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Sunlit Summit

Climbing All of Colorado’s 14ers

Yesterday I stepped onto the summit of Mount Elbert, finishing my goal of climbing all of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado a couple days before my 18th birthday. Over the past couple of years, I have touched the summits of all 58 officially named 14ers in the state as well as 16 unofficially named 14ers. In summary, I have reached the summits of all 74 peaks that this site lists under the “14er checklist.” Thus, I have finished the 14ers.

This report is a chronicle of that journey. Here are some quick facts:

  • 555 miles and 216,000 vertical feet of elevation gain to climb all 74 fourteeners (not counting repeats and failed attempts)
  • Climbed at least 1 fourteener every month of the calendar
  • Climbed 13 of the 58 named peaks in calendar winter
  • Climbed 36 of the 58 named peaks solo
  • Skied from the summit of 1 of the 58 named peaks
  • Climbed non-standard routes on 20 of the 58 named peaks
  • First 14er: Quandary Peak
  • Last 14er: Mount Elbert
  • Favorite 14er: Snowmass Mountain

These Boots are Made for Walking ~ Nancy Sinatra

In the beginning, I never was much of a mountain climber. I started backpacking at age 5 and was doing tons of alpine hiking and camping by the time I started high school, including backcountry winter camping, but I rarely visited the summits of any high peaks. In the summer of 2015 I began climbing a few 12ers and 13ers (Bison Peak, Mount Audubon, etc.). The peak hikes were just as easy as the hikes I had already been doing, but the experience was even more rewarding. By the time I was feeling ready to attempt a 14er, it was December.

#1 Quandary Peak, December 28, 2015

My first experience over 14,000 feet was in early winter of 2015. It may seem like a questionable decision to do my first 14er in winter, but my family had a fair amount of winter experience, including things like building (and sleeping in) overnight snow-caves. Thus, I planned for hours, reading the SummitPost winter 14er guide and this forum for preparation. As I climbed the snaking, snow-covered east ridge toward the magic 14,000-foot mark, I became enchanted. A solitary skier greeted my parents and me on the snowy summit; sentinel mountains stood guard all around. I had read enough to identify Holy Cross and the Maroon Bells in the distance, and their distinct profiles rang out to me like a siren call across the valleys. I knew that mountain climbing would be a new passion.

Summit of my first 14er, Quandary, in late December

#2 Longs Peak, June 26, 2016

My next foray into the high peaks came in early summer of the following year. I had planned a 26-day backpacking traverse of Wyoming’s Wind Rivers, and along the way, we hoped to climb Gannett Peak. I had minimal snow climbing experience, having only practiced at St. Mary’s Glacier on our own in November and with a CMC class in the spring. I thought that a trip up Longs’ Loft Couloir would be good preparation for Gannett; it was.

My dad and I hit the base of the Loft Couloir in a wash of pink alpenglow. The long hike through the dark, the 40-degree snow climb, the class 3 exit ledges, and the awe-inspiring views made this my favorite day in the mountains at the time. It felt like real mountaineering, not just hiking. A side trip to Meeker from the Loft was also one of my first times hiking solo above treeline (my dad waited at the Loft). We downclimbed into Keplinger’s Couloir and traversed to the Homestretch on exposed snow. This was my first experience with semi-technical alpinism, and I absolutely loved it. After lounging on the summit, we descended the Keyhole route, making for a lovely circumnavigation of Longs. (A month and a day later we successfully climbed Gannett–the Loft Couloir was great training indeed.)

Snow traverse high on Longs Peak

#3 Mount Bierstadt, August 21, 2016

I spent most of the summer of 2016 in Wyoming, but when I returned to Boulder, I wanted to climb some more 14ers. The last day of summer before my junior year of high school, I climbed Bierstadt with my parents and dogs via the standard route from Guanella Pass. The weather was great and the views were beautiful, but the peak was very crowded and felt almost too easy. On the descent, I decided to pursue climbing all of the 14ers. My reasoning: the “hard” peaks would be enjoyable climbs that would test and improve my skills, so I might as well hike the “easy” peaks too in order to say that I’ve done all of them. I realized that there was a lot of disagreement on what the official list of 14ers should be, so I decided to play it safe and climb the most extensive list possible, counting both named and unnamed, ranked and unranked summits.

This is how I decided to pursue the list of 74 fourteeners.

#4 Torreys Peak and #5 Grays Peak, August 28, 2016

The Grays & Torreys combo was a logical next choice as it allowed me to get 2 peaks, set a new personal elevation record, and minimize driving time from Boulder. I had heard about Kelso Ridge as a fun class 3 scramble, and primed with new scrambling confidence from the Flatirons and the Winds, I set out to climb Kelso solo while my parents and dogs hiked up the standard trail. I was not very good at weather forecasting back then, and the chosen morning dawned cloudy and cold. I headed for Kelso anyway as snowflakes began to fly. As I climbed Kelso Ridge, the clouds sank over the mountains and coated the rock with a half-inch of fresh August snow. I loved the alpine scrambling, and I made extra sure to be careful on the wet rock. After successfully summiting Torreys, I continued to the top of Grays as the clouds lifted, providing some beautiful contrasting views.

