Spotlight: Colorado Peaks – Soaring to Great Heights
The southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado inspire and beckon the ascent
The pinnacles of the dramatic southern Rocky Mountains uplift, known as the North American Cordillera, are the 54 Fourteeners—as climbers affectionately refer to them—or peaks 14,000 feet (4267 meters) above sea level. Colorado’s unique and majestic mountain peaks attract people from around the world, with nearly half a million people climbing Colorado's Fourteeners each year. Just as stunning, and often less traveled, are lower elevation peaks—11, 12, 13,000 feet above sea level—that offer magnificent views sure to rival any of the Fourteeners.
The southern Rockies span from northern Colorado through the center of the state to the southern border. These high-mountain peaks may be accessed from dozens of small mountain towns and remote trailheads throughout central Colorado. Visit the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, for a list of all Fourteeners, including latitude and longitude. You can also find hiking and other recreation opportunities across all of the Colorado forests: Arapaho and Roosevelt; Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison; Pike and San Isabel; Rio Grande; Routt; San Juan and White River National Forests.
Opportunities to camp near a Colorado Fourteener are plentiful. Advance reservations at many local campgrounds are available on Recreation.gov and the area offers first-come, first-serve campgrounds as well. After your ascent, return to your campsite to rest your weary feet and recount the adventure of conquering a Fourteener!
Make Sure You
Know before you go hiking high alpine peaks! Study your maps and plan your route, including contingency plans for bad weather, injuries or illness. Let people know exactly where you are hiking and when you plan to return. If a Fourteener is your destination, start early (before dawn), and plan on beginning your descent no later than 12 noon, even if you don’t reach the summit.
Also, altitude sickness can quickly turn a pleasant day in the mountains to an emergency situation requiring quick action. Do a little research for tips to stay healthy during your high-alpine journey.
High-alpine soils are fragile and can take years to recover from off-trail travel. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative is a non-profit organization assembled to promote low-impact hiking, educate the public about these special places and lead volunteers into the high country to restore trails and summit routes damaged by hikers.
Climbing a high-elevation peak requires advanced planning and preparation. Hike in groups, never alone, and recognize the ability of the weakest climber.
Also, consider climbing a lesser known, and lower-elevation peaks that offers equally stunning views, yet may not be quite so crowded. The Outdoor Recreation Information Center located in Denver provides excellent trail information for a variety of hiking experiences. The Colorado Mountain Club is also a great resource for conservation opportunities, educational programs and group adventures to the mountains.
Did You Know?
Ancient soils are destroyed by off-trail hiking. At elevations of 12, 13 and 14,000 feet, it can take 1,000 years to regenerate an inch of soil. The soil sustains lush vegetation in the alpine tundra, yet foot traffic across the landscape can remove the vegetation, exposing ancient soil which then washes away leaving only the bedrock behind.
By Janelle Smith