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Climbing 14ers in April

Climbing 14ers in April: What You Should Know

As April temperatures warm on the plains, many people head to the mountains expecting trails clear of snow. In reality, April is the second snowiest month of the year in Colorado, behind March. Further, the snow in this late season is often heavy and wet, making it harder to navigate and stay dry and warm. For these reasons, April is one of the most difficult months to climb 14ers in Colorado. If you are determined to make it up to a summit despite the challenges, there are things you can do to prepare. In this guide, I’ll share all the key things you should know for a safe and successful ascent in April.

Table of Contents

What to Expect From April 14ers:

Looking for a short explanation? Here in Colorado, April is the second snowiest month of the year, second only to March. The route will still be buried in snow with cold temperatures and bitter wind in April. You will need winter gear and clothing, snowshoes, and microspikes for a safe ascent – in addition to a good window for weather and avalanche danger. Here’s my complete guide to April 14ers if you decided to climb in this challenging time of year.

An ascent of Quandary Peak in early April.

Pick an Appropriate Peak for April Conditions

Most 14ers are not a good choice for April. Their routes cross through avalanche paths, require 15-25 miles of hiking, and they’re too technical to do without a lot of previous experience. To be successful, select one of these 14ers. I selected them because they have little to no avalanche risk, they are less than 15 miles, and they aren’t technical at all.

How long does it take to climb Quandary Peak?

Quandary Peak (east ridge)

This was my first 14er in winter-like conditions and is probably the most popular peak during this time of year. You won’t be alone. The east ridge route usually has a well-defined trench in the snow until you reach windswept terrain close to the summit. While the main trailhead closes in snow, the lower trailhead is only a few hundred feet away. Get there early to secure a place to park; spots fill quickly here, even in April.

Click here to see the winter route guide →

best winter 14ers for beginners

Mount Bierstadt (west slopes)

An option closer to Denver, Mount Bierstadt is a fine choice for an April 14er. Guanella Pass remains closed, adding 1.5 miles to the route, but it is still easy to do in a day. The only avalanche danger on the route, along the switchback road to the pass, is easily avoidable using a byway path through the woods (check out my route guide for more info). Start early to avoid getting caught in the willows as the snow becomes unsupportive in the afternoon sun.

Click here to see the winter route guide →

winter 14er safety

Mount Elbert (east ridge)

Colorado’s tallest peak is also one of the least prone to avalanches along its east ridge. It has more elevation gain than the other options on this list but is quieter and less crowded as a result. The winter trailhead closure adds a few miles to the route – plan accordingly. There are lots of camping opportunities in the area. If the snow is melted at that elevation, I would consider arriving the night before and camping nearby to acclimate and save time in the morning.

Click here to see the winter route guide →

Gear for Autumn Adventures

Carry the Ten Essentials With You

Once you know where you are going, you need to decide what you will bring with you. A good place to start is the ten essentials. This is a list of the most important types of gear and supplies to bring with you on mountain hikes and climbs in case of an emergency. They allow you to respond on your own instead of waiting passively for search and rescue. Use the list as a general guide and customize what you bring for each specific trip you go on.

1. Navigation Gear

Always start with a waterproof topographic map of your route and a compass. Bring a GPS unit but never rely on it as your primary way of navigating. Over time, this will dull your natural sense of direction.

2. Sun Protection

The sun is powerful in alpine environments. Bring a good pair of sunglasses or goggles and powerful sunscreen (SPF 50+).

3. First Aid Kit

Bring what you would need to treat injuries or illnesses that are common on a 14er. Be ready for cuts and scrapes, sprains and twists, bug bites, sunburn, and blisters. I also bring other-the-counter medication for nausea, pain, and motion sickness. A first aid guide is also a good idea.

4. Fire Starting Kit

A fire is critical to stay alive if you get caught outside in April. The average low temperature, 27 degrees, is more than cold enough for hypothermia to set in. Pack some firestarters, tinder and waterproof matches in a small bag and keep it in your backpack.

