Colorado 14ers
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14,000 foot Colorado Mountains

Q: What is a 14'er?
A: The official definition is a mountain peak that is at least 300 feet higher than any connecting ridge or saddle. In other words, two mountains may be over 14,000 high but only the taller one is the true 14er. There are exceptions based on sentiment and history of the peak. The two notable exceptions are the North Maroon Peak and El Diente.

Q: How many 14'ers are in Colorado?
A: There are 58 mountains in the Colorado Rocky Mountains that are above 14,000 feet in height. While 54 are generally acknowledged as the '14ers' most people who want to climb all of them will climb all 58. They are contained in six different ranges all across the State. See my Fourteeners page for the listings

Q: Are they dangerous? Do people die on Colorado 14ers?
A: Yes. They are dangerous and people die every year. As of September 2010, there have been 10 deaths on multiple Colorado 14ers. Please see this article for more details.

Q: Do I need to use a guide for any of them?
A: Not for the the vast majority of the standard or normal routes. In fact many of these are easy Class 1 hikes with the only concern being altitude and weather. However always climb within your ability and get a buddy for rock climbing and difficult routes. If you are learning or inexperienced on technical routes (ice or rock climbing requiring ropes, harness, crampons, ice axes, etc.), then a guide or a very experienced partner is required.

Q: What is special about the 14'ers?
They represent the largest group of mountains in a single US state. Alaska has 10 peaks over 14,000, California has 17. Many of the trailheads are easy to reach in the summer and most of the climbs are attainable by anyone in good shape. But almost every 14'er offers difficult routes that will test the most seasoned mountaineer. People come from all over the world to climb a 14'er and some make it a life long goal to stand on the summit of every one. The rewards for just trying are huge and even greater for those who stand on the top.

Getting Started :

Q: Where do I begin if I have no climbing experience at all?
A: Get out there! Start with the easy 14'ers with class 1 routes (see my Fourteeners page). Bierstadt, Quandary, Grays or Torreys are all great first climbs. They do not require special gear but do require good conditioning and common sense. If you want to do more serious routes or mountains, I suggest joining a climbing club. There are many in Colorado and in most cities around the world. These clubs usually welcome beginners and organize local or far away trips. Do a google search for climbing clubs and your state or city. Pete and Ed's Books have a listing of clubs. Check out the Yahoo listings. Finally, the American Alpine Club is an excellent resource. The only way to learn about climbing is to get out there!

Q: What kind of climbing do the 14'ers offer?
A: You can do all the three major types: rock, ice and mountaineering. Rock includes climbing on boulders (aka bouldering). For rock, you usually climb with a partner roped together and use special gear to secure the rope to the rock. My pages on climbing the Flat Irons covers this type. Ice is similar and includes frozen waterfalls and steep mountain sides. Please see my Ouray page for an example. Mountaineering usually means high altitude and snow. This is not the same in Colorado as it is in Alaska or on Rainier but a winter climb to a 14'er will test every mountaineering skill you have. My Longs Peak pages, especially in the winter is a good example of 14'er mountaineering.

Q: Are there age limitations to climbing 14'ers?
A: Not really. It is common to see kids aged 10 or less with their parents on 14'ers as it is to see wise men and women in their 70's. For children be careful about pushing them too hard and for everyone if you have never tried a 14'er make sure you are in good health. Climbing is a dangerous sport, even on those "easy" 14'ers, so don't take chances.

Q: How long does it take to climb a 14'er?
A: Obviously it depends on which mountain you are climbing. An easy mountain like Bierstadt can take as little as four hours for those in great shape while a technical route with a long trek to the mountain base can take two days or more. Longs Peak is representative in taking 8 to 14 hours depending on your conditioning.

Q: Money? What does it cost ?
A: For the simple climbs all it costs is time, gas and simple gear. For the technical climbs, it obviously cost more due to the equipment involved. All but one 14'er is on public property so there are no other costs involved. Culebra is on private land and they charge $100 per person for access to the mountain. A few, like the Maroon Bells, are within an area that charge for parking.

