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Master the mountaintops: A guide to climbing Colorado’s fourteeners

Make like a goat and trot to the top, but do your research first

Mount Meeker and Longs Peak are shrouded by clouds and virga on May 17. If you plan to climb one of Colorado’s fourteeners, be prepared for nasty weather on your way up.
Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Mount Meeker and Longs Peak are shrouded by clouds and virga on May 17. If you plan to climb one of Colorado’s fourteeners, be prepared for nasty weather on your way up.


Be prepared.

That’s not only the Boy Scout motto; it’s practical advice for people thinking about climbing a Colorado fourteener, according to Tom Holmquist, a sales person at Boulder’s Neptune Mountaineering.

“It’s more than just a hike,” he said.

Whether you consider the act of summiting a 14,000-foot peak is “climbing” or even “mountaineering” as opposed to “hiking,” whatever you call it doesn’t make completing a high-altitude trek any easier.

Proper preparation is an absolute requirement if you want to safely make it up one of the state’s 54 peaks taller than 14,000 feet.

If you do, your breath will be taken away, both by the view and the lack of oxygen at altitude.

Holmquist said preparation should include having the proper footwear and clothing and proper layering of that clothing, with a rain jacket and rain pants.

Avoid wearing cotton, he said, which doesn’t evaporate water properly.

Climbers should make sure they have plenty of water and some food.

“Know your route,” Holmquist advised, and “make sure you get an early start,” especially because of the rainy or otherwise adverse weather that typically moves into and across the mountains in the early afternoon.

“You don’t want to get stuck in a storm,” he said.

Don’t expect cellphone coverage, especially at the peak. And remember that “summiting is only half the battle because you will need to get down safely,” Holmquist said.

Study trail maps and pack a compass and plenty of water along with perhaps a celebratory summit beverage.

Physical training to strengthen your core, back and legs — remember, you’ll be carrying a pack with a large amount of water — is recommended for two to three months before attempting a 14er for inexperienced climbers.

You may want to add a jog or some lengthy walks into your training regimen to ensure your cardiovascular system can handle propelling you to the top. Since oxygen is scarce at 14,000 feet, your lungs need to be in shape enough to deal with shallow, low-volume breaths.

Take a few snacks to give you an extra boost of energy during a short break alongside the trail, or even to eat while walking slowly, considering you will definitely need the sustenance. Just don’t stop right in the middle of the trail for a breather in the way of everyone else.

Expect some snow and cold, even in the dead of summer. Gloves and an insulated jacket may be required toward the top, whether or not the sun is shining.

Not all high-altitude journeys are equal, so be sure to check the difficulty of summiting each 14,000-foot peak before trying.

Longs Peak, for instance, while attractive as the only fourteener in Rocky Mountain National Park and its looming outline visible from Boulder County, is one of the more difficult climbs, requiring some basic scrambling in places.

Holmquist said one of the easier fourteener peaks for beginners is Mt. Bierstadt near Georgetown, just an hour and a half drive from Boulder, known for being one of the best peaks for first-timers.

Another, he said, is Quandary Peak near Breckenridge. Others are Grays Peak and Torreys Peak near Idaho Springs.

No matter where you go and however you choose to celebrate at the top, just make sure to keep it clean — no can left behind. Respect your fellow climbers and their journeys to take in the Colorado Rocky Mountains from on high and pack out all your trash.

More information about Colorado’s fourteeners can be viewed at

Here are some of the closest 14,000-foot peaks to Boulder:

Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post
From Guanella Pass, Mount Bierstadt is approximately a 3-mile hike, with a climb of 2,391 feet.

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.

Longs 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 Longs 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.

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′

• 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′