5. Extra Food

If you get caught out longer than you planned, you will be glad you have something to eat. It also keeps your strength up with makes rescue easier. I suggest bringing an extra 1,000-2,000 calories as an emergency supply, depending on how isolated you will be.

6. Extra Water

Bring 2-3 liters for April 14ers and the means to get more water. During this time of year, that usually means a small backpacking stove so you can melt snow. There may be some creeks to filter, but you should not count on it until May.

7. Extra Layers

Bring one layer beyond what you expect to need. An extra fleece is easy to pack but handy to have if the weather gets colder than expected without warning.

8. Multi-tool

A leatherman makes all the difference when you are trying to start a fire, build a shelter, or repair gear in a survival situation. It is so much better than just a knife alone.

9. Headlamp & Batteries

Being able to see at night might mean you do not have to stay out because you can continue to hike out along the trail. Keep your headlamp with you even if you do not expect to need it, along with a fresh pair of backup batteries.

10. Emergency Shelter

Shelters range from tents and weather-proof bivy to emergency tarps or blankets. The key is getting out of the wind and getting some degree of insulation from the air warming around you. Backpackers are in good shape – they care their bed with them already.

Bring Traction Gear for Snow & Ice

With snow and ice on the trail, you will need traction devices on your boots to avoid slipping and falling repeatedly. Depending on the conditions you come across, you will likely need either snowshoes or microspikes. For beginner peaks, crampons and an ice axe are not usually necessary.

Snowshoes

Snowshoes are also called ‘flotation’ because they spread out your surface area and prevent you from punching deeply into the snow. You should bring them when heading out soon after snowfall, or if the snow is melting and softening in the afternoon sun. Most often you will need them below the tree line where the shade slows snowmelt and preserve larger drifts than above where the wind sweeps it away.

Click here for snowshoe recommendations →

Microspikes

When snow gives easily but isn’t deep, it is actually very easy to walk through without slipping. When it becomes snow packed, it’s a different story. It can get icy and very easy to fall. Microspikes use small chains and spikes to dig into packed snow and provide better traction and balance. When you come across packed snow or ice on trails, take a moment to put on your microspikes before you slip and hurt yourself.

Click here for microspikes recommendations →

Consider a SPOT or InReach Device

April is a higher risk time of year to climb – and accidents happen even to the most experience and prepared climbers. A SPOT or InReach device uses satellite communication to alert first responders if you are injured or lost. Many include GPS navigation features and texting as well.

My Recommendation: Garmin InReach Mini

While the InReach Mini is an investment, it is worth its weight in gold in terms of the security it provides. With service in areas where normal cell phones fail and a battery that can last 3-4 days of backcountry use, they are a good way to ensure you can get help if the need arises. Remember that Satellite devices require a clear view of the sky to work well and can fail below the tree line or when near rocky terrain around you. Continue to practice good risk management skills – do not assume your SPOT device will always work.

Click here for more info →

Rocky Talkie Review

Runner Up: Rocky Talkies

It is common for partners or groups to become separated while hiking due to different hiking paces or preferences. Rocky Talkies let your group remain in close contact, even in rugged terrain like the 14ers. They are much more durable than what you’d find at Walmart, but far more affordable than a professional set of radios. Get 10% off your first order (of any amount) using the promo code in my review of them.

Click here for more info →

Wear Layers for Warmth in Winter Conditions

The conditions in April are still very winter-like, with an average daily low that is well-below freezing. When you add winds to the equation, things can get very good very quickly. Wear layers so you can adjust to changing conditions throughout the climb.

Base Layer: Warmth and Wicking

Synthetic materials like spandex and natural alternatives like merino wool help absorb sweat as you hike or climb and evaporate it away so you do not become waterlogged and cold in wet or damp clothing. This important layer also provide warmth and insulation – and in the case of merino wool, they are odor-resistant too.

Don’t forget a pair of merino wool leggings to keep your lower half warm and toasty as well.

Mid Layer: Warmth and Breathability

Mid layers like fleece provide bulky insulation and lock in warmth. Avoid older materials like wool that are not as breathable and can prevent your wicking layer from doing its job successfully, resulting in a damp feeling that will make you colder.