Grays Peak with August snow, as seen from Torreys

#6 Mount Evans and “West Evans,” September 10, 2016

Evans was my first completely solo 14er. I had gotten my driver’s license less than a month before, so merging onto Interstate 70 alone in the dark was almost as thrilling as the actual hike. I approached the peak’s west ridge route from Guanella Pass. As I climbed onto the broad alpine slopes around 13,000 feet, I felt a new sensation. I was entirely alone (there were no other people in sight) above treeline, and I felt rather exposed to the elements. A combination of exhilaration and unease pushed me quickly to the crowded summit. Along the way, I was careful to tag the highpoint of “West Evans,” one of the 14 unofficial 14ers. As I climbed higher onto the narrow ridge, I noticed a huge cloud inversion out over South Park–beautiful!

Pikes Peak seen from the west ridge of Mount Evans

#7 Pikes Peak, October 2, 2016

At this point, I was tracking my progress on through the “user checklist” feature, and I saw that I was only one peak away from finishing the Front Range. I set out with my parents and dogs on an overcast October day to hike Pikes Peak via the Crags route. This was one of my least memorable 14er hikes, except that the summit was very developed and the weather made it clear that summer was over. I spent a little extra time on top making sure to tag all of the tall-looking rocks in order to make sure I touched the tallest point (buildings excluded).

#8 Redcloud Peak and #9 Sunshine Peak, October 7, 2016

The next weekend, we packed the RV and drove to the Fall Gathering at the Mill Creek Campground outside Lake City. As a family (and once again with the dogs), we made ascents of Recloud and Sunshine on an absolutely stunning autumn day. The temperature was crisp but not cold, the aspens were yellow, the sky was azure, and the red peaks of the San Juans were accented with a recent dusting of snow. After traversing to Sunshine, I continued on to the ranked 13er “Sundog” while my parents descended the valley with the dogs.

Hiking up Sunshine with Redcloud looming in the background

#10 Handies Peak, October 8, 2016

The next day we hiked Handies via Grizzly Gulch. It was another perfect day, with the fall colors of the tundra offsetting the sky and snow. Hiking up Grizzly Gulch, we could see Handies getting closer and closer; this is really one of the most aesthetic 14er climbs I have done. From the summit, the vast sea of San Juan peaks spread out as far as I could see in any direction. On the descent, I detoured solo to Whitecross Mountain, a ranked 13er. There’s not much else to say about this day other than that it was absolutely perfect. This trip to the San Juans helped me become even more excited for the 14er journey.

Handies above upper Grizzly Gulch

#11 Mount Princeton, October 9, 2016

The next day, we left Lake City very early because the forecast said the weather would be better in the Sawatch. Thus, I went straight from my first San Juan peaks to my first Sawatch 14er. We managed to drive the Subaru all the way to the radio towers on Princeton. From there, I made quick work of the 3,200 vertical feet to the summit. While the Lake City peaks were some of the most scenic 14ers in my opinion, Princeton was somewhat lackluster–just lost of gray talus. The upper ridge, however, did afford nice views of Antero–a peak that would haunt my future.

#12 Mount of the Holy Cross, October 22, 2016

October became one of my most prolific climbing months over the past two years, as the weather was consistently stable on the weekends, with minimal snow and almost no risk of thunderstorms. In one of these weather windows, I set out for the Halo Ridge – North Ridge loop route on Holy Cross with my mom. While snow-dusted boulders on the ridge made the going slower than expected, the stunning views of Mount of the Holy Cross from the Notch Mountain shelter made up for the extra energy expenditure. Along the ridge, which traverses high above the Bowl of Tears lake, we also tagged the summit of two ranked 13ers. The loop hike became one of my instant favorite mountain outings and renewed my interest in the Sawatch.

Mount of the Holy Cross seen from near the Notch Mountain shelter

#13 Huron Peak, October 29, 2016

Huron is widely acclaimed as having the best views of any Sawatch 14er, so I decided to summit it at sunrise. I hiked the standard route solo from Winfield, toiling ever uphill in the dark. Along the way, I noticed that the weather was much worse than forecast–a light drizzle started falling, and the sky was completely cloudy. I successfully reached the summit before sunrise, but it was hardly worth taking a picture, because the light of dawn only revealed swirly clouds above, below, and all around. I was essentially in a cloud, with swirling fog all around. Occasionally, an exceptionally strong gust of wind would open up a swath of sky and I could see the forest far below, but for the most part, there were no views. I had planned to continue to Missouri, Belford, and Oxford, but in these conditions, it was out of the question. I’ll have to repeat Huron someday with better weather.

#14 Missouri Mountain, November 20, 2016

The next time that the weather lined up with my schedule was in late November, and I felt the need to climb Missouri before winter’s snows locked it in avalanche terrain. This was another solo hike, and it was the first time that I didn’t see a single other person the whole hike. It was a wonderful experience to have total solitude in a beautiful area, and my elation was compounded by the knowledge that this area is very busy in the summer. I climbed the standard northwest ridge and was surprised by the beautiful views of Huron and the Apostles covered in a dusting of snow to the west. Also to the west, I spotted an obvious approaching storm system. However, it was far off, so I continued with my plan of descending to the south and traversing to Elkhead Pass with the intention of continuing to Belford and Oxford. However, by the time I reached Elkhead Pass, the snow storm had engulfed the nearby peaks and was rapidly approaching Missouri Gulch. I knew that the good views would soon vanish, so I retreated down the serene Missouri Gulch, startling a few ptarmigans along the trail.

