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Most Difficult Colorado 14ers

Most Difficult Colorado 14ers | 9 Deadly Peaks

While most of Colorado’s 14ers are an easy hike or scramble, a handful can be quite difficult to climb. With steep Class 3 and 4 climbing, dramatic exposure to cliffs and drop-offs, and complex route-finding and navigation, these nine peaks are some of the most difficult Colorado 14ers. Don’t attempt them without plenty of experience and research. Bring a partner, preferably someone who has climbed them before. Bring the ten essentials, and get started early. Here are nine of the most deadly peaks.

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Do not attempt to climb these peaks without proper experience, gear, and partners

If you are considering climbing one of the most difficult Colorado 14ers for your first or second peak, please reconsider. More than 100 people have died on these mountains – most were relatively inexperienced hikers and climbers. Start with class one and two 14ers and gradually increase the difficulty of your hikes and climbs over time. Learn how to route-find and navigate in rough terrain, practice dealing with loose and rotten rock, and find dependable climbing partners so you know someone has your back. Once you have done all that, you will be ready for these nine most difficult Colorado 14ers.

The 9th most difficult peak, Maroon Peak, includes notoriously loose rock and difficult route-finding. Locals call the twin peaks the “Death Bells” due to the numerous climbers and hikers who have met their end on the peak. Watch out for loose rock and rockfall, which is often random and unpredictable, and study the route carefully on this peak. You may need a parking permit or you will need to take a shuttle to access the trailhead area.

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The 8th most difficult 14er is also one of the most famous, the Crestone Needle. Located in the Sangre de Christo mountains in southern Colorado, it presents significant route-finding challenges. It was the last of the 58 Colorado 14ers to be climbed successfully in the state, more than 100 years after the first. The rock is solid, unlike Maroon Peak, which makes rockfall less of a concern (but you should still wear a helmet and be mindful of your hand holds).

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Snowmass Mountain is the toughest Class 3 climb on the list, 7th overall. The difficulty here comes from a long snowfield you need to cross to reach the summit ridge. Bring an ice axe, crampons and the skill to know how to use them properly. Without experience, crampons can make it easy to trip, which can have serious consequences on class three terrain. Lastly, plan your trip in early summer when the snow has consolidated but hasn’t yet melted out. It’s a much harder route if you are scrambling the entire way over bare rock.

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Like its twin Maroon Peak, North Maroon is known as the Death Bells for a good reason. The rock is rotten and crumbles easily. As a class four peak, it’s even more dangerous and has a slightly longer route as well. Wear a helmet and tread carefully, but remember that danger here is random and can never totally be mitigated. The Risk on this route is impossible to mitigate completely due to the numerous objective hazards. Watch yourself.

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As the name implies, Pyramid Peak is a mountain with sheer slopes that make it difficult to climb. However it has slightly less rotten rock than its neighbors the Maroon Bells. The challenge here is route-climbing. It’s very easy to go off route into far more difficult Class 5 terrain where falls are easier and almost always fatal. Study the route well in advance and take notes to bring with you. Be patient and take your time on this mountain.

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Mt Wilson lies in the San Juans and presents several different options and trailheads to choose from to get started. You are far from civilization here in the Lizard Head Wilderness. This group of mountains is notorious for its loose rockfall, which can strike without warning. Wear a helmet, and be sure you can take care of yourself out there. Help is a long way away if anything goes wrong.

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Sunlight Peak offers multiple challenges to climb. First, you must take a train or backpack many miles to reach the isolated Chicago Basin. Second, you have to ascend a difficult Class 4 climb. However the crux of the trip is the summit block itself, with exposed Class 4 climbing at 14,000 feet. Some people ultimately decide to consider it summited without finishing the last 15-20 feet – but that’s your choice. This is a peak best attempted by experienced mountaineers and peak baggers.

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With a name like “Little Bear Peak,” you might expect an easy climb up a tame peak. Not so. The Hourglass Gully on the mountain is notorious for loose rock , nasty exposure, and numerous fatalities. It’s also called the bowling alley after the rocks that come throttling down it without warning. Many choose climb it while snow-filled to avoid the hazards. It’s also famous for a rope left in the difficult section. While some use it to assist, it’s recommend you avoid it as it could break at anytime.

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When people think of Capitol Peak, the most difficult 14er on the list, they think of the Knife Edge. This 100-foot section of the route features dramatic 1,000 foot drop-offs on either side of a narrow, exposed ridge. However the rock along this section is very solid and falls are not common. The toughest section of the route is the scramble up a slope with crumbling rotten rock just beyond the knife’s edge ridge. Many have perished on Capitol over the past decade. Think hard, write your will, and plan ahead before attempting this peak.

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Most Difficult Colorado 14ers: Tread Carefully.

If you’re just starting out, take time before heading out to theses peaks. Many include rotten rocks and difficult climbing that can lead to tragic accidents. If you do plan to go, bring the ten essentials, research your route, and wear a helmet! Have any comments about this list of the most difficult Colorado 14ers? Leave a comment with your thoughts below. Safe travels on the trails.

Additional Resources

Here are a few additional resources and websites about the most difficult Colorado 14ers. If you have a suggestion for another resource to add to the list, please share it below in a comment with our community.

FAQ: Most Difficult 14ers

A: The hardest 14er in Colorado to hike is generally considered to be Capitol Peak. Located in the Elk Mountains, Capitol Peak has an elevation of 14,130 feet and is known for its technical routes, knife-edge ridge, rotten, poor-quality rock, and significant exposure. The standard route, the Northeast Ridge, is rated as a Class 4 climb, requiring advanced route-finding skills, scrambling, and careful navigation. Climbers should be well-prepared and experienced in technical mountaineering before attempting Capitol Peak.

Longs Peak is the deadliest Colorado 14er overall. More than 71 people have died on the mountain since the first recorded hiker died in 1884 when Carrie J. Welton froze to death after summiting in a snowstorm. While it is not the most difficult 14er, its location in Rocky Mountain National Park and close proximity to Denver leads many inexperienced visitors to put themselves at risk – often with tragic consequences.

In terms of the overall effort, there is disagreement about which 14er is the toughest to climb. Capitol Peak is a major contender due to its loose rock, long distance, and significant exposure. Little Bear Peak is also a very long route in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, with a technical couloir known for slippery rock and lots of loose rockfalls. Other contenders include the Crestone Needle, and North Maroon Peak. 

A: The best time to climb difficult Colorado 14ers is generally from late June through September. During this time, the weather is more stable and there is less snow on the mountains, reducing the risk of avalanches and making the routes more manageable.

The Colorado 14ers range in difficulty from easy class one hikes to challenging class four climbs. They are as short as 4.5 miles and as long as 24 miles. Climbing them all requires travelling all over the state of Colorado, completing multiple backpacking trips deep into the backcountry, using technical crampons and an ice axe for several peaks, and navigating loose and rotten rock on exposed, class four climbs. Climbing all of the 14ers is a major challenge and completing it is a huge accomplishment.

A: Climbing the most difficult Colorado 14ers requires a high level of mountaineering experience, technical climbing skills, and physical fitness. Many of the hardest routes involve Class 4 climbing, which means using hands and feet to navigate steep, exposed terrain and sometimes requiring ropes and climbing gear for safety. A fall in this terrain is usually fatal. Hiking experience alone is not enough to begin climbing class four peaks. Work your way up slowly over time before attempting peaks like this.

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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Hi, I'm Alex!

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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