Skip to main content

Climbing Colorado Fourteeners

Colorado Summer Activities: Climb a 14,000 ft. Mountain

One of our family's favorite and most extreme Colorado summer activities is climbing some of Colorado's beautiful mountains. You haven't really breathed Colorado air until you breathe it from the top of a 14,000 foot peak (14ers, as we call them). Fifty-six of them stand waiting; and the ones on the front range are less than an hour's drive west from Denver! Here's how it works...

14ers are best climbed during the summer months of June, July, and August because your chances of hitting a patch of ice you can't cross or a blizzard you aren't prepared for is much less. However, there are many more thunderstorms above tree level than at any other place in Colorado, and summer definitely has the most thunderstorms of all the seasons! The best practice, therefore, is to plan to be off of the summit before noon, but even the safety of that will vary depending on the day. We've encountered stray lightning bolts, blizzards, sleet, and rain at 10am in the middle of July. Other days, we've relaxed on top of a mountain until 2 or 3 pm and the sky was sunny the entire time! Learn to watch the weather, to judge how quickly the clouds are moving, and to be attentive to how dark or threatening they are. Even better is to hike with someone experience, who knows when you should get down from the mountain.

A Famous Colorado 14er: Longs Peak

A close-up of the Long's Peak diamond face

A close-up of the Long's Peak diamond face

Long's Peak (the diamond face)

Long's Peak (the diamond face)

Prepare for a Mountain Climb

Here are some general guidelines to help in your hike!

  • A few days before your hike, visit 14ers.com to research a Colorado mountain, paying attention to trail conditions, to plan a route, and to decide if you can handle the length and class of the hike.
  • Get accustomed to Denver altitude for at least a week before you hike. Denver is called the mile-high city, and your lungs will need to get used to finding less oxygen in the air.
  • Wake up earlier than you normally do, or camp out at the trailhead the night before.
  • Bring at least 2 liters of water per person. Do NOT bring any carbonated drinks or alcohol, as that will dehydrate you and cause altitude sickness.
  • Bring plenty of carbs and protein. Sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, cliff bars, fruit, etc. are staples for us! You'll be burning through your food faster than a day at the beach, so come prepared.
  • Bring a windbreaker that doubles as a raincoat and a fleece jacket or sweatshirt. You will need the first for wind and precipitation, and the second for warmth. These coats are essential! Even if it's 90 degrees in Denver, there could be a blizzard on top of these mountains. Pants or shorts? We'll leave that up to you. I have two brothers that always hike in shorts; I rarely do!
  • Bring sun protection. Even with sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, it's rare that I've ever hiked a 14er without getting sunburned somewhere! The air is thinner, you are closer to the sun, and you will burn-- not tan-- before you even feel your skin getting hot.
  • Hike with at least another person, and don't get separated! Even experienced hikers occasionally get lightheaded or altitude sickness, and without another person nearby it would be easy to get very sick and very stuck in weather conditions you aren't prepared for. Also, hiking with a companion reduces the risk of mountain lion attack.
  • Bring a camera, and have fun! In spite of all these dangers (or perhaps because of them, actually) this will be an adventure your family will never forget!

Photo of Colorado 14er Mt. Evans

On the top of Mt. Evans

On the top of Mt. Evans

Which 14er to Climb?

If you have little experience with high altitude mountain hiking/climbing, then you should probably knock out one of these easier 14ers first as a practice run. Sherman, Bierstadt, Grays, Torreys, and Mt. Evans, have short, Class 2 trials. They are each about 2 to 3 miles to the top, with only a 3,000 foot elevation gain from the trailhead to the summit. Evans even has a road to the top!

If you have a little more experience and don't mind driving deeper into the mountains, the Sawatch range is a beautiful playground easily accessible from the town of Buena Vista. Some of these 14ers are connected by a saddle and if you are starting early enough, you may be able to do two or three in a day! These also include the Collegiant peaks, so you may gain some intelligence as you rise through the levels of Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard.

Long's Peak and Pikes Peak mark the north and south bookends of the front range, but it doesn't mean they're easy. The best starting time for a hike up these mountains is 3am.

Long's Peak attracts some of the least experienced hikers every year, and has a death total of 57, with an average of 2 people dying on the mountain every year—many from falling. It has a long and arduous hike just to get to the face of the mountain itself. Once past the "boulder field" and the "keyhole," a precarious, winding trail notched into the side of the cliff escorts hikers over drop-offs measuring 1000 ft. or more. There are a few hand-over-hand scramble places as well, but climbers won't need any technical gear or advanced skill if they stay on the main route (like climbing up & down a ladder). Once on top, the view is different from every other 14er because of the sharp cliff structures close by on either side of the diamond face, and because of the great views it gives of both the plains to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west.