Huron seen from Missouri with an approaching snowstorm in the distance

#15 Mount Belford and #16 Mount Oxford, November 26, 2016

I finally got Belford and Oxford! (I had intended to climb them in combination with Huron and then with Missouri.) This was my first time waking up, driving 3 hours to the trailhead outside Buena Vista, climbing the 14ers, and driving home all solo. Since I had only gotten my driver’s license a few months earlier, I was legally not allowed to drive solo before 5 a.m.; this translated into a rather late start from the trailhead (I started hiking just after 8 a.m.). Still, the weather was perfectly clear and calm all day, and I remember that it was one of my favorite days. I once again didn’t see another person the whole hike, and Missouri Gulch became one of my favorite locations. Belford provided an inspiring view of the other Sawatch Peaks, including the south side of La Plata, a non-standard route that I would end up climbing the following year. Oxford was a mellow addition with a nice overlook of the Arkansas River Valley. On the descent out of Missouri Gulch in the late afternoon, I saw frozen icicles hanging from a tiny stream and thought it looked like the fangs of winter.

Views northwest from high on Mount Belford in the afternoon

#17 Mount Columbia, December 4, 2016

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center started its daily forecasts in November, and I paid close attention, checking it every day all winter. I chose Columbia as my next peak because I was worried about what “moderate” (L2) avalanche danger would look like, and Columbia’s southeast ridge had practically no danger. It turned out that I was overthinking it–the peaks were only covered with 3 to 6 inches of powdery snow, and almost any non-couloir route would have been safe that day. Still, Columbia’s southeast ridge provided a worthy challenge. Extreme winds, blue skies, and snowy peaks combined for an unforgettable experience that was scenic but kind of unpleasant due to the wind. Also, the ridge felt more like a slog than a climb.

Looking into Horn Fork Basin from the summit of Columbia

#18 Mount Yale, December 31, 2016

Yale was my first failed 14er attempt. I tried its east ridge route solo in the first days of calendar winter, but a big snowstorm the day before had dumped a foot of powder below treeline, and I spent hours putting in a snowshoe trench through the untracked powder. When I reached the ridge at 12,000 feet, exhausted from the snowshoeing, the upper mountain was enveloped in a blizzard. After spending Christmas with my grandparents in North Carolina and catching a cold, I came back to Colorado and attempted Yale again, solo, on New Year’s Eve. This time, the route below treeline was already trenched out, the skies were clear, and I got my first solo winter 14er summit despite still being somewhat impaired by my respiratory sickness. The views were outstanding, I didn’t see another person car-to-car, and it was one of those all-around perfect days.

New Year’s Eve sunrise on Yale

Knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door ~ Bob Dylan

Winter views from the summit of Mount Yale

#19 Mount Bross, #20 Mount Cameron, #21 Mount Lincoln, and “South Bross,” January 7, 2017

I met a forum member to attempt the Decalibron from the Moose Creek trailhead (this was before the trailhead access controversy). I hiked down the road a little to make sure that I would gain 3,000 vertical feet to the summit of Bross. The east slopes of Bross were windblown and easy walking, and from the top, we hiked out-and-back to the unofficial 14er “South Bross.” As we continued to Cameron and Lincoln, the wind became insane–we calculated a wind chill of minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The skies were cloudy, the wind was howling, the views were rather boring, and the mood was overall pretty grim, but I successfully reached my new personal elevation record on the summit of Lincoln. We descended to Quartzville and hiked back to the car only to meet with a 3-hour delay on Highway 285 due to a wrecked semi.

#22 Mount Democrat, January 22, 2017

I returned to this group of peaks solo to hike Democrat via Kite Lake. The winter road closure conveniently helped me gain 3,000 feet to the summit instead of the usual, shorter gain. The weather was cloudy and windy in the early morning as I hiked the snowy road to Kite Lake, but as I snowshoed up the steep slope to the Cameron-Democrat saddle, the clouds parted, affording some decent views. By the time I reached the summit, the sky was clear and I could see dozens of 14ers in all directions. The trickiest part of this day was the aforementioned slope below the Cameron-Democrat saddle, as in the right conditions, parts of it could slide. I was careful to stay on the lowest-possible-angled slopes and I traversed high above the upper bowl on some tedious (but avalanche-free) windblown scree.

Looking back at Cameron from near the top of Democrat

#23 Mount Antero, February 25, 2017

I had gotten the idea that it would be fun to climb a 14er every calendar month, and with only one weekend left in February, I ended up hiking in some less-than-ideal weather conditions. I left straight from school to begin snowshoeing and pulling a loaded sled up the Baldwin Gulch road in the early evening. A little after dark, I set up the tent around 11,000 feet in the very snowy Baldwin Gulch. It was my first solo backcountry camping trip, and it was in the dead of winter, and dark! However, the actual camping part went smoothly. At first light, I left the shelter of the tent and continued snowshoeing under cloudy skies. I climbed the steep, wind-scoured west slopes to the south ridge, where things got serious. The wind rapidly picked up and whipped spindrift (blowing snow) off the ridges. One of my most-questionable 14er decisions was to continue up the next 500 vertical feet to the summit. At times, I was barely able to avoid being pushed sideways by the wind, and several times I got knocked down. The rocks were all small and loose, meaning that there was not much to grip. It was definitely an exciting experience solo! I finally touched the highest point on the summit, took some hasty pictures, and retreated down the ridge in the ever-worsening gale. Shortly after I left the exposed upper ridge, the clouds descended and wrapped the upper mountain in a blizzard. The blizzard followed just behind me as I hurried back to treeline, where I hiked back to camp through the picturesque snowy forest. Overall, Antero was my most extreme experience on a 14er which is ironic, as it’s considered one of the easiest 14ers in summer. Getting back to the tent and the road was a real relief. It is often the most trying experiences that leave the most lasting impressions, and Antero taught me a lot about mountain weather, the realities of high wind, and my own abilities.

