Colorado is home to one of the most unique and amazing geological wonders in the United States: 14,000 ft mountains! Not to mention that we have 54 peaks that are classified as 14′ers. Standing on top of one of these peaks is always worth the work of the hike as you gaze across entire mountain ranges for as far as the eye can see. The Alpine Club does several trips a year to climb 14′ers but are a few that are in our own backyards.
If you are not from Colorado or other high-elevation states (and even if you are), 14,000 ft is quite the elevation. Hiking these mountains takes dedication and takes time for your body to adjust. As you climb in elevation the amount of oxygen in the air decreases substantially, making activities (like walking) that are usually easy, extremely hard.
To prepare for a 14′er climb you need to follow these steps to ensure that you are prepared and will have a successful trip:
- Before the trip make sure you are drinking a lot of water and getting ample sleep. Usually do this for at least 5 days prior. (hiking a 14′er hung-over will be pure disaster)
- Plan your route carefully and make sure that you are physically prepared for the climb. Some routes are very basic while others could quickly lead to technical climbing requiring mountaineering equipment. Staying on route is key and research beforehand will help ensure that.
- Start early and overestimate the amount of time it will take to climb. In Colorado the general rule is that you need to be on top of the mountain and heading down before 12:00 noon!!! That usually means starting the hike at no later then sunrise (and sometimes well before that depending on the mountain).
- Best times for climbing a 14′er is Summer and Fall. Winter is also a great time but requires a different skill set and different equipment.
- Plan around weather. If it looks like a stormy day best to reschedule. All of the peaks are well above treeline and usually do not have any safety cover if you are caught in a sudden storm. It is not the rain/hail/snow that is the problem, it will be the insane lightning storms striking all around.
- Understand your limitations and the consequences of your decisions. Altitude sickness is extremely common, even experienced climbers can suddenly get it, understand its symptoms. This is also a hard physical activity which requires you to get to the top and also get back down. Always turn-around if your situation begins to look dire, the mountain is not going anywhere.
- Bring the right equipment: (summer/fall equipment listed below)
- Pack light but do not underpack
- A hiking backpack that has ample room but not too large. Comfortable waist-straps are a must.
- Plenty of water. At least 64 ozs for an easy hike, more for harder/longer hikes.
- Watch. You need to understand the time it is taking you and when to turn around.
- Map and Compass and the ability to use them. Some trails will be painfully obvious, others will make you lost.
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat. The sun is much hotter/brighter when are are that much closer to it.
- Safety equipment: Basic First Aid kit is necessary, emergency blanket
- Sturdy Hiking boots (not your tennis shoes or sandals)
- Clothing layers: long-underwear bottoms/tops, synthetic hiking pants, synthetic shirt, potentially more warm tops/bottoms depending on weather outlook
- water-proof mid-heavy weight jacket
- Beanie/winter hat
- Wool hiking socks
Climb a 14′er
Grey’s (14,270 ft) and Torrey’s (14,267 ft) Peak
Overview and main trailhead: These two 14′ers are in the heart of the I-70 corridor and are a main attraction for numerous hikers during the peak summer months. You have an unique opportunity of getting to climb two 14′er peaks in an single day via a number of different routes. Our recommendation is to take the Standard route on the East side climbing Grey’s peak first then taking the saddle to Torrey’s peak. Route-finding is pretty straight-forward as this is a heavily used trail and overall a decent but doable hike. Round trip is approx 8.5 miles.
Directions: Take I-70 West to the Bakerville exit (#221) (about 1 hr drive). Leave the highway and drive south over to the dirt parking area near the start of Forest Road 189. This is the winter trailhead and even if the upper road is open, low-clearance passenger cars should park here. It’s almost 3 miles to the summer trailhead otherwise follow the signs up the road for the Grays Peak trailhead. Continue another 2 miles to the trailhead at 11,280′. There are restrooms and a few dispersed camping spots near the parking area.
- Detailed maps/photos: http://www.14ers.com/routelist.php?peak=Grays+Peak+and+Torreys+Peak
Quandary Peak (14,265 ft)
Overview and main trailhead: Quandary is a great peak to hike due to it’s sweeping views of Summit County and it’s close proximity to Breckenridge, CO. The Standard East Ridge trail is relatively mild compared to most peaks in Colorado. The trail follows the wide ridge at a relatively consistent pace and is about 3.5 miles to the summit from the trailhead (~7 miles roundtrip). Exposure is really high here so make sure you get to this peak early to avoid the afternoon lightning storms.
Directions: Take I-70 West for ~1 hour and 15 minutes and exit South (left) at the Frisco Exit 203 for Frisco/Breckenridge. Drive for another 30 minutes through Breckenridge and once through Breck, drive for another 8 miles south on Colorado 9. Turn right (west) on the Blue Lakes 850 Road. Drive a few hundred yards and turn right on the McCullough Gulch 851 Road. There is a sign for the Quandary Peak Trail at this junction and a small parking area on the right side of the road just up the road. This is the trailhead. The U.S. Forest Service has installed a sign/kiosk that faces away from the road. Walk up the road to the next corner and the trail starts on the left. Drive time from DU: 1 hour 45 minutes.
- Detailed maps/photos: http://www.14ers.com/photos/peakmain.php?peak=Quandary%20Peak
Harvard Peak (14,420 ft) (destination location/best to camp)
Overview: Harvard is a great peak for a combo backpack/14′er trip. Located in the beautiful Collegiate peak range, Harvard is Colorado’s 3rd highest peak sitting right at 14,420 ft. The surrounding basin is spectacular and the views are hard to match. Due to its relative remoteness, this peak is more likely to have very few (if any) people on it when you are climbing.
Specifics: From the trailhead it is approximately 7 miles to the peak of the mountain. Our suggestion is to plan an overnight trip and follow the trail to the Horn Fork Basin. Once a few miles into the Horn Fork Basin set-up camp a little below treeline in this beautiful Alpine Valley. In the morning take the main (and only marked) trail to the summit. This gives you the advantage to acclimatize and spend more time in this amazing valley. Round trip is ~14 miles.
Directions: From DU: Take University Blvd south to Hampden Blvd/HWY 285. Take a right/West on Hwy 285 and follow it for about 2 hours until the junction of Hwy 24. Head North (right) on Hwy 24 towards the City of Buena Vista. Turn west on County Road (CR) 350 (Crossman Ave.) near the center of Buena Vista. This road is less than 1/2 mile north of the stoplight in the center of town. Continue on CR 350 for 2 miles and turn right onto CR 361. After almost 1 mile, turn left onto CR 365 (dirt). Continue on this road for over 5 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road. Approximately the last 3 miles is easy 4WD. At the end, turn right into the wooded parking area which loops around counter-clockwise. The trailhead signs are on the west side of the parking area.
- On the way to Harvard we suggest you stop at a Scenic Overlook right before Johnson Village on hwy 285 (about 2 hrs from Denver). At the overlook you will be overwhelmed with the beauty of the different peaks within the Collegiate range.
- Detailed maps/photos: http://www.14ers.com/photos/peakmain.php?peak=Mt.%20Harvard