If you haven’t heard of a Colorado 14er, you haven’t been in Colorado much. Most people that grew up there or have lived there for a few summers have heard of these peaks that exceed 14,000 feet in elevation. They are popular to hike and become somewhat of a “bucket list” for people who live or visit there to hike. There are over 50 of these peaks and a lost list of those that are well maintained. They are not very easy to hike- the altitude is no joke, the elevation gain is high, you have to go early in the morning (like 5 am early) in order to summit before noon. The risk of lightning is high EVERY afternoon and people die every year on these mountains being struck by lightning. Seems crazy, huh?
Many are hard to even access the parking lots without 4-wheel drive. I had originally wanted to hike Grey and Torrey- two 14ers side-by-side that you can summit both in one day. However, we had a sedan and read that even in summer we would have to park 3 miles from the trailhead without 4-wheel drive. Another 6 miles of walking? Nope. We’ve also done it before (in a different vehicle), so we picked a new peak for us- Mt. Evans.
Mt. Evans is one of two 14ers that you can drive to the top (the other is Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs). The view alone with worth the drive, but if get carsick (like me), watch out. I remember driving up as a teenager (when my motion sickness was much worse) and being so nauseous at the top of Pike’s Peak I never wanted to go back. It can also be a little nerve-wracking coming down in a car since the risk of brakes overheating is a real concern. Once when we drove up they even made everyone stop to check brake temps car by car.
When we got to the parking lot of the route we had chosen (there are many choices for this summit), it was full of mountain sheep and goats. These ended up being the only ones we saw that day, so I’m glad we took some early pictures.
We decided to hike near a lake and accidentally missed the turnoff at some point. We ended up basically boulder-climbing for nearly 3 hours, trying to find a path to where we could see we needed to go. It was exhausting. We even had to traverse some snow and likely were just a little too early in the season for the route we picked. A fellow hiker came by and we realized we basically had to just scale over the top of the cliff above us if we wanted to continue on. In typical fashion, I could not be deterred from the trail, despite how tired we both were already.
Once we scaled some rocks and got on top of the ridge, we were able to summit a 13er, go down into a valley and get about 80% of the way to the summit of Mt. Evans. However, it started to get too late in the afternoon (it was already 1 pm and recommendations are to summit by noon). We realized we would risk being too late in the afternoon and, along with some fellow hikers, turned around and headed back. Thankfully, we were able to still drive to the summit! That isn’t true for nearly all the rest of these peaks.
I love meeting people on the trails- there a bonding element to seeing people doing the same hard thing as you. Generally, the people of Colorado are warm and welcoming and easy to engage. They are really helpful when you have questions, dogs are always a favorite for everyone and everyone loves to answer your questions on where to go.
There is nothing quite like summiting a mountain for me. I enjoy the challenge of getting up and feel a huge sense of accomplishment once I have gotten to the top. The hardest part of me is going back down- I am not nearly as excited and the exhaustion settles in. That feeling of taking off your hiking boots once you get the car and sit down is pretty darn nice.
I also hiked a different day, for the first time, the Manitou Incline. It is a one-mile staircase of nearly 2500 steps, straight up. It is a workout! I loved it and the amazing views. Plus, I hiked it with a good friend and loved the conversation (in between breathing) that we were able to have. The hiking path down the back is much safer than going back down the stairs and is a beautiful, scenic hike in itself.
Colorado is such a fun, natural playground.