Pulling the gear sled into Baldwin Gulch

You Reached for the Secret Too Soon, You Cried for the Moon…

Spindrift off Antero’s ridge

Shine on You Crazy Diamond ~ Pink Floyd

Antero summit view in late February–looking a little bleak!

#24 Mount Sherman, March 5, 2017

After my mini-epic on Antero, I decided that my next 14er should be low-key. I realized that Sherman was the only 14er in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range that I hadn’t climbed in calendar winter, and I thought it would be cool (pun not intended) to climb the whole range in winter. My parents and I attempted Sherman via Fourmile Creek. The low winter road closure made it over 10 miles round-trip with over 3,000 vertical feet to the summit. Large storms clouds rolled in a little earlier than predicted, so I ended up going for the summit solo to beat the weather. It was very windy, but not nearly as threatening as on Antero. I only stayed on the summit for a minute or two before dashing back down, propelled by the wind.

Storm clouds rolling in over Sheridan as seen while climbing Sherman

#25 Culebra Peak, March 11, 2017

As soon as I started pursuing all of the 14ers, Culebra stuck out in my mind as the crux, not because of its difficulty but because of the access issues. Luckily, a thread helped organize a group to gain winter access at $150/person to the Cielo Vista Ranch one March weekend. I overslept my alarm in the car at the trailhead and was one of the last people to start hiking up the road. In winter, the ranch roads were all snowy, so we had to hike all the way from the property border at 8,700 feet elevation. Luckily, the roads were well-packed and I didn’t ever need snowshoes (although I carried them on my pack all the way to treeline). Passing the green metal Fourway sign in the dark was a fun feeling, as it was barely sticking out of the snow. I was feeling strong and hiking fairly fast, and by treeline, I had passed most of the other hikers who started ahead of me. Sunrise over New Mexico, only a few miles to the south, was beautiful and inspired me to keep hiking hard. I ended up being the second person to summit Culebra that day, reaching the highpoint under overcast skies with snowy peaks spreading out in a line to the north and south. Culebra is actually one of my favorite 14ers because the area was beautiful and the access issues made it feel like I was very lucky to be able to climb the peak.

Winter summit of Culebra Peak, the forbidden 14er

#26 Mount Shavano and #27 Tabeguache Peak, June 11, 2017

After almost no climbing in April and a failed attempt at Snowmass in May, I was ready for some successful 14ers. I had climbed Dragon’s Tail Couloir in Rocky Mountain National Park in April, one of my first steep snow couloirs, and I wanted to do some more snow climbing before summer melted it all. I hiked Shavano solo via the Angel of Shavano snowfield (which was rather thin) and did the standard traverse to Tabeguache. The weather was great and I was happy to be back into more-or-less summer season. I looked north to Antero, the site of my winter mini-epic, and was amazed at how much easier it looked in this season. I spent quite a while on top of Tabeguache taking pictures and enjoying the views before returning over Shavano and glissading the Angel snowfield.

Ice axe on the summit of Tabeguache Peak with Antero in the background

#28 La Plata Peak and “East La Plata,” June 12, 2017

The night after Shavano and Tabeguache I camped in the car just above Winfield, one of my favorite areas in Colorado. The next morning I got an early start to climb La Plata Peak via the non-standard southwest slopes, a beautiful route that climbs through a hanging valley to finish on the peak’s prominent west ridge. Sunrise lit up the 13er Sayers Benchmark bright orange while the nearly full moon set over the jagged peak. It was an awe-inspiring scene, and the views continued to be great all the way to the summit of La Plata, where I looked out over an ocean of snowy peaks. I made the quick out-and-back trip to the unofficial 14er “East La Plata,” a bump on the upper Ellingwood Ridge. This was another of those perfect days, with calm wind, clear skies, good views, and not a single other person in sight for the whole hike.

La Plata Peak from “East La Plata”

#29 Mount Massive and “South Massive,” June 16, 2017

I had gotten better at weather forecasting by now, and I saw a perfect couple of days in the forecast. The National Weather Service showed zero cloud cover over the Sawatch for a couple days, with no chance of storms, even in the afternoon. Armed with this forecast, I left the Fish Hatchery trailhead in the early afternoon, heading for Massive. I took the east ridge route but detoured to tag the unofficial 14er “South Massive” before reaching the true summit of Mount Massive in the early evening. I spent the night in a sleeping bag and bivy sack a few feet from the highest rocks. Sunset and sunrise over the surrounding peaks made for undeniably the most amazing views I have ever seen from a mountain summit.