Another popular mid-layer is the nano and micro puff jackets made popular by Patagonia. They compress easily to save space if you are packing it away for long periods of time.

Outer Layer: Warmth and Wind/Rainproofing

Your outer-most layer is also called your hard shell. It should be a rain and wind-proof jacket that seals out the elements and locks in warmth. The best options have a permeable waterproofing membrane that allows moisture like sweat to evaporate while keeping water out – GORE-TEX is one example.

Arcteryx is the leading producer of hard shell jackets and pants – but also the most expensive. REI and The North Face have some great alternatives that are more affordable for beginners.

Accessories: Hat, Gloves, Face Mask, Goggles & Gaiters

Remember your extremities! Bring a warm payer of gloves or mittens, a hat and face mask that work together, a pair of ski goggles, and a pair of gaiters to keep snow out of your boots. Missing any one of these could prevent you from reaching the summit.

Avalanche Risk: Know Before You Go

Avalanches continue to be a risk in April, some years more so than others. In the long term, if you plan to head out to climb 14ers with snow on the ground, you should make the investment in an avalanche training program and buy a beacon, probe, and shovel. Until then, you can check the avalanche forecast and do your best to avoid avalanche terrain when necessary. Here are a few tips to start your research with.

Check the Avalanche Forecast

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issues daily forecasts during the snowy months of the year. The state is broken into zones based on current conditions, and each zone is ranked from 1-5 according to the current level of danger. If you do not have training or gear, I don’t recommend going out unless it is Level 1: Low Danger. Remember, low doesn’t mean no danger – so check the forecast and avoid any problem spots it identifies.

Avoid Avalanche Terrain if You Aren’t Prepared

Most avalanches occur on slopes with an angle between 30 and 45 degrees; the sweet spot is 39 degrees. They can also runout onto lower angle slopes beneath them – so you need to beware avalanche chute ahead of and above you. Here are some tips for identifying and avoiding avalanche terrain.

  1. Use a slope map to research routes and identify avalanche paths. These maps shade terrain that falls in the 30-45 zone so you can identify it on your planned route and map out an alternative track to take. Click here for an example.
  2. Get an Avalanche Inclinometer to estimate the angles of problematic slopes that appear avalanche-prone. While they take practice to use properly, they can be a big asset in the field when you are uncertain.
  3. Look for clues of avalanche paths in the field. Missing and broken trees or those with branches gone from only one side are a sign you might be in an avalanche area.
  4. Stick to dense forests, broad ridge-lines, and and lower angle slopes. These are the areas where an avalanche is least likely to occur unless there are extreme conditions.

My Advice: Get Gear, Training, and a Partner

To re-iterate: If you plan to climb 14ers in winter and spring in the future, take the time to get the training and gear needed for safe ascents. Avalanches can kill you and others in the backcountry; it is important to take the risk seriously and be prepared.

A view of the Sangre Rage from the east in April, 2020.

Check the Weather to Plan Ahead

Mountain weather conditions change rapidly, which means forecasts are always changing too. Check the forecast multiple times in the days leading up to your 14er trip so you are aware of any last minute changes and can plan accordingly.

Sources for Mountain Weather Forecasts

The best source for 14er weather forecasts is the National Weather Service. They provide the most detailed information of any available model or website. The mountain-forecast site is another good option, although it is slightly less accurate and much less detailed than the NWS tool. I like to check them both to see when there are major differences between them, suggesting a lot of variability in the forecast predictions.

How to Read a Mountain Weather Forecast

Here are the key things to consider when you review the weather forecast for the day of your climb.

  • What is the expected high & low temperature for that day and the next? Dress accordingly.
  • What is the average wind speed & highest gust? What is the wind chill? Dress accordingly.
  • Is any precipitation expected, and if so, how much? Depending on that, postpone your hike.
  • Are any storm systems expected in the next 72 hours? If so, give yourself extra time.
Mountain Accidents

Acclimation and Acute Mountain Sickness

Altitude sickness remains a risk in April – if not more so due to the increased exertion to travel through snow and longer hiking distances. It is more important than ever to take time and acclimate to limit your odds of developing AMS. Without acclimation, you are more likely than not to experience mild-to-moderate symptoms.

