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7 Best Nonstandard 14er Routes: Taking the Path Less Traveled

Nonstandard routes have a lot going for them. They’re far less popular than main standard routes. They’re usually more off-trail with an accompanying feeling of adventure. However, that also requires a greater sense of navigation skill and experience in the mountains. I recommend spending time on the standard routes to learn and practice route-finding and navigation skills before you head to a nonstandard route. However, once ready, you may have some of your best 14er trips on nonstandard routes. Here are the 7 best nonstandard 14er routes, in my opinion.

1) Grays & Torreys Peak via the Continental Divide

Fast Facts:

  • Round-trip Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,500 feet
  • Trailhead: Loveland Pass
  • Difficulty: Class 2 Scramble

Grays and Torreys Peak are some of the busiest peaks in the state, according to the Colorado Fourteener Initiative. However, nearly all of the ascents take place from the main approach up past Kelso Mountain. The nonstandard route that leaves from Loveland Pass is a great option to reach Grays & Torreys while skipping the main crowd in the Gulch below. After leaving the parking lot at Loveland Pass, you head along ridges up and over Grizzly Peak, before taking Torrey’s west ridge to the summit. Click here for more info.

A runner-up route for these peaks is the Kelso Ridge route. While it shares much of the standard route, it diverts to a far more interesting Class 3 ridge route up Torreys Peak. It’s definitely still one of the best nonstandard 14er routes. Click here for more info.

2) Mt Antero via Little Browns Creek

Fast Facts:

  • Round-trip Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,350 feet
  • Trailhead: Browns Creek Trailhead
  • Difficulty: Class 2 Scramble

Many believe this nonstandard route up Mt Antero deserves to be the standard route. It avoids the unpopular jeep vehicle that uses much of the main route, and avoids many of the hikers as well. The trail follows an unspoiled forest creek up to treeline, at which point you connect with the final portion of the standard route to the summit. It’s simply the best way to hike Mt. Antero, either as a single day trip or an overnight venture. Click here for more info.

3) Mt Bierstadt & Mt Evans via the Tour de Abyss

Fast Facts:

  • Round-trip Distance: 6.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,030 feet
  • Trailhead: Mt. Evans Summit
  • Difficulty: Class 3 Scramble

The Tour de Abyss strings together three different routes (Bierstadt’s east ridge, the Sawtooth, and Evans’ west ridge) to create a circular loop that hits two peaks and several fun Class 3 sections. Starting high, you park just below the Mt Evans summit before dropping down a chute into the basin below. You then climb up Bierstadt’s east ridge up the summit, across the sawtooth arete, and along Evans’ west ridge to the summit. From there it’s a short walk to your car. Click here for more info.

4) Challenger Peak via Willow Creek

Fast Facts:

  • Round-trip Distance: 12.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,400 feet
  • Trailhead: Willow Creek
  • Difficulty: Difficult Class 2 Scramble

The Willow Creek route approaches Challenger Peak from the West near the town of Crestone. This avoids the longer, standard approach to South Colony Lakes from the East. There’s a lot less traffic on this route, and a lot of social trails around and past the lake make things difficult to navigate at times. Make sure you study the route well and bring a map and compass on your climb. Taking the wrong turn here on your descent can be deadly . Click here for more info.

5) Quandary Peak via the West Ridge

Fast Facts

  • Round-trip Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,650 feet
  • Trailhead: Blue Lakes
  • Difficulty: Class 3 Scramble

Quandary’s East Ridge is one of the easiest 14er routes in the state. However, approaching from the West instead involves an exciting but quick Class 3 climb. One of my favorite ways to do this climb is to pair up with friends who are a beginners. They head up the normal East Ridge, while you take the more complex West Ridge to meet them at the summit. Then you can both descend the standard route back to your car. It’s the shortest of the best nonstandard 14er routes. Click here for more info.

6) Ellingwood Point via south Zapata Creek

Fast Facts

  • Round-trip Distance: 12.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,900 feet
  • Trailhead: Zapata Falls
  • Difficulty: Easy Class 3 Scramble

The main route up Ellingwood involves a long, arduous approach up Lake Como Road. Besides nearly 7,000 feet of elevation, it’s heavily trafficked during summer months by jeeps and ATV’s. The Zapata Creek approach is shorter, has far less gain, skips the vehicle traffic, and involves some fun Class 3 options! You’ll need to decide whether to ascend the C2 couloir, which is filled with snow late into the year, or the C3 couloir, which melts faster but is a longer trip. As an extra benefit, if the weather’s right for it, you can add an optional traverse to bag Blanca Peak as well! Click here for more info.

7) Mt of the Holy Cross via Halo Ridge

Fast Facts

  • Round-trip Distance: 15 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,200 feet
  • Trailhead: Half Moon
  • Difficulty: Difficult Class 2 Scramble

Mt of the Holy Cross got its name from a large couloir that runs up its eastern face, intersected by a ledge that collects snow – creating a brilliant, white cross. The Halo Ridge route allows you to climb the peak from the East to see the famous view from Notch Mountain – the cross isn’t normally visible from the standard route. If you take the Halo Ridge route up Mt of the Holy Cross first, followed by Notch, you’ll be able to avoid re-gaining elevation going over Half Moon pass, as is required on the standard route. You can also camp at Cross Creek to turn this into an overnight adventure. Click here for more info.

Best Nonstandard 14er Routes

There are more than 130 nonstandard routes, but these 7 are great examples of the many benefits of these less-trafficked trails. Remember, it’s a good idea to get some experience on standard 14er routes, before you turn to these more advanced adventures. Get started with my beginner’s guide to 14ers here. Think I forgot to include one of the best nonstandard 14er routes? Leave your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below!

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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Hi, I'm Alex!

In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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