Sunrise on La Plata Peak as seen from the summit of Mount Massive

“Massive Green” and “North Massive,” June 17, 2017

After spending the night on the summit of Mount Massive, I photographed sunrise and continued across the ridge to two unofficial 14ers, a greenish dirt mound called “Massive Green” and a considerable rocky peak called “North Massive.” I also tagged the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Highpoint just west of “North Massive.” On my descent back to the Colorado Trail, I saw a nice heard of elk.

#30 Mount Harvard, June 30, 2017

I made good time on a solo hike up the standard route on Harvard via Hornfork Basin. I had been looking at this peak for a long time, and it was fun to finally stand on top. The wildflowers were beginning to bloom, making for pretty compositions with the surrounding peaks. I feel like this was one of my most-average 14er hikes–beautiful views, not too hard, solo, and not very exciting.

Wildflowers and peaks seen from just below Harvard’s summit

#31 Mount Lindsey and “Northwest Lindsey,” July 1, 2017

I went straight from Harvard to the Huerfano trailhead for Lindsey where I spent the night. The next morning, I hiked the standard route on Lindsey solo. I reached the upper basin for sunrise, which lit up Blanca and Ellingwood in crimson. I took the ridge route on the way up and the gully down; I was the first person to summit, once again in great weather. As part of the ridge climb on the way up, I touched the highest rock on the diminutive, unofficial 14er called “Northwest Lindsey.” The whole area is very pretty, but it felt fairly average for the 14ers and is one of my least-memorable 14er climbs despite being my first summit in the Sangres.

#32 Mount Sneffels, August 12, 2017

I got the crazy idea to sign up for the Silverton 1000 48-hour race, a timed event where runners/hikers have 48 hours to do as many laps as possible on a 1-mile trail loop (I ended up finishing 1st place overall with 101 miles in the 2 days). On the way down to Silverton for the race, we stopped in Ouray to climb Sneffels. I climbed the standard Lavender Col route, and while the climbing itself was unremarkable, the views were spectacular. Lush, verdant basins rose to rugged ruddy peaks all around, and I remembered how much I love the San Juans.

Prayer flags found at the summit of Sneffels

Mount Bierstadt (repeat), August 26, 2017

I led a group of younger Boy Scouts on a camping trip and hike up Mount Bierstadt. It was my first 14er repeat, and the summit probably had at least 100 people crowded together.

#33 Challenger Point and #34 Kit Carson Mountain, September 16, 2017

I did these peaks as a solo day-trip from Boulder, meaning that I drove 4 hours, hiked both peaks, and drove 4 hours home, leaving me pretty exhausted. Willow Lake was a peaceful locale. The standard routes, which I climbed, had a dusting of fresh snow, making them slippery. Challenger Point had impressive views out to the upper San Luis Valley far below, while Kit Carson offered a commanding perspective over the central Sangres. The Avenue on Kit Carson had an inch or so of snow, making it tricky to traverse. I carefully worked my way along the slippery rocks and relished in the joy of doing two ranked 14ers in one day.

Kit Carson (left) and Crestone Peak (right) from the summit of Challenger

#35 Uncompahgre Peak, October 13, 2017

Almost a month later, I went with my parents and dogs in the RV down to the San Juans. Since we only had the large RV, we parked at the low-elevation 2wd Nellie Creek trailhead and hiked Uncompahgre from there. It was another perfect October day, with no winds, no clouds, and no snow on the ground. All three of us and both dogs successfully summited, where we enjoyed the expansive views down the surrounding drainages. I absolutely love the combination of autumn tundra colors, blue sky, rugged peaks, and distant green forests. In my opinion, these perfect October days are the best time to climb 14ers–in addition to the wonderful conditions, we didn’t see any other people on the upper elevations of the peak.

Hiking the upper slopes of Uncompahgre

#36 Wetterhorn Peak, October 14, 2017

The next day, I biked a few miles up the road from the RV and then started hiking up the Matterhorn Creek drainage toward Wetterhorn’s standard route. Just like the previous day, the weather was beautiful, the views were enjoyable, and there was hardly any snow. At the time, this was the most technically difficult peak I had climbed solo, and I really enjoyed the steep class 3 scrambling on solid rock. The summit of Wetterhorn is one of the best 14er summits I think, since it falls off steeply on all sides but is flat in the middle.

Sunrise over Uncompahgre (distant) and Matterhorn (left) while going up Wetterhorn

#37 Blanca Peak and #38 Ellingwood Point, January 13, 2018

After a long break in my fourteener journey, during which I climbed some Mexican volcanoes (Orizaba, Izta, Malinche, Cerro Colorado), I got back to Colorado climbing in the Sierra Blanca sub-range of the Sangre de Cristos. The exceptionally dry winter, especially in the Sangres, meant that I didn’t even consider taking snowshoes for the hike up Lake Como Road. I ended up having to negotiate a few deeper drifts near treeline, but for the most part, it was like November conditions. I did these peaks as a solo day-hike from fairly low on the Como Road. I went up Blanca first and then traversed to Ellingwood in gusty winds. Ellingwood Point is known as somewhat of an avalanche trap in winter, but with the drought, I was not in danger. I did, however, kick off a 3-to-4-inch-thick slab of wind-deposited snow on the traverse, and I can see how the peak would be dangerous in a normal snow year. The whole area was much prettier with the snow cover than it had seemed from Lindsey in summer. Little Bear loomed ominously to the southwest, daring me to attempt it.