Symptoms and Treatment of AMS

The symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness increase with severity. A mild presentation includes headache, fatigue, and nausea that can be controlled with over-the-counter medication. Moderate symptoms include severe headache, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, confusion and lethargy. The symptoms cannot be managed on your own. Severe AMS includes breathlessness and extreme fatigue, hallucinations or psychotic behavior, coma, and death.

There is only one way to treat altitude sickness: descending immediately to a lower altitude. If you continue to ascend, your symptoms will get progressively worse until eventually, you are no longer able to move under your own power – which constitutes a medical emergency. That is why it is important to turn around when your condition goes from mild to moderate level.

Acclimate to Reduce Your Risk of AMS

The best way to reduce your risk of developing acute mountain sickness is to gradually increase your altitude over time as your body adjusts. Above 6-7,000 feet, the rule of thumb is to only increase your sleeping elevation by 1-2,000 feet per night. During the day, you can hike higher to promote acclimate before returning to sleep low – hence the phrase, go high, sleep low. Even one night spent camping by the trailhead significantly reduces your odds of getting AMS.

Skip fads and products like Boost Oxygen that promise to help you acclimate and even treat altitude sickness. These claims haven’t been evaluated by medical professionals and are much more sensational than they are accurate.

Pick Someone for “In-Town” Duties

Everyone needs a dependable friend or family member to be their ‘in-town’ contact. They have the important job of keeping track of where you are when you should be back. In a worst case situation, they are the key to ensuring someone comes looking for you if you are injured or lost. Thus, picking the right person matters a great deal.

Here are some specific details to share with your In-Town contact:

  • What route or trail are you hiking/climbing and what is your destination or goal?
  • What routes or trails are alternatives if Plan A does not work out.
  • What are you wearing and what gear do you have?
  • What car did you drive and what is the license pate?
  • Who else is with you and what is their level of experience?
  • When should you be back by and who should they call if you do not show up?
  • Do you have any medical conditions or needs that rescuers might need to know about?

Getting to the Trailhead

Most upper trailheads remain buried in snowdrifts in April. Getting to the trailhead can be just as big a challenge as some hikes in their entirety. Here are some tips to ensure you can make it to the beginning of the actual route.

Check Trailhead Condition Reports

The road to South Colony Lakes Trailhead in April – Not Yet Open

Visit 14ers.com to look up trailhead condition reports. These are shared by other hikers who visit that peak and report on the status of the trailhead and road leading to it. They are often the first to report that a winter closure has opened – or how far you can get before running into snow. If you are lucky, you might be able to drive part of the way to the upper trailhead before parking when the snow gets deep. Take care to ensure you do not get stuck.

Heading out to Climb a 14er in April

Once you park and get your gear ready, you can set out on to climb an April 14er. Snowshoes may be necessary during the below tree-line portion of the climb. The upper reaches of the trail are often windswept clean of snow. However, be ready for anything at this variable time of year. Here are some more tips for April 14ers.

Dealing with April Snow Patterns

Snow in April is usually hard and frozen in the morning following a cold night freeze. You may need to put on microspikes or even crampons in steep terrain. However, as the sun begins to warm the snow, it will soften and traction becomes unnecessary. In the early-to-mid afternoon, depending on the day, the snow will become unsupportive and snowshoes become required to avoid postholing. When conditions are at their worst, not even snowshoes can prevent plunging waste deep in rapidly melting snow drifts. On days like these it is just better to stay home.

Navigation and Route-finding

When snow is covering the landscape, it is more difficult to stay on route and navigate along the trail. I recommend looking at the major features on your map, like ridgelines, peaks, rivers and creeks, and the treeline. These remain visible even in snow, so they remain helpful landmarks for navigational purposes. A GPS unit is also extra helpful to double check your position and verify your assumptions.

