Colorado is home to 55 peaks over the elevation of 14,000 feet. These mountains range in size from the high point of Mount Elbert at 14,433 feet to the 14,001-foot Sunshine Peak. This article will focus on the easier peaks located in central and western Colorado, specifically the Sawatch, Tenmile, Mosquito, and Front Ranges. Each of these ranges offer comparatively easier hikes, fantastic views, and a wonderful sense of accomplishment. A word of caution however: hiking or climbing up a fourteen thousand foot peak is inherently dangerous and people die every year trying. Only you know your fitness and confidence levels. This article was written by someone who enjoys hiking and exploring the world that is around him, but who is by no means an expert and everything written here regarding Colorado’s 14ers shouldn’t be taken as expert-level advice.
I’ve found that the best time to hike these mountains is from July to late August. Generally speaking, the basic gear needed includes a backpack, plenty of water, food, and a good pair of hiking boots. I tend to over pack, and I also bring enough supplies to spend the night on the side of the mountain, which includes a fire starter kit, some food to get me through the night, and a space blanket. Also, 14ers tend to be windy and cold, so layering clothing is a wise course of action. Furthermore, a map, a compass, and the knowledge to use both could save your life. A GPS can certainly work, but batteries do run out. Weight will be an issue so the smaller and lighter the items the better. Finally, the most important thing that you can bring is a friend. Try to never hike one of these alone. To the beginner, these mountains can be difficult. Plan accordingly.
The Sawatch Range
The Sawatch Range sits along the continental divide and contains fifteen of Colorado’s 14ers, including the highest peak in Colorado, Mt. Elbert (14,440 ft.). This range sits south of Leadville and extends approximately 80 miles to the southeast ending near the city of Sawatch. While some technical climbing is necessary for some of the peaks, the vast majority of these mountains can be accomplished as a strenuous hike. This range also contains the “Collegiate Peaks” of Mt. Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Oxford, and Columbia. The majority of these sit between Buena Vista in the north and Salida to the south. Also, just west of Salida is Mt. Antero, which for all of you geology minded people out there, contains the largest deposit of aquamarine in the continental United States. Please be aware that people take claim jumping seriously, so you should be aware of your surroundings and be respectful of fence lines. Another great place to go, once you’ve finished your climb to the top of Mt. Princeton, is the hot springs at the base of the mountain.
The Tenmile Range
The Tenmile Range is a small range that only contains a single 14er: Mt. Quandary (14,265 ft). This peak has a special place in my heart as the first mountain that I hiked when I moved to Colorado. Quandary sits near Breckenridge and has gentle slopes making it one of the easer peaks to complete. This range contains a number of 13,000 foot peaks as well as several ski resorts, notably Breckenridge Ski Resort. Directly adjacent to the Tenmile Range is the Mosquito Range.
The Mosquito Range
The Mosquito Range contains Mt. Lincoln, Democrat, Bross, Sherman, and Cameron. This range is special for the area because you can complete three at once. Mt Lincoln (14,286 ft.), Democrat (14,148 ft.), and Bross (14,172 ft.) are all able to be done together as a string of peaks. Both Democrat and Bross are reasonably sloped mountains with relatively flat tops, while Mt. Lincoln is a spire which is very exciting to stand at the pinnacle. As with all of these hikes, be aware of your footing and never do anything that makes you too uncomfortable.
The Front Range
The Front Range sits on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, from Boulder in the north to Colorado Springs in the south. This range contains the peaks: Grays, Torreys, Evans, Longs, Bierstadt, and Pikes. This range is unique in that there are two peaks, Mt. Evans (14,264 ft.) and Pikes Peak (14,110 ft.), that can be driven up with a car. These are actually quite a lot of fun to drive with family to take in the views and meet the wild mountain goats that live up there. Please be aware that the access roads close during the winter. It would be best to call ahead of time to check on the status of access. Yet another great thing to try while you’re at Pikes Peak is the marathon that happens in August or the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb car and motorcycle race. An additional thing to do is The Manitou Incline, a challenging 4.5 mile stair hike straight up the side of Mt. Manitou, a 9,000 ft. peak local to Pikes. Finally, for the truly ballsy and experienced mountaineer (I DO NOT RECOMMEND IF A BEGINNER) there’s a hike-able knife edge called the Sawtooth connecting Evans and Bierstadt.
The Front Range also contains Grays and Torreys, 14270 ft. and 14267 ft. respectively. Similar to Lincoln, Democrat, and Bross, these two peaks can be done back to back. Finally, there is the mighty Longs Peak. Longs (14,255 ft.) is a difficult climb for a beginner, mostly because it’s between 13 and 16 miles long. The most popular route is through the Key Hole (a large rock outcrop near the top), and a good amount of scrambles near the top make this a difficult but interesting hike.
In the end, hiking Colorado’s 14ers can be challenging but a lot of fun. Remember to start out early and watch for weather moving towards you. Lightning strikes are no joke at high altitudes. For further information on routes and gear, I highly recommend 14ers.com. Do your research and have fun. If you have any questions or would like to share your experience climbing a 13er or 14er, please leave a comment or two.