Spring and fall in the Rocky Mountains are inherently unpredictable seasons. This can make hiking 14ers in November difficult and hard to plan for properly. Temperatures in November can range between 35 degrees and -10 degrees at the summit, not counting wind. You may find peaks loaded with several feet of snow, or dry as a bone with little snow or ice. With such variability, more research, skills and gear are required for a safe and successful summit. Here’s my advice for hiking 14ers in November.
Check the Weather Conditions Repeatedly
To start, you should have a good idea of what to expect on your hike when it comes to temperatures, wind, rain and snow. The forecast can change on a dime, and it’s not always accurate. I generally say the winter forecast is totally accurate ⅓ of the time, partially accurate ⅓ of the time, and totally wrong ⅓ of the time. Being prepared for anything is key. I recommend checking the forecast at least a week before your trip, and then every other day until you leave. Watch for the high and low temperatures along with wind speeds to plan for clothing. Forecasted snowfall, before or after your climb, should be cause for caution. You don’t want to get stuck in a snowstorm if something goes wrong.
Look Up Avalanche Forecasts Before You Go
November snow is extremely variable. You may find peaks loaded with snow and ice, or a generally clear trail, depending on recent storms. This is why you should take the time to check the Colorado Avalanche forecast, in addition to weather conditions. Check the forecast for your specific mountain zone. If you’re new, avoid hiking anytime the rating is more than 2 out of 5. I also recommend beginners stick to easier peaks with lower risk, like Mt. Bierstadt and Quandary Peak. If you intend to hike more challenging peaks, consider taking a AIARE avalanche course to identify and avoid avalanche terrain.
Bring the Right Gear for Winter Conditions
Colder temperatures, snow and ice require special gear. Take time to pack the right gear for winter conditions on a 14er. Insulated water bottles will keep your water liquid better than a water bladder and hose system. Microspikes and trekking poles will help you keep your balance. Additional layers, gloves, hat and goggles will protect you from the cold. Don’t forget sunscreen to protect you from the reflective snow – it’s easy to get bad sunburn, even in November! Read my full article on the Winter Ten Essentials here.
Pick an Accessible Peak and Trailhead
Hiking 14ers in November is only possible if you can reach the trail! Due to the large amount of snow and ice falling in the Rockies, many 14er trailheads aren’t accessible in the winter. Don’t risk driving to a 14er only to find the road is closed 4 miles from the start of the trail. Stick to easily accessible peaks for an easier hike, like Quandary Peak or Mt. Elbert. I also recommend driving a 4WD vehicle and keeping a shovel with you in case you get stuck driving to the trailhead – it is easier to get stuck than you may think.
Bring a Buddy & Watch Out for Summit Fever
Hiking 14ers in November presents unique risks and hazards not present in summer conditions. Hikers and climbers in the mountains are prone to making mistakes due to our own biases – especially at high altitude where there is less oxygen. Bringing a partner on hikes is one of the best way to combat our own bias and prevent summit fever from leading us to major mistakes. If you are new to hiking 14ers in November, consider bringing along someone more experienced.
Hiking 14ers in November: Wrapping It Up
Hiking a Colorado 14er in November isn’t easy by any measure, but the rewards are well worth it: Stunning snow-capped peaks, nearly empty trails, and the opportunity to enjoy a summit completely on your own. Make sure you take the right precautions by researching, bringing the right gear, picking the right peak, and bringing a partner, to increase your odds for a safe, successful summit.