Pikes Peak is a longer hike, but has many saving graces that Longs Peak lacks. If endurance is your thing, then take the 26 mile hike up Pikes Peak out of Manitou Springs and enjoy a hot cocoa for your efforts at the top in the luxurious gift shop. For the truly intrepid, there's a marathon and a bike race up Pikes Peak every year. Here's a little-known secret, though. There's a sweet six mile trail leading out of Woodland Park that gets you to the top in much less time, and on a much prettier trail as well. The road less travelled is a beautiful thing!

Climbing Long's Peak

Summiting Long's Peak

Summiting Long's Peak

View from the Top of a Colorado Mountain

The view from the top cannot be described in human words. I'll try, though. It's an ocean of blue depths and white breakers, and you're on an island, surrounded by this great expanse. In this ocean there are other islands: bare, rugged, made of moon-rock and brownies. Far, far below you, looking deep beneath the surface of the ocean, there are tiny emerald mirrors lying flat on the ocean floor. Gray-blue canyons with fine navy veins channeling in and out of them direct your eyes to gradually take you back up the velvety slope, then up a rocky slope, then up the rugged cliff face, and your eyes are out of the water again, on the summit of a neighboring island. And that's just the view! I'll leave the crisp air and the unadulterated sunlight for you to experience firsthand.

Climbing Long's Peak

My Experience on Long's Peak

The video below is my group and I climbing Long's Peak in 2007. For my brothers and I, this was our second attempt to summit it. The first time was mid July of 2005, when there was too much ice and snow in the narrows. This time was much later in the summer (August), and it had been a much warmer summer so snow was least of our worries. We made it to the top by 8:30 am, though! I'll never forget my half-an-hour nap on a rock up there. I opened my eyes when I awoke and saw, through a thin slit between the rock and the hood of my coat, a vivid green and blue string of peaks, brilliant, like a postcard! I had forgotten where I was.

We were prepared for a hard hike, but were not mentally prepared for how dangerous the trail was! If our legs had been any shakier or our heads any dizzier, it would have been suicide to attempt the pencil-thin trail that carried us along thousand-foot drop-offs. We were well-conditioned, though, having hiked Gray's and Torrey's together the weekend before, and started early enough in the morning so that there was plenty of time for food and water breaks. Descending was scarier, actually, because now we were looking down instead of up, and our legs were less steady than during the hike up. The video, below, shows a bit of what it was like, but due to the safety of the camera-man, the narrows are not in this video.

At the Top of Every One of Colorado's 14ers!

The Geological Survey Mark on the top of Longs. When you see this, you know you're at the top!

The Geological Survey Mark on the top of Longs. When you see this, you know you're at the top!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Jennifer Arnett from California on October 15, 2014:

Scroll to Continue

You are so lucky to have so many mountains in your backyard. I had no idea that Colorado had so many 14ers. As an ice climbing mountaineer, I understand both the difficulty and the allure of summiting. You are so right, things can change up there so fast, so you need to be prepared.

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on January 19, 2012:

I am sending this to my wife ASAP - this is a dream of hers!

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

CyclingFitness, I find that amazing that you're going to be hiking Jebel in North Africa. That sounds absolutely fantastic and like it would be a completely different experience from hiking in Colorado. You'll have to stop back and tell us all about it when you've done it! Or write a hub on in and that would be even better.

Places to stay in Colorado.... well, you can always camp. I highly recommend that. Or if you're more on the classy side, the Brown Palace in Denver or the Broodmoor in Colorado Springs are the locations of choice. Personally, I like my house the best. :)

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

Happyboomernurse, I'm glad I gave you a little taste of what it was like! Someday you'll have to try it yourself. The view is incredible and something I'll never tire of!

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

Lender321200, how cool is that?! So where do you hike and climb in Colorado when you get a chance? I'm still discovering hidden treasures even though I've lived here most my life.

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

Hawaiihibou, thanks!

Jonathan Groom, it was a fun one to put together. Thanks!

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

Janikon, the amazing thing is that it actually isn't usually as dangerous as TV makes it look. Most of the time we hike up well-traveled trails in nice weather, and the worst injury we come home with is an altitude/sun headache. Just the same, it's not something everybody gets to do, so I feel very blessed to live in Colorado and to be in the outdoors-loving family that I am in. Hope you get to hike a 14er someday, even if its just to get some awesome photos and to say you did it!

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

DzyMsLzy, I'm glad I could provide with with a snippet of vicarious mountain-climbing! Please enjoy your Lake Tahoe without a smidge of envy. I've heard wondrous things about that lake and hope to visit it someday. Hope your husband heals quickly! In the great outdoors, it seems like all the stress would melt away. Thanks for your encouragement about my writing!

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

Danette, you won't believe how many snowball fights my family and I have had in the middle of July! And up that high on a mountain, there's nothing to hide behind unless you can wedge yourself under a boulder, but that's just asking for it! The flowers thrive on the snow, though, because that is where their water comes from, and the sun often melts it off before the flowers have a chance to get covered too long.

It has been fun finding the geological survey marks on each 14er! Some are harder to find than others and you wonder if somebody chipped it off the rock and took it home. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

Thanks for your vote, J. S. Matthew! New Hampshire sounds like a great place to hike, though, and I have a great appreciation for forests that aren't only pine!

