Climbing Colorado's Highest Mountains

Colorado Fourteeners

My trusty Colorado Mountain Guide, with climbing annotations.

Peak bagging in the State of Colorado!

Once I had decided that I enjoyed scrambling up a peak or two, I purchased a guidebook of all the state's big peaks. I recommend that you do too if you decide the activity suits you. The information is invaluable. It might even save your life. Back in my day, we did not have all the internet resources available today but there is still no substitute for experience and the safest way to begin climbing mountains is by partnering up with someone, or some group, that has it.

Climbing a mountain is strenuous hard work. It can be dangerous too. It is addictive as well. People do die trying. Risks can be subdivided into subjective and objective dangers. Objective hazards are beyond your control. Rocks, avalanches, lighting and weather are some prime examples. Subjective hazards are those which you can control by your selection of route, the timing of your ascent or the speed and experience of your team. While some of the easier mountains require minimal technical skills, others may require specific capabilities depending on the timing of the ascent.

Climbing a mountain is a wonderful way to interact with good old Mother Earth. You can't help but fall in love with what you see and feel. I emphasize the "feel" part of the climb because every mountain feels different. Some are scary. Fear and dread are normal, especially those class IV and up! Some are just friendly bear hugs with soft, gentle rolling bumps. Each mountain is unique and I guarantee that you will remember each and every one for a lifetime.

But all are physically challenging. There is nothing easy about ascending nearly a mile vertical. Stepping your entire body weight and accoutrements up the trail is always a test of your commitment, your desire, to reach the top. Thin and often cool or cold air await you on the summit. For those that keep at it, physical fitness will be your reward. Excess weight will simply melt away! After all, mountaineering is all about legs and lungs, everything else is just along for the ride.

Climbing mountains, especially the Fourteeners, is a great way to experience all that the state of Colorado has to offer. There is much variety and yet each range is the same high and dry continental climate. Much dryer than any coastal range and yet still wetter than the California Sierra. A fantastic array of geology, flora and fauna await you. Each range hosts unique mountaineering challenges. Each outing will expand your awareness of each distinguishing characteristic. To miss out, a pity indeed.

Like an all you can eat smorgasbord of highly edible treats, you will be tempted to over reach. Take my advice, pace yourself. The physics of space and time will wear you down or worse break you. Start with the peaks closest to you and within your skill set. Over-reach and you could lose your job, your wife or even your life. Accept just how small you are and how large the objectives before you. Reality will set before you many limits and constraints which you will need to overcome in order to climb all these marvelous mountains. Be happy for you are blessed with a full and busy life. Know that you can do it. Just be realistic.

Each summit is an accomplishment that will generally require one day to climb. One day to arrive at the trailhead and then time to return home. Sound like a weekend? Yes, indeed. I also tried to use vacation days to put an entire week into the pursuit of three to five summits.

Plans must be struck. Partners and transportation secured. Provisions, such as food and water, in support of the expedition must also be considered. Without good planning the likelihood of success plummets. I have had to abandon many a climb for failure to anticipate or execute, especially early on. Therefore, it makes sense to start with the easier, class I and II climbs first. Save the class III and up climbs for when your overall level of experience and capability has had time to mature.

It took me ten years to climb all fifty-two or so Colorado Fourteeners. That works out to about six a year or one a month, climbing spring to fall. That pace is realistic when you consider all the demands for your time. Your chores won't be getting done at home while you are out climbing mountains and your boss won't be impressed that you came in on the weekend for extra work! For most of us, it becomes important to pace yourself so that other aspects of your life remain healthy.

These high mountains offer a type of physical elation that is hard to get anywhere else. A weekend in the mountains sends you back into the work week with a smile on your face that would, at least for me, last until Wednesday. So, in a way, it is good that you will have something fun to look forward to for many years! The mountains will patiently await your return. Mountains will wait for you -- as long as it takes.

Most people won't be up in the high country with you and won't understand your ongoing pursuit of summits. The level of fitness and determination required to succeed is beyond what most can muster. Therefore, finding suitable partners is always problematic. Few of us can jump up in the cold air at 4 AM to get that early start. I know. It seemed that for each successful ascent, nearly two others would fail for one reason or another. One soon learns to cull out undependable partners without mercy. No one can afford to suffer a fool of a partner as it is dangers to your own health to be around them in the high country!

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