Ellingwood seen from Blanca

#39 Little Bear Peak and “South Little Bear,” January 27, 2018

I had talked about attempting Little Bear in winter for a year and a half. With a perfect weather window (no wind, clear skies) and minimal snow, I knew it was time. I climbed Little Bear’s southwest ridge from Lake Como Road as a solo day-trip. The lower miles of bushwhacking through the scrub forest in the dark were terrible and demoralizing, but the exhilarating traverse and fantastic position coupled with world-class views and total solitude made this my second-favorite fourteener climb to date. Along the class 4 ridge, I tagged the unofficial 14er “South Little Bear” before doing the convoluted and extremely exposed “Mama Bear Traverse” to Little Bear proper. One of my favorite memories from the 14er quest was drinking tea from a thermos and listening to the absolute silence on top of one of Colorado’s most fearsome peaks, solo, in the middle of winter. It was sublime.

Little Bear Peak as seen from the southwest ridge

This Glittering Joker was Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws ~ Bruce Cockburn

Panorama of the Sierra Blanca from Little Bear’s summit

#40 Humboldt Peak, February 17, 2018

February seems to be synonymous with “extreme winds.” On Humboldt’s east ridge, I experienced ridiculous winds which sometimes blew enough snow up off the ground to darken the otherwise-clear sky. To get to the ridge, I first had to snowshoe for what seemed like ages through several feet of virgin powder, the kind of snow where snowshoes sink thigh-deep. After the miserable postholing through the forest, I popped out into the unreal winds aloft, where I sheltered behind rock outcrops and the ridge itself as I fought my way to the summit. It was not dangerous, because the ridge was broad and unexposed, but once or twice the wind actually blew me over backwards. At least the summit view of the Crestones in winter was somewhat worth the slog.

Crestones in winter as seen from the summit of Humboldt

Quandary Peak (repeat), April 29, 2018

I had never climbed a 14er in April, and I had never skied a 14er, so skiing Quandary in late April seemed like a good idea. I’m not much of a skier, but a friend and I managed to lash standard in-bounds skis to our packs, haul them to the summit, and ski continuously from the summit snow cone to 11,000 feet in the forest just above the road, where we carried the skies over a short section of rocks.

Skiing Quandary Peak

#41 San Luis Peak, May 15, 2018

May was the last of the twelve months that I hadn’t successfully climbed a 14er, so I was excited to get my first May 14er. San Luis via the south ridge route out of Creede was a great late-spring Mother’s day trip with my parents and both dogs. There was a little more postholing than we anticipated along the Colorado Trail, but the patterns of snow and dirt made beautiful designs across the mountain side. San Luis definitely had a remote feel, hidden away in the La Garita Wilderness, and we didn’t see a single other party on the mountain. It is one of my favorite non-technical 14ers.

Traversing snow on the route to San Luis’ south ridge

#42 Maroon Peak and #43 North Maroon Peak, May 18, 2018

I had a history of failure in the Elk Range, including two failed attempts at Snowmass and a balked trip to Pyramid. Thus, it was with some considerable trepidation that I went to sleep for the first time in my new one-man tent in the campground on the Maroon Lake Road. By sunrise the next morning, I was halfway up the classic Bell Cord Couloir, a delightful 45-degree snow climb that runs up the very narrow chute between the two Maroon Bells. From the top of the couloir, I triumphantly scrambled to the summit of Maroon Peak, my first successful summit in the Elks. The calm, clear day, red rocks, green trees, and white snow made one of those innumerable perfect Colorado moments. Next I completed the exciting traverse to North Maroon and descended its northwest ridge (non-standard route) to the Gunsight Couloir. I didn’t see anyone on the peaks the whole day, and the Bells truly lived up to their hype by providing an outstanding day of solo alpinism.

South Maroon and the traverse seen from the summit of North Maroon

#44 Snowmass Mountain and “North Snowmass,” May 26, 2018

Finally! It took 3 tries to get this one: the first time I stopped at the lake and the second time I didn’t even get past the logjam. This time, I camped at the lake with the family and dogs and climbed the east snowfield mainly in the dark, summiting just after sunrise. Snowmass is my favorite 14er because of the long, scenic approach, the stunning lake, the enjoyable snowfield climbing, and the jaw-dropping views from the summit. I traversed to the unofficial 14er “North Snowmass,” a cool perch overlooking the Pierre Lakes basin with an eagle’s eye view of the legendary Capitol–Snowmass ridge. Every step of this climb was enjoyable, and I’m talking “Type 1,” in-the-moment fun, not just “after-the-fact” fun. I love snow climbing, I love the views in the Elks, and I love backpacking to alpine lakes. I think with this combination, it should be obvious why Snowmass is by far my favorite 14er. The extra satisfaction of touching the top after 2 failed attempts just made it that much more sweet.

