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In praise of the winter 14er

14ers are both the Colorado hiker's hallmark and his/her bane. You can't help but want to tick them off your personal list and "collect 'em all!" like they're toys or trophies. Problem is, you're not the only one, and the tops of all but the hardest can seem like a high-altitude kegger with people you wouldn't ever invite (and no beers!).

Ladies and gentlemen, I've found a solution: Climbing the winter 14er. Where in summer Elbert is loaded with jean-clad hikers (I even saw a freaking baby on top once) and trail runners, in winter you'll find little more than windblown snow and maybe a misguided crow or two. Oh, plus the same kick-ass views for miles.

The reason is simple: Climbing a 14er in winter is by and large a miserable experience.

If it's too cold, you'll be scraping on ice; it it's too hot, you'll be postholing up to your crotch (in snowshoes!). When you can get the weather to cooperate even a little, you're still almost guaranteed to be dealing with subzero temps near the top. Minus a few exceptions, the apocalyptic conditions near 14ers shuts off roads and almost always adds miles to your trailhead trip, making the barriers for entry very high. Even Coloradans raise an eyebrow when you tell them you're climing a 14er in winter.

Which is exactly why I love it. All the frozen feet and cracking lips are worth it--it turns a hike into an expedition, a walk-up into a possible winter epic. I might never go to the Himalayas (fingers crossed), but I can put on my best Hilary face and pretend in -20 gale on Gray's or Torrey's.

Speaking of, I'm headed out to a winter 14er this weekend (just in time for snowfall!). Hopefully I'll have pics and a trip report to follow. I know I'm not alone: I see more and more winter warriors every year. If you're headed out to a winter 14er as well, send in your pics to us and we'll post 'em up proper.

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