Hiking a 14er in Colorado
June 6, 2015 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Next weekend, my friends and I are going out for a kind of bachelor party. One of the activities we'd like to do is summit a 14er. We'll be staying in Breckenridge, so not far from Mt. Bross, Lincoln, etc.

I'm looking for some help on planning this hike/ascent. Which mountain(s) would be best to climb? What time should we plan on getting going in the morning? How long should we expect it to take? What equipment, if any, should we definitely bring with us?

Any tips, hints, suggestions or advice would be great, thanks!
posted by arm426 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm going to assume you don't have serious climbing experience. I did Humboldt, it's very hikeable as 14ers go. When we were there the valley just under the main crest of the peak got a little difficult to navigate since we lost the trail, but otherwise it's a very lovely hike.

The main problem is it's two-and-a-half hours from you, so you'd either have to leave extremely early in the morning or stay in the area the night before. Westcliffe, the nearest town to the trailhead, is lovely and you will have some amazing views of the Sangre de Cristos driving in.

Also 14ers.com is a great resource.
posted by Anonymous at 1:14 PM on June 6, 2015

What elevation do you all normally live at?
posted by deludingmyself at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2015

We're coming from several cities: Philly, Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis
posted by rbf1138 at 1:25 PM on June 6, 2015

Quandary Peak is very close to Breckenridge and very easy for people who have never done one but be ready for crowds.
posted by z11s at 1:37 PM on June 6, 2015

Ditto on 14ers.com being a good resource. There is still a lot of snow on the peaks, due to late spring storms (like the one today). Here's a report from a couple days ago on Mt. Elbert - The easiest one to climb:
Trail is snow free until about half a mile from the tree line. The snow here is soft and loose and probably the worst on the whole trail. Above tree line is mostly covered with better packed snow with some patches of rock. I used snowshoes, but probably should have used spikes instead as other hikers with spikes seemed to fare better. Ran into one other hiker with just boots. He got up just fine, but was having problems on the descent.
Probably the easiest to get up would be Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs. It's a drive up, though - and I don't know if they have the road open all the way yet.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:40 PM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

We're coming from several cities: Philly, Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis

In that case, read up on altitude sickness, and be prepared to hustle back down if anyone starts showing symptoms. No toughing it out.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:40 PM on June 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

Seconding the advice on reading up on altitude sickness. The first time I hiked up one the the 14ers (when I was young and in great shape) a guy in the group who'd come from Chicago a few days before, and who wasn't in excellent shape, got hypoxia. It came on very quickly. One moment he was puffing away, the next moment he started to giggle. Our guide new exactly what to do, but it was scary. The guy had a splitting headache the next day.
posted by dws at 2:25 PM on June 6, 2015

Response by poster: Sounds like this might be a bad iea, as even the easiest has snow on it, and with 7 guys in the group the likelihood of us being there a day and at least one person having trouble with the alititude is high.

Any alternative hikes that would be scenic, fun and without snow/altitude in the Breck area you'd recommend for a group of 7 guys?
posted by arm426 at 4:13 PM on June 6, 2015

McCullough Gulch is one of my all time favorites. I don't know how it would be this early in the year, given the spring snows. But it is close to Breck, you get some great views, the lakes are beautiful, and there's usually some good wildlife.
It sounds like you've got a good head on your shoulders, and I personally breathed a sigh of relief on your decision not to go.
posted by susiswimmer at 4:59 PM on June 6, 2015

Hanging Lake is in Glenwood Canyon- an hour or so downhill from Breck. The trailhead is right off I70, you can't miss it. Get there early to beat the crowds. It's a short-ish hike that is reasonably challenging. Highly worth it.

The rest of Glenwood Canyon is something to see, as well. Roll all of the way through to Glenwood Springs and have lunch at Juicy Lucy's.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:10 PM on June 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Way more scenic than Pikes Peak and closer to Breckenridge is Mt. Evans, another 14,000' mountain. I can't tell if the road is open yet or not -- they try to get it open by Memorial Day but couldn't this year. However, Memorial Day was a couple of weekends ago, so it is probably open now. It's quite a beautiful drive.
posted by elmay at 5:13 PM on June 6, 2015

Breck is high enough (9600 feet) that you could get altitude sickness even if you don't do the 14er. You can get a prescription for Acetazolamide to counteract altitude sickness, and there are other steps you can take: avoiding caffeine, carbonated beverages, and alcohol (at altitude, one drink has the effect of two, and hangover plus altitude sickness is brutal); staying very hydrated (pedialyte works); picking up a small bottle of oxygen (available at many outfitters and even at mountain gas stations).

Another way to avoid altitude sickness would be to spend your first night in Denver, acclimating and taking it easy.
posted by caryatid at 5:18 PM on June 6, 2015

I say (since you are near breck) begin up Quandary Peak. It's a ridge hike - great trail condition, no way to get lost, easy descent to the car. even if you get just up above treeline, the views are spectacular. I have real reservations about summiting anything (14er) with short acclimation times, but that would be a great adventure nonetheless.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:30 PM on June 6, 2015

Are any of you Coloradans? In addition to altitude, you need to be VERY aware of the danger lightning presents especially above treeline, and just how quickly our weather can change. Seriously, last week I was sunning when out of NOWHERE hurricane-gale wind blew all the furniture in the pool, the skies opened up with rain and hail. Three minutes later it was calm and sunny again. Our weather is cray.

