How Many Fourteeners Are In Colorado: 53 or 58? There’s No Easy Answer
How many fourteeners are in Colorado? Depending on who you ask, and what time of year it is, you may get different answers, because of the multiple ways people define a “true” fourteener. Not all mountain points or peaks that exceed 14,000 feet are automatically considered a fourteener. Rather, there are two different ways people typically define them – the Ranking Requirement, and the Naming Requirement. Here’s a good explanation of what’s going on.
Why Is It So Hard to Answer Such a Simple Question?
Traditionally in the world of mountaineering, peaks are defined using the “300 foot rule” for topographical prominence. This means a peak must rise at least 300 feet from any saddles shared with higher peaks, or they’re classified as a sub-peak of the higher mountain. However, there are also many 14ers that, while not meeting the 300 feet requirement, are officially named by the US Geological Survey. Due to tradition and historical reasons, many winter climbers add an additional peak to the list, North Massive Peak. Here are the various ways people come up with an answer to the question “How many fourteeners are in Colorado?”
So How Many Fourteeners Are in Colorado?
Depending on how you define a fourteener, he most common answers to this question are 53, 58, 59, or 74. Let’s break down how we come up with each of these different answers.
Using the Official Definition of Ranked Peaks... How Many Fourteeners Are In Colorado?
When we consider only peaks that meet the 300 feet rule for topographic prominence, there are either 52 or 53 summits that qualify officially. The confusion comes from Challenger Point, only named in the 1980’s, as its saddle with its tallest neighbor, Kit Carson Peak, has never been officially surveyed. The peak is somewhere around 280-320 feet above their saddle – so whether or not it’s official or not isn’t yet known. Most groups use the 53 number and include Challenger Point, giving it the benefit of doubt.
Using the Unofficial Definition of Named Peaks... How Many Fourteeners Are In Colorado?
Many climbers use a longer list of fourteeners that include 5 additional peaks that are named by the USGS even though they don’t meet the 300-foot rule. This brings the list up to 58 named or ranked fourteeners. While some of the additions are easy walk-ups, close to other ranked 14ers (like Mt Cameron), others are difficult class 4 ascents (like El Diente Peak).
Using Gerry Roach's List of Fourteeners... How Many Fourteeners Are in Colorado?
There are many more Colorado peaks that are both unranked and un-named. Some say there are one-hundred or more 14,000-foot peaks that are identifiable on topographic maps. Gerry Roach’s popular Guide Book included a number of these un-named peaks and routes, bringing the number of mountains in his book to 74. This is a third answer some climbers give. However the list is rather arbitrarily created, so 53 or 58 are likely better answers to the question “how many fourteeners are in Colorado?”
Using the Traditional Winter Season Count... How Many Fourteeners Are In Colorado?
To further complicate the answer, those climbing fourteeners in winter often use a different number of peaks for traditional reasons. When the third winter finisher, Aron Ralston, added North Massive Peak, an un-ranked peak and unofficially named peak, to the list of 58 named and ranked peaks, many followers continued to use his list of 59. However this number is rarely used outside of the winter climbing community.
How Many Fourteeners Are In Colorado? It Depends.
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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.