When in Doubt, Descend and Try Again

When you get the sense that something is not right or you are in unnecessary danger, you should always turn around and descend. The mountain will still be there later for you to climb again. Summit fever is a serious danger in the mountains; many have died because they were unwilling to turn back when facing serious risks near their destination. Be wary of your own bias and try to check yourself during your decision-making.

Emergency Preparedness for the Worst

Even with all the right planning, research, gear, and preparation, you could still end up getting lost or tripping and breaking your ankle. That is why you should also know how to handle common emergencies that arise on 14ers in April and what to do in each situation. These are not intended to be complete guides on these very broad topics, but a general introduction with some quick essential tips and lessons.

Wilderness First Aid

When rescue is several hours to days away, you have to provide more sustained first aid than is normally expected from hikers. For this reason, assessment is more extensive so you can identify serious issues like internal bleeding early and make rescuers aware of it before it is too late. Seriously consider investing in a wilderness first aid course or read a book or guide on the subject to learn some key skills.

If You Get Lost

If you end up off-route and spend some time trying to get back without success, you are officially lost. Remember to STOP: Sit and calm down; Think about your situation and priorities; Observe the status of your group and your needs and capabilities; Plan what you will do next.

If you have a SPOT or InReach device, use it to call for assistance and follow their instructions. Do not continue to wander and try to find your own way back. You will most likely get even more lost and end up deeper in the wilderness. Stay put once you realize you are lost.

Wilderness Survival

Your priorities in the short-term are warmth, shelter, and water. Getting out of the wind and starting a fire if possible is the best way to warm up and avoid hypothermia. You can create a shelter using brush and branches or dig a snow cave if conditions allow (make sure you make it sturdy enough to avoid a collapse). Melt water over your fire or use a stove if you have one. If not, find a creek with flowing water, or try collecting meltwater during the warmest part of the afternoon.

Make yourself easy for search and rescue crews to find. Wear and set out brightly colored clothing and gear. Blow a whistle or yell from time to time. Keep your fire going and add leaves to produce lots of smoke. Do not try to hide your presence.

Avalanche Rescue

If you or someone in your party is caught in an avalanche, you have only minutes before they suffocate. That’s why it is so important to get avalanche rescue gear and training. It is not enough to read how to do this – you must practice it yourself, with your own gear, repeatedly, for it to be of use in a real emergency.

April 14ers: Not the Easiest Time to Climb

14ers are not easy to climb in April, for the reasons we shared above. From avalanches and icy trails to altitude sickness and navigation challenges, there are a lot of things to overcome while climbing to the summit. Following this guide and its recommendations will make it much more likely you have a safe and successful summit in April. Read below for our FAQ section and additional resources on this subject for further reading. Thanks for reading, and safe travels on the trails!

Frequently Asked Questions: April 14ers

A: It is not as safe as summer, but with the right gear and preparation, it is relatively safe to climb 14ers in April, so long as you climb an easy peak with low avalanche risk.

A: The average high temperature on Mount Evans in April is 26, with a low of 4 degrees. It is windier on average than it is in summer, which can make it feel even colder, especially on exposed peaks and ridges. The weather is highly variable, so it can also be unexpectedly pleasant if you get luck and watch the forecast updates closely.

A: You will need the ten essentials, traction gear for snow and ice, avalanche gear if heading into technical terrain, and layered clothing to stay warm. I highly recommend bringing a SPOT or InReach Device to call for help if needed, in addition to the necessities.

A: You will need the ten essentials, traction gear for snow and ice, avalanche gear if heading into technical terrain, and layered clothing to stay warm. I highly recommend bringing a SPOT or InReach Device to call for help if needed, in addition to the necessities.

A: Visit 14ers.com for information on routes, trailheads, trails, and summit conditions, shared by its members after their hikes and climbs in the field. You can also search for each trailhead’s information page on the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management website that manages it. Help pay it forward by posting updates when you go out and see things for yourself.

Additional Resources and Links

Looking for more information about climbing 14ers in April? Here are a few additional websites and links to get more details. Share a comment below if you have any links we should add to the list in our next article update.





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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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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