Why Colorado Fourteeners Seem a Lot More Crowded

Quandary Peak has seen a huge leap in popularity of late.
Quandary Peak has seen a huge leap in popularity of late.
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How popular are Colorado fourteeners? The latest report about these incredible peaks reveals that the number of hiker days has increased by nearly 100,000 in just four years.

Westword has documented the rising popularity of fourteeners in the state annually since 2016, when we published our first analysis of data compiled by the invaluable Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. The survey from that year, built upon statistics from 2015, estimated 260,000 hiker days. A year later, the 2016 number landed at 311,000, and the total rose to 334,000 for 2017.

The new analysis, using 2018 figures, calculates 353,000 hiker days, a boost of 93,000, or 26.3 percent, since 2015.

A handful of peaks contributed mightily to this jump, including several along the Front Range with easy access to the Denver metro area. In 2015, the number of hiker days on Mount Bierstadt was set at 20,000 to 25,000. In 2018, the estimate is 35,000 to 40,000. The change has been even more dramatic for Quandary Peak, in the Tenmile range, which clocked 15,000 to 20,000 hiker days in 2015 and 35,000 to 40,000 circa 2018.

Lloyd Athearn, CFI's executive director and a frequent expert commentator on Westword posts such as our July look at the most dangerous fourteeners, acknowledges that ancillary factors may have contributed to the big 2018. For example, low snowpack during the winter of 2017-’18 allowed Initiative staffers to deploy counters earlier in the prime hiking season (May 28 through October 7) than during past years. However, Athearn has also observed the growing appeal of fourteeners for outdoors lovers who've moved to Colorado or travel here specifically to summit as many of these dramatic geologic features as possible.

At the same time, tragedies such as 71-year-old Don Chambliss's July death near the top of Torreys Peak demonstrate the importance of safety when tackling such challenges.

In Athearn's words, "Climbing is an opportunity to test yourself in nature and see where your boundaries are — to see what you can do and strive to do bigger and bolder things than you've ever done before. But I think we've seen over the past few years that sometimes people don't have a good calibration of where their abilities are relative to the objectives they're taking on. So for those people who say, 'I really want to climb all the fourteeners' to check off their bucket list, we want to encourage them to think about taking a mountaineering course or hiring someone to guide them up the more difficult peaks. It seems like a reasonable thing to consider."

Continue to see the updated hiker-day stats for 2018, complete with details about specific estimates.

Torreys Peak/Grays Peak.
Torreys Peak/Grays Peak.

Estimated Hiking Use on Colorado’s 14ers
Total Hiker Use Days: 353,000 (2018 Data)

Front Range
Best Est: 107,000

Longs Peak: 15,000-20,000
Pikes Peak: 10,000-15,000*
Torreys Peak/Grays Peak: 25,000-30,000*
Mount Evans: 10,000-15,000
Mount Bierstadt: 35,000-40,000#

Tenmile Range
Best Est: 38,000

Quandary Peak: 35,000-40,000*

Sawatch Range
Best Est: 98,000

Mount Elbert: 20,000-25,000*
Mount Massive: 7,000-10,000^
Mount Harvard: 5,000-7,000^
La Plata Peak: 5,000-7,000*
Mount Antero: 3,000-5,000
Mount Shavano/Tabegauche Peak: 5,000-7,000
Mount Belford/Mount Oxford: 7,000-10,000^
Mount Princeton: 5,000-7,000
Mount Yale: 7,000-10,000^
Mount Columbia: 3,000-5,000^
Missouri Mountain: 3,000-5,000^
Mt. of the Holy Cross: 5,000-7,000
Huron Peak: 7,000-10,000*

Mount Elbert.
Mount Elbert.

San Juan Mountains
Best Est: 45,000

Uncompahgre Peak: 3,000-5,000
Mount Wilson: 1,000-3,000
El Diente Peak: 1,000-3,000
Mount Eolus: 3,000-5,000
Windom Peak/Sunlight Peak: 3,000-5,000
Handies Peak: 5,000-7,000*
Mount Sneffels: 5,000-7,000*
Redcloud Peak/Sunshine Peak: 3,000-5,000*
Wilson Peak: 1,000-3,000*
Wetterhorn Peak: 3,000-5,000
San Luis Peak: 3,000-5,000

Mosquito Range
Best Est: 39,000

Mount Lincoln/Mount Bross/Mount Democrat: 20,000-25,000*
Mount Sherman: 15,000-20,000*

Elk Mountains
Best Est: 9,000

Castle Peak: 1,000-3,000*
Maroon Peak: 1,000-3,000
Capitol Peak: 1,000-3,000
Snowmass Mountain: 1,000-3,000
Pyramid Peak: 1,000-3,000

Sangre de Cristo Range
Best Est: 17,000

Blanca Peak/Ellingwood Point: 1,000-3,000*
Crestone Peak: 1,000-3,000
Crestone Needle: 1,000-3,000
Kit Carson Peak/Challenger Point: 1,000-3,000
Humboldt Peak: 3,000-5,000
Culebra Peak: 1,000-3,000
Mount Lindsey: 1,000-3,000*
Little Bear Peak: 1,000-3,000

Approximation Notes

*Indicates data drawn from CFI TRAFx recorders, with data gap and early/late season infills from either previous years or nearby peak data. All other estimates are interpolated from a correlation between TRAFx data and reported 14ers.com peak use statistics.

^Indicates US Forest Service counter at trailhead to provide upper bound on hiking use for 14ers accessed by the trailhead.

#Indicates US Forest Service counter with data gap and early/late season infills from either prior years
or nearby peak data.

Range and overall totals are adjusted to account for the frequent practice of summiting multiple peaks in one day.

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