Snowmass Lake

The Mighty Arms of Atlas / Hold the Heavens from the Earth ~ Led Zeppelin

Sunrise on Capitol as seen from the summit of Snowmass

#45 Crestone Peak, #46 Crestone Needle, “Northeast Crestone,” and “East Crestone,” May 31, 2018

I saw a great weather window coming up, and I took it. I left the 2wd parking on the South Colony Road at sunrise and hiked to South Colony Lakes, where I stashed my backpacking gear in a tree. I continued over Broken Hand Pass (a short snow climb was required) to the standard red gully route on Crestone Peak. After summiting the Peak solo, I rappelled down the north-facing couloir 50 feet and climbed the low-5th-class, unofficial 14er called “Northeast Crestone.” This was the hardest free climbing I did on my 14er quest. “Northeast Crestone” is a very cool conglomerate spire that looks like something from Patagonia. I had been dreading my eventual confrontation with this nearly vertical-sided peak ever since I decided to pursue all 74 fourteeners. The climbing actually turned out to be enjoyable and fairly easy, but I was glad for the rappel and self-belay down the icy approach couloir. After returning to the notch, I tagged the unofficial 14er “East Crestone” (an easy scramble and a county highpoint) and returned to Broken Hand Pass. From there, I climbed the standard route on Crestone Needle, which ended up being one of my favorite 14ers. The conglomerate rock was so fun to climb and quite solid! I topped out on the Needle in the afternoon and it was still cloudless. I descended Broken Hand Pass and camped at South Colony Lakes to watch the sunrise the next morning.

BOOM! The Needle

Excitable Boy, They All Said ~ Warren Zevon

Crestone Peak seen from the rarely visited summit of “Northeast Crestone”

“Southeast Longs” aka “The Beaver,” June 5, 2018

My main climbing partner didn’t have any snow climbing experience, and while there were still some snow-filled couloirs, we decided to change that. I also had a new 30m alpine rope and 2 pickets. We climbed the direct Loft Couloir, which turned the 40-degree snow climb into an AI1, M3 technical climb. We topped out on the unofficial 14er “Southeast Longs,” a summit I needed for the list of 74, but due to some complications, we were unable to continue to Longs Peak.

#47 Capitol Peak, July 13, 2018

After spending most of June and early July in Wyoming, I returned to Colorado with a mission: the Elk Range. I backpacked in to Capitol Lake solo (my first summertime solo backpacking trip) and endured a demoralizing rain storm the evening of July 12th. The next morning, I navigated for a couple of hours in the dark to watch sunrise from the summit of K2. The views did not disappoint. Capitol glowed bright orange-red like some legendary cut jewel set against an otherworldly background of jagged peaks and distant, multi-colored clouds. The climbing was quite enjoyable, too, and the famous knife edge was actually a lot of fun because it felt solid and had great exposure and views. The summit was one of the most rewarding I have visited, and Capitol was probably my third favorite 14er climb after Snowmass and Little Bear. I knew that storms were forecast for that day, so I made sure to be back to camp in the late morning. On the hike out, I kept looking back at the grand peak framed by lush aspen forests, a piece of Colorado paradise.

Sunrise on Capitol as seen from K2

Break on Through to the Other Side ~ The Doors

Capitol Lake

#48 Pyramid Peak, July 16, 2018

I returned to the Elk Range after running the Kendall Mountain Run in Silverton (new personal record of 2,600 vertical feet of gain in 1 hour). My last “hard” peak in the Elks was Pyramid, sometimes called the “third Maroon Bell.” After camping in the campground on the Maroon Lake Road, I climbed the standard route solo, reaching the steep headwall at the back of the amphitheater at sunrise. As I climbed, I watched the western Elks come to life with a golden glow. The upper part of Pyramid was not particularly enjoyable for me–I liked all of the other class 3/4 peaks better, since Pyramid seemed exceptionally loose and rotten. The ledge traverse and green wall were the only interesting parts of the actual climbing–the rest was just blocky ledges covered in loose rubble. However, Pyramid does have one of the best summit views of the 14ers: the world-famous Bells rise dramatically out of West Maroon Creek two miles west of the summit. I was the first person to summit for the day, so I set up my phone camera on self-timer to take the classic “diving board” picture.

The classic Pyramid summit shot

#49 Castle Peak and #50 Conundrum Peak, July 19, 2018

I climbed the standard northeast ridge of Castle with my parents and the dogs, and we all traversed to Conundrum and descended from the col between them. The hike was not as fun as most of the other 14ers because most of it was either on a 4×4 road or over loose scree, but the summit views were worthwhile, especially the view from Castle down into the pristine Cumberland Basin to the south. The abundant wildflowers were the redeeming aspect of the hike along the 4×4 road. It felt great to have finished all of the 14ers in the Elk Range, a place notorious for its dangerous peaks, and to finally break through to peak number 50.

Wildflowers on the hike through Castle Creek

#51 El Diente, #52 Mount Wilson, “West Wilson,” and “South Wilson,” July 31, 2018

These peaks were a logistical nightmare: everything from weather to snow to train cancellations to races played into the timing. I ended up realizing I still had a chance to finish all the 14ers before I turned 18, so I set out from the family ranch in Wyoming for a 10.5-hour solo drive to Telluride. The next morning, I climbed El Diente solo from Kilpacker Basin, watching a smoky sunrise over Mount Wilson from near the top. After tagging the highest point, I started the classic El Diente–Mount Wilson traverse. I found the scrambling fairly easy and enjoyable, and along the way, I touched the highest rock on the unofficial 14er “West Wilson.” After summiting Mount Wilson, I descended a little and climbed the fairly difficult and unbelievably loose north ridge of the unofficial 14er “South Wilson.” If any of the unofficial 14ers should be made official, “South Wilson” gets my nod. The traverse was as hard as the Maroon Bells traverse but significantly looser. The bright orange summit of “South Wilson” certainly felt like a unique peak, and it afforded great views of the western San Juans. I descended laughably loose scree back into Kilpacker Basin and hiked out, very glad to have these peaks finally behind me.

