December 14ers in Colorado: A Beautiful but Dangerous Time to Climb
Curious about climbing a 14er in December? It’s not something you should take lightly. December 14ers in Colorado include a great deal of risk due to the cold and snowy conditions. However, the rewards are well worth it, with amazing views, peace and solitude. Here are the benefits and dangers of climbing these peaks in December, along with tips, advice and gear to make the best of your climb if you decide to go for it.
December Snow Makes the High Peaks Spectacular
Before I get to the gloom about 14ers, let’s discuss the benefits. Simply put, December 14ers in Colorado are a magnificent sight to behold. Better yet, the views are yours to enjoy in nearly complete solitude. Even busy mountains like Quandary Peak are very lightly visited during cold winter months. It’s the best time of the year for ascents of busy peaks like Mt Bierstadt, Quandary Peak or the Decalibron peaks. However, it’s also a very dangerous time of year to climb – that’s why there’s so much solitude. Here’s the biggest risks for December 14ers in Colorado.
What Makes December 14ers in Colorado So Tough?
The risks on these peaks abounds. First of all, temperatures in December routinely fall below zero, with wind chills reaching -30 F or colder. Without the right layers and preparation, that cold can kill you. Additionally, snow obscures most trails, making route-finding a challenge on trails that are obvious to follow in the summer. That slow and ice can get extremely slippery, making falls a major risk and requiring special gear like microspikes, crampons and an ice axe. Before you head out to any December 14ers in Colorado, buy the right gear and learn how to use it.
What December 14ers in Colorado Are Best to Climb?
There are fifty-eight named or ranked 14ers in Colorado. The vast majority are extremely difficult to ascend in winter conditions. However there are a few options that are good for those new to winter conditions. Quandary Peak is a good option as the winter trailhead is only a few hundred feet before the normal start. Mount Bierstadt adds about a mile to the summer route, but the lack of avalanche risk and accessibility makes it a winter favorite. Mount Sherman’s south slope route is great for those who want to test out their ice axe and crampon skills, though route-finding is essential for avoiding avalanche risk. These are the easiest December 14ers in Colorado.
Know Before You Go: Avalanche Danger is Real.
The biggest risk of all when climbing December 14ers in Colorado are avalanches. 1 in 4 people caught in a slide are killed, and another is seriously injured. Start by checking the CO Avalanche Center Forecast. If the Danger is high, it’s best to stay home. Read their forecast so if you do head out, you know what to look for. It’s ideal to take a full Avalanche Preparedness class, and purchase a personal locator beacon, shovel and probe so you can respond and rescue someone should the worst occur. The peaks listed above have minimal avalanche risk, but it isn’t nonexistent. Always check the forecast and be careful on your climb.
Bring the Ten Essentials to Keep You Safe.
The ten essentials include all the critical gear you need to stay safe on a winter 14er. They help you survive an unplanned night outdoors and respond positively to emergencies on the mountains instead of waiting passively for rescue. The Ten Essentials include:
- Extra Water – Stove & Fuel
- Extra Food – 1500 calories or more
- Extra Layers – 1 beyond and raingear
- Sun Protection
- First Aid Supplies
- Emergency Shelter
- Fire-starting gear
- Navigation equipment
- Headlamp & batteries
December 14ers in Colorado: Now You Know!
It isn’t easy to climb December 14eres in Colorado, but with the right knowledge, gear and skill you can definitely do it. Take it slowly, gain experience, and when you’re ready, give it a shot with one of the three easy peaks listed above. If all goes well, you’ll soon be on the summit enjoying the spectacular winter views these peaks afford us. Stay safe on the trail!
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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.