Also +1 for Hanging Lake, although I'd have lunch at The Pullman.
posted by cyndigo at 11:00 AM on June 7, 2015

Oh shoot, the point about altitude sickness is a good one. I came from Philly when I climbed Humboldt, but I'd been ~8,000 ft for a week when I went for it. Unless you're all in very good shape pick something easy and allow time for people to hydrate and rest as needed.
posted by Anonymous at 2:34 PM on June 7, 2015

As an aside, vulnerability to altitude sickness is not determined by fitness level. You could be a high performing athelete and still get life endangering altitude sickness.
posted by Pantalaimon at 4:04 PM on June 7, 2015

Thanks for all the great responses! I'm thinking that we'll do McCullough Gulch and the Quandary Peak ridge trail. Hanging Lake looks great but is a bit too far. We're all arriving in Denver Thursday, from those cities mentioned above, and will just be in Colorado until Sunday. I'll probably get a prescription for Acetazolamide in case anyone needs it.

The other big activity is rafting The Numbers on Saturday. I've done Brown's Canyon and found it fun but easy. None of the others have been on the Arkansas River before.
posted by rbf1138 at 6:43 AM on June 8, 2015

Check out the forums on Quandary, and make sure you're prepared for hiking over snowfields if you decide to do it. Colorado has experienced an unusually wet and cool May, so there is still a ton of snow in the high country. I was snowboarding Quandary a month ago, and I imagine people are still riding the couliours now. The reports suggest you need snowshoes right now. And though the east ridge approach is pretty stable right now, wet slab avalanches are a very real danger right now as the snowpack is warming and getting wetter. Right now, snow conditions are such that you are much more likely to be swept off the mountain or into trees by an avalanche than you are to be hit by afternoon lightning. The precautions are the same though -- plan to get off the mountain by noon.

Frankly, if you are a group of flatlanders with no real experience with alpine terrain, avalanche safety, or snow travel, now is not a good time to be climbing a 14er. I'm not sure if j_curiouser's recommendation took snow conditions into account.

Do you know what flow you ran Brown's canyon at? The Numbers is running at over 2200, so it'll be a solid step and a half above Brown's at just about any flow. Should be a blast. One side note; since you're considering a 14er, I assume your group is fairly physically fit. If so, great, go raft the numbers and hang on in the big rapids -- swims will be unpleasant at these flows. But we've had a couple of commercial rafting deaths in the state already -- generally the victims aren't athletic enough to handle swimming in whitewater and they flush drown. Be careful out there.

If you're swinging through denver for any supplies, the REI flagship downtown has a great desk where they have lots of information on trial conditions etc. They might be worth asking about other hiking options.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:06 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Brown's Canyon was last summer in June, and the guide commented that the flow was particularly high. No one came anywhere close to falling in.

I'd say that yeah, we're all in good shape, no one is overweight and we're only doing a half day trip, so it's 1.5 hours on the water. I'd have to imagine that our guide will be prepared to do this with 7 guys, even if some have never done whitewater rafting before.
posted by rbf1138 at 8:53 AM on June 8, 2015

Generally the guides are well-prepared, but sometimes they're also 20 years old and its their first season guiding. My usual beef with them is that they don't screen for passenger health like they should, so people have heart attacks when they hit the cold water in exciting circumstances. Sounds like you'll be fine though. Just remember that the passive "raft swimmer position" they teach you isn't always the best option -- sometimes you need to swim for shore.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:28 AM on June 8, 2015

Lots of good advice above. So far, 8* 14er summit experience. Littleton resident, who thought upon moving to Colorado, to try and survive a Red Rocks work out first. Then tackle the runs along the foothills of Apex Park, Lookout Mountain, Red Mesa loop run, Matthews Winter Park, Roxborough, or Boulder's Chautauqua Park. After 3 months, let alone 3 days start to acclimate, then try an "easy" 14er in Quandry. The hikes are not easy. Gerry Roach has a good 14er guide book on what to expect. From trailheads, round trip distance, topo maps, and good advice on which peaks are to be attempted or avoided. For every hiker, drink lots of water, even if you are not thirsty. Mt. Sherman is an easier one within driving distance to the trailhead, and summit by noon in the area. 3L minimum for 4-6 hours per person. Average times to summit is generally around 2 miles per hour. Starting at the trailhead around 6-7 AM allows for a summit push by noon and time to enjoy the trek, rest and recover. Remember you are only half way done at the summit, and allow time for route finding, snow fields, elevation rest, or photo ops. Normally, this builds time to decent before afternoon thunderstorms, which have been frequent this year. Good luck.

*Quandry, Bierstadt, Grays, Evans, Sherman, Yale, Elbert, Belford.
posted by brent at 9:41 PM on June 8, 2015

I'll probably get a prescription for Acetazolamide in case anyone needs it.

Just FYI: Acetazolamide is a preventative, not a treatment. You (each of you) need to start the Acetazolamide BEFORE you travel to higher altitudes, and use it during the actual ascent. It speeds acclimatization; it doesn't treat altitude sickness (although it may reduce symptoms).
posted by caryatid at 3:10 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

One more note regarding Brown's. It's pouring rain in Colorado right now, and Brown's is running at 3700 cfs. They're currently searching for the body of an 11 year-old in the canyon. It's worth checking with your outfitter to find out whether they have a high water limit for Brown's; the high water limit for the Numbers (the class IV section a ways above the class III Brown's canyon) is 2,400 cfs for many operators, based on the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area guidelines.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:00 AM on June 12, 2015

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