Climbing a mountain is no small feat, especially when the mountain is over 14,000 feet tall. Colorado’s Rocky Mountain’s are home to 54 of the United State’s tallest mountains. Every year, hundreds of daring adventurists make their way to the the Centennial State to climb these gigantic land masses. With no desire to fall behind the trend, and in defiance of my flatlander roots, I traveled to Colorado to see just what the hell this fourteener fuss is all about.
Here’s some helpful hints to any aspiring adventurer thinking of bagging himself a couple mountains:
The greatest thing to consider when planning your romantic rendezvous with mother mountain is the altitude. Oklahoma City, in all it’s glory sits at a measly 1,295 feet above sea level. Fourteeners, in case you’re perplexed by the namesake, is a peak above 14,000 feet. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure the substantial altitude difference between where I was and where I was going. The best way to combat any potential altitude sickness is to drink plenty of water. Be sure to make consistent hydration a priority during and days before your proving trek. Altitude sickness is the quickest way to turn the trip of a lifetime into perennial trips to the foot of your shitter. So believe me, drink lots of water.
Eyes to the Sky
Perhaps the most dangerous element of climbing fourteeners is the unpredictable weather of the altitude. Clouds can form in minutes, and produce deadly lightning storms. When climbing, it is best to keep a steady eye on cloud formations and weather forecasts to ensure that you don’t become nature’s next sizzled victim.
Picking Your Mountain
One should not be willy nilly about selecting their first fourteeners. Climbing a mountain requires patience, persistence, and most of all: endurance. Though all fourteeners are relatively close in height, the degree of difficulty varies immensely. So swallow your naive pride, and consider that no one is going to condemn you for knocking out the easier ones first. Noticed I used “easier” specifically here – all fourteeners are difficult. And besides, every peak-bagger does each summit eventually.
With the help of a buddy, and a little bit of research, I found the fourteeners most subtable for me with my lack of mountaineering experience. With confidence, I can say that these summits can be achieved by anyone with a little gusto in their gut. I, certainly leaning on the poorer side on the fitness continuum, summited all four. Therefore, I can say with assurance that these these summits are of perfect difficulty for any considering beginner.
Bierstadt makes for the perfect first climb. From the trailhead in Guanella Pass, Bierstadt’s 3+ (7 mile roundtrip) mile hike to the summit climbs 2,391 feet. It’s trail leads through Deadman’s Lake and Scott Gomer Creek on the valley floor, before a steady climb up Bierstadt’s west front. Here many marmot scramble among the last vestiges of vegetation, before tree line about a mile up the trail. Though I had no such luck, there are many sightings of longhorn sheep, elk, and ptarmigan on this mountain’s west valley. Half way up the trail, it begins to steepen considerably with several switchbacks. As is typical of climbing fourteeners, Bierstadt gets more difficult as you progress. The last quarter mile requires a little scrambling and a lot of perseverance, but no climbing equipment. Bierstadt’s trail offers a continual view of the trailhead, so this trail is subtable for those navigationally inept first timers.
The best way to the peak of Evans is from summit of Bierstadt. Located just (by just, I mean a three hour trek. But any aspiring climber should augment their relative sense of distance significantly) northeast of Bierstadt, Evans’ summit can only be reached by a trying route ominously, but appropriately name “Sawtooth”. This nail biting route follows the rocky saddle between the two peaks along the side of the ridge. Think of The Fellowship crossing the Mines of Moria, only less snow, and fewer whining hobbits. Mount Evans is a daring path, but is certainly one done only for internal pride. Should you choose to make this your summit, don’t be surprised to see many “can’t hack its” at the peak, as it is one of Colorado’s two vehicle accessible summits.
Mount Gray’s & Mount Torrey’s
A must for any mountaineering noob, this summit combo can be done in swift, taxing summer morning. The Stevens Gulch Trail leads to both peaks in one 8.5 mil roundtrip. If two in one morning is not your cup of tea, there is a fork in the trail about 3 miles inward, leading to either mountain. Though I would recommend shooting for both. These peaks are a popular destination for many climber because of their close proximatey and beautiful view of Colorado’s Summit County.
By Alec Ross