While most of Colorado’s 14ers are an easy hike or scramble, a handful can be quite difficult to climb. With steep Class 3 and 4 climbing, dramatic exposure to cliffs and drop-offs, and complex route-finding and navigation, these nine peaks are some of the most difficult Colorado 14ers. Don’t attempt them without plenty of experience and research. Bring a partner, preferably someone who has climbed them before. Bring the ten essentials, and get started early. Here are nine of the most deadly peaks.
1) Maroon Peak, South Ridge Route
The 9th most difficult peak, Maroon Peak, includes notoriously loose rock and difficult route-finding. Locals call the twin peaks the “Death Bells” due to the numerous climbers & hikers who’ve met their end on the peak. Watch out for loose rock and rockfall, and study the route carefully on this peak.
2) Crestone Needle, South Face Route
The 8th most difficult 14er is also one of the most famous, Crestone Needle. Located in the Sangres, its biggest threat is route-finding. A traverse from one gully to another along the south face is the biggest concern. Missing it thrusts you into harder, Class 4 climbing. Look down as you go so you know where to cross back on your descent.
3) Snowmass Mountain, East Slopes Route
Snowmass Mountain is the toughest Class 3 climb on the list, 7th overall. The difficulty here comes from a long snowfield you need to cross to reach the summit ridge. Bring an ice axe, crampons & the skill to use them. Also make sure to plan your trip. in early summer when the snow has consolidated but hasn’t yet melted out.
4) North Maroon Peak, Northeast Ridge Route
Like its twin Maroon Peak, North Maroon is known as the Death Bells for a good reason. The rock is rotten and crumbles easily. Wear a helmet and tread carefully, but remember that danger here is random and can never totally be mitigated. Risk here is impossible to control 100%.
5) Pyramid Peak, Northeast Ridge Route
As the name implies, Pyramid Peak is a mountain with sheer slopes that make it difficult to climb. However it has slightly less rotten rock than its neighbors the Maroon Bells. The challenge here is route-climbing. It’s east to go off route into far more difficult Class 5 terrain. Study hard and take your time.
6) Mt Wilson, North Slopes Route
Mt Wilson lies in the San Juans and presents several different options and trailheads to choose from to get started. You are far from civilization here in the Lizard Head Wilderness. Be sure you can take care of yourself out there.
7) Sunlight Peak, South Face Route
Sunlight offers multiple challenges. First, you must take a train or backpack many mikes to reach the Chicago Basin. Second, ascend a difficult Class 3 and 4 climb. However the crux is the summit block itself, with exposed Class 4 climbning at 14,000 feet.
8) Little Bear Peak, Hourglass Route
9) Capitol Peak, Northeast Ridge Route
WHen people think of Capitol Peak, the most difficult 14er on the list, they think of the Knife Edge. This 100 foot section features dramatic 1,000 foot drop-offs on either side. However the climb’s toughest crux is a climb upo crumbling rotten rock beyond the edge. Many have perished on Capitol. Think hard and plan ahead before attempthing this peak.
Most Difficult Colorado 14ers: Tread Carefully.
If you’re just starting out, take time before heading out to theses peaks. Many include rotten rocks and difficult climbing that can lead to tragic accidents. If you do plan to go, bring the ten essentials, research your route, and wear a helmet! Have a different list of the most difficult Colorado 14ers? Leave a comment with your thoughts.
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About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.