During the summer, tens of thousands of hikers and climbers head to the Colorado 14ers to test their grit. Hiking 14ers in July is a great time of year, but for that reason expect large crowds on many peaks near the Front Range cities. Here’s a few things you should know before you head out to the hills to make sure your experience is a good one!
Hike in the San Juans, Sangres or Sawatch for Smaller Crowds.
Unfortunately, because July fits so many people’s schedule for climbing, you should expect to see others on 14ers in July. In particular, these peaks tend to be the most crowded and should be avoided if you prefer solitude (or something close to it):
Grays Peak & Torreys Peak
Alternatively, hitting the trail early (pre-dawn) will limit your competition on the trail, as will sticking to weekdays to hike. If you don’t care about solitude, the sky is your limit!
Start Early to be Off Summit by Noon to Avoid Lightning.
Whatever peak you choose to climb, you should start early enough to be off by noon. July, in the middle of Colorado’s monsoon season, features strong thunderstorms nearly ever afternoon. As the large peaks warm, they heat up the air above them and create powerful thermal columns of rising hot air. These power the creation of strong storms which can appear without notice and without storms in the forecast. Humans are 60% water – you’re essentially a big sack of water, which is a great magnet for lightning when the only thing around you are rocks. Start early and turn back if it becomes clear you won’t make it in time.
Remember the Mountains are Colder Than the Plains.
A lot of people look around on the plains at the 95 degree weather and get a shock when it’s 35 degrees on the summit. The temperature drops 3 or more degrees per 1,000 feet of elevation gain, meaning the mountains are anywhere from 30-45 degrees colder than the plains on average. Depending on weather conditions, they can be far colder. Make sure you take time to check the weather on the peak you plan to climb, so you can bring more layers if needed. Always bring one layer beyond what you expect to use, just in case the forecast turns out to be wrong. The weather can be wild while hiking 14ers in July!
Don’t Forget the Ten Essentials & Proper Planning
The Ten Essentials are the key to avoiding tragedies on the mountain if something were to go wrong. They allow you to respond positively to an emergency instead of having to wait for a response from Search and Rescue. Never treat SAR crews like your backup plan. Bring the gear you need to be self-sufficient, even in the summer. This includes…
Navigation: Map, compass, [GPS device], [PLB or satellite communicators], [extra batteries or battery pack]. I recommend this map series from National Geographic.
There you have it! Hiking 14ers in July is a great experience. It’s a perfect time of year to get out there and bag a good number of peaks before the snow and cold returns. Looking for more information? Visit our Beginner’s Guide to 14ers for more information on having a safe and successful 14er summit!
Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living 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. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.
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