14ers FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Colorado Fourteeners
Get all your 14er-related answers with our Colorado 14ers Frequently Asked Question Guide. Check back often – we are always adding new questions with updated answers written by experts. You can also search for a specific question or topic below to find additional resources and information.
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Colorado 14ers FAQs: Table of Contents
A: A “14er” is a mountain peak with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. These are particularly challenging and rewarding climbs, with Colorado having the majority of these peaks in the United States. Read more.
A: A mountain is classified as a 14er if its peak is at least 14,000 feet above sea level. It’s not just about the height, though – the mountain must also rise at least 300 feet above the saddle that connects it to the nearest 14er peak, this is often referred to as topographic prominence.
A: 14ers are special due to their impressive altitude, which provides stunning views and unique ecosystems. Hiking one is also a significant physical challenge, making it an achievement many outdoor enthusiasts aspire to.
A: The 3000-foot rule is a standard used by some peak-baggers, stating that they must ascend at least 3,000 feet to reach a peak to count it as an official ascent. This rule, however, isn’t universally accepted and isn’t part of the standard for designating 14ers. It is often confused with the 300-foot rule regarding prominence.
14ers by the Numbers
A: Colorado is home to 58 peaks that rise at least 14,000 feet above sea level – the most of any state in the U.S. These include all the peaks that are officially named or ranked by the USGS. However, this number is debated by some. Read more.
A: All of Colorado’s 58 14ers have routes to the top that can be hiked or climbed, though the difficulty and technical requirements vary widely. According to the five-class rating system, a class one route is a hike in the truest sense of the word, with a trail to the summit and no scrambling at all. There are six class one 14ers that can be hiked. Read more.
A: There are two 14ers in Colorado you can summit by car: Pikes Peak and Mount Evans. Both offer unique and accessible ways to experience these majestic mountains. Read more.
A: The U.S. has 96 14ers in total, with the majority located in Colorado (58), and the others spread across California, Washington, and Alaska. This number is also contested based on differences in definitions and measurements of remote peaks.
A: Besides Colorado, you’ll find 14ers in California, Washington, and Alaska. There are no 14ers in Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, or Montana.
A: Colorado holds the record with a total of 58 peaks over 14,000 feet.
A: Rocky Mountain National Park has one 14er: Longs Peak, which stands at 14,259 feet. It is a difficult and dangerous class three climb along the historic Keyhole route.
First-Time 14er Hiking
A: Climbing a 14er requires proper preparation, including physical fitness, acclimatization to high altitude, adequate gear, and awareness of the weather. It’s also important to start early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
A: While 14ers are a physical challenge that should not be taken lightly, anyone in good health, with adequate preparation and respect for the mountain, can attempt to climb one. However, remember that it’s always okay to turn back if conditions don’t feel safe.
A: Yes, a beginner hiker can do a 14er, but it’s important to start with the less technical mountains and work up to more challenging climbs. Always make sure to prepare adequately and understand the unique challenges of high-altitude hiking.
A: Preparing for your first 14er involves several steps:
- Increase your physical fitness: Hiking a 14er requires good cardiovascular endurance and leg strength.
- Understand altitude sickness: Learn the symptoms and treatment for altitude sickness.
- Check the weather: Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the mountains, so start early to be off the peak by noon.
- Pack essential gear: This includes food, water, clothing layers, rain gear, sun protection, map, compass, headlamp, and a basic first aid kit.
A: Mount Bierstadt is often recommended as the “easiest” 14er. It’s relatively close to Denver and the trail is well-marked. However, remember that “easy” is relative, and any 14er can be challenging, especially for those new to high-altitude hiking.
The easiest 14er in Colorado, in terms of climbing class rating, distance, and elevation gain, is Handies Peak, if you have a 4WD vehicle that can reach the upper trailhead. If not, Mount Sherman and Quandary Peak are similar short-length 14ers ideal for beginners.
A: This depends on your previous mountain experience, your vehicle and willingness to drive long distances, your feelings about sharing the trail with others, and your goals and aspirations. Class one and two peaks under ten miles and 4,000 feet of gain are best for beginners. If you want to avoid crowds, pick a peak in the Sangre de Cristo range or San Juan mountains further from Denver. Avoid the Elk Mountain and class three and four 14ers unless you have significant previous scrambling experience.
