Climbing 14ers in March: Exciting Summits in the Snow
As March finally comes along and the weather begins to warm in Denver, many people begin to think once more of the fourteeners. However despite the improving weather down on the plains, the mountains remain a snowy, cold place. Climbing 14ers in March is not an easy task, requiring the right gear and skills to stay safe and make it to the summit through snow drifts and icy wind. Here’s what you need to know about climbing 14ers in March.
March is the snowiest month of the year in the mountains.
Contrary to common belief, March usually gets more snow in the mountains than December, January, or February. On average, the state receives 11.3 inches of snow, with another 8.8 inches in May. All of this snow creates significant risks and can be major obstacle or hikers. Cornices along ridge-lines form from thick slabs of snow and break if you stand on them. Here’s what you need to consider to make it safely through the mountain snow while climbing 14ers in March.
Checking the Weather Forecast is Even More Important.
While you should check the weather in advance of all 14er trips, when climbing 14ers in March it’s even more important. Watch out for snow, which reduces visibility, in addition to cold temperatures, wind, and larger storm systems. However it’s also important to check the weather in the days leading up to your climb so you know what snow conditions to expect. Recent snowfall will usually require snowshoes to navigate, along with exhausting trail-breaking.
Traction and Trek Poles Are Usually a Must Have.
Your summer climbing gear won’t cut it in the snow of March. First, keep your feet warm, safe dry with a good pair of winter boots. Second, bring traction in the form of microspikes, along with trekking poles that provide extra balance and stability on snow and ice. If there has been recent snowfall, you should also pack a good pair of snowshoes. However, the biggest concern about climbing 14ers in March is the risk of deadly avalanches.
You need an avalanche education, gear and training.
Avalanches can strike on any snow-covered slope steeper than 30-35 degrees. They’re one of the biggest objective risks in the mountains, especially in a snowy month like March. If you do not feel prepared to risk being caught in an avalanche, I recommend waiting to climb a 14er until June. If you do decide to take the risk, be sure you sign up for an avalanche education program, pack the right gear (transceiver, shovel and probe), and practice so you’re ready if you ever need to use them.
My Peak Picks for Climbing 14ers in March.
There are 58 fourteeners, but most have significant avalanche risk or are hard to reach in these snowy months. With that in mind, my top recommendations are picked mostly on account of their accessibility. Quandary Peak is a great option that sees a lot of traffic, perfect if you are nervous and want others around. Mount Bierstadt is another good option, with a slightly longer approach hike due to the closure on Guanella Pass. Snowshoes are a good idea for either after major snowstorms.
With the right preparation & gear, March ascents can be spectacular!
All of this may sound a bit intimidating, and it can be on a snowy mountain this time of year. But climbing 14ers in March is one of the prettiest times of year, with snowcapped peaks as far as the eye can see, and very few people along the route. Getting the summit to yourself is possible even on busy summer peaks when climbing 14ers in March.
Climbing 14ers in March isn't Easy, But it's Possible.
March in the Colorado mountains is still a a very snowy, cold place. If you do want to try climbing 14ers in March, remember to check the weather forecast thoroughly. Pack the right gear, including traction, and get a proper avalanche education, gear and training. Quandary Peak and Mount Bierstadt are two good Colorado 14ers in March, as both are accessible but have very low avalanche risk or technical climbing. I hope you found this article informative. Safe travels on the trails!