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

Thelma, yes-- dizzy is definitely what the Long's Hike did to us too! Of course, eating food helped. It's so different when you get up at 3 am and hike for eight hours, it's easy to get confused about what mealtime it is and you forget to eat. Also, not looking down when we're climbing up helped too. :)

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 04, 2011:

David Warren, thanks for your visit! I hope you will find a way to come visit again soon! Nevada is fun for different reasons, though-- you have some amazing desert rock architecture!

Liam Hallam from Nottingham UK on August 01, 2011:

Great hub. I'm doing Jebel Toubkal Morocco next month- Not quite a 14er bu highest in North Africa and can't wait. The photo's are fantastically inspirational and definitely inspires a visit to Colorado- any recommended places to stay?

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 30, 2011:

Clara, that's okay! Sometimes it's nice to hike for pleasure and not for work. I would love to hike the East coast some day, especially the rocky shorelines in the LL Bean catalogues. :)

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 29, 2011:

Bluebird, what an amazing place to be born at! I love the Sand Dunes-- they're so mystical, like they're from another world. Glad you enjoyed the photos; it brings back great memories for me too. :)

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 29, 2011:

FloraBreen, thank you! It's sweet of you to stop by.

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 29, 2011:

Mich S., I'm so glad that Climbing a 14er is on your Colorado "bucket list"! I wish you the best of weather and the most glowing memories. It's tomorrow, isn't it, that you'll be climbing Gray's and Torreys? Grays was the first one I climbed as well. It's a beauty!

~Jane

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 29, 2011:

reg5566, It's so funny that you would mention "Rocky Mountain High" because we listen to it just about every time we drive up into the mountains. It's one of my dad's favorite songs and I have many great memories of hearing his voice with that song while we're winding up a steep road! And yes, there is something "giddy" or "high" about being up at that altitude, but maybe it's just the exhilaration of having made it to the top!

~Jane

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 29, 2011:

applecsmith, how thoughtful of you! I am honored to have been chosen for the front page. How amazing that you "predicted" it! So you visit Colorado every year-- what are some of the things you return to again and again? Are you a skier or a boarder?

Johnathan L Groom from Bristol, CT on July 29, 2011:

Nice!

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on July 28, 2011:

This hub was absolutely stunning and very well written. Hard to imagine snow in July and also looking down from the peak, but you've done a great job of explaining what it was like.

Congratulations on making the Fab 14 and Hub of the Day.

lender3212000 from Beverly Hills, CA on July 28, 2011:

Fantastic hub! Colorado has always been one of my favorite places to hike and climb.

Johnathan L Groom from Bristol, CT on July 28, 2011:

welldone!!!

-johnathan-

hawaiihibou on July 28, 2011:

Nice hub.

janikon on July 28, 2011:

I've always wanted to do this, you see it in movies, on television and people take photos from their mountain-climbing excursions and it always looks amazingly fun and fulfilling - definitely one of those bucket-list type adventures

Congratulations of the Hub of the Day - voted up. awesome. interesting. useful.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on July 28, 2011:

Congrats on Hub of the Day! Awesome job. Your photos, videos and word-pictures are all superb, and offer a tantalizing snippet of what these hikes must be like.

Thanks for the vicarious trek-along!

As I am 60+ and out of shape, and my husband a heart patient who has breathing troubles even at Lake Tahoe's more modest 5.000 feet, this is not a trip we're likely to attempt, so being able to read such a well-done description is the next best thing.

Danette Watt from Illinois on July 28, 2011:

Wow! Beautiful pictures and I bet the view at the top is awesome. I had to chuckle -- snow and ice in July! But it must be a great feeling to see the Geological Survey Mark at the top and to know you made it!

Congrats on making the Hub of the Day!

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on July 28, 2011:

Congratulations on being selected for the Hub of the Day!

Awesome article and beautiful pictures! I love hiking. I have hiked mostly in New Hampshire and Mass and have not quite reached 14K feet! I can only imagine the feeling when you are at the top! Great job. Voted accordingly.

JSMatthew~

Thelma Alberts from Germany on July 28, 2011:

What an awesome hub. I already felt dizzy by looking at your amazing photos and videos. Congratulation for the hub of the day.

David Warren from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta on July 28, 2011:

Great hub and fantastic pictures! I live in Northern Nevada, east of Tahoe, and still miss Rocky Mountain National Park.

Clara A Limand from Wilmington, NC on July 28, 2011:

I feel a little lazy just looking at these pages - definitely a little less challenging hiking on the east coast - but those views look amazing!

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 28, 2011:

Hi everybody! Don't forget to vote for my article on the HubPages Share and Share Alike page if you liked it! (The link is just above the comments section on this hub).

I'd be so honored to have your vote and it would make my day. :)

Thanks,

Jane

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 28, 2011:

Breathing, I'm glad I made it to your favorites list. Thanks, and keep "breathing!" :)

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 28, 2011: