As spring and warmer temperatures come to most of the United States, many people make plans for climbing 14ers in April. However, contrary to what most think, April is the second snowiest month of the year in the Colorado Rockies. Without the right preparation and gear, it’s unlikely you’ll have a safe or successful summit in the snowy month of April. Here’s what you should know about climbing 14ers in April.
It starts with the right preparation.
April weather is defined by its variability. Some years, the month sees a large amount of snow, while other years are light. Thus, a bit of research into the current snow conditions and weather will help you know what to expect. Visit the Snow Level information on 14ers.com to see how snow levels throughout the state compare to the average. You can also visit the snotel snow system website for snow measurements throughout the state.
Some peaks are better to climb in April than others. If you aren’t very experienced, consider climbing Mt. Bierstadt or Quandary Peak. Both routes are reasonably accessible in April and require microspikes in most situations. If you’re more advanced, know that ridge routes will often be snow-free the fastest, while gullies, headwalls and basins may hold snow into June or July.
Start Early Before Things Get Wet
In April and May, the snow is in a near constant state of melt as the sun warms the high-altitude peaks. As the day goes on, this can lead to snow slides in areas where there’s a lot of wet snow. Starting early, pre-dawn in most cases, helps your get your climb in while the snow and ice is still largely frozen. It also provides time in case anything goes wrong. Generally, if you’re dropping down into wet packed snow deeper than a foot, you should get off the slope and find another way down.
Bring the Right Gear
In April, you should definitely bring a pair of microspikes with you, in case you need to travel over ice or snow. Trekking poles are helpful for this same reason, as they provide great assistance with balance. In most cases, snowshoes are helpful for staying above the rapidly melting snow, especially on your descent in the sun.
If you’re entering potential avalanche terrain, make sure you bring a beacon, shovel and probe (and have the training to use them!). If you want to glissade, or your route will cross steep slopes, make sure you bring an ice axe (and know how to use it!).
The weather and temperature can vary widely in the mountains in April. If climbing 14ers in April, you should make sure you have extra layers, food & water to adapt to changing conditions as needed. Err on the side of caution during this unpredictable time of the year.
Don’t Like Snow? Don’t Go.
Generally, if you don’t want to spend a lot of time travelling over snow and ice, climbing 14ers in April may not be for you. But worry not. The snow is melting, and usually there are snow-free routes available by the end of May or mid-June! Until then, work on your mountain training and watch the weather forecasts to be ready to climb in the summer!