The number fourteen could be anything. A reference to people, a place or a thing.
On a recent weekend, I focused on the number as in 14,000 feet in elevation. As in hiking one of Colorado’s Fourteeners, one of 53 peaks in Colorado that make the list of the highest mountains in the state.
Coloradans often gaze at the snow-capped peaks and admire their stately magnificence. Photos have been taken and many guide books have been written about them. All are there to be climbed, some easy, some hard. I’ve visited the top of seven, all fairly easy. A few of the peaks rated most difficult require technical climbing skills that are not a part of my training and experience.
I have no goal to conquer all 53 (other lists count 54). I admire those who have. I think it’s a success worth speaking of, something to be proud of. It speaks not only to a person’s athletic skill, but also their personality of goal setting and persistence.
Fall is an excellent time of year for summiting a Fourteener. The forecasted weather is critical. While the threat in summer is thunderstorms and lightning, in fall the weather risk is cold and even snow. Fall hikes have to be when the skies are cloudless and dusty dry.
Some peaks, especially the higher elevation ones and the more difficult ones, may already be off the list for the year if they have had an early snow.
The most recent check-mark on my list of seven was Mt. Shavano in the Sawatch Range near Salida. Mt. Shavano is 14,231 feet, the 17th tallest of the 53. The highest in Colorado is Mount Elbert, rising to 14,440 feet, and the lowest is Mt. Sunshine at 14,007 feet.
Of them all, ranked from easiest to hardest, Mt. Shavano is rated as one of the easier ones.
Mt. Shavano is accessed out of Salida, starting near Poncha Springs, up a moderate dirt road to the trail head. The trail is indeed mostly a dirt tail, listed as nine miles round trip and 4,600 feet in elevation gain. With that much elevation gain, it is continually up, sometimes moderate, sometimes steep. The first two-thirds is the moderate part, then the last one-third from a saddle to the summit is steep, although not extremely so.
I took nine hours for the round trip and I was not alone in my summiting endeavor. There were a dozen or more other parties of one to several people. I was at the trail head early, but even so, by the time I was nearing the top, some of the others were already coming down.
The other six Fourteeners on my list are Mount Sneffels (twice), Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, Redcloud, Sunshine, and Handies. Maybe I’ll get to another one, maybe not. I’m not so young anymore! But I do think it would be cool to add Mount Elbert to the list only because it is the tallest. If it were a technical climb as some others, I would say no thanks, but it is also a relatively easy hike, it just has more elevation gain. So maybe next summer.
Technically, I could add two more, as I have been to the top of Mount Evans and Pikes Peak, both Fourteeners. That would actually give me nine. The stretch is that yes, I have been to the top of those two, but by car. You can drive to near the top of those two, finishing with a short hike.
Just for the covering the spectrum, Capitol Peak near Aspen is rated as the hardest. Also, there is a second list totaling 58 Fourteeners. The additional peaks are indeed over 14,000 feet, but they are considered sub-peaks of an adjacent, higher Fourteener. According to the 53 peak list standard, being so close to a nearby and higher Fourteener, they don’t qualify as separate peaks for the list. The list has been updated because of new technology that measures the mountain height, with some peaks that were just slightly under 14,000 feet, now being remeasured to be slightly over 14,000.
The high peaks define Colorado. Provide its uniqueness. The peaks are visually pleasant. Physically, they cause weather, force seasonal change, and accumulate snow and water. Agriculture and recreation alike are governed by the seasons of the peaks.
An adventurous hike to completely experience their magnitude seems an easy choice.