Hiking Preparation and Gear
A: Here’s a basic list of what to pack for a 14er hike in summer conditions:
- Plenty of water
- High-energy snacks
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat for sun protection
- Map and compass/GPS
- Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Multi-tool or knife
- Rain jacket and pants
- Warm clothing layers
- Gloves and beanie
- Fire starter and matches
- Emergency blanket
Note that winter 14ers require far more gear and equipment and the skill to use them.
A: In addition to the items listed above, a good pair of hiking boots is critical. Depending on the time of year and the specific mountain, you may also need additional gear like microspikes for icy conditions, or a helmet for areas with potential rockfall.
A: Bring the essential gear listed above, along with any personal items like medications or extra glasses/contacts. Remember, it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
A: Dressing in layers is key when climbing a 14er. You’ll want a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating middle layer, and a waterproof outer layer. Don’t forget a hat, gloves, and sturdy hiking boots.
A: Eat a high-carb, moderate-protein, low-fat meal the night before. In the morning, opt for an easy-to-digest breakfast like oatmeal with fruit. Bring high-energy, easily digestible snacks for the hike.
A: Most 14ers in Colorado do not require a permit. However, some specific areas do require some kind of permit:
- You need a camping permit for Conundrum Hot Springs near Conundrum Peak, Snowmass Lake near Snowmass Mountain, and Capitol Lake near Capitol Peak.
- You need parking reservations or must take a shuttle for Quandary Peak, the Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, and Mount Evans.
- Culebra Peak, which is on private land, requires advance permission and a reservation to climb.
- Note that Mount Lindsey and the four Decalibron peaks (Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross) are closed to the public. Please respect the closure and visit www.fixCRUS.org to learn more about efforts to reopen them to the public.
Always check the local regulations beforehand and follow local land guidelines, including forest service rules and wilderness area regulations.
14er Altitude Acclimatization
A: Yes, acclimating to higher altitudes before attempting a 14er can reduce the risk of altitude sickness. The body needs time to adapt to the decreased oxygen levels. If possible, spend a day or two at an intermediate altitude before your hike.
A: At 14,000 feet, the air pressure is roughly 60% of what it is at sea level, meaning there’s less oxygen available. This can make breathing feel more difficult, especially during physical exertion. Acclimating beforehand can help your body adjust.
A: The process of acclimating varies for each individual and can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. If possible, spend time at higher altitudes in the days leading up to your hike to help your body adjust.
A: Absolutely. Altitude sickness can occur at elevations as low as 8,000 feet, but the risk increases the higher you go. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. If these occur, it’s best to descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible.
A: Spend time at progressively higher altitudes leading up to your hike. Stay well-hydrated and avoid alcohol, as it can interfere with the acclimatization process. Also, get plenty of sleep and eat a high-carbohydrate diet.
A: Altitude sickness prevention involves a few key steps:
- Acclimate: Spend time at progressively higher altitudes.
- Hydrate: Drink plenty of fluids.
- Pace Yourself: Don’t ascend too quickly. If you start feeling symptoms, descend to a lower altitude.
- Medication: In some cases, medications like Acetazolamide may be recommended by a healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
A: Symptoms can include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty sleeping. If these occur, descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible.
A: The primary treatment for altitude sickness is to descend to a lower altitude as quickly and safely as possible. Over-the-counter medications may alleviate symptoms like headaches, but they do not treat the condition. Severe cases may require medical attention.
A: Supplemental oxygen can help with the symptoms of altitude sickness for a very short period of time, but it’s not a substitute for proper acclimation. It’s also important to note that carrying oxygen can add weight to your pack and may not be practical for all hikes.
Training for a 14er Hike
A: Training for a 14er involves both cardiovascular and strength training:
- Cardio: Gradually increase the length and intensity of your cardio workouts. Aim for exercises that work your whole body and mimic the movements of hiking, such as stair climbing or hill running.
- Strength: Strengthen your core and leg muscles with exercises such as lunges, squats, and planks.
- Altitude: Try to spend time at high altitudes before your climb to help acclimate your body.