Q: What kind of gear do I need and how much does it cost?
A: Starting with the simple climbs you need non-cotton clothing, a pack for your food, water and rain gear and some good shoes. The right type of clothes is important since the weather can change at a moments notice on these mountains and cotton clothes do not dry quickly enough to prevent you from getting cold and possibly suffering hypothermia. This is a serious consideration and every year people die or need to be rescued by ignoring this fact of mountaineering. Synthetic clothing is best and is inexpensive. You can buy what you need at REI or similar store. For rock you need shoes, harness, rope and helmet. A nice pair of rock climbing shoes cost less than $80, a harness - $35, the helmet - $40. Then you need the technical tools. A starter 'rack' of tools and the rope, about $300. Ice climbing requires boots and crampons that will run about $400 plus warm clothes. Alpine mountaineering is a big step. In addition to all the gear required for rock and ice, there is cold weather camping: down sleeping bags, down suits, large packs and more. These items can easily run over $1,500. Take a look at my gear page for a list of what I use. It is updated for 2013. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.
Building Skills

Q: OK, I'm ready to get started. What first?
A: Get an experienced buddy who will teach you the basics or join a club. Climbing can be dangerous. You can be killed. This is serious. So be smart. The best way to start is with the class 1 routes. There is a strong temptation to skip climbs to get harder and higher. DON'T. If you want to do serious climbs you must learn the basics. You not only put your own life in danger, but that of others as well. Climbing is usually a team sport so you must be a team player.

Q: What role does fitness or conditioning play in climbing?
A: While you do not need to be muscle bound, you do need to be in excellent shape to attempt any mountain. The most important areas are lungs, heart and muscles. It is interesting that if you look at the best climbers in the world, they are not particularly tall. They do not have huge arm muscles. They are thin and their bodies are well balanced. They also have great lung capacity.

Q: How do I get to that level of fitness?
A: The absolute best way is climbing! But most of us have jobs and cannot climb every day so a combination of climbing on the weekends and aggressive exercise during the week will get you there. Focus on building lung capacity and heart strength with aerobic exercises such as running, cycling or treadmills and ellipse machines. Build your core muscles (stomach and back) with sit-ups and medicine ball exercises. Work on your heart with interval training. And finally build some overall muscle strength with reasonable weight training.

Gaining Experience

Q: What is the best way to get experience?
A: Go climb a mountain! If you are really new, take a course through your local club, REI, EMS other other organization. If you are experienced but want to go higher or harder, link up with an experienced party or buddy.

Q: Any suggestions for a first 14er close to Denver?
A: Some ideas:

Torreys/Grays - great combo
Bierstadt - very easy
Evans - wonderful climb from the Chicago Lakes TR but crowded summit given you can drive to it!
Quandary - a great long summit ridge. Very popular

All of these are very straight forward and are great first 14ers but also have some crowds. But here are some others for investigation:

La Plata - beautiful and remote
Missouri - rugged and remote
Oxford - straight forward and remote
Longs - my personal favorite and a nice warm-up for bigger things to come. The most "technical" on this list but still not requiring ropes, etc. Can be crowded in July and August.
Massive is a long day but a great climb as well. Again, it is easy.

Of this list, I would rank them as follows in terms of challenge, scenery and crowd factor:

A List:
La Plata

B List:

C List:
Evans via Chicago Lakes trail

Another idea is to climb Pikes Peak from the east side via the Barr Trail and spend the night at the Barr Camp either going up or down.

Challenging Climbs

As for more difficult climbs, these are the best in my opinion:

  • Capital: remote backpack in for most people with severe exposure along a sharp edge ridge
  • Maroon Bells: Steep, rugged, difficult route finding and loose rock. Dangerous and rewarding
  • Pyramid: great approach then very steep gully climb to awesome rock ridge to the summit requiring scrambling and some exposure
  • LIttle Bear: remote with interesting multi-skill level approach before a steep loose rock-filled gulley to the summit

Q: What about altitude?
A: You cannot do much to acclimatize at low altitudes. This is why if you are coming from a low altitude (less than 1,000') you need to spend a few days as high as you can to get your body used to the altitude before starting your 14'er. The body needs to create more red blood cells that carry oxygen. By being higher your body creates these red blood cells. This process cannot be avoided otherwise you will suffer from cerebral edema (the brain swells) or pulmonary edema (fluid build-up in the lungs). The only cure is to get lower fast but if you are high up on the mountain this is often impossible and death is the result.