangriness kicked in.

Weather has the tendency to be unpredictable in this state, shifting quickly. As we climbed higher and higher, the temperature dropped lower and lower. I was wearing gloves and several layers at the top, even with the sun shining.

I wore hiking pants, a sweat-wicking long sleeve shirt, a fleece quarter zip-up, a rain jacket, a billed hat and sunglasses. I also packed gloves, which I wore at the top, and an insulated jacket, which I didn't end up using. Also in my backpack were sunscreen, 2.5 liters of water, peanut-butter-stuffed pretzels, granola bars and a can of summit beer.

Once at the top with my friends, we cracked our cans and clinked them in celebration of making it without me puking. We were surrounded by dozens of other hikers posing for shots with cardboard signs displaying the mountain's altitude, resting their legs, and snacking and hydrating.

It's a high-altitude party at the top, though some mountains are less traveled and provide more solitude. But wherever you are, don't piss off other outdoorsists by disobeying the "Leave No Trace" ethics by leaving trash behind, clambering over the high alpine vegetation, taunting the mountain goats or stopping in the middle of the trail to take a breather. Respect the mountain and respect those who want to enjoy the journey.

Mt. Bierstadt

Height: 14,060 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation gain: 2,850 feet

Length of route: 7 miles

Known for: A hike for fourteener virgins

Mt. Bierstadt is about a 90-minute drive from Boulder, up the winding Guanella Pass that starts in Georgetown.

Mt. Democrat, Lincoln, Bross, Cameron

Height: 14,155 feet, 14,293 feet, 14,178 feet and 14,286 feet

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Elevation gain: 3,700 feet

Length of route: 7.25 miles

Known for: Abandoned mines

Mt. Democrat, Lincoln, Bross and Cameron can all be climbed together. The trailhead, about two and a half hours from Boulder, can be reached by taking Colo. 9 to Alameda. At Kite Lake trailhead, it is easiest to access Mt. Democrat and, from there, hike to the other trails. This is an especially cool hike because you can climb four mountains in one day.

Long's Peak

Height: 14,255

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

Elevation gain: 4,700 feet

Length of route: 14 miles

Known for: The thousands of people who turn around before they reach the summit, according to the National Park Service

While Long's Peak is one of the more difficult fourteeners to climb, it is the closest to Boulder. It is only an hour away from the city, in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is the only fourteener in this park, so it is quite popular, but it's not easy. The hike to Keyhole is straightforward, but beyond that, you will have to do some scrambling and route finding.

Amelia Arvesen: twitter.com/ameliaarvesen