If you’re considering climbing your first 14er, you very well may be wondering how difficult a 14er climb can be. It depends on a few different factors, including class, mileage, and elevation gain among others. Here are my answer to the question: hard is it to climb a 14er.
It Isn’t Easy to Climb a 14er. Here’s What to Expect.
Even the easiest 14ers involve several thousand feet of elevation gain at a high elevation above 12,000 feet. Even at lower altitude, that much gain can be exhausting, especially if you aren’t in shape. High at altitude where there’s much less oxygen, it can be extremely exhausting. However, proper training and acclimation beforehand can help you prepare and have a much better experience. Taking your time to hike at your own pace will also help you limit your exhaustion. Here are some of the factors that affect just how hard each 14er is to climb. They’re important to consider when deciding which peak to climb.
How Hard is it to climb a 14er? It Depends
There are four main factors that influence how difficult a 14er is to climb. The class describes the climbing difficulty, from a hike to a technical roped climb. Elevation gain and mileage describe the length and overall effort required to reach the top. Additionally, some trailheads are easier to reach than others, and the weather can make things significantly more difficult in the right conditions. Here’s a quick overview of each of these factors.
Class Level Determines a Lot.
14ers range from Class 1-5 following the Yosemite Decimal System. Here’s an overview of what each means and how difficult they are.
- Class 1 routes are a hike on a trail all the way to the summit with no scrambling.
- Class 2 routes require some scrambling where hands are only used for balance.
- Class 3 routes require basic climbing where hands may be used as footholds.
- Class 4 routes require exposed climbing where falls may be fatal.
- Class 5 routes require protection with ropes and technical climbing gear.
If you want to give yourself the best chance to summit, consider sticking to a Class 1 peak. I don’t recommend starting with a Class 3 or harder peak.
Consider Elevation Gain and Mileage.
There is a large deal of variation for elevation gain and mileage when climbing 14ers. Shorter routes may only be 5 miles round-trip with 2,000 or so feet of elevation gain. However most peaks involve around twice that (10 miles and 4,000 feet of gain). The most difficult include up to 20 miles or more with 6,000-7,000 feet of gain. Stick to peaks with less gain and distance for your first climb.
Don’t Forget to Consider the Trailhead Access
There are other factors to consider besides the peak itself. Some easy 14ers are still very difficult to reach because of the poor quality of the road reaching the trailhead. If you don’t have a 4WD car with good clearance, you may end up having to add many miles to your hike. Make sure you research the trailhead before you head there.
Lastly, Weather Can Make things Harder or Easier.
Finally, don’t forget to check the weather before you leave for the mountain. The wrong conditions can make your climb a lot more difficult. If you see a chance of rain or snow, or if you see it has snowed recently – reconsider your plans unless you’re prepared to deal with these more challenging conditions.
How Hard Is It to Climb a 14er?
As you can see, it isn’t easy to predict how hard a 14er will be. It depends on the peak and route you choose, and the weather for your trip. Take the time to research your climb – my Route Guides are a great place to get started. I hope this helps answer your question, how hard is it to climb a 14er?
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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.