Sunrise on Mount Wilson as seen from high on El Diente

You’re Out There Running Just to Be on the Run ~ John Prine

El Diente – “West Wilson” – Mount Wilson connecting ridge seen from “South Wilson”

#53 Wilson Peak, August 1, 2018

The next day, I followed the Rock of Ages trail in the dark solo and scrambled Wilson Peak’s southwest ridge in the twilight before dawn. I reached the summit a few minute before sunrise, hoping for some great photography opportunities like I had on Mount Massive, but the thick smoke in the area (blown in from California) made the sunrise rather dull. I spent a long time on the summit waiting for better light, and on the descent, I finally got some nice views of the other Wilsons lit up with some early morning light that found its way through the smoky haze.

Wilson massif seen from high on Wilson Peak

#54 Sunlight Peak, #55 Windom Peak, and “Sunlight Spire,” August 6, 2018

The unofficial 14er “Sunlight Spire” is the reason I started rockclimbing. Yes, it seems ridiculous to learn how to climb just for 50 feet of easy aid climbing, but when I started working on the list of 74 fourteeners, “Sunlight Spire” was the obvious obstacle. The easiest route goest at 5.10+ free or 5.4 C0-C1 on aid. Lacking confidence with crack climbing, I decided to aid the spire, meaning that I had to haul dozens of pounds of climbing gear into Chicago Basin. To complicate matters, the train cancelled all backpacking reservations for the rest of the summer. I ended up hiking 15 miles into Chicago Basin from the Purgatory Flats trailhead laden with a way-overweight backpack and accompanied by my parents and the dogs. The next morning, I set out solo to climb the legendary Spire. After scrambling the approach ledges in the dark, I built my anchor and was hanging from the etriers at sunrise. This was my first time solo lead climbing, so it took a little extra time to make sure my systems were set up correctly. After that, I just plugged cams in the beautiful, slightly overhanging crack and hauled my way to the summit. I will say, this was by far the most rewarding of the 14er summits. After rappelling off, I did the quick scramble out and onto Sunlight Peak’s spectacular summit, another rewarding perch with tingling exposure. Next, I met my parents and dogs at 13,000 feet and we climbed Windom’s standard west ridge, relishing in the stunning views of Twin Lakes before returning to camp in Chicago Basin.

Aid climbing “Sunlight Spire,” Colorado’s hardest 14,000-foot peak

I Don’t Know, It Must Have Been the Roses ~ The Grateful Dead

Sunlight Peak seen from the summit of “Sunlight Spire”

Terrapin! I Can’t Figure Out Terrapin! If It’s the End or Beginning ~ The Grateful Dead

Panorama from high on Windom

#56 Mount Eolus and #57 North Eolus, August 7, 2018

The next morning I was glad to finally do a little hiking without carrying a 70m rope and big trad rack. Despite being pretty exhausted from the past couple of days, I made good time on my solo climb of the standard route on Eolus, reaching the summit just after sunrise. A fair amount of smoke had blown into the area, making the sunrise extra red. Pigeon Peak and all of the other Weminuche peaks stood like fiery sentinels all around. After enjoying the views, I continued back across the fun catwalk to do the quick scramble up North Eolus on fun grippy rock. After racing back to camp, we backpacked out to the confluence of Cascade Creek and the Animas River where I enjoyed swimming in the paradaisical Animas.

Sunrise on the summit of Mount Eolus with 13er Pigeon Peak in the background

#58 Mount Elbert and “South Elbert,” August 9, 2018

I hiked Elbert via the Black Cloud Creek route with my parents, a friend, and both dogs. On the hike over to Elbert, I tagged the top of the unofficial 14er “South Elbert,” a significant point with a nice vantage of the Sawatch. When I stepped onto the highest rock on the summit of Mount Elbert, I finished the 14ers, both the list of 58 named peaks and the expanded list of 74 fourteeners listed by On Bierstadt, less than 2 years earlier, I had made the goal of finishing all of the 14ers before I turned 18, and that dream became realityt, as I summited Elbert a couple of days before my 18th birthday. It felt great to bring this journey to a wrap, althought I look forward to countless more days on Colorado’s wonderous mountains. Elbert was a suitable final 14er, as it is the tallest peak in Colorado and also has a great central location, offering views back to most of the other 14ers. It was fun to sit on top and identify the other 14ers in the distance, remembering the great climbs I had and the memories I made, the challenges I overcame and the things I saw.

With my parents on the summit of Mount Elbert, my 14er finisher

Thank you to my parents, for support throughout the 14er project; to friends and forum members, for climbing with me; to and innumberable other sources of information, for directing my efforts; and to those who climbed before me, for blazing the trail.

Long You Live and High You Fly

And Smiles You’ll Give and Tears You’ll Cry

And All You Touch and All You See

Is All Your Life Will Ever Be ~ Pink Floyd

First light, Snowmass Mountain

Ad Astra!