The allure of hiking and climbing Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks

With snow-capped summits, awe-inspiring faces and inherent danger, Colorado’s Fourteeners — peaks that reach 14,000 feet or more above sea level — have enraptured hikers and climbers for years. Every year, Colorado’s Fourteeners are hiked by more than 500,000 people, with locals and international visitors taking on the challenge. Ranging from well-marked hiking trails to exposed climbs, they offer a difficulty range that allows hikers of all abilities to attempt the high peaks.

While Colorado is one of the only U.S. states to embrace the Fourteener classification, other countries have similar regional mountain groupings. In Scotland, the Munros are the 282 peaks above 3,000 feet. Though 3,000 feet might seem nothing compared to the Fourteeners, hikers start their ascent closer to sea level while many of the trailheads for Fourteeners are already above 10,000 feet in elevation.

While the Fourteeners make up some of Colorado’s most famous peaks, sometimes the celebrated classification can overshadow other beautiful mountains that are just feet shy from making the cut. Colorado’s thirteeners don’t come with the same bragging rights, but they often offer the same challenging terrain, miles of views and fewer crowds. There are 647 thirteeners and over 1,000 12,000-foot mountains in Colorado.

The biggest dangers on Fourteeners are a result of changing weather conditions. It’s common that it may be warm and sunny in town and bitter cold and windy on top of the surrounding peaks. There are often afternoon storms, and it’s important to reach the summit and begin descending before 11 a.m.

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