A: In addition to the training tips mentioned above, practicing with smaller hikes that involve some elevation gain can be beneficial. Hydrate well, eat a balanced diet, and ensure you get plenty of rest as part of your overall physical preparation.
A: Yes, training is crucial for a successful and enjoyable 14er climb. Even if you’re already physically fit, the high altitudes can be challenging if you’re not accustomed to them, and the length and steepness of the hike require endurance and strength.
Hiking 14ers with Dogs
A: Dogs are allowed on many, but not all, 14ers. Always check the specific regulations for the trail beforehand. Keep in mind your dog’s physical abilities, and remember to bring enough food and water for them.
A: Your dog’s readiness for a 14er depends on their overall health, fitness level, and experience with hiking. They should be able to handle long distances, rough terrain, and high altitudes. Always check regulations as some trails do not allow dogs.
A: Yes, a number of ambitious and athletic dogs have completed all the Colorado 14ers alongside their human hiking partners. The most famous of these may be a Golden Retriever named Sawyer, who in 2011 became known as the second dog to hike all of Colorado’s recognized and unofficial 14ers. It’s an impressive feat, but remember, not all dogs will be suited for such extreme hikes. Always prioritize your pet’s safety and enjoyment when hitting the trail.
A: Some of the more dog-friendly 14ers include Mount Bierstadt and Quandary Peak, due to their relatively gentle terrain. However, keep in mind that ‘dog-friendly’ does not mean ‘easy’, and all 14ers require careful preparation for both humans and their pets.
Q: What are best practices for hiking with dogs? A: When hiking with dogs, consider the following best practices:
- Check regulations: Ensure dogs are allowed on the trail you plan to hike.
- Prepare your dog: Make sure your dog is physically ready for the hike.
- Pack essentials: Bring plenty of water, food, and waste bags for your dog.
- Respect wildlife: Keep your dog on a leash and under control at all times.
- Be mindful of other hikers: Not everyone is comfortable around dogs, so keep your dog close to you and let others pass as needed.
A: The difficulty of climbing a 14er can vary greatly based on the specific mountain, its trail conditions, your physical fitness, and weather. Some are less technical hikes, while others require significant mountaineering skills. All 14ers demand respect, proper planning, and physical fitness. Read more.
A: On average, a 14er might take anywhere from 4 to 10 hours to complete, depending on the specific mountain, its distance, and elevation gain. For instance, a hike like Bierstadt might take 4-6 hours, while Longs Peak can often take over 10-12 hours.
A: Routes can vary from as little as 4 miles round trip to over 20 miles, depending on the mountain and the chosen route. It’s crucial to research the specific trail distance for your chosen 14er.
A: Temperatures on a 14er can be significantly colder than at lower altitudes and can fluctuate rapidly. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to be below freezing at the summit, even in summer. A rule of thumb is that the temperature falls 4 degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Always check the weather forecast and come prepared for all conditions.
A: The difficulty of a hike isn’t solely determined by its altitude. However, the effects of altitude, such as thinner air and potential for altitude sickness, tend to become noticeably more challenging above 14,000 feet. Many 13ers are more technically difficult to climb due to route finding or more complex terrain.
A: While it’s possible to hike a 14er alone, it’s generally recommended to hike with a partner for safety reasons. If you choose to hike alone, ensure that you inform someone of your plans, take a fully charged phone, and bring all necessary gear. Read more.
A: Similar to the above, climbing a 14er alone can be done but isn’t generally recommended due to the potential risks involved. These include sudden weather changes, the possibility of injury, and the effects of altitude. Read more.
A: Exact numbers can be difficult to determine, as the circumstances and causes can vary widely. However, according to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, there have been over 290 deaths recorded on Colorado’s 14ers since records began in the 1950s.
A: As of the last report from the National Park Service, more than 71 people have died on Longs Peak over the past 150 years. The most common cause of death is falls – a testament to the cliffs and exposure common on Longs Peak and the keyhole route.
A: Capitol Peak is one of Colorado’s most challenging 14ers and has unfortunately seen numerous fatalities. The exact number can vary year to year, but as of 2021, there have been at least 9 recorded fatalities.
