When it comes to climbing 14ers, Class 1 and 2 peaks aren’t a huge technical challenge. With enough stamina and gear, almost anyone can hike up and scramble over boulders to one of these summits. Something changes at the Class 3 level. Scrambling starts to require both your hands and feet to keep balance. The grade becomes steeper, and sometimes drop-offs are deadly. The chances of a serious fall on Class 3 climbs is always present, but with good preparation and experience the actual risk is small. Here’s a quick introduction to Class 3 climbing along with my suggestions for easy Class 3 Colorado 14ers – perfect for those new to the experience.
What is Class 3 Climbing? What Do I Need to Be Prepared?
Class 3 routes are defined by the Yosemite Decimal System as “Scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary. Falls may be Fatal.” With this increased risk, there are a few things you can do to prepare.
- Visit your local rock climbing gym to get comfortable using your hands to climb.
- Wear a helmet to protect against falling rocks from above. This is an essential for Class 3 and 4 routes.
- Research the route well, and save pictures on your phone. Most Class 3 routes are only difficult if you go off-route accidentally.
- Try to get an idea of how you respond to exposure – visit easier trails that include ledges or vistas to try to ease yourself into it.
- Don’t bother with ropes – they’re usually not necessary or particularly helpful on these routes unless you really know what you’re doing.
- Continue using core 14er safety practice: Bring the 10 essentials, research your route, and leave your plans with a friend at home.
Mt Sneffels provides one of the shortest and least technical Class 3 routes on any 14er in the state. Located down in the San Juans, getting there is often more difficult than the climbing itself. The difficult part of route consists of 3 main sections: A first gully climb up a Class 2 slope, followed by a Class 2+ climb up another gully to a V-notch, and a third scramble/climb up the crux to the summit. At just 6 miles round trip, this is an easy Class 3 14er, perfect for your first.
Longs Peak is the most well known 14er on this list, located in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s longer than Mt Sneffels, at 14.5 miles but involves easier route-finding thanks to a series of patterns painted on rocks by the National Park Service. The route is also very busy, so it’s easy to tag along with a more experienced party, helping to compensate for the length. This isn’t a trip to take likely – more people have died on Longs Peak than any other 14er. Take your time making your preparations.
Kit Carson Peak is arguably the technically easiest Class 3 14er. If you stay perfectly on route, some argue it never really exceeds Class 2+ difficulty. However, the long approach hike and ascent over Challenger Point makes this a long and arduous climb even without more advanced climbing. If you make it a two day trip, it becomes a far better option for your first easy Class 3 Colorado 14ers.
Wetterhorn has the most exposure of any of these peaks and the most route-finding difficulty. However it’s a short climb that can be done easily in a day, and is much better suited for those who like solitude than other 14ers like Longs Peak. The mountain’s name comes from its similarity in appearance to the famous Matterhorn peak in the Alps. At 7 miles round trip and 3,300 feet of elevation gain, the challenge in this climb comes from numerous ledges and drop-offs with more involved route-climbing. Research the route well and take your time.
Keep in Mind Class 3 Risks & Be Prepared.
Even the easy Class 3 Colorado 14ers are deceptive. They often appear easy from afar, with numerous opportunities to lose your way, trip or fall. The right preparation is key to keeping you safe on your trip. Research your route and take pictures of difficult climbing sections. Get used to scrambling with Class 2+ peaks or a local climbing gym. Bring a buddy along, leave plans with someone at home, and bring the ten essentials and a helmet. These tips will go a long way to making your climb enjoyable, safe and successful!