Class-I hikes in the Colorado 14ers

There are 53 mountains in Colorado that extend above 14000 feet in height.  These mountains are called “the 14ers” and they are a perpetual draw for hikers and climbers wanting to challenge themselves.

Even though all are taller than 14000 feet, some are more difficult than others.  Some do require technical climbing skills and equipment, but others have developed trails all the way to the top, making these doable for somewhat more novice hikers.

There are 6 peaks listed by as being Class-I (easy hiking, usually on a trail) –

  • Handies Peak – southwest slopes
  • Gray’s Peak – north slope
  • Quandary Peak – east ridge
  • Mount Elbert – northeast ridge
  • San Luis Peak – northeast ridge
  • Pike’s Peak – east slopes

Handies_Peak_WSA_(9467518106)Handies Peak

Handies Peak, in southwest Colorado, is the highest point of land managed by the BLM outside of Alaska.  The surrounding wilderness area is described as, …multi-colored rock strata, numerous drainages, glacial cirques, diverse vegetation, and vast, open vistas… [with] 12 peaks over 13,000 feet, three alpine lakes, and three major canyons with streams… volcanic, glacial and Precambrian formations… mixed spruce, fir, aspen, alpine grasses, sedges, and forbs. Fauna includes elk, deer, black bear, various small mammals, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.

They say that from the top of Handies Peak one cannot see a single sign of civilization.  I don’t know about you guys, but to me that sounds like heaven!

The American Basin trail up Handies Peak begins at 11647′ AMSL and rises over the course of about 5.4 miles to a peak of 14,024′.  The incline averages about 17% with a maximum grade of 44%.  Most hikers make the round trip in 3-5 hours.  Camping is allowed in the area, but there are no facilities and it is all above the treeline so there is no cover.

Grays_Peak_Trail_viewed_from_high_on_Grays_Peak.jpgGray’s Peak

Gray’s Peak in north-central Colorado is the highest point on the Continental Divide.  As one of the “easiest” 14ers, it is a draw for hikers wanting to get started hiking the Colorado 14ers.

“You start by hiking up a beautiful alpine basin full of wildflowers and a rushing creek.  The hike will level off for just a short time as you go through a rocky area and enter into the Grays/Torrey’s cirque.  From here it is a slow and steady climb up switchbacks to the summit of Grays.”

Gray’s Peak trail is about 8 miles from the trailhead at about 11200 feet to the summit at 14270 feet AMSL.  This is an average grade of about 7-8% with a few steeper grades between 25-35% towards the peak.  Many hikers seem to make the round trip in 2-3 hours but I’m a lot slower than that, so if I were challenging it I’d allow 4-5 hours.

Quandary_Peak_Colorado_USA_14382068790.jpgQuandary Peak

“You’ll find yourself above tree line for the vast majority of this hike. While the wildflowers aren’t that remarkable, the overly friendly mountain goats and marmots are. For those unfamiliar with the former, mountain goats are sodium-deprived brutes and will go to great lengths to acquire any salty fluid, including drinking any human or dog urine they come across.”

The trail up Quandary Peak is just under 6.5 miles long, rising from 10995 to 14234 feet with an average grade of 19% and a max grade of 82%.  The trail guides say it is often crowded with climbers in the warmer season, and OH, by the way, the mountain goats can kill you.

Mt._Elbert.jpgMount Elbert

At 14400 feet, the peak of Mount Elbert is the highest point in Colorado, the highest point in the Rocky Mountains, and the highest point in the entire Mississippi River Basin.

The San Isabel National Forest website describes two main routes to the summit – the South trail and the North trail.  Both are class-I climbs but both have 4400+ feet of elevation gain over the course of 4-6 miles.  This is another busy peak during the warmer seasons.

San Luis Peak

Located in the Gunnison National Forest, San Luis Peak is described as a wilderness climb with great views and great solitude – as opposed to other, more crowded climbs.  This mountain is the highest in the La Garita range in Colorado near Creede Colorado.

The trail up San Luis Peak is 12.6 miles long, rising from 10478 feet to 14022 feet with an average grade of 11% and max grade of 58%.


pikes-peak-1273566_960_720.jpgPike’s Peak

While we’re talking about overcrowded mountain trails, there is Pike’s Peak.  With more than 500 thousand climbers per year, it would be tough for me to justify adding my bootprints to that one.  That works out to something like 50000 visitors per month tromping up and down Pike’s Peak.  I’m surprised they haven’t trampled it flat yet!

Despite the fact that Pike’s Peak is a Class-I hike, it would still be a monstrous, grueling undertaking.  The Class-I trail has 7600 feet of elevation gain over the course of a 24-mile hike!  There is a shorter trail – only 14 miles with 4300 feet of elevation, but it is a Class-II climb.

So if you are obsessive about peakbagging and you are resistant to the irritation of so many people, 14115 foot Pike’s Peak would be an awesome way to test yourself!


Categories: Adventure, Mountaineering