A: While bears inhabit Colorado, it’s relatively rare to encounter them at the high elevations of 14ers. However, you might encounter them on the approach to the mountain or near camping areas. Always practice bear-safe principles in bear country. Read more.
A: The “deadliest” designation can change over time, but historically, the Maroon Bells and Longs Peak have been considered some of the deadliest due to their challenging routes and exposure to high-altitude conditions. Please remember, any 14er can be deadly without proper preparation and respect for the mountain. While more people have died overall on Longs Peak, the rate of death is much higher on the Maroon Bells due to their loose and rotten rock.
A: Hiking a 14er can be a thrilling experience, but it’s also a serious undertaking that requires adequate preparation to ensure safety. Here are some important tips:
- Research your route thoroughly and check the weather forecast.
- Start your hike early in the morning to avoid afternoon storms.
- Pack essential gear: water, food, layers of clothing, map and compass or GPS, first-aid kit, headlamp, multipurpose tool, sunscreen, sunglasses, and hat.
- Listen to your body; know your limits and don’t push beyond them.
- Stay on the trail to protect the environment and prevent getting lost.
- Inform someone about your hiking plan and expected return time.
- Spend time at high elevation before your hike to acclimate, and understand the symptoms of altitude sickness.
When to Climb 14ers
A: An early start is essential when hiking a 14er. Most hikers aim to be on the trail by 5-6 AM. This allows sufficient time to reach the summit and start your descent well before afternoon, when thunderstorms are more likely to occur in the high country.
A: The best months to climb 14ers in Colorado are generally from late June to early September. This time frame offers the best chance for clear, dry conditions. However, mountain weather can be unpredictable, so always check the forecast before heading out.
A: It is possible, but climbing a 14er in April is more challenging due to the large amount of snow and ice on trails. Additionally, avalanche risk can be high in certain areas. Proper winter gear and skills, along with knowledge of current snow conditions, are essential.
A: May is a transitional month in Colorado’s high country, and conditions can vary widely. Some lower and south-facing routes may be clear of snow, while others are still in winter conditions. Whether you can hike clear trails in May depends a lot on the snow in your year. Always check the current conditions before you go.
A: Yes, September can be an excellent time to hike a 14er. The weather is often stable, and fall colors can be spectacular. However, early snowstorms are possible, and days are getting shorter, so plan accordingly.
A: Climbing 14ers in October can be more challenging. While the first part of the month can see continued good hiking conditions, the chance of encountering snow increases as the month progresses. Check the snow conditions in the area you want to hike in before you go and make sure you can reach the trailhead.
A: Climbing 14ers can be done year-round with proper gear and experience. However, late fall, winter, and early spring ascents should only be attempted by experienced mountaineers due to harsh weather conditions, shorter days, and avalanche risk.
A: Yes, you can, but climbing 14ers in winter is a serious endeavor that requires significant mountaineering skills and knowledge about avalanche safety. Not all 14ers are safe or feasible to attempt in winter conditions. I recommend taking classes on winter camping and survival, going with an experienced group, or working with a mentor before you attempt a winter 14er on your own. Read more.
Misc. 14er Questions
A: The highest 14er in the United States is Mount Elbert, located in Colorado. Its summit reaches an elevation of 14,440 feet. The route to the summit is a class one hike with a trail the entire way.
A: Although Mount Cameron’s elevation exceeds 14,000 feet, it isn’t officially recognized as a 14er because the saddle, or lowest point between it and the next highest peak (Mount Lincoln), does not drop the requisite 300 feet to be considered a separate peak.
A: Yes, there are a few 14ers in Colorado that you can drive to the top of. These include Mount Evans and Pikes Peak. Keep in mind, that Mount Evans Road is seasonal and usually only open from late spring to early fall. The road up Pikes Peak is open all year, but usually closes temporarily during storms and bad weather. Read more.
A: While it’s possible to reach the summits of all of the 14ers in Colorado, it requires a great deal of effort, time, and mountaineering skill and is not considered hiking. The difficulty and danger of these peaks vary greatly, so each should be approached with appropriate respect and preparation.
A: As of January, 2023, over 2,000 people have reported climbing all of Colorado’s 14ers to the Colorado Mountain Club. However, the actual number is likely higher